The Sounds of a Blood Sugar Check

What does a blood sugar check sound like, exactly? And why would I want to capture those sounds in words?

I was thinking about it the other day – the precise ritual that is a blood sugar check. It involves very distinct sounds from start to finish.

The ziiiiiiiiiip of opening up the meter case. The soft pop from flipping the cap off a vial of test strips. The pulling back of the lancing device to get it ready – click – and choosing a finger to draw blood from before pressing the button to prick it, a sound that’s a bit like a pow that ends in a dull thud.

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These three things make very distinct sounds.

I’ve been in rooms filled with other T1Ds checking blood sugars all at the same time. It’s a chorus of the aforementioned sounds that are so recognizable to anyone with diabetes that they can’t be mistaken.

Sounds that punctuate our lives multiple times each day.

Sounds that help us make so many decisions – from mealtime boluses to deciding whether to have a snack before a workout or not.

Sounds that are a constant reminder of diabetes and its perpetual presence.

Sounds that will be there, always…until there’s a cure.

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Does Cold Weather Affect Diabetes?

Shout-out to Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA) for prompting me to write a post about this!

Often, I tell people that anything can affect diabetes. Factors like exercise and stress may seem obvious, but more subtle variables include the weather.

The winter season began less than a month ago, but it’s already been a brutal one for much of the country. In New England, we’ve had more than a foot of snow, subzero temperatures, bitter wind chill, and a surplus of ice glazing over all outdoor surfaces.

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Winter weather looks pretty, but it sure can be a pain in the ass.

Besides being unpleasant to experience, harsh cold weather like this also has a bit of a negative impact on my diabetes. How? There’s a few different ways.

Cold weather limits (or increases) the types of physical activity I can do. Snowstorms make it difficult to travel, so more often than not, I’m stuck at home during wintry weather events. This means I get less movement in, which has an adverse affect on my blood sugars. I rely on getting a certain level of exercise daily, so I have to be creative when it’s snowing in order to meet these requirements. On the flip side, depending on how much snow falls, I need to shovel the driveway. This is a highly strenuous activity that can make my blood sugar drop in 15 minutes or less. As a result, I’ve got to be careful and plan accordingly when a blizzard is in the forecast.

Cold weather impacts the foods I consume. Let’s be real, when it’s freezing outside and you can’t go anywhere, healthy eating isn’t really a priority. Nothing is as comforting as a home cooked meal, whether it’s chili or chicken pot pie. And a hot chocolate is a wonderful pick-me-up post-shoveling. But the problem is these foods are heavy, rich, and laden with carbs. I have to work harder in the cold weather to attain balance with my eating and resist the temptation to fill up on starchy, satisfying food.

Cold weather affects my insulin intake. This ties into the aforementioned points, because if I’m moving less and eating more, then I naturally need to compensate for this with higher insulin dosages. I get frustrated, because it seems like I have to deal with more high blood sugars this time of year. But I know if I keep these factors in mind, it’ll help keep the highs at bay and prevent me from under-dosing.

Cold weather can sway my mood. The winter blues is a real feeling this time of year. It’s much harder to feel motivated to keep up with exercise routines or other healthy habits when the weather’s got me stranded at home. I combat it by staying busy and keeping a routine as much as I can. And when I fall off the wagon, I acknowledge that it’s okay, dust myself off, and get right back on it.

Even though cold weather brings additional challenges with it, the season is fleeting. Before I know it, spring will be here along with better blood sugar.

Why it’s Worth it to Work Out Your Ratios

It’s not easy to figure out the insulin-to-carb ratio and basal rates that work best for you. In fact, it involves commitment, communication with your diabetes care team, and solid carb counting skills. But the work is so, totally worth it, because your blood sugar readings can look like this:

These 12- and 24-hour graphs were the result of me kicking it into high gear with my diabetes management in recent days. I can’t explain how awesome it felt to achieve graphs like this. Yes, I dipped a little lower than I would have preferred a few times, but the main accomplishment here is that I avoided the sticky highs that were frustrating me in the afternoons and in the middle of the night. Just looking at those smooth, nearly straight lines overnight brings a smile to my face.

I’d like to note that I did this WITHOUT making any special changes to my diet. In a single day, I ate fairly high carb for a PWD: around 30 grams of carbs at breakfast, another 30 at lunch, and between 40 and 50 at dinner. And depending on what my blood sugar is before bed, I’ll have another small snack, between 10 and 15 grams of carbs. So I think the main factors at play that lead to these beautiful graphs are 1) I bolused for my meals 10-20 minutes before eating them, 2) I ate the right balance (for me) of carbs, fats, and proteins, and 3) My insulin-to-carb ratios are spot-on at this time.

As long as I continue to put forth the right amount of effort, I think I’ll continue to have graphs like this. Of course, I know I’m going to slip up from time to time – occasions during which meals are a little more difficult to predict, or periods in which I experience higher stress levels – but this is okay. I constantly remind myself that diabetes is not something that can be completely tamed, no matter how hard I try. I accept that mistakes will happen along the way, and the best thing I can do is to learn from them to avoid making the same ones in the future. This acceptance, combined with perseverance and a willingness to always learn more about how my body reacts to certain foods and events, will help me meet my blood sugar goals on a more regular basis, which makes it an incredibly worthwhile pursuit.