Sensor snapping by the seashore…try saying that five times fast.
The past several weeks have been so busy that I completely forgot about an incident that occurred when I was away on vacation in July.
An incident that I’d never experienced in my decade of using Dexcom CGMs…
It was the second-to-last day of my trip. I was blissfully soaking up the sun’s rays – it was by far the best beach day of my entire week in Maine. That meant that the sun was strong that day…so strong that I was basically applying sunscreen every hour, on the hour, because I am as pale as Casper the friendly ghost.
During one of my sunscreen applications, I noticed that the Dexcom sensor on the back of my arm was looking a little off. I mean that literally – the transmitter seemed like it was jutting out at a weird angle. Upon further inspection, I realized that the grayish-purple prong that helps keep the transmitter in place was hanging on by a thread. I was pretty surprised to make that discovery, for a few reasons: 1) I didn’t know that could happen, 2) the sensor was only about 24 hours old and nothing went awry during the application process, and 3) I couldn’t remember bumping into anything that would’ve caused a plastic piece to break off my sensor. But the most surprising part was that it was enough to cause my sensor to stop collecting readings altogether – I was getting an error message on my Dexcom app.
I didn’t know what to do other than carefully break the prongs off all the way – they weren’t going to do me any good now – and gingerly press my transmitter down into my sensor for several minutes to see if that did anything…and no dice. I resorted to plan B, which was to wait until I got back to the house I was staying at to do some more research into the matter.
Unfortunately, the internet had nothing helpful to offer me. I was somewhat relieved to know that this has happened to other people, but definitely bummed to learn that there wasn’t a real solution other than to apply a new sensor – which wasn’t an option for me since I had only packed the one sensor for my trip. Whoops. So much for me being the diligent, prepared T1D that I thought I was.
Ultimately, I decided to rip the sensor off and deal with finger stick checks for the rest of my trip; after all, I was going to be returning home the next day. I look at the whole incident as yet another example of why it’s important to pack extras of my extras, and as a reminder to expect the unexpected in life with diabetes!
I don’t usually regret trying new sites for my Dexcom and OmniPod.
But recently, I discovered the one area that I wish I hadn’t tried…and that is my forearm.
For a couple years now, I’ve seen forearm Dexcom sites all across social media. People lauded the location for how comfortable it is and the accurate readings it produces, so I figured, why not give it a shot? (LOL diabetes humor.)
Plus, I wanted to give my stomach and the backs of my arms a break. I put both pods and sensors in those locations and while I like them a lot, I’m wary of scar tissue building up.
So with little fanfare, I tried putting my Dexcom on my left forearm (my non-dominant arm). And I knew immediately after hitting the orange button to insert the sensor that it was a bad choice because it STUNG. It stung something fierce! I remember wincing the moment it pierced my skin, and fortunately, the pain did go away…but resurged with a vengeance about half the time I made any arm motions. It didn’t matter if I was flexing it up or down or twisting it to reach for something – any movement could trigger varying degrees of pain. Nothing incredibly intolerable, but enough to make this site uncomfortable.
And this pain didn’t altogether disappear one day: I still felt stings 24 hours after I put the sensor on. Maybe I hit precisely the wrong spot (I noticed a very small amount of blood discoloring the white adhesive of the sensor), but I asked the diabetes online community and it seems that the general consensus is that this location sucks. The half-dozen or so people who messaged me said that either the pain was too much and they took the sensor off early, or they toughed it out for a full 10 days and never used the site again.
What’s more is that this site wasn’t as out-of-the-way as I wanted it to be. I roll up my sleeves dozens of times each day for different tasks, and each time I went to roll up my left sleeve, I had to go about it gingerly so I didn’t risk bumping into the site and prompting ripples of pain. This was straight-up annoying because my diabetes devices don’t usually inhibit my movements so much.
The one plus-side of trying the new site, and the only thing that motivated me to keep it on for the full 10 days, is that it was just as accurate as any other Dexcom site I’ve tried. My readings matched up pretty closely with how I felt and with what my blood sugar meter reported, so that was a saving grace. And I have to admit that even though I was worried that sleep would be impossible with the sensor in such a tender spot, it really didn’t interfere with my slumbers, which was a relief.
All in all, though, the accuracy wasn’t enough to convince me to want to keep forearm sites in my regular rotation. I’ll stick with abdomen and upper arm sites for now, with the occasional thigh site to further prevent scar tissue.
This post was originally published on the T1International blog on February 17, 2021. I wanted to post it here on Hugging the Cactus because it was incredibly well-written and eye-opening. Thank you to Tracy Ramey for sharing her perspective and prompting me to really think about diabetes technology and who it is available to you. I couldn’t agree more with your closing thoughts. Read on to learn about Tracy’s thoughts on the Dexcom G6, its availability, and the problems with the commercial that aired during Super Bowl LV.
Celebrity. Celebrity in a filter. Technology. Sleek. Celebrity showcasing a device that many people with diabetes can’t afford and telling said people with diabetes that they should get with the times. That’s it. That’s the entire commercial for Dexcom G6, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), that aired during Super Bowl LV Sunday. To the world outside of the diabetes community, it presents an easy solution to the problem of diabetes management, a quick aside they can tell that person with diabetes they know in the office on Monday.
“Hey I saw Nick Jonas in that commercial. He said you don’t have to prick your finger anymore! Ya know, he doesn’t even look like he has diabetes.”
As a mother of a child that has type 1 diabetes, managing this condition is always on my mind. I am my child’s “pancreas momager,” if you will. For the past three years I have endured well meaning people giving advice, offering empty platitudes, and not understanding the tightrope we walk as a family attempting to raise a well rounded human that is growing physically and emotionally while course correcting a disease that is never the same day to day. I hear often how diabetes is manageable, an understanding that is as true as it is nuanced. Managing diabetes is not a one size fits all leather jacket. Said person with diabetes will assuredly be giving Diabetes Splainin’ Danny an immense amount of side eye.
With this ad, Dexcom and Nick Jonas had an immense opportunity to truly advocate for all insulin dependent people on the world’s stage. Instead of dispelling hurtful myths such as diabetes being caused by eating too much sugar, or insulin being “so cheap, it’s like water”, they created new ones like people with diabetes do not need to prick their fingers. The ad conveyed that there is an easy solution to diabetes management, which is a huge blow to everyone that has been fighting with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and device companies just to get basic insulin and other vital supplies covered, including glucose monitors.
Most people with diabetes know about Dexcom and the other major continuous CGM company, FreeStyle Libre by Abbott. Assuredly, if they don’t have one of these devices, in most cases it’s not for lack of understanding – it’s due to high cost. For many uninsured or underinsured insulin dependent people who are already struggling to afford their insulin, the Dexcom (with an initial out-of-pocket price tag for receiver, transmitter, and pack of 3 sensors that exceeds $1,000) is technology that remains out of reach. The ad boldly proclaimed “It looks like the future, but it’s available now.” Available to who? I know people that have had to plead with their insurer to keep their Dexcom if coverage changes occur. Many can’t get it covered in the first place, even though being able to have CGM technology is a gamechanger in the life of people living with diabetes. IT affords a level of control that is hard to think of giving up once you experience it.
But again, we must ask: who is this available to? This technology requires a prescription, and we know that Black and Brown communities are being offered access at much lower rates than their white peers. I am a Black woman with a family history of type 2 that puts me at greater risk of developing it. Interestingly, despite having several family members with type 2 diabetes, my child with type 1 is the first person that has CGM technology, and that was because I pushed for it.
You know what I’m getting at. The elephant in the room is medical racism and implicit bias. When cries for justice rang out for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, many companies found themselves scrambling to make sure they appeared to sympathize with Black people and the systemic disregard for our lives. But here we are, almost a year into the pandemic, with a January 8th, 2021 headline from Endocrine.org that reads “Black people with type 1 diabetes, COVID-19 are four times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis.”
Companies that make a profit off of medical devices as life altering as Dexcom owe it to their consumers to look at the data and adjust to get their technology onto the bodies that need it most. Instead of addressing how they are going to provide a solution to inequities that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face – especially Black patients – in comparison to their white peers, Dexcom paid $5 million plus for a Super Bowl ad that ignores barriers to access completely. This is chump change when, according to Yahoo!Finance, they earned $1.93 billion in 2020.
Dexcom offers a life saving product that I am fortunate enough to be able to use for my child because of my health insurance. I am acutely aware that many who look like us and need it the most don’t have access to CGMs like Dexcom’s G6. The Black and Brown people that are experiencing medical systemic racism deserve better. All insulin dependent people deserve better than a 30 second ad that wags it’s finger at all of us silly Billy gumdrops that are still pricking our fingers. Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining.
On February 2nd, Dexcom announced some major news: Nick Jonas – yes, the famous guy from that band – is starring in a Dexcom commercial that will be airing in a coveted Super Bowl Sunday advertisement slot.
This is pretty big for a couple of reasons, one being that Nick Jonas is now an official paid Dexcom spokesperson. In addition, this represents the first time that a diabetes company like Dexcom will be airing an ad that will be delivered to millions of Americans at the same time, which is definitely a big deal.
Upon hearing this news, the diabetes online community and I had some intense and justified reactions.
A lot of people expressed frustration that a superstar like Nick Jonas only ever seems to talk about his type 1 diabetes when he’s being paid to do so.
And listen, that frustration is warranted. It’s like the guy is trying to monetize his diabetes and it’s a little gross. There’s collective annoyance that Nick Jonas doesn’t use his (massive) platform and following on a more regular basis to advocate for diabetes. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of us who have created blogs, podcasts, social media profiles, and more in order to help the diabetes community and beyond by doing things like raising awareness and talking about real issues regarding access to necessary diabetes care and medication (and so much more). So when Nick Jonas finally opens up about it, apparently it’s to advertise an expensive piece of technology that isn’t available to all people with diabetes. (And here’s my disclaimer: Yes, I use a Dexcom G6 CGM and I love it. But I’m very aware that I’m fortunate to be able to afford it because others cannot.)
It’s a little difficult for me to sympathize much with Nick Jonas here. Of course, I don’t know him (though I’m sure he’s a lovely guy and obviously he’s quite talented). I have no idea what it’s like to be a celebrity. He’s been in the limelight since he was a teenager. Many of us grew up with him. I can’t imagine what kinds of pressure he’s faced, so something like diabetes (a deeply personal condition) might be tough for him to talk about in a candid manner in front of the mass media. Or maybe he simply doesn’t know how to frame discussions around it. Who knows, but his acceptance of this sponsorship deal warrants the conversations that it has generated. Moreover, I can’t ignore his involvement with a non-profit that’s become infamous for accepting money from big pharma, which is massively problematic in the fight to make insulin affordable for all.
Let me end that line of thought by pointing out that he’s not the only person with diabetes featured in this commercial. There are two other “real-life”, non-celebrities living with diabetes who got this incredible opportunity to be featured in a freakin’ Super Bowl commercial. As someone who has participated in Dexcom ads in the past*, I can understand how exciting this time must be for these two people, and I hope that it isn’t diminished by the diabetes online community’s reaction to Nick Jonas’s appearance and sponsorship deal.
Now let’s pivot to the fact that Dexcom has dropped (probably) millions of dollars to appear in this Super Bowl ad slot…and signing a high-profile celeb like Nick Jonas as a company spokesperson likely wasn’t cheap, either.
It definitely leaves me feeling unsettled. Why did the company feel it was necessary to spend so much on this new advertising campaign? As my friend Stacey put it, Dexcom is putting corporate and celebrity money before patient needs. The reality here is that not everyone can afford insulin, let alone a “gratuitous” piece of diabetes technology like a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor. Elevating diabetes to the national spotlight only does good when it can do something about insulin access and affordability, or to raise awareness about it, or to explain how to recognize the symptoms of diabetes.
To sum it all up, I’ll share a thought from another person I’ve come to know from the diabetes online community: @miss__diabetes. The day that Dexcom announced the commercial, she tweeted:
Nick Jonas is the advocate of a privileged life with #type1diabetes. Doing super bowl ads tells the rest of the world that diabetics are living their best life with diabetes technology when the reality is diabetics are dying because they can’t afford insulin. #Insulin4all
A nicely phrased sentiment as well as a reminder that we’ve got a long way to go in the fight for affordable insulin, don’t you think?
*When I appeared in Dexcom advertisements, I was not compensated beyond the company paying for my transportation, on-set meals, and hotel. If you want to learn more about the experience, I wrote this blog post about it, and I am always open to answering questions.
I may have had diabetes for more than three-quarters of my life, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t make silly mistakes with it from time to time.
But I must admit, I still surprise myself on the occasions that I make a slip-up that’s incredibly stupid…and incredibly avoidable.
For example, one morning my Dexcom started alarming, and I thought that I knew exactly why it was sounding off: It sounded like the signature triple buzz of a high alert, so I did what anyone else would do when it’s very early in the morning and not quite time to wake up yet…I ignored it and fell back asleep.
But true to typical Dexcom alarm nature, my sleep was interrupted again by continued buzzing. Rather than pick up my phone to dismiss the alarm, though, I decided to bolus for a couple of units without ever verifying that I was, indeed, high.
Yikes. Can you say rookie mistake?
Fortunately for me, I really did have to get up and start my day within a couple of hours of taking that bolus. Thank goodness I did, because when I got up, I immediately glanced at my Dexcom and was taken aback to see that my blood sugar had not ticked up past my high threshold in the last several hours…it had actually lost reception completely.
Ahh…so that’s what it was trying to tell me. Oops.
Furthermore, my blood sugar was inching below my low threshold – the two units I’d carelessly taken had kicked in, and all I could feel in that moment was relief that I hadn’t taken more insulin.
This story could’ve had a very different ending. I’m still kind of in disbelief that I didn’t just roll over to check my Dexcom and confirm the reason why it was alarming in the first place. I mean, that’s what I do any other time it goes off, regardless of the time of day. I suppose that I was just overly confident in what kind of alarm it was. Coupled with the fact that I was barely awake when this all went down, then it really isn’t all that crazy that this happened…but it doesn’t make me feel any less dumb.
Lesson learned. When it comes to Dexcom alarms, always check them, and never make assumptions.
The summertime season is in full swing, and now that it’s here I’m thinking of the various ways my diabetes is more pronounced in the warmer weather. It’s much more visible, leading to many more questions, but what are the cues that give it away to others? I thought of four…
Visible sites. Shorts-and-t-shirts weather makes it much harder to place pods or CGM sensors in discrete locations. And if I’m going to the beach? There’s no way that I can even attempt to hide my devices. That’s probably why I make them even more obvious with…
…Pump and sensor art. I’ve written about Pump Peelz and GrifGrips in the past – they make adhesives and skins that are specially designed to fit pods, PDMs, pumps, meters, and more. The products they make are truly little works of art for diabetes devices, and I like to make sure all of mine are decked out in the summer months so I can show off tech that’s not only functional, but also stylish.
Gadget tan lines. Or if you’re like me, it’s more like sunburn lines. That’s because each summer, without fail, I somehow manage to neglect the space around my pod or my sensor, so when it’s time to remove it, there’s a huge red circle around the perimeter of where the device was situated. Maybe this year I’ll actually learn my lesson and take the time to apply sunscreen properly so I can avoid the very not-cute sunburn circles.
Travel coolers. This is probably the least obvious sign of diabetes in the summertime, but to those in the know, coolers meant to protect insulin are pretty recognizable compared to regular coolers. Whether it’s a Frio cooling pouch or another brand of insulin cooler, people with diabetes tend to carry these throughout the summer months in order to prevent insulin from spoiling due to heat exposure.
This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on February 18, 2019. I’m re-posting it today with some updates because I recently noticed this post gets a LOT of clicks – this topic is one that many people are curious about it. Read on for my two cents on whether or not bleeders are readers, and note that I haven’t updated this because my experience with bleeders remains the same…
I placed the new Dexcom G6 sensor on my abdomen, hovering my index finger above the large orange insertion button. I pressed it, exhaling as I felt the minute needle pierce my skin’s surface. I looked down, and started to rub the adhesive in circles to make sure it was stuck, when I saw blood. Not just a drop, but a decent-sized pool forming beneath the sensor. Before long, just about the entire surface of the white adhesive was soaked in red.
Yeah, this was going to be a no-go.
It’s pretty rare for me to experience blood at the site of a Dexcom sensor. If I had to put a number on it, I would say less than 10% of my insertions draw blood. An even smaller amount – like, 2% – have caused me to bleed as much I did in the scenario described above. But I know I’m not alone in my bloody sensor experiences – it’s something that many other T1Ds who use a Dexcom have gone through.
There’s a bit of debate, though, that I’ve noticed in the past on Twitter threads and Instagram posts. What to do with a bleeder? Keep it and assume that it’ll read blood sugars normally? Or change it immediately and call Dexcom for a replacement?
Are bleeders readers? Or does it depend?
I’m going to go with…it depends.
Obviously, in that situation I described in the opening of this post, I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to keep the sensor on my body. There was too much blood and I didn’t trust that it would adhere well to my body. I didn’t know how long it would take for the blood to stop (only a few minutes, but still), and I couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t mess up my readings. On top of that, I wasn’t trying to stain my clothing, if I could help it.
So in that circumstance, I did change my sensor right away, and was glad that the second try resulted in a much cleaner, blood-free insertion. I called Dexcom, explained what happened to the customer support representative, and got a replacement sensor mailed to me.
However, just about any other time I bleed upon a sensor insertion, it tends to be a minuscule amount of blood. I usually don’t even notice until it’s time to replace the sensor, and there’s a bit of dried blood left on the site. Other times, I’ll see small beads of blood forming underneath the spot where the transmitter snaps in. And there’s been a couple of occasions that I’ve bled a fair amount and been totally unaware of it until I caught my reflection in the mirror and noticed the blood staining the white adhesive. And in all of those cases, I’ve kept the sensor on for the full ten days, without noticing any discrepancies in my readings.
All that considered, in my inexpert opinion, I think that bleeders usually are readers and that they’re safe to continue wearing. Of course, there will be exceptions, like when there’s just too much blood to salvage the sensor. But every time I’ve kept using a bloody sensor, I’ve had the same amount of success with its functionality…so yes, I think that for me, bleeders are indeed readers.
This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on November 19, 2018. I decided to update it, since some of my thoughts and observations on the Dexcom G6 have changed over time due to more experience with it. Updated answers will be in parentheses and/or italics just below (and in some cases, next to) the original answers…
I’ve been lucky enough to have the Dexcom G6 CGM in my life for just over six months now. (It’s actually been about 2 years at this point!) In that time, many people in my life – both T1Ds and non-T1Ds – have asked me countless questions about my experience with the device. I thought it’d make sense to address some of the most commonly asked questions here, in the hopes that I can provide some insight to those who are curious about the Dexcom G6.
Question: Can the Dexcom G6 be restarted?
Answer: In my experience, no. I cannot get the G6 to restart like I could get my G5 to restart. But take my “no” with a grain of salt, here, because I know of other people who HAVE had success restarting their G6 sensor, making its life extend much longer than the 10 days guaranteed by Dexcom. I have only tried to restart the G6 once, with absolutely zero success, following the process outlined here. My advice to those who want to try to restart their G6 is to do so cautiously, and make sure you’re not trying to do so with the last sensor in your stockpile.
Since I initially wrote this, I WAS able to restart the G6 and did so “successfully” a handful of times. But in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it because 1) the sensor would stop reading blood sugars 2-3 days after restarting and 2) I can’t be sure that restarting doesn’t wear out my transmitter faster, which wouldn’t work to my benefit since I don’t know how to reactivate transmitters. My two cents is that while reactivating old Dexcom models like the G4 or G5 often worked well, the technology within the G6 simply isn’t meant for accurate restarting.
Question: Is it actually safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) on the Dexcom G6?
Answer: Yes! I’ve noticed that acetaminophen can be taken safely on the G6. I did not anticipate for it to be unsafe, seeing as it was advertised as one of the big improvements Dexcom made from the G5 to the G6. I’ve taken Tylenol a handful of times without noticing any issues with my CGM readings, but as always, be sure to monitor your blood sugar carefully and perform a manual finger stick check if your symptoms don’t match up with your CGM.
This is still absolutely true! I’ve yet to observe Tylenol, or any other drug really, having an impact on my CGM’s readings.
Question: I can’t get my Dexcom G6 sensor to stay put for the full ten days. How do you make it last?
Answer: There’s tons of ways you can help ensure your G6 sensor stays stuck on for the entire ten-day duration. I always make sure that my skin is completely dry before the sensor makes any contact with the site. Avoiding any excess moisture is key in helping it stay put. If I notice the sensor starting to peel around the edges after a few days of wear, then I use a Pump Peelz CGM adhesive to keep it in place. Those tend to work really well for me. In times of serious adhesive doubt, I also use Skin Tac wipes, which basically glue that sucker down. One last tip I recommend is to avoid sites that come into contact with a wide variety of surfaces. In other words, a sensor that’s placed on the abdomen may fare better than a sensor on the leg, because the odds of the sensor getting accidentally knocked off due to contact with clothing or other objects are lesser. You know your own body better than anyone, though, so trust your own judgment when it comes to CGM placement.
So at the time of publication, I hadn’t tried my leg as a site for the CGM. Now that I have, my answer changes a little regarding the “usability” of this site: I’ve had great success keeping the CGM sensor on my leg for the full 10 days without a single peel in the adhesive. Another tip I’ve picked up along the way is to contact Dexcom and ask for their free “overlay patches”, which they produce and that work just like any medical adhesive that Pump Peelz or GrifGrips manufacture especially for Dexcom products.
Question: Is sensor insertion truly painless?
Answer: For me, G6 insertion has been pain-free approximately 85% of the time. It’s stung slightly a handful of times, but I’ve found that it only hurts when I choose a site that’s not particularly fatty. That’s why I generally stick with my abdomen – either side of my navel – or the back of my arms for G6 insertion.
I stand by this estimate – once in a while, I get a site that’s a little more sensitive and there’s a slight sting, but nothing like it used to be for the G4 or G5. And now that I’ve added my thighs as sites into the mix, I’ve got more site rotation going on, which can help.
Question: Is the G6 really that much more accurate compared to the G5, or any other CGM on the market?
Answer: Yes and no. That may not be a very satisfactory answer, but I’ll explain why that’s my belief. Overall, the G6 seems to be more accurate for me than the previous Dexcom CGM models I’ve worn. Are the number always on point compared to what appears on my meter? No. Do I wear the Dexcom CGM to have an accurate picture of what my exact number is at a given moment in time? Kind of, but I also know that this isn’t totally realistic. After all, users of the Dexcom CGMs know that it measures blood sugar levels in five-minute intervals. It can’t give me a clearer picture of what my blood sugar changes are minute-to-minute. So with that in mind, I find that the G6 is really excellent for monitoring trends – seeing how rapidly my blood sugar is falling or rising, or seeing how it changes gradually over time. The patterns are more important to me than the precise numbers; at least, that’s how I feel in my current stage of diabetes management.
I can’t really speak to other CGMs on the market, such as the Freestyle Libre or Medtronic’s CGM. But what I can say is that I’ve heard less-than-stellar reviews about both. It’s important to remember, though, that they’re not meant to be the exact same as the Dexcom CGM. The Libre itself isn’t really continuous and can’t provide users with information until they chose to wave the receiver over the sensor. And as far as I’m aware, the Medtronic CGM communicates directly with Medtronic pumps, and I’m not sure how seamlessly the systems work together.
Bear in mind that when it all comes down to it, I’m answering these questions with my experience, and my experience alone, in mind. Dexcom is and will always be the number one resource to go to with any questions regarding their CGM devices. But hopefully, the information I’ve shared here will at least help someone who is curious about the G6 feel more motivated to seek additional information. I stand by the fact that it has revolutionized my own diabetes care and management, and though it’s far from being flawless, it’s still an invaluable tool to have incorporated into my daily routine.
I still have not tried any CGM model out on the market except for Dexcom CGMs. To this day, it’s what I know and what I’m most comfortable with, so I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon (though it’d be kind of cool to try another and compare it to my G6). The one thing that has changed is that I rely on my G6 readings a lot more heavily these days. I use a blood sugar meter to check my blood sugar only once or twice a day now, whereas a year and a half ago, I was using it at least four times a day. I’ve put greater trust into my G6, but I do remain cautious against the technology and always check with my meter when I’m not fully believing my G6’s readings.
Before I dive into this post, I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m not judging how anyone reacted during the recent Dexcom G6 outage, nor am I stating that there was a “right” or a “wrong” way to handle the situation. I merely think it’s important to ask ourselves questions like this when things don’t go according to plan with diabetes care/management.
Alright, now that I’ve got THAT out of the way…
For the last several days, the DOC has been in a bit of a panic. And when I say “bit” I mean “a helluva lot”. That’s because the day after Thanksgiving, Dexcom Follow stopped working. This means that parents/caretakers who rely on the technology to monitor their child’s/loved one’s blood sugar levels were left in the dark. It sparked confusion, outrage, and downright fear, all of which only seemed to intensify over the weekend and into this week when the problem was only partially solved for most users.
Rather than coming together to support one another, the DOC swiftly divided into two camps: The first consisted of individuals who sought to gently remind others that this technology is still pretty new. It hasn’t even been around for two decades. That meant that for many years before then, people with diabetes were doing things the “old school” way, and getting by just fine. Doesn’t this mean that we should all be able to make it through unexpected technology blackouts, knowing that we have our blood sugar meters to fall back on?
The second camp was in a greater fury over the issue. This camp relied on the Dexcom G6 system because those within it simply didn’t know a life without the continuous glucose monitoring technology. For them, the outage was a bit like asking them to Google something without access to the Internet – it’s pretty much impossible, unless you’ve got an Encyclopedia handy. Oh, and it’s MUCH higher stakes, because people who don’t recognize symptoms of low or high blood sugar need this technology to work in order to stay on top of fluctuating blood sugar levels. Let’s not even get into how much is PAID for this expensive piece of medical equipment…one would argue that the high cost of supplies means that the technology should work at all times, no matter what.
If you’re like me, you can see that both of these groups have perfectly valid points. I’ve had diabetes long enough that I didn’t even use – and didn’t see the point in using – continuous glucose monitoring or insulin pumps until a few years ago. I took care of my diabetes the old fashioned way growing up: doing fingerstick checks multiple times per day, treating low blood sugars with 15 carbs then waiting 15 minutes, checking blood sugar levels about an hour after injecting insulin to make sure highs were coming down the way they should. This way of handling diabetes worked for me for a long, long time…throughout elementary, middle, and high school, right up to college.
Then I got a continuous glucose monitor (I believe it was the Dexcom G4) just before starting my freshman year of college. And I haven’t really been without a CGM device since then. It’s changed my life and helped me navigate adulthood with diabetes. Whenever I do experience periods of the technology not working the way it should, it’s infuriating because I feel like it’s not worth throwing away buckets of cash on it in those periods of inconsistency and inaccuracy.
But here’s what I’m wondering, as a result of this Great Dexcom G6 Outage of 2019…do we take this technology for granted?
Do we truly appreciate the times that it works the way it should?
Do we expect too much from something that, technologically speaking, still has a long way to go in terms of working perfectly?
Do we rely too heavily on continuous glucose monitors to provide us peace of mind when, in reality, they simply provide us with real-time updates of our blood sugar levels (i.e., it’s a stream of data)?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I can reflect on my own answers to them; furthermore, I can ponder how and why the DOC gets so divisive in these times where we should try to come together, listen to (and learn from) differing perspectives, and figure out what we can do to best support one another during trying times.
I saw an Instagram story a few weeks back that intrigued me.
In it, a friend of mine was talking about how she “soaks” her CGM sensors. Instantly, I was confused: What the heck did she mean by that? Soaks them in what, hot water or some other liquid?
Within seconds, her definition of “soaking” became much clearer. “Soaking” a CGM sensor means inserting a fresh sensor hours before you intend to activate it. Rather than giving your sensor just two hours to warm-up, you’re giving it 4-6 hours so it can supposedly provide much more accurate readings immediately after the warm-up period has ended.
I was interested in this practice because I’ve definitely experienced sensors that were off for several hours post-insertion/warm-up. Sometimes, it even takes a full day for a sensor to start reporting accurate numbers, and I wouldn’t exactly call that efficient.
While I haven’t had the guts to actually try sensor soaking yet – I’d like to sometime in the near future – I’ve been doing some research on it so I’m fully prepared to try it whenever I’d like. Here are some questions I had about the process, and the answers I’ve found to them:
Q: Doesn’t this mean that you’re wearing two sensors at once? A: Yes. But it’s only for a short window of time, until the old sensor expires and it’s time to activate the new one; in other words, for the full soaking period.
Q: How long should I let a new sensor soak?
A: According to what I’ve found online, it seems that 4 to 6 hours is the sweet spot for soaking. It’s basically doubling or tripling the built-in warm-up period that all sensors must go through, so I can see how this might contribute to improving immediate accuracy.
Q: How do I protect the new sensor if it doesn’t have a transmitter snapped in it for several hours?
A: The reason why I haven’t tried soaking yet is because I was worried about wearing a sensor that didn’t have a transmitter snapped in it. But I found some photos online of people who wore transmitter-less sensors with stretchy, self-adhesive wrap tape to protect the nook in which transmitters rest for the soaking period. It’s smart to protect that space, because in theory, it could be vulnerable to catching on clothing or other surfaces. Plus, tape like that is really easy to remove without damaging the sensor in the process.
Q: What changes about the sensor activation process when it’s finally time to start the new soaked sensor?
A: My research leads me to believe that nothing really changes at the end of the soaking period/when it’s time to activate the soaked sensor. All that will be needed is the sensor code so it can be properly activated within the receiver/Dexcom app. So the most important thing you can do at the very start of the soaking period is hold onto your sensor code/store it somewhere safe so you’ll be able to enter it at the end.
Q: So…why would anyone bother trying this again? A: My understanding is that it all relates back to making sure a fresh sensor is as accurate as possible once it’s activated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put on a new sensor, only to discover a few hours after it has warmed up that it’s off by 40 or 50 points – and that just doesn’t cut it. So I don’t think there’s any harm in me giving sensor soaking a shot one of these days. I just have to remember to do it, and have the patience to wear three devices at once (my pod, the soon-to-expire sensor, and the new soaking sensor).
Have you tried soaking? If so, please drop a comment and let me know your thoughts on it – and be sure to tell me if I missed any key steps in my research!