Do You Know What It Means to “Sensor Soak” Your CGM?

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on September 27, 2019. I’m sharing it again today because I still find the concept of “sensor soaking” to be fascinating, though I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet. Not sure what sensor soaking is? Read on to find out…

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?

Contrary to the connotation of the word “soaking”, this does not mean you’ll be submerging your CGM in any sort of 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!

The Dexcom Site I’d Never Recommend Trying

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.

My face says exactly how I feel about this site: It’s not a winner.

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.

6 Questions to Ask Before Trying New Diabetes Technology

So you want to try your first continuous glucose monitor. Or maybe you’re ready to leave behind multiple daily injections and switch to insulin pump therapy. Whichever diabetes device you’re looking to start using, there are some questions you’ll probably want to have answers to before decide that now’s the time to introduce new diabetes technology into your daily routine.

The following is a compilation of the questions that I thought long and hard about (literally for years) and that I wish I’d thought long and hard about before I made the transition to the OmniPod insulin pump.

  1. Am I ready for it? It took me 17 years before I decided that I was ready to try an insulin pump. 17 freakin’ years!!! I spent most of that time being too afraid of introducing such a drastic change to a routine I’d had down pat for such a long period of my life. There are times when I wish I’d gone onto my insulin pump sooner, but ultimately, I’m glad that I wasn’t swayed by my family or doctors to go on it before I truly felt ready. By the time I started using my OmniPod, I had the maturity, responsibility, and emotional intelligence that I felt that I needed for an insulin pump.
  2. Will I be able to afford it? Obviously, this isn’t a question that I wondered about when I was younger, but it’s one of the first things that comes to mind as an adult on her own health care plan. We all know that diabetes supplies are expensive, and it seems that the more technologically advanced something is, the more money that has to be forked over in order to obtain it. This isn’t right or fair, but it’s a simple truth and an important one to think about before choosing one pump or continuous glucose monitor over another.
  3. Why do I want to start using it? I wanted to start using my OmniPod because my mom experienced great success when she started using it. And I decided to get a Dexcom CGM because I fell in love with the technology after undergoing a trial period with my endocrinologist. In both situations, I felt very much in control of my decision to start using these devices and I didn’t really listen to anyone else’s opinions. But I am very aware of the fact that social media and real-life friendships with other people with diabetes can often sway people in different directions. After all, if I saw a post on Instagram from a dia-influencer who was singing the praises of a Tandem T:slim pump, then I might seriously start thinking about switching to it (this has actually happened to me). But the bottom line is to think about the why – will this device enhance quality of life for me? Will diabetes be easier to manage with it? Will it help me achieve my A1c and/or blood sugar goals? Do I need to add something new to my routine because I’m feeling burnt out by doing things the same way all the time? Knowing why I wanted to use an OmniPod or a Dexcom CGM made me feel that much better during the whole process of learning how to use them – I felt like I had clear goals that would help me navigate the integration of these new technologies into my daily routine.

    6 Questions to Ask Before Trying New Diabetes Technology
    Me, being a goofball with my two favorite diabetes devices.
  4. Will I be comfortable wearing it 24/7? This is a big one! Pods, pumps, and CGMs are very visible, and it can be jarring to go from being “naked” to having bumps and lumps underneath clothes that can get caught on doorknobs, chairs, and the like. Personally, the benefits of my OmniPod and Dexcom outweigh something like this which is a bit superficial, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to think about. But it’s also worth thinking about comfort and what is least painful when it comes to insulin delivery, so that’s why this is an important question to ask.
  5. Do I know anyone else using it who can provide feedback from a patient’s perspective? I’ve talked about this before, but I’m not sure when, if ever, I would have seriously considered using the OmniPod if my mother hadn’t tried it first. The fact that we both have diabetes has probably made us a little closer and strengthened our bond, so if there’s anyone’s opinion that I’m going to trust when it comes to something like this, then it’s hers. I can actually remember her first few weeks on the OmniPod – in which she learned a lot of valuable lessons – and how pleased she was with it once a few months with it elapsed. She taught me the ins and outs of the OmniPod when started to use it, and I’d argue that her advice was more helpful than that of my diabetes educator. So I’d advocate gathering opinions from family and friends (if either is applicable) or the diabetes online community before going on a new diabetes device, in addition to the research component below…
  6. Have I done enough research on it? …Like any smart shopper, it’s crucial to really consider all options and research them thoroughly, especially when it comes to the top contender. I definitely did not complete sufficient research before going onto the OmniPod or Dexcom; rather, I trusted that they were just right for me. If I were to switch to something else tomorrow, though, you can bet that’d I’d spend a lot of time scouring the web for every last bit of information on the device so I could make the most informed decision possible.

New diabetes technology can be both scary and exciting. But more than anything else, it can really make life with diabetes much more carefree, and I’m glad that in this day and age there are so many options available to people with diabetes that continue to be technologically impressive.

The Best (and Worst) Insulin Pump Infusion and CGM Sensor Sites

Like many other people with diabetes, I wear two devices on my body at all times: my insulin pump (my pod) and my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). And I’m often asked whether or not these little gadgets are painful.

Fortunately, the answer is that most of the time, they aren’t. I rarely feel it when my CGM sensor or my insulin pod’s cannula pierce my skin, which makes the whole experience of wearing them a lot more comfortable – and much less dreadful when it’s time to rotate sites.

Speaking of sites and pain, though, I admit that there are some sites that, for me, tend to work better than others. The following are the different locations I use for my pod and CGM sensors, in order of what tends to be best to the worst.

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My stomach is my preferred spot for my pod AND my sensor.

Stomach: This is the site at which I have the best insulin absorption, so it’s a clear winner for me when it comes to my pod placement. I also find that it almost never hurts when I press up against the pod (e.g., when I roll over in bed in the middle of the night) when it’s on my belly. The same is true for my CGM sensors, which also seem to be the most accurate when they’re placed on my abdomen. I guess there’s a reason why the stomach site is the only one recommended by the FDA for the Dexcom CGM (which is what I use)!

Lower back: I have yet to try my CGM here, but I often place my pod on my lower back without issue. This site can be trickier to navigate because if I forget that my pod’s there when I’m getting dressed in the morning, I can come precariously close to accidentally knocking it off – and I have in the past. Plus, the pod can rub up against me in an unpleasant way when I’m working out; specifically, doing any sort of abdominal exercise on the ground. But it’s not something I can’t tolerate, and the insulin absorption in this location is just too good in general for me to pass over it altogether.

Upper arm: I wear my pod and CGM on my upper arms sometimes, but they don’t always adhere well for some reason. Getting dressed can be even more problematic for me if I forget that my sites are on my arms – I’ve totally ripped off pods and sensors when I’ve been taking off and putting on clothing. And for a long time, my CGM sensors would make me bleed when I inserted them in my upper arm. I never figured out why, and the problem seems to have gone away, but it definitely made me a little more wary about using my arms as a site (PLUS any devices I wear on my arms are highly visible, and I don’t always like it when people stare at them).

Thigh: Hands-down, the worst site for my pods are my thighs. For starters, wearing denim jeans – especially if they’re skinny jeans – are such a feat when wearing a thigh pod. The fabric pushes up against the pod in such a way that I prefer wearing dresses, skirts, or leggings for the three days that I have a thigh pod just so I can be more comfortable. And speaking of comfort, it’s tough for me to get into a cozy sleeping position when I have a thigh pod because I like sleeping on my stomach sometimes, and there’s just too much pressure up against my pod when it’s on my thigh. And for me, it seems that insulin absorption just isn’t great on my thighs (maybe because they’re on the muscular side). BUT, I will say…I recently tried a CGM sensor on my thigh for the first time and I didn’t hate it! The accuracy was good and it wasn’t in the way as much as a thigh pod (I keep wanting to type “tide pod”) would be. I’ve only had it on my leg for a few days now so I don’t know yet how the adhesive will hold up, but I’ll find out.

Spots I haven’t tried yet (but want to): On social media, I’ve seen people wear Dexcom sensors on their forearms (eek), upper butt cheek (tee-hee), and even on their calves. And pod placement can get even wilder with spots in the center of the back (HOW can people reach back there) and, um, the upper-breast area (one word: ouch). While I don’t think I’ll ever work up the courage to try some of those spots, I am curious about others.

The bottom line is, though, that the sites that work best for me might not work as well for you. (The same thing can be said for my worst sites.) But it is important to remember, above all, the importance of rotating sites…even though I’m clearly not a huge fan of pods on my legs, I’ll still suck it up and place them there because I know that I should be careful of scar tissue buildup.

It just makes the pod-and-sensor-change days that much more pleasant when I can move them from a disliked site to a favorite site, anyways.

 

The Top Three Things my Diabetes Devices Get Mistaken For

When I started using an insulin pump and a Dexcom CGM – and even when I switched to a more modern glucometer – I never really anticipated what other people might have to say about these devices. Yes, I figured that people would notice them, and they’d probably occasionally stare out of curiosity (and sometimes, rudeness).

But I never thought that people would think that they were anything but medical devices. I shouldn’t have so much faith in people.

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Can I see the confusion between my old iPod and my glucometer? Um, sure!

Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to what people think my devices are…here are the top three things that my various gadgets are mistaken for:

  1. My OmniPod PDM is typically confused for a beeper. A freakin’ beeper? Helloooo, we’re not in the 90s anymore! Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time that I saw a legitimate beeper/pager device…so it really cracks me up when people ask if I’m carrying around such an old-school piece of technology.
  2. My pods and Dexcom sensors look like cigarette patches, apparently. The first time someone asked me if my pod was a cigarette patch, I asked them, “Do I look like a smoker?” (Not that smokers are supposed to “look” a certain way.) I was more amused than offended, but also kind of awestruck that somebody would confuse a patch that from my understanding is fairly discreet/sleek in design with a lumpy pod or sensor.
  3. My glucometer seemingly resembles an iPod nano. Once, a person asked me why I was wiping blood on my iPod. I wish I was kidding. I’ll allow that my Verio IQ meter and iPod nano are similar in shape and size, but the similarities end there.

Truth be told, it’s actually pretty funny when people think my devices are something other than medical gadgets. And whenever a comment is made and I have to gently tell whoever it is that they’re incorrect in their assumptions about the device(s), I can almost always guarantee that they will end up feeling foolish for what they said. I almost feel bad, but…not really. For the most part, at least I can say that all’s well that ends well, because these interactions usually lead to a valuable teaching moment that the other person won’t forget.

And clearly, I won’t ever forget these moments, either!

 

My New PDM

After four years filled with various highs and lows, I had to say farewell to the PDM that was virtually glued to my side, working with me to manage my diabetes.

Our parting was inevitable. Around the Fourth of July, I noticed that the battery symbol on my PDM was low, meaning that the triple A batteries within needed to be replaced. I put fresh ones in, but upon the system restarting, the PDM asked me to input information such as the date and time. And then…the pod I’d been wearing for less than 24 hours beeped loudly, signaling to me that it had failed. I figured it must be due to the battery replacement, but this definitely wasn’t normal. So I did some investigating.

I consulted with my mom and she told me that this was a sign that the internal battery within the PDM, the one that cannot be replaced, was starting to run out of life. She advised me to call Insulet to get a replacement PDM. That’s how I discovered that the warranty on my PDM actually expired in January of this year, and that I’d have to pay a nice chunk of change (about $500) to get a new one, under warranty.

It was a painful process, as I’ve detailed in recent posts, but I finally did get my new PDM. Fortunately, it only cost me $100 (I guess I should be glad I met my $900 deductible so quickly).

My New PDM.png
A very special delivery.

I waited to power up the new system until I was due to change a pod – didn’t want to waste a pod if I didn’t have to – and I’m really glad I set aside a half hour or so in order to input all of my settings into the new PDM. It was a bit stressful, really, and just as I was cursing the PDM for not automatically knowing all of this stuff about me, it was set up and ready for action.

It was a strange feeling, disconnecting myself from that PDM I’d relied on for four years. It sounds dramatic, I know, but that PDM and I have been through a lot. As I powered down the system, I had a little moment and felt gratitude toward the PDM (and I suppose all of its little quirks). I put it inside the box that the new one arrived in, and the old PDM now sits in my diabetes supplies cabinet, neatly tucked away so in the event that I need to consult it for old information or data, I can.

And now I can say I’ve got a shiny, pristine PDM that’s under warranty, which I must admit is a relief.

The Red Wedding

If you’re reading this post and knew immediately what the title was referring to…rest assured that what you’re about to read is not nearly as dramatically violent as The Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones. I just chose the title because it semi-accurately described what I encountered with my CGM at a weekend wedding I recently attended. And because the final season is here in a mere FOUR DAYS and I’m struggling to hold in my excitement/terror/anticipation.

Anyways, the day of said wedding began normally, if not a bit early. I put on makeup and a nice dress, tried (and somewhat failed) to curl my hair, and ate a light breakfast. Somewhere between slipping on my jewelry and singeing my hair with the curling iron, I heard my CGM’s alarm blaring, notifying me that my blood sugar was going up. That wasn’t surprising, since I’d just eaten food. But I was caught off-guard when it stopped alarming after two alerts went off…I hadn’t dismissed the previous two, so why was it no longer making any noise?

I checked the app on my phone and saw “sensor error” on the screen…and said out loud, “NOT today, diabetes,” as I promptly stopped my sensor and ripped it off my body. I didn’t even hesitate to do it because I knew that the sensor was due to be changed that evening, anyway, so I saw no harm in doing it a bit early.

“What?” My partner yelled from behind the bathroom door.

“Nothing, nothing,” I said dismissively, which reflected my determination to just brush this inconvenience away and stick a fresh sensor on my body.

Oh, if only it were that simple…

It should’ve been an easy, routine sensor change; alas, upon pressing the button on the insertion device, I let out a little pained squeak. Sensors don’t normally hurt, but every now and then, I get myself in a sensitive spot. And I definitely did this time around. Before popping the transmitter into the sensor, I noticed a bit of blood pooling underneath the sensor’s adhesive.

Save the date

Pools of blood as I make my way to a wedding…do you get the red wedding connection now?

Fortunately, this tale has a happier ending than it did for much of the *spoiler alert* Stark family. Sure, my sensor kinda freaked out when it warmed up two hours later and measured blood instead of interstitial fluid, and it took like 12 hours for it to get its act together and display my readings accurately, but…it all worked out in the end. And thankfully, not a single person had any clue that there was a patch of blood on my belly throughout the wedding…it didn’t even stain through my dress.