Conference Calls and Low BGs

Some things in this world simply belong together.

Peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Mickey and Minnie. Name an iconic pair, and…

…I can guarantee that it won’t be conference calls and low blood sugars.

Indeed, I can attest to how much the two DON’T belong together because I faced a rather annoying one the other day.

It happened during one of the many weekly meetings that I now attend virtually along with the rest of my department at work. Not only do I have to dial into these meetings, but there is a video component, as well. Fortunately for me, all that I’m doing is listening during these meetings instead of talking, so I can stay on mute for the duration of most of them, and occasionally make various facial expressions that show I’m listening.

So I was, indeed, on mute when the shrill BEEEEEEEEEEEEP BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP of my CGM receiver started. And thank goodness I was, because that sound is enough to derail anyone’s line of thought.

But rather than address the low right away, I was a little stupid about it.

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I turned off my webcam for approximately 30 seconds just so I could capture how agonizing the wait for my blood sugar to come back up was.

I decided to wait as long as possible before I corrected it.

I know, I know – that’s a dangerous game to play. But hear me out! My meeting was running from 12:30 to 1:30. I planned on having lunch right after the meeting, and it was already 1 o’clock when my CGM started shrieking. I thought I could wait to treat it with my lunch food…but that’s not what ended up happening.

I started feeling low, low. Like, shaky, sweaty, unable to focus on anything that my group was discussing, and ravenously hungry.

So I did what any person with diabetes would do when their blood sugar is that low – the only thing to be done, of course, was to whip off my head phones, turn off my camera, sprint into the kitchen, wolf down a handful of raisins, and jump back onto the call.

Oh, and turn off the camera again for another 30 seconds or so (in the 15 minute window of time it took for my blood sugar to stabilize) to capture a picture of myself on the struggle bus that is the recovery process from a low.

The whole ordeal stood out to me because it’s very different from the last low that I remember experiencing during a work meeting. That one happened when we were all still in the office, and I had to get up and dismiss myself from the conference room so I could grab a package of fruit snacks from the office kitchen.

That one was much more disruptive, but I handled it much more promptly than this one.

This one wasn’t even noticed by a single person on the conference call (and if someone did see me pop off camera for a moment, I’m sure they just assumed I was having connectivity issues).

This one I didn’t react to immediately, and I ended up being punished for it because I missed out on some meeting information due to my inability to concentrate and the need to finally treat it.

This one and that one do have one thing in common, though: Low blood sugars absolutely do not complement meetings, conference calls, or any sort of work-related task, ever.

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home When You Have Diabetes

You might not have realized that I have a unique working arrangement when it comes to my “real” job at a financial services company: I work from my apartment in Virginia about 75% of the time. The other 25% of my time is spent working from my company’s office in Massachusetts.

It took me a long time to adjust to this part-time commuter, part-time teleworker situation. To be honest, I still need a day or two to get reacquainted with the office (or my work-from-home setup) when I come and go between the two states. It can be weird to go from being surrounded by my coworkers one day to being by myself in my home office.

However, I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to use this workplace benefit. I know it won’t last forever; in any case, I’ve made a number of observations that have highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of working from home as it pertains to my diabetes:

the pros and cons of working from home with diabetes
Yes…my fridge is THAT close to my desk…literally within arm’s reach. Dangerous.

Pro: Access to ALL of my diabetes supplies at all times. This is hugely helpful whenever I’m having an “off” diabetes day. If I’m not sure my pod is working properly, I have all the tools at my disposal to monitor and correct the situation. It’s much easier than bringing everything I could possibly need with me into the office when I’m there.

Con: Being alone. thrive when I’m surrounded by my coworkers. I’m able to bounce ideas off them more easily and stay connected to in-office activities. But there’s also a level of safety that I feel when I’m around my coworkers. They all know about my diabetes and are more than capable of helping me should I need it, and well, when I’m working from the apartment…the only person I can depend on is myself for 40+ hours a week. And that reality can be a little anxiety-provoking.

Pro: Ability to treat low and high blood sugars without worrying how it might impact my coworkers. The following scenario has happened to me a number of times: Blood sugar is low, I start shoving food into my face just as a coworker decides to “pop by” with a question (and vice versa when my blood sugar is high and I’m trying to correct it). When I’m dealing with these diabetes situations in the office, I worry far too much about how it impacts my coworkers when I really should just focus on myself and treating whatever it may be. It’s slightly warped thinking on my part, but that’s just one of the trickier aspects of handling diabetes in the workplace.

Con: Being much, much, MUCH more sedentary. My diabetes hates when I take “rest days” from working out. But it loves when I move as much as possible throughout the day. This is pretty easy to do when I’m working in the office: I can park my car semi-far away, I can take the stairs to navigate around the building, and I can stretch my legs during the day with a couple laps around the office. But when I’m in the apartment? I move much less because I don’t really have any place to go. I definitely stay glued to my chair more than I’d like.

Pro: Easier to call for supplies, make doctor’s appointments, etc. (all the administrative tasks associated of life with diabetes). I never want to be “that person” in the office who takes just one too many personal phone calls during the workday. I also like to maintain privacy when discussing issues sensitive to my diabetes because it’s my business. So I feel a lot better when I can handle the “administrative tasks” of diabetes from the privacy of my home, with the knowledge that I’m not disrupting my coworkers with my phone calls.

Con: My gadgets tend to be much more disruptive via webcam versus in-person. My coworkers are used to my pump and CGM making sounds in-person, but when I dial into meetings and they start beeping and hollering in the background, it’s WAY more obnoxious because I can’t always tend to them right away, and the sounds are just more alarming. Since I use a webcam for most of my meetings, I can’t just get up and silence my devices…so it’s a little tougher to navigate than when I’m in-person.

Pro: Being able to make my lunch from scratch each day. So I won’t pretend that I’m cooking gourmet lunches on a daily basis, but I am able to prepare fresher meals than I do when I go to the office. Plus, the temptation to buy food from fast-food joints is pretty much eliminated when I work from home – why bother venturing out to spend money on lunch when I already have food at the apartment?

Con: The kitchen is mere steps away and it’s stocked with all my favorites. This goes hand-in-hand with the above pro…it’s all too easy to reach into a cabinet and grab a handful of this or a spoonful of that, and I admit that I don’t always bolus for these mini snacks I grab. This, combined with my more sedentary nature, means that my blood sugars tend to be higher when I work from home.

Pro and con: No refrigerator stocked with my favorite diet sodas. All of this kitchen talk makes me think of something that could be considered a pro and con of working remotely…I can’t grab a can of diet root beer or diet ginger ale whenever I feel like it! My work fridge generously stocks a nice variety of diet sodas, so I drink a lot more of them when I’m in the office. But I don’t buy diet soda to keep in my apartment refrigerator, because I’m trying to kick the habit…though I do miss snagging sodas in the afternoons as a pick-me-up when I’m working from the apartment!

 

How Working From Home Affects my Diabetes

Diabetes is a creature of habit. It rarely appreciates disruptions in its expected routine…so when they happen, it likes to make its displeasure known.

This probably explains why I’ve dealt with a number of diabetes curve balls since I started working from home (as opposed to an office) full-time.

I’ve been working remotely, 40 hours per week, for just about a month now. This was a choice I made as I prepared to move from Massachusetts to Virginia. I like most things about my job, from the people I work with to the skills it has helped me develop. But I don’t particularly love that my job forces me to be a self-described “cubicle rat”. When I work in the office, I’m parked at my cubicle for a solid portion of the day. As a semi-fidgety person, this was a tough reality for me to swallow nearly five years ago when I started my job. However, I was able to adapt to the old ball-and-chain that is my desk, and learned to break free from it every once in awhile. Before long, I discovered that getting up every 60-90 minutes to either wander into the kitchen for a drink, walk up the stairs to another floor in the building, or in nice weather, stroll around the building in laps, were all excellent ways to cope with my desire to move as well as keep my blood sugars at bay.

So that’s close to five years of having a very specific routine that my diabetes and I were used to…no wonder it was pissed off when I changed things up.

You are a rare gem.

Working from home affects my diabetes in ways that I expected and others that caught me off guard. First, the things that didn’t surprise me: I knew that I would likely be even more sedentary at home than in an office. I’m not walking across a parking lot, up a set of stairs, and down a long hallway just to set up my desk each day. All I’m doing is walking five feet into the living room in order to power on my laptop. So there’s a lot less daily movement, and I’ve had to work hard to incorporate as much of it as possible because my diabetes responds incredibly well to exercise.

I also knew that my relationship with food would change a bit. Since I was living with my parents before the move, I was lucky enough to have 99% of my food preparations done for me by them (thank you for feeding me, Mom and Dad). Not only would I need to take care of cooking my own food in this new situation, but I would also need to become responsible for making smart choices and stocking the pantries with healthful things…because when you work from home, ALL the food is available to you. And since there aren’t any coworkers nearby me to chat with and take my mind off snack time, it’s much easier for me to just traipse through the kitchen whenever the heck I want and eat a gratuitous number of chips, crackers, cheese, and any other sort of goodies I can find. I don’t like admitting it, but I don’t always bolus for said snacks…making it that much more of a struggle for my blood sugars.

But what I didn’t know about working from home and how it might impact my diabetes is that there’s an emotional side to it that almost certainly comes into play. The first few weeks of my move were absolutely draining. I was homesick and trying to adjust to this strange, new place at the same time, and honestly, I think it was all a little too much for my diabetes to deal with at once. There were three straight days in which I had to fight hard to get my blood sugars to come down from stubborn highs, and there was another string of days in which I felt like I had to eat everything in the kitchen just to keep my numbers up. Between the numbers that my blood sugars represented and my emotions, each day felt like a seesaw and I wasn’t sure what to expect next.

What took me by surprise the most, though, about my new work arrangement was how quickly I acclimated to it. By the end of week two of working remotely, I had a routine – with a few fluctuations here and there – that I’ve since tried to stick with: waking up around 6:30, exercising, showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, logging onto work, working for 4 hours, eating lunch, taking a break to do household chores/errands, working for another 4 hours, then logging off for the day. So far, I’ve found that following this pattern helps me move around as much as I did when I worked in the office, and it establishes a flow that my blood sugars and diabetes can follow. I’ve also, for the most part, remained mindful of the foods I eat during the working hours, after making mistakes with a bag of pretzels and banana chips in the first couple of weeks.

Even though my diabetes wasn’t happy with remote work in the beginning, I think I’ve arrived at a place in which it’s coming to terms with it…and, I daresay, warming up to the concept.

Hypo and Tongue-Tied: My Woes at Work

“Okay,” I thought to myself as I sat down for my 90 minute meeting, “My blood sugar’s sitting pretty around 100 or so. I should be able to make it the whole meeting without experiencing a drop, since the last time I gave myself insulin was about three hours ago…”

The fact that I had the audacity to think that my body/blood sugar wouldn’t play any tricks on me is laughable.

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This was my recent struggle at work. Usually, diabetes doesn’t interfere with my work whatsoever. I’m sitting, somewhat stationary, at a desk for eight hours every Monday through Friday. There was an adjustment period to the sedentary life when I first started working at my job, but it’s been more than four years now, so my body and my blood sugars are used to it. Plus, throughout the workday, I go out of my way to fit in extra steps, whether it’s using a restroom on a different floor or parking my car far away from my building’s entrance. Combined with my higher activity levels before/after work and regular workweek eating habits, I’d say that I’ve struck a balance in terms of physicality and diet that makes for an optimal environment for my diabetes to function normally/predictably.

So when I DO experience a high or low when I’m at work, it throws me off…but only for a relatively short amount of time. I’m talking like 15 minutes or so here. That’s right about the amount of time I need to come up from a low. If it’s a high blood sugar, I need even less time to rebound. I simply bolus, drink plenty of water, and move on to my next task. (Only in cases of 300+ blood sugars do I get really nervous – it’s only happened a couple of times, but I’ve had to leave work when that happens either due to feeling sick or needing to go home to deal with it.)

But things were different the other day when I was in the middle of a meeting with a colleague and I could feel the slow and steady drop of my blood sugar. Despite having monitored it closely prior to the start of the meeting, it started to coast down. Here’s the real kicker, though – I’m pretty in-tune with my body and could feel that this was not an urgent low. I figured my blood sugar was somewhere between 65 and 75. I didn’t have my CGM or meter to confirm, and I felt like I could keep the meeting going…so I didn’t do anything about it.

And in hindsight – even if it is 20/20 – I wish I had done something.

Why? Mainly because I felt that I was virtually useless in my meeting. As I reviewed each page of the 80+ slide PowerPoint, I could feel my thinking start to deteriorate. Words were tumbling out too quickly and nonsensically. I wasn’t sure if I was making a whole lot of sense to my colleague. And that’s a feeling that I can’t stand. I don’t like thinking that I may have wasted her time due to my determination to “power through” a low. It’s a perfect example of low blood sugar causing a symptom other than shakiness, sweating, or sluggishness: In this case, it also caused stubbornness.

When I finally made it back to my cubicle, I slumped down into my chair and grabbed a juice box from my low supply stash while my CGM buzzed over and over, letting me know that I was indeed low. Within approximately 8 seconds, the juice box was crushed, and I couldn’t help but think how next time I had a meeting, I’d bring one with me…just in case.

Favorite Things Friday: My Secret Snack Stash at Work

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

So, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that none of my coworkers read my blog…because then my secret snack stash at work will become not-so-secret, and that could mean trouble for me when dealing with future low blood sugars. That being said, if you’re reading this and you work with me…stay away from the stash!!!

As I was saying…

I love having a snack stash stored away in one of the drawers at my cubicle. I like to stock it with snacks that have varying carbohydrate counts: more carbs for lower lows, and fewer carbs for the not-urgent lows. The items may vary from time to time, but usually, I keep the drawer filled with the following snacks:

  • Mini Lara bars (10 carbs)
  • Mini boxes of raisins (11 carbs)
  • Fruit snacks (all kinds, ranging from 10 carbs to 21 carbs)
  • Peanut butter crackers (15 carbs)

Sometimes, I’ll even add a jar of glucose tablets (which contains 50-60 tabs) to the lot. Glucose tablets are far less tempting to munch on then, say, a cracker pack, so when I’m dealing with a raging-hunger kind of low, it helps to have the tabs within reach because they prevent me from over-treating.

My-desk-at-work-low-snack-stash-in-the-upper-right-hand-corner.
In order to throw off coworkers (who are most definitely, probably not reading this post), I’ll share an image of my old snack CORNER. I’ve upgraded to a drawer now.

And when all else fails and my snack stash is depleted, at least I’ve got access to a fully-stocked Coca-Cola machine in my office suite, as well as a vending machine filled with all sorts of confections in the building’s basement.

But let’s be real here…who can possibly exercise enough self-control to stop eating a package of Skittles when low blood sugar comes ’round?

Disclosing Diabetes in the Workplace

Almost two years ago, my friends from the College Diabetes Network asked me to discuss diabetes in the workplace at their annual student retreat. The prospect of bringing diabetes into a new career and encountering new sets of challenges can seem daunting, so I was happy to talk about my positive experiences thus far as a young adult who has already made the transition from college to “the real world”.

Diabetes in the workplace – how do I navigate it? Here’s a little snippet in which I explain how I’ve decided to disclose my diabetes with my coworkers: