Molly, Meet Metformin

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on February 25, 2019. I’m sharing it again today because when I initially started taking Metformin, I felt really alone because I didn’t know any other person with T1D who was also taking it. It is my hope that talking about my experience helps someone who might feel similarly or would like to hear from a fellow T1D what it was like to start Metformin. Read on for more…

You may have read the title to this post and said to yourself, “Met-WHAT?”

Metformin is the new medication I’ve started taking (along with my typical insulin) to help regulate my blood sugars.

Maybe you didn’t make it all the way to that second sentence; instead, maybe you just Googled Metformin to learn more about it. And you probably immediately got confused, because the Google search results explained that Metformin is a medication normally prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes. You know that I have type 1, though, so what gives? Why am I taking this new pill?

You see, for about a year or so, my endocrinologist has been gently encouraging me to try Metformin. She expressed concerns over the fact that I’ve had diabetes for more than 20 years, and in that span of time, I’ve had to take a lot of insulin. Like, an incalculable amount. And while that insulin helps to keep me alive, there’s also risks associated with it. Namely, she explained to me that there’s research that indicates that people with type 1 who rely on large amounts of insulin have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life.

It took a long time for me to feel ready to try Metformin, but I’m glad I didn’t start it until I was comfortable doing so.

Whoa. The “c” word. Something I never thought I’d hear during a doctor’s appointment. If you know me personally at all, then I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine that I pretty much shutdown at the mention of “cancer”. Almost immediately, I panicked and asked why she thought this research was worth mentioning. She said that it was part of her reasoning for wanting me to start Metformin. The idea is that it would make my insulin more effective, and ultimately decrease the amount of insulin I need each day. She went into a little more detail, mentioning that the only side effects tend to be nausea/upset stomach – and that’s when I stopped listening. I politely told her that I didn’t think Metformin was a wise option for me at that time, and later that day, when I took to Twitter to ask other T1Ds what they thought, I gained swift validation that I’d made the right decision: Other T1Ds with Metformin experience told me that the stomach issues they had when taking it were miserable and that they wouldn’t recommend giving it a try. Plus, I consulted with my T1D pharmacist aunt, and her opinions matched those of the other T1Ds on Twitter. So that was all I needed to hear to feel at peace with my choice to not take Metformin.

In fact, it was enough for me to turn my endocrinologist’s offer down during our next two or three appointments. I was relieved that she never pushed me to try it, but there was a small part of me that wondered whether I should give it more serious consideration. Maybe I should let her talk me into a little, rather than brushing it away and using fear as my excuse.

So we did talk about, during my most recent visit with her earlier this month. She gave me some more compelling reasons to consider taking it. Not only could I reduce my insulin intake, but it might also help me with some preexisting digestive issues I’ve had since childhood. When I asked her about the negative side effects on the stomach that I’d read about online, she told me that she would only prescribe me the “extended release” version of Metformin, which had a much lower (if any) chance of inducing nausea or any less…desirable gastrointestinal disorders.

This news definitely perked me up. We discussed a plan for introducing Metformin to my body: Start by taking one pill daily after dinner. Increase by one pill each week until I’m at four pills per day, the limit. At any point in time, I could message her with questions if I started to notice low blood sugars in the evening.

I felt reassured by this logical plan, as well as her explanations of the benefits of Metformin. So I bit the bullet and I’m in my first week of incorporating it into my post-dinner routine. I can’t say that I’ve noticed even the slightest difference, which isn’t a bad thing. I imagine that will change as my dosage increases.

I intend to blog about this new journey with Metformin; not just for the sake of keeping track of how it affects me, but to also help inform other T1Ds who may have been or may be in the same situation that I was. We’ll just have to see how it goes, but for now, rest assured that I’ll be honest in my writings about my Metformin experience. At this moment in time, I can’t help but feel hopeful that down the road, I’ll be glad I made this decision when I felt ready for it, as opposed to when I was fearful of it.

Unsteadily Stable

“Molly,

Your labs are stable. A1c is just slightly higher.”

This was the ultra-concise memo that my endocrinologist sent me post-appointment.

Nothing about this note was shocking, but somehow I’d deluded myself into thinking that my doctor’s analysis of my diabetes management in the last six months would be…I don’t know, a little more personal? Maybe contain congratulatory sentiments or words of encouragement?

Words of encouragement may have been more helpful in getting me to tip the scale and feel steadier about my diabetes management…

After all, I’d told her during our appointment that while I didn’t have any specific diabetes concerns to discuss, I did have a strong desire to improve my management. I know that I’m doing better than I was, say, at the age of 18 or 19, but as I grow older I become more acutely aware of the things that I could improve upon with my diabetes care. I acknowledge and accept that it’s up to me to be accountable for taking steps towards progress, yet I do rely on the input from my healthcare team in order to come up with realistic ways for me to make said progress. So naturally, I felt a slight tinge of disappointment when we discussed and agreed on a single, minor tweak to my basal and bolus settings before parting ways, with plans to see one another again in six months.

I couldn’t help but feel…that’s it? That’s all that I got out of this appointment? I suppose I’m feeling a bit jaded about it because it was my first time seeing my endocrinologist in about a year, since she had an extended leave of absence. In the time since I last saw her, I’d had a couple of appointments with the nurse practitioner who she allegedly works closely with, and I guess I had assumed that the NP would update my doctor on how I’m more determined than ever to take steps to achieve more time in range.

Now, I realize more than ever that I can only rely on myself to convey my thoughts and feelings about my diabetes to my healthcare team. Now, I realize that while my labs indicate my diabetes “stability”, my attitude towards my diabetes is the opposite.

I’m calling it…unsteadily stable. I’m doing fine with my diabetes, but I know that I am capable of doing better and feel like the path there will be a bumpy one.

Another way of putting it? I’m like one of those children’s roly-poly toys – I’m a little wobbly in terms of the goals I have for my diabetes management, but I certainly won’t let it cause me to fall down.

You Should Feel Empowered to Advocate for Yourself and Your Diabetes

This was the message conveyed to me after one of the best endocrinology appointments I’ve ever had, at least in my adulthood.

I’ll confess that I was nervous going to my first endo appointment of the new year. I didn’t know what to expect as I wasn’t bringing any specific concerns with me – besides the fact that I was upset about a conversation I’d had with a different doctor regarding a separate issue.

After the nurse practitioner and I exchanged pleasantries, she sat down at the computer screen that was displaying my record and asked me what I wanted to discuss during our appointment.

That’s when it all came flooding out.

I babbled about how I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to talk to her about besides the fact that I got a very discouraging message from a doctor who told me I needed to have better control over my diabetes, and that this was infuriating to me because 1) not all of my health concerns can be blamed on my diabetes and 2) it was disheartening to be told by one subset of my health care team that I’m doing great with an A1c of around 7, but to hear from another subset that I’m not doing great and need to work harder. Once I finished my train of thought, I braced myself for a less-than-favorable reaction.

But that’s not what I got.

I’m really glad that nobody walked into the exam room as I was taking goofy selfies like this.

Rather, my NP asked me to explain my concerns in greater detail. She sat, listened, and told me that she disagreed with the comments from my other doctor’s office. It was validating to hear someone who actually does work in diabetes reassure me that, for starters, my diabetes might not necessarily be to blame for any other health issues I was experiencing. She also made me feel better about my A1c and that my track record proves how hard I’ve worked over the years to maintain a 7 (or below) and that it’s not indicative at all of a lack of control over anything.

Best of all, when I sheepishly admitted to her that I’d been embarrassed to write in about the health concern in question, she reminded me that I should always feel empowered to advocate for myself and my overall wellness. It was an incredibly powerful message for her to convey to me, seeing as my self-doubt had manifested itself in full-force over this whole interaction with the doctor’s office. And it’s a message that I plan to carry with me to future doctor’s appointments to help ensure that I do stay on top of my health to the fullest extent possible, while also making my voice heard.

At the end of the appointment, my NP turned and said to me that I’m an inspiration. While I don’t exactly agree with her words, I can’t remember the last time I left an appointment feeling truly understood as a patient living with type 1 diabetes. That’s what’s inspiring to me…the fact that a physician took the time to recognize the hard work it takes to live everyday life with T1D. And the discovery that my A1c has dropped by .3 to a level that I’m very proud to have reached – well, that’s the cherry on top of my first endocrinology visit of 2022.

I Finally Had an Endo Appointment, and…

…and it went well. Much better than I anticipated, both to my surprise and delight.

I’ve written here and here about my long overdue endocrinology appointment and my struggles deciding whether or not to pursue a new doctor. I eventually settled on taking an appointment with a nurse practitioner at my current endo’s office (mostly because I wanted advice from a professional sooner rather than later).

But my expectations for the appointment were low. I was doubtful that the NP would take the time to listen to, let alone address, my concerns. Fortunately, she proved me wrong.

My appointment – and the NP herself – really exceeded my expectations.

After we introduced ourselves to one another, I opened up to her that my previous appointment with the endocrinologist had been disappointing. I’d like to think I was gentle but brutally honest in my approach: Using kinder words than this, I explained to her that I felt like my last appointment was a waste of time and that I disagreed with the doctor’s assessment that I was doing just fine with my diabetes management. My sentiments were met with sympathy as the NP let me vent to her about where I felt I was lacking in terms of my diabetes care in the last several months.

The appointment lasted roughly 20 minutes or so, and by the end of it, several things happened: 1) I was given a new test kit and test strip prescription (I told the NP that I distrust my Livongo meter and want a reliable back-up for when I’m not wearing my CGM), 2) I had a referral to see a podiatrist due to concerns I expressed about my feet, 3) We agreed on a minor tweak to my correction factor that will hopefully help eliminate some mid-morning highs I’ve been experiencing, and 4) We set up a follow-up appointment with one another to take place in 3 months in addition to an appointment 6 months from now with the endocrinologist to make sure all of my bases are covered and I don’t have to go so long without seeing a doctor for my diabetes again.

I can’t remember the last time that I felt so heard by a diabetes clinician (or even any kind of clinician).

As the appointment concluded, I told the NP that I’m the type of person who relies on accountability in order to stay on top of my diabetes, and this appointment was the exact sort of accountability wake-up call that I needed to hold me over for the next few months until my next one.

And I daresay…thanks to the affability and receptiveness of this NP, I’m actually looking forward to our next visit in early 2022.

An Endo Update

So I’ve got an update on my whole I-haven’t-seen-my-endocrinologist-in-8-months situation.

It’s not exactly the update I was hoping for, but it’s one that I believe just might push me into making some positive change around my diabetes care.

As it turns out, my endocrinologist is on leave and not taking appointments until February 2022, at the earliest.

What’s even crazier than that February 2022 wait time? The fact that I haven’t been at an in-person endo appointment since 2019.

I found this out after contacting her office and receiving a message back that I could either wait until that time to see her, or I could schedule an appointment with a doctor at a different location that the office would suggest to me.

At first, I wasn’t sure what the right move was. I was almost certain that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) wait another 4 months to see someone about my diabetes; after all, I’ve been unhappy with my management for most of this year. But even though I have been similarly unhappy about my relationship with my current endo (it’s practically nonexistent), I admit that I felt fear over the prospect of seeing someone new because any other provider would only know me based on the information available to them in my records. In other words, they would only know me based on numbers, not based on who I am and my personal diabetes management style/beliefs.

So I sat on this news for a few days as I pondered whether or not to take this as a sign that it’s time for me to find a new permanent endo, despite the mere thought being incredibly daunting to me.

During my pondering period, I happened to get a call from my endo’s office that wound up making my mind up for me.

They called to let me know about an available appointment with the nurse practitioner who works closely with my endo – an appointment that I could get this week.

I hesitated for a moment (I really hadn’t anticipated getting an appointment before the end of the month) before agreeing to take the open slot. And I’m glad that’s what I decided to do, because 1) at least I can talk to someone about what I think I’m lacking in terms of my current diabetes management; 2) I might end up getting some quality advice that will redeem my endo’s office in my eyes; and 3) even if I don’t see eye to eye with this person, it will be the push I need to start actively pursuing a new endo that will more closely match my diabetes care style.

We’ll see what happens.

Way Overdue for An Endo Appointment

By chance, I was looking through some old lab results on my endocrinologist’s online patient portal when I noticed something.

I was (and still am, as of this writing) way overdue for an endo appointment.

The last time I saw my doctor was at a virtual appointment back in February – more than 8 months ago. This gap in time between appointments feel especially significant because most of my life with diabetes, I’ve gone to the endocrinologist 4 times per year. It was only when I started seeing this new endocrinologist (who I’m not a particularly big fan of, BTW) a couple of years ago, and it was at her suggestion that I dropped down to twice yearly appointments.

From the beginning, I haven’t loved that recommendation.

I’ve realized that I am the type of person who kind of relies on regular visits with my endocrinologist in order to keep my diabetes (and myself) in check. This doesn’t mean I actually enjoying going to see my endo – because who honestly likes to go see any doctor – but it does mean that I feel like there’s been a missing component to my diabetes care lately.

I guess I’ve just been too busy (traveling, working, trying to maintain a semblance of a social life) to slow down and really notice the absence in my diabetes care and management.

But what bothers me more is that my endo’s office hasn’t even tried to contact me to schedule an appointment. What gives?! The moment I knew that I was way past due for an appointment, I messaged their office, and I still haven’t received a response back.

So in addition to it being time for my endocrinology appointment, it may also be time for a new endocrinologist, period.

Reflecting on my Experience with Metformin

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post series about my experience with Metformin. As I was paging through my blog, looking for either an old post to republish or inspiration for a new post to write, I came across that series and got to thinking about how I felt on Metformin.

If you aren’t familiar with what Metformin is, it’s an oral medication that’s typically used to help stabilize blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. This is where you might be thinking…I (Molly) have type 1 diabetes, so why was I prescribed this medication?

Well, my endocrinologist at the time wanted me to try taking Metformin in tandem with doses of insulin in an attempt to reduce my overall insulin needs. She expressed concerns that my daily insulin intake was high (something I disagree with now, as I think about it a couple of years later), and that she had some general awareness of studies that indicated it might not be good for my future health if I continued using so much insulin each day. (Note: I don’t know what study or studies she was referring to, and this is where I should’ve done more research before just taking her word for it and going on the pill. This is an example of poor patient advocacy on my part.)

I did not enjoy my time on Metformin.

Even though I met her sentiments with skepticism, I trusted this endocrinologist, so I decided to give Metformin the old college try. And I hated it. Hated it! I tried taking it per my doctor’s instructions for two separate spans of time (each lasting a month or so) and made the decision to stop using it because I simply didn’t see that it was making any sort of difference. Actually, it was affecting something, just not my blood sugar levels or insulin intake – it was affecting my anxiety levels. I was afraid that Metformin, coupled with my insulin, would cause me to have low blood sugars all the time. While in reality, I didn’t experience many lows, I was still always paranoid about them and it was an unpleasant thing to have to deal with.

So now, about two years later as I think about these ineffective encounters with Metformin, I realize that I should have done a lot more before even considering taking it. I should’ve asked more questions. I should’ve done more research. I should’ve asked around the diabetes online community to see if anyone had advice for me. I should’ve pushed back more with my doctor to get to the bottom of the reason(s) why she wanted me to take Metformin. Going back to my point above…this was a big lesson in patient advocacy. It’s important to ask questions and gather all the facts, especially in situations like this where there was so much uncertainty, in order to receive the best care possible. And it’s important to remember that even the most trusted and well-liked doctors aren’t always right when it comes to the medical guidance they suggest or give. At the end of the day, I’ve got to keep in mind that nobody knows my body and brain better than I do, so it’s okay to challenge the authority of the experts (in a respectful, kind way of course).

My First Virtual Endocrinologist Appointment

My first-ever virtual endocrinologist appointment – and my first one of 2021 – took place last week. I’m going to sum it up list-style, because who doesn’t love a good bullet-point list?

  • It was strange. I didn’t think I would be weirded out by having my endocrinologist “in” my home, but it was freakin’ bizarre to see her face show up on the monitor that I do my day job from, that happens to live on a desk in my bedroom.
  • I had to wait to see my doctor. It took almost 10 minutes for me to receive my pre-appointment check-in call, and another five before my doctor actually joined. That felt normal.
  • We made a single change to my pump settings in the whole appointment. She suggested a solitary tweak to my correction factor. I’m not sure I agree with said change, but we’ll see how I feel about it over time.
Look, it’s actually me in the virtual waiting room! Smirking at the camera and everything! Thank goodness my doctor didn’t join at this moment…
  • My lab results were barely discussed. My doc mentioned that my cholesterol was a little higher than it was last time, and I unabashedly told her that this was probably because I hit the drink somewhat harder than I used to in the past (sorry not sorry, I like wine). I brought up my A1c and I said I was proud of myself for achieving it, and she just nodded, otherwise disregarding this data point.
  • We figured out which prescriptions I needed. When she asked about my supplies, I explained to her that Dexcom is no longer shipping sensors and transmitters to me directly and they want me to use another supplier called Byram (more on that in a future post). I asked if she could send my prescription to my regular mail-order pharmacy instead, and she obliged, telling me to double-check on the script in a few days to make sure it would go through properly.
  • It was just as short as they typically are. The whole damn appointment lasted only 15 minutes and 2 seconds…and we talked about me/my diabetes, specifically, for fewer than 5 minutes. We spent the rest of the time discussing our collective confusion over my COVID vaccine eligibility and my frustration over my postponed physical. It was both gratifying and dismaying to discover that she couldn’t understand why the state of Massachusetts considers me ineligible to receive the vaccine until the third (final) distribution phase, but I’m hoping that will change soon.
  • She wants to see me again in 6-7 months. My doctor ended the appointment by asking me to schedule an appointment in the August/September range, which seems so far away. I let her know I’d schedule it at a later date for a couple of reasons, one being that I have no clue whether I’ll want to go in person or do it virtually again, and another being that I really don’t know that I want to keep her as my endo.

That just about covers it. I’m not the happiest patient in the world – I’ve been uncertain about this doctor since I started seeing her – but for realsies, I’m glad that I trusted my instincts and requested a virtual appointment instead of an in-person one.

The drive would’ve been longer than the visit, and for me, that just doesn’t make it worth it.

A Dis-Appointment: My Experience at the Endocrinologist

Welp, I had my appointment with my endocrinologist on Monday.

In sum, it was mostly an uneventful affair, considering the times.

Immediately upon arriving, I was asked to put on a clinic-provided mask and to sanitize my hands. I checked in with the receptionist and sat in a chair in the mostly-abandoned waiting area, taking in the fact that seating was reduced in order to maintain social distance.

A nurse came out to bring me into my exam room and she took my blood pressure (good) and my weight (let’s not talk about it) before leaving to get my doctor. I was slightly surprised that she didn’t check my temperature with a contact-less thermometer, but I decided not to second-guess it.

My endocrinologist entered soon after…and she spent all of 15 minutes with me. She said that she reviewed the information I sent her from my Dexcom, as well as data from my pump, and said she couldn’t really detect any patterns besides some lingering lows in the late mornings/early afternoons. Again, I found myself a bit bemused by this observation, because I hadn’t picked up on it. She decided to adjust my basal for the 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. window (I went from 0.9 to 0.8 units for those two hours) and then asked me if I had any questions.

She didn’t check my feet, listen to my heart, examine my thyroid, or review my labs with me…all things that I’ve come to expect from previous endocrinologists.

My mild shocks of surprise from earlier in the appointment turned into something else: As the kids say, I was SHOOK…meaning that it was absolutely wild to me that she was already done with me.

A Dis-Appointment_ My Experience at the Endocrinologist
Am I smiling or frowning underneath this mask? Given how my endocrinologist appointment went, I bet you can guess…

I expressed my dismay with my A1c – it had gone up a little bit – and she told me that I was “still under good control”.

I said that I was befuddled by my weight gain – I’ve been working out like a fiend the last couple of months – and she suggested that perhaps it’s muscle.

I asked if she could recommend any blood sugar meters to me – I’ve had the same one for practically a decade and I worry about its accuracy – and she said that I should try a new meter from the same manufacturer that’s supposed to hit the market “soon”.

For every question or concern I brought up in that short span of time, she had an immediate, unsatisfactory answer that made me feel like my concerns were being brushed away.

But the real kicker? I’m not seeing her again for another seven months.

SEVEN MONTHS?!

That’s right, folks. I went from having quarterly endocrinologist appointments for my first 22 years of life with diabetes to once every six months, and now in SEVEN months.

This means that I will have seen my endocrinologist once for the entire year of 2020.

That’s bananas to me, and a sign that my instincts from our first meeting were correct: This may not be the right doctor for me. I have no doubt of her intelligence or capability, but sometimes you just know when a given doctor-patient relationship isn’t the healthiest one for you.

The whole appointment – the brevity, the indifference, and the outcome – was almost enough to make me forget about my anxieties surrounding medical facilities during this pandemic…

…almost.

Luckily, that’s what face masks, Clorox wipes, several squirts of hand sanitizer, and a thorough hand-washing or five are for.

My First Endo Appointment of 2020

My first endocrinologist appointment of the year is coming up next week and it’s got me feeling allllllll sorts of emotions…

Anxiety. This tops the list because, well, I haven’t been to a medical office since the coronavirus outbreak started. My doctors have either asked me to reschedule my appointments, or I’ve been able to see them virtually. I know that my endocrinologist’s practice has many protocols in place now to make the experience as sanitary and safe as possible, but it still does put me on edge.

Fear. I’m afraid of what my A1c will be. Yup, I’m actually scared to know this reading that should, in reality, help me manage my diabetes better. I know, I know – the A1c is just one way to measure how well I’m taking care of my diabetes, the one number isn’t a total reflection of my “success”. But I can’t help but be worried that I’ll be disappointed by my results, even though I know I’ve tried my best in the last few months to achieve one that makes me happy.

Beige and Gray Minimalist Quote Instagram Post
Who would’ve thought that a simple follow-up with my endocrinologist would evoke so many emotions?

Skepticism. The last time I saw my endocrinologist was just a couple days after Christmas…and it was my first meeting with her. It was her suggestion that I return in six months as opposed to the usual three, which I thought was a little weird, but I just went with it. However, I’m now wondering if this was the right call, because how on earth is she even going to remember more than six months later? I’m concerned that we’ll spend most of our time catching up on things that I didn’t want to discuss during this important follow-up, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will go better than I’m currently expecting it to go.

Curiosity. I’m HELLA curious as to what my doctor will say about my diabetes management in the last six months. Will she tell me that I’m doing a good job? Will she scold me? Will she take the time to review my latest lab results? Will she help to address my needs so that the next time I see her, I’ll have less trepidation over our visit? I’m very eager to find out the answers to those questions.

Listlessness. Perhaps the most unusual feeling I’ve had about this appointment is…lack of interest in it. I’m nervous about physically getting out of the house to go to it, and I’m wondering about the outcome of it, but the mere thought of going right now just isn’t sparking much of anything within me. I haven’t really thought about the questions I might ask her during the appointment; instead, the only thing I’m truly focused on is the logistics of getting there and actually sitting in the appointment. Otherwise, I’m just feeling a little tired when I think about it, like I’ve already gone and it’s drained me of my energy. This could be due to some burnout that I suspect I’m contending with at the moment, but for now, all I know is that unless I leave the appointment feeling positive in some fashion, then this whole “six month follow-up” thing just might not cut it for me and my own diabetes care and management routine.