Why is it so Difficult to Order Life-Saving Medical Supplies?

When it comes to obtaining my diabetes supplies – life-saving pieces of medical equipment – I’ve discovered that it’s not a simple process. It’s not exactly like purchasing something on Amazon with a single click. Rather, it’s a convoluted, head-scratching, infuriatingly long procedure that apparently involves multiple calls to a variety of companies.

As of this writing, it took approximately 4 calls to my endocrinologist’s office, 12-14 calls to Insulet (the maker of my OmniPod insulin pump), 6 or 7 calls to Dexcom (for my CGM supplies), 2 calls to my health insurance provider, and 1 call to Express Scripts just to get everything all straightened away. These calls took place over the course of 2.5 months, and as they grew in frequency, so did my overall frustration and confusion.

The biggest headache was definitely caused by the lack of effective communication between Insulet and my endocrinologist’s office. I needed to get a new PDM, and Insulet’s job was to contact my doctor’s office and get a letter of medical necessity in order to get a PDM shipped out to me. Simple, right?

Why is it so Difficult to Order Life-Saving Medical Supplies_
My call log looked like this for several days in July – so many phone calls to Insulet/OmniPod and to my doctor.

Far from it. About a week after I placed the order for the new PDM, I got an email from Insulet saying that my doctor’s office had failed to return their faxes. I was advised to contact them to determine the delay. When I did, I spoke with a receptionist who, despite my clear explanation of the issue, misunderstood what I was asking for and left me a voicemail to say that she didn’t know what Insulet was talking about seeing as their information showed that I had received a shipment from them. (For whatever reason, she thought I needed more pods, which I did have delivered around the same time that all of this was going on.)

After several more back-and-forth phone calls, I cracked the case wide open: Insulet had the wrong contact information for my doctor. While my endocrinologist hasn’t changed in about a decade, her office location has, and Insulet still had the old one. I felt like an idiot for not realizing this sooner, but then again…why was I the one who was jumping through so many hoops and making so many contact attempts in order to figure out what the hold-up was? It was absolutely ridiculous, but I certainly felt relieved – and satisfied – to have personally solved the mystery.

I wish I could say I had a better experience with Dexcom, but that proved to be similarly headache-inducing. I thought that I was set to receive my supplies after I’d signed a payment plan for a 90-day supply of sensors and transmitters, but when they didn’t show up after a month of waiting, I knew something was wrong. I called Dexcom and discovered that the order, for reasons unknown, just didn’t process, so I had to sign a brand-new payment plan and had my case assigned to a different customer service rep. I was pretty pissed off by the lack of communication, but the one silver lining was that I’d already managed to pay my deductible in full (ha, no surprises there), so my Dexcom supply order would cost me less. Again, it was unbelievable that I never got an update from the company regarding my order’s status, but I did feel a sting of pride in myself for getting it all worked out on my own.

I don’t know why everything about this process is so agonizing. But what I do know for sure is that it seems that the only person I can count on to get my supplies ordered properly, in the end, is myself.

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Doing Everything Right and Still Getting it Wrong

One of the most frustrating things about having diabetes is feeling like you’re finally understanding it, perhaps even mastering it, only for it to lash out at you and make you feel like you don’t know shit about it.

It’s when you do everything right – check and treat accordingly, eat properly, exercise sufficiently – and still get it wrong when your blood sugars don’t behave the way they should.

I really hate when this happens, but I loathe when it happens on vacation…which is exactly what happened to me last week when I was in Maine for a few days.

Things started going awry shortly after I woke up (if only I knew then that I was in for a DAY!!!). I ate breakfast and my blood sugar swiftly started to rise. But I didn’t panic, because that’s what I wanted to happen. We’d be walking all around town for part of the morning and most of the afternoon, so I wanted my blood sugar to be on the higher side so that my chances of dropping dramatically in the heat were lower. I made the right call – soon after we got downtown, I noticed a diagonal down arrow on my Dexcom app. Things were headed in the right direction…or so I thought.

Not long after I spotted the diagonal arrow, I started to feel a little low-ish. Not super shaky or anything, but just a bit disoriented. I decided to pop into my favorite candy store to fill a small bag with treats so I had something sugary to munch on that would prevent a bad low blood sugar.

Those were mistakes number one and two…not consulting with my CGM again before eating candy, and going to town on it because it was CANDY and it tasted delicious.

Doing Everything Right and Still Getting it Wrong

Within a half hour, I was rising up, up, and up. I took a small amount of insulin to correct it, not wanting to be too aggressive and risk a real low. But as I walked around the amusement park with my boyfriend and his family, I just wasn’t coming back down like I thought I would. I lingered in the mid-200s for much of the early afternoon, and by the time we stopped for lunch, I was rage-bolusing to bring my numbers down faster. I even chose a lower-carb lunch option in the hopes that it’d stave off another high blood sugar, but nope, the BG gods were not in my favor that afternoon. As we moved from the amusement park to a brewery (a drastically different change in locale, I know), I bolused once again, and then noticed that the batteries in my PDM were low.

And that actually wasn’t a problem, because I was prepared enough to have spare triple A batteries on me – thank goodness! I took the old ones out, popped the new ones in, and waited for my PDM to come back to life. And it did…but it asked me to input the month, day, and year.

Dammit. THAT’S never a good sign. I entered the information and the system accepted it, and then my pod failed immediately after, which meant that I had to ditch the brewery and the group of people that I was with to get back to the house we were staying at as quickly as possible to put a new one on.

It doesn’t get much more irritating than that.

(Later, I discovered that my PDM’s internal battery was going, and that this behavior would occur every time I replaced the triple A batteries. Needless to say, I’m awaiting a new PDM from Insulet, because it’s just not smart to continue using an aging PDM.)

By the end of this day of turbulent blood sugars and unpredictable medical device malfunctions, I was mentally beat. I felt like I’d been thrown into the roughest of ocean waters and forced to tread water for hours in order to keep my head above the surface. It’s exhausting to know that, when it’s all said and done, I was really trying to do the right things and take care of myself. I was SO DANG PREPARED with those extra triple A batteries, for goodness’ sake! But man, diabetes…just when I think I know it better than anything else, it throws me for a loop and I remember a saying from Professor Mad-Eye Moody of the Harry Potter series (of course I’m talking about Harry Potter again, don’t act surprised): CONSTANT VIGILANCE. I’ve got to be aware of my diabetes at all times. I’ve got to know how to react and when so that my diabetes will remain in my charge – not the other way around.

Grazing: My Bad Habit

A handful of peanuts here, a couple of slices of cheese there.

A pile of popcorn followed by a spoonful of peanut butter.

A few pretzels and a small smattering of chocolate chips – because chocolate.

These snack combos, as strange as they may be, all describe some snacking behavior that I also refer to as “grazing”. Grazing is all about taking little bits of food when I’m not necessarily hungry. I equate it to eating out of boredom, except I’m not indulging on full meals or anything, I’m simply munching because the food is there and my blood sugar is acceptable enough to the point that I can freely snack without having to bolus, or worry about significant blood sugar jumps later on.

In other words, grazing is a habit I’m trying to break.

grazing

I’m not stupid. I know that the aforementioned foods I choose to graze on contain carbohydrates. Whether trace or moderate, they’re still there. And I choose to ignore them.

I don’t know why. If I want to have a snack, then that’s okay, as long as I take insulin for it. But I guess my rationale for grazing is that I’m taking “itty bitty” amounts of food that will minimally impact my blood sugar, if at all.

Then again…it’s not exactly logical when those small snacks DO wind up impacting my blood sugar. Usually, the spike happens several hours after, and each time I get angry at myself for a) not having enough self-control to resist grazing and b) not taking insulin for it when I do give in to the bad habit.

Nearly 21 years of diabetes and I’m still occasionally blown away by the minutiae of it: how just the slightest smackerels can take a toll on the straight-lined graphs I strive to achieve daily.