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I wrote this post on this day last year and today, when it came up in my TimeHop app reread it and realised it is a good one to consider at the beginning of the year as I’m trying to get myself in order. I’ve made some edits to some of the points due to changes I made last year in the way I manage my diabetes. (The original post can be found here.)

I suppose that I was reminded that being good at diabetes – something I’m afraid I miss the mark on completely quite often – does involve others who sometimes don’t necessarily understand what it is that I really need. And I can’t be annoyed if they don’t intrinsically know what I want and need if I can’t articulate it. This post was my attempt to do just that. 

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Sometimes, I’m a lousy person with diabetes (PWD). I am thoughtless and unclear about what I need, have ridiculous expectations of others – and myself, and am lazy. But I’m not always like that. And I think I know what I need to do to be better.

Being a better PWD is about being true to myself. It is also about reflecting on exactly what I need and I hope to get it.

  • I need to remember that diabetes is not going away
  • I need to remember that the here and now is just as important as the future
  • I need to remember that I don’t have to like diabetes, but I have to do diabetes
  • I need to remember that the diabetes support teams around me really only have my best interest at heart, and to go easy on them when I am feeling crap
  • I need to empty my bag of used glucose strips more frequently to stop the strip glitter effect that follows me wherever I go – edit: while this is true, I do have to admit to having far fewer strips in my bag these days due to my rather lax calibration technique
  • I need to remember that it is not anyone else’s job to understand what living with my brand of diabetes is all about
  • I need to remember that the frustrating and tiresome nature of diabetes is part of the deal
  • I need to be better at changing my pump line regularly – edit: even more so now that I am Looping and think about diabetes less than before.
  • I need my diabetes tasks to be more meaningful – quit the diabetes ennui and make smarter decisions
  • And I need to own those decisions
  • I need to see my endocrinologist – edit: actually, this one I managed to nail last year and even have an appointment booked in for a couple of months’ time!
  • I need to decide what I want to do with my current diabetes technology. There is nothing new coming onto the market that I want, but what about a DIY project to try something new? #OpenAPS anyone…? – edit: oh yeah. I started Looping….
  • Or, I need to work out how to convince the people at TSlim to launch their pump here in Australia – edit: even more relevant now after yesterday’s announcement that Animas is dropping out of the pump market in Australia
  • I need to check and adjust my basal rates
  • I need to do more reading about LCHF and decide if I want to take a more committed approach or continue with the somewhat half-arsed, but manageable and satisfactory way I’m doing it now – edit: sticking totally to the half-arsed way and happy about it!
  • I need to remind myself that my tribe is always there and ask for help when I need it
  • I need to make these!

And being a better PWD is knowing what I need from my HCPs and working out how to be clear about it, rather than expecting them to just know. (I forget that Legilimency is not actually something taught at medical school. #HarryPotterDigression)

So, if I was to sit down with my HCPs (or if they were to read my blog), this is what I would say:

  • I need you to listen
  • I need you to tell me what you need from me as well. Even though this is my diabetes and I am setting the agenda, I do understand that you have some outcomes that you would like to see as well. Talk to me about how they may be relevant to what I am needing and how we can work together to achieve what we both need
  • I need you to be open to new ideas and suggestions. My care is driven by me because, quite simply, I know my diabetes best. I was the one who instigated pump therapy, CGM, changes to my diet and all the other things I do to help live with diabetes – edit: And now, I’m the one who instigated Loop and built my own hybrid closed-loop system that has completely revolutionised by diabetes management. In language that you understand, my A1c is the best it’s ever been. Without lows. Again: without lows! Please come on this journey with me…
  • I need you to understand that you are but one piece of the puzzle that makes up my diabetes. It is certainly an important piece and the puzzle cannot be completed without you, but there are other pieces that are also important
  • I need you to remember that diabetes is not who I am, even though it is the reason you and I have been brought together
  • And to that – I need you to understand that I really wish we hadn’t been brought together because I hate living with diabetes – edit: actually, I don’t hate diabetes anymore. Don’t love it. Wish it would piss off, but as I write this, I’m kinda okay with it
  • I need you to remember that I set the rules to this diabetes game. And also, that there are no rules to this diabetes game – edit: that may be the smartest thing I have ever written. I’d like it on a t-shirt
  • I need you to understand that I feel very fortunate to have you involved in my care. I chose you because you are outstanding at what you, sparked an interest and are able to provide me what I need
  • I need you to know that I really want to please you. I know that is not my job – and I know that you don’t expect it – but I genuinely don’t want to disappoint you and I am sorry when I do
  • I want you to know that I respect and value your expertise and professionalism
  • I need you to know that I hope you respect and value mine too.

And being a better PWD is being clear to my loved ones (who have the unfortunate and unpleasant experience of seeing me all the time – at my diabetes best and my diabetes worst) and helping them understand that:

  • I need you to love me
  • I need you to nod your heads when I say that diabetes sucks
  • I need you to know I don’t need solutions when things are crap. But a back rub, an episode of Gilmore Girls or a trip to Brunetti will definitely make me feel better, even if they don’t actually fix the crapness
  • Kid – I need you to stop borrowing my striped clothes. And make me a cup of tea every morning and keep an endless supply of your awesome chocolate brownies available in the kitchen
  • Aaron – I like sparkly things and books. And somewhere, there is evidence proving that both these things have a positive impact on my diabetes. In lieu of such evidence, trust and indulge me!
  • I need you to know I am sorry I have brought diabetes into our  lives
  • I need you to know how grateful I am to have you, even when I am grumpy and pissed because I am low, or grumpy and pissed because I am high, or grumpy and pissed because I am me.
  • Edit: I need you to keep being the wonderful people you are. Please know that I know I am so lucky to have you supporting me. 
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These days, thanks to Loop, I think about diabetes a lot less on a daily basis. I guess it’s to be expected when suddenly my diabetes devices have become far more automated than previously which results in fewer button pushes, fewer reaches down my shirt to find my pump in my bra to make temp basal changes, or even boluses and fewer out of range numbers that need attention.

The downside of this (if there is a downside) is that I lose track of what’s going on.

Because diabetes is rarely front of mind, I’ve found it hard to remember when I did things such as pump line changes. One day during my holidays, as my CGM trace edged up inexplicably one day, I tried to troubleshoot why, but it wasn’t until I was drying myself off after showering that I became aware of how tender the site felt.

I stood there trying to remember when I had last changed the line, counting back the days, before I realised it had been almost a week. After swapping out the line for a new one and examining the site to make sure it wasn’t infected (it wasn’t – just a little red) I started setting a reminder in my phone so that I would remember when it was time for a change.

To be honest, the only times I can rely on thinking about diabetes these days are when that alarm goes off, or another alert reminding me that it’s time to refill my cartridge, restart my CGM sensor or change the battery in my pump. I’m completely dependent on those noisy reminder alarms to make sure I get things done, because my diabetes has become a little bit ‘out of mind, out of sight’.

It’s funny how quickly changes like these become the norm. And other routines have also been given an overhaul.

My waking habits, which always involved reaching for my phone to check the number on my Dex app, is different now. The other day, I came to realise that often I’d be awake, up and moving around for some time before remembering to check my glucose levels. In fact, often it wasn’t until I sat down for a coffee or something to eat that I bothered to glance down at my Apple Watch. I guess that’s what happens when all you see is a number in the 5s every single morning for six months. The novelty wears off and there seems to be little reason to actually check.

Of course, if I felt the gentle haptic of my watch, or vibration of my phone alerting me to an out of range number, I was right on it. But when there was no noise, I simply wasn’t listening to diabetes.

I suppose this is what I meant when I wrote this in my final post for last year: ‘I finish 2017 far less burdened by diabetes than I was at the beginning of the year.’ The burden of diabetes for me has been the monotony of it, the relentlessness of it, the way it permeates every part of my life. I would, quite easily, feel overcome and overwhelmed by these aspects of diabetes.

Without a doubt, that has changed. My new diabetes feels lighter and less encumbering. And with that, my attitude towards my diabetes has become somewhat kinder. I used to say I hated diabetes, but I think what I meant was that I hated how it was so present all the time.

These days, I feel less bitterness about my fucked up beta cells and the resulting long term health condition I have. Perhaps I feel ambivalent – but not in a ‘I’m over it and don’t care’ kind of way. No. Now, for the first time, I feel that diabetes and I are coexisting, if not happily, at least comfortably.

My day’s first though of diabetes is just before my first hit of caffeine. (Click photo for where to buy Casualty Girl pouch.)

I was thrilled and honoured to speak in the symposium at #IDF2017 all about peer support. I shared the program with Chris Aldred, better known to all as The Grumpy Pumper, and advocate Dr Phylissa Deroze (you can – and should – find her as @not_defeated on Twitter).

Speakers in the peer support symposium at #IDF2017

When we were putting together the program for the symposium, the idea was that it would offer an overview of what peer support can look like, beginning with how diabetes organisations and community health groups can facilitate and offer a variety of peer support options, and rounding up with the perspectives of people with diabetes who provide and participate in peer support.

I spoke about how diabetes organisations in Australia, through the NDSS, offer a suite of peer support choices, urging the audience to think beyond the usual face-to-face or, increasingly, online peer support group. Activities such as camps for children and adolescents with diabetes, information events, education sessions (such as DAFNE) are all avenues for peer support. Peer support need not only take the form of a group of people sitting in a (real or virtual) room talking about diabetes in a structured or unstructured way. It can happen just by putting people with diabetes in the same space.

I’d never met Phylissa before, but I quickly learnt she is the definition of the word determined. She spoke eloquently about her own type 2 diabetes diagnosis which was anything but ideal. Instead of feeling beaten and overcome by how she had been let down by the healthcare system, she turned to her peers, finding a group that not only helped her diabetes management, but also gave her confidence to live well with diabetes.

Phylissa now facilitates an in-person support group for women with diabetes in Al Ain in the UAE, and is a huge supporter of, and believer in, the power and importance of peer to peer engagement and support in diabetes management. You can read more about Phylissa’s work on her website here.

Grumps, in true Grumps style, gave a talk about how his approach to peer support is more organic and certainly not especially structured. Although involved in some more planned peer support, he believes the most effective way he can support others with diabetes is on an individual, more informal way. Kind of like this:

Click image to see tweet.

And as if putting into practise his talk at the Congress, last week he started a conversation on Twitter about his own recent experiences of being diagnosed with an ulcer in his foot opening the door for people to speak about diabetes complications.

Click image to see tweet.

The way we speak about diabetes-related complications is often flawed. The first we hear of them is around diagnosis and they are held over us as a threat of the bad things to come if we don’t do as we are told. They are also presented to us with the equation of: Well-managed-diabetes + doing-what-the-doctors-say = no complications.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

From then on, complications are spoken of in hushed-voices or accusations. Blame is apportioned to those who develop them: obviously, they failed to take care of themselves.

And because of this, for many people, the diagnosis of a diabetes-related complication is accompanied by guilt, shame and feelings of failure when really, the response should be offers of support, the best care possible and links to others going through the same thing. Peer support.

Back to Grumps’ raising diabetes complications on Twitter. After sharing his own story, suggested that we should not be ashamed to talk about complications.

That was the catalyst others needed to begin volunteering their own stories of complications diagnoses. Suddenly, people were openly speaking about diabetes complications in a matter-of-fact, open way – almost as if speaking about the weather. Some offered heartfelt sympathies, others shared tips and tricks that help them. But the overall sentiments were those of support and camaraderie.

The recurring theme of the peer support symposium at the Congress was that we need to find others we can connect with in a safe space so we can speak about the things that matter to us. It’s not the role of any organisation or HCP to set the agenda – the agenda needs to be fluid and follow whatever people with diabetes need.

END NOTE

While we’re talking peer support, how great is it to see that the weekly OzDOC tweetchat is getting a reprise this week, with Bionic Wookiee, David Burren at the helm. Drop by if you are free at the usual time: Tuesday evening at 8.30pm (AEDT). I’ll be there!

Disclosure

I was the Deputy Lead for the Living with Diabetes Stream, and an invited speaker at the 2017 IDF Congress. The International Diabetes Federation covered my travel and accommodation costs and provided me with registration to attend the Congress.

This week, for the first time ever, I had no anxiety at all as I prepared for my visit to my endocrinologist. I always feel that I have to put in a disclaimer here, because I make it sound like my endo is a tyrant. She’s not. She is the kindest, loveliest, smartest, most respectful health professional I have ever seen. My anxieties are my own, not a result of the way she communicates with me.

Anyway, now that the disclaimer is done, I walked into her office with a sense of calm. And excitement. It was my first post-Loop appointment. I’d eagerly trotted off for an A1c the week earlier (another first – this diabetes task is usually undertaken with further feelings of dread) and was keenly awaiting the results.

But equally, I didn’t really care what the results were. I knew that I would have an in-range A1c – there was no doubt in my mind of that. I know how much time I am spending in range – and it’s a lot. And I have felt better that I have in a very, very long time.

The eagerness for the appointment was to discuss the new technology that has, quite honestly, revolutionised by diabetes management.

I sat down, she asked how I was. I marvelled – as I always do at the beginning of my appointments with her – how she immediately sets me at ease and sits back while I talk. She listens. I blabber. She never tries to hurry me along, or interrupts my train of thought.  I have her full attention (although I do wonder what she must think as my mind goes off on weird, sometimes non-diabetes related tangents.)

And then I asked. ‘So…what’s my A1c? I had it checked last Wednesday.’ She told me and I took in a sharp breath. There it was, sitting firmly and happily in what I have come to consider ‘pregnancy range’. Even though that is no longer relevant to me, it frames the number and means something.

I shrugged a little and I think perhaps she was surprised at my lack of bursting into tears, jumping up and down and/or screaming. I wasn’t surprised. I repeated the number back to her – or maybe it was so I could hear it again. ‘And no hypos.’ I said. ‘And minimal effort.’

I’ve had A1cs in this range before. In fact, I managed to maintain them for months – even years – while trying to get pregnant, and then while pregnant. But the lows! I know that while trying to conceive and during pregnancy, I was hypo for up to 30% of the time. Every. Single. Day.

It was hard work. No CGM meant relying on frequent BGL checks – between 15 and 20 a day. Every. Single. Day. And it meant a bazillion adjustments on my pump, basal checking every fortnight and constantly second guessing myself and the technology. Sure, that A1c was tight, but it was the very definition of hard work!

This A1c was not the result of anywhere near as much effort.

Surely the goal – or at least one of them – of improved diabetes tech solutions has to be about easing the load and burden of the daily tasks of diabetes. I’m not sure that I’ve actually ever truly believed that any device that I have taken on has actually made things easier or lessened the burden. Certainly not when I started pumping – in fact, when I think about it, it added a significant load to my daily management. CGM is useful, but the requirement to calibrate and deal with alarms is time and effort consuming. Libre is perhaps the least onerous of all diabetes technologies, yet the lack of alarms means it’s not the right device for me at this time.

These tools have all been beneficial at different times for different purposes. It is undeniable they help with my diabetes management and help me to achieve the targets I set for myself. But do they make it easier to live with diabetes? Do they take about some of the burden and make me think less about it and do less for it? Probably not.

Loop does. It reduces my effort. It makes me think about my own diabetes less. It provides results that mean I don’t have to take action as often. It takes a lot of the thinking out of every day diabetes.

So let me recap:  Loop has delivered the lowest A1c in a long time, I sleep better that I’ve slept in 20 years, I feel better – both physically and emotionally – than I have in forever. And I feel that diabetes is the least intrusive it has ever been.

Basically, being deliberately non-complaint has made me the best PWD I can possibly be.

Oh look! Your phone can now be deliberately non-compliant too, thanks to designer David Burren. Click on the link to buy your own. (Also comes in black and white.)

There is one word – actually an abbreviation of a word – that strikes particular fear through every fibre of my body: ‘Gastro.’ I hate even talking about it. Just typing the word sent a shudder down my spine. (I am nothing if not dramatic…)

A work friend and colleague was telling me about how she had been struck down with gastro a couple of weeks ago – a lovely gift from her kinder-aged daughter. Just the mention of the nausea and vomiting was enough to have me sweating and getting nervous. For the record – and so you understand my irrational fear of the topic – we weren’t sitting next to each other in an office while she was telling me. She was on the other end of the phone. Two states away in Queensland. I was in Melbourne. And yet I was still looking around me wondering what I should disinfect.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Tuesday night I went to bed with my plans for the next couple of days clearly organised and sorted in my head. I had a most-civilised mid-morning flight the next day, and then a couple of days of meetings in Adelaide. I’d booked a cab, checked in online for my flight, half-packed my overnight case and mentally gone through the check list of what needed doing in the morning before I needed to head to the airport.

And then, a couple of hours later I woke up startled, with a very unsettled feeling in my stomach. ‘That doesn’t feel good,’ I said to myself. I lay there for about thirty seconds trying to convince myself that it was all in my head and I was fine and that it would be best to close my eyes and go back to sleep. Before I jumped up and ran to the bathroom, making it there just in time before vomiting. For the first time.

I spent the next few hours alternating between throwing up and being flaked out on the sofa willing myself to not throw up. I was cold and sweaty and hot and clammy all at the same time. My heart rate was racing, and every time I stood up I was dizzy. I gripped onto the walls as I stumbled down the corridor to the bathroom, tripping over nothing but my own two feet.

At about 6am, I sent an email out saying I wouldn’t be getting to Adelaide and cancelled my flight. I crawled back into bed, still nauseous, thinking the worst was behind me. For the most part, it was. I threw up a couple more times before my official alarm went off at 7am.

I feel like death,’ I told Aaron. ‘And I bet I wind up in A&E.’ I used some choice words, mostly words beginning with ‘f’ and ending in ‘uck’, and started to work out how much time I’d lose in an emergency bed having to deal with HCPs wanting to remove my devices from me and ‘look after’ me.

‘Should I stay home?’ asked Aaron. ‘I can take you in that way.’ I told him it wasn’t necessary and that if I really needed to get to hospital my dad could take me. He got ready for work and the kid got ready for school and the two of them left, leaving me in bed, switching between dozing, holding my tender stomach and glaring at my iPhone and my Dex trace. I was hoping if I stared daggers at the trace hard enough it would stay in range.

My Loop was working overtime. I spent most of the morning between 3.5 and 4mmol/l thanks to my Loop cutting off all basal insulin. By about 11am, I could see my CGM trace starting to inch up closer to 5 and then 6, and Loop was making tiny micro adjustments to my basal rates.

I was able to keep water and some dry ginger down, and chewed on small blocks of ice. I didn’t feel dehydrated; I wasn’t going high. I didn’t have ketones. Things were looking good!

By 1pm, I was feeling comfortable enough to call into the meeting I should have been at in Adelaide. My nausea was less pronounced. I felt washed out, achy and tired, but I hoped I was out of woods, and needing to go to A&E was becoming less and less likely. Thankfully.

I have generally been pretty lousy at managing gastro and diabetes. I usually do end up in A&E, needing to be rehydrated and given some anti-nausea meds though an IV as I’m unable to keep them down after taking them orally.

But of course, it ends up being far more of an ordeal than simply lying on a bed with fluids being pumped into me. There is the inevitable request for my insulin pump to be removed so that insulin can be administered via IV – even if it’s clear my pump is working just fine.

Nurses insist on checking my glucose levels, refusing to pay any attention to the CGM spitting out readings every five minutes. My requests (demands?) to self-manage my own glucose levels – and diabetes generally – are ignored. I’ve no idea what would happen if I tried to explain the DIY APS thing I have going on these days, but suspect that wouldn’t go too well.

Usually, it takes me making an emergency call to my endo for things to go the way I really want them to – fluids, dark room, anti-nausea meds and home in about 4 hours (at the most).

By the time I leave I often feel worse for wear – and certainly more battle scarred – than I did when I first walked in there, doubled over and trying to not throw up on anyone.

But I avoided all that the other week. I managed to spend the day in the comfort of my own home, breathing in fresh air from the open windows and generally feeling comfortable and content. The only gastro hangover I had was a little exhaustion and abdomen discomfort. All in all, it was a good outcome. (But I’m still terrified of the word ‘gastro’…)

A much preferred view to a cubicle in A&E!

When I was a teenager, I slept a lot. And I could sleep through anything. There are stories of the whole family being woken by thunder storms or possum fights in the ceiling or other things that go bang in the night, and me sleeping blissfully through it all. My family would guess how quickly I would fall asleep as we piled into the car heading off on a family drive. (Typically – in under 5 minutes.)

For a number of years, I never saw a plane take off. The taxiing jet would lull me to sleep and I’d be dozing by the time the plane took off.

I’d never ever had trouble sleeping, ever. I’d hear of tales of insomnia and never believed it could happen to me.

I loved sleep. I needed sleep. So, I slept. And I’d wake in the morning feeling refreshed, alert and ready to take on the day.

And then I was diagnosed with diabetes and sleep suddenly became an interrupted mess.

I was thinking about this the other day when I looked at the JDRF T1D footprint. Apparently, I’ve lost 4,070 hours of sleep. ‘Yeah, I’d believe that,’ Aaron said when he saw it. And he’d know. He’s kept me company for many of those hours. Sometimes my clattering around would make the house; other times, Aaron would be up, making toast or getting me juice to help lows, or refilling my water glass, or even holding my hair back while I threw up thanks to highs.

As much as I still loved and needed sleep, I was no longer sleeping soundly.

And then, I started Looping.

Living with diabetes, we know that our sleep is affected. We all have those nights where lows or highs need attention. Pump lines get pulled out in our sleep and need to be replaced. Devices alarms – CGMs alert to out of range numbers, pumps demand refilled cartridges.

But even when there are no alarms waking us, or glucose levels that need ‘fixing’, our sleep can still be affected.

This became very clear when I started wearing CGM. I’d wake exhausted in the morning after a night of unbroken sleep, thinking that I should feel rested. A glance at my CGM trace would show hours and hours of low glucose, or bizarrely high levels. Or a combination of both, with rollercoaster lines overnight.

Since Looping, that just doesn’t happen. Back in January this year when I first spoke with someone who was using Loop, the thing he told me that stood out the most was that he was sleeping so much better. ‘I wake every morning between 80 and 90,’ he told me. I quickly divided by 18 and shook my head in astonishment. And suspicion.

I was really quite sceptical about it, to be honest. There are far too many variables that affect our glucose levels – even at night – and I couldn’t believe that there was anything that was able to deal with those variations. How could an algorithm manage ovulation or the arrival of my period? Or stress or delayed food absorption?

Well, somehow, Loop does manage them! Every morning, I wake up with my Dexcom showing a number in the 5s. Every single morning. And the CGM trace is straight.


What’s not straight, however, is the basal insulin delivery rates. They are ALL over the place, with constant tiny changes – dozens of them.

Those better nights of sleep are not just about me. ‘The hours of lost sleep are a lot less since I’ve been Looping, right?’ I said to Aaron and he nodded. ‘Definitely!’

But more than simply not losing sleep, my quality of sleep is so much better and I wake feeling refreshed. And I am a much nicer person, even before my first coffee!

 

We can work out how much we fork out to pay for diabetes.

It’s expensive. Of course it is. When I added up the costs earlier this year for a Diabetes Blog Week post, I estimated our family budget takes a hit of about $6,500 (excluding private health insurance) each and every year. That’s a lot of cups of coffee and a lot of pairs of boots.

But if I talk about the financial burden of diabetes alone, I’m selling short just how expensive the condition really is. The dollars I fork out each year are only one part of what it costs me – although it is a lot easier to quantify.

Because, there’s time. So much time.

We sit in waiting rooms, travel to appointments, take time out to make calls to make those appointments, call the pharmacy to order insulin and supplies, visit the pharmacy to collect insulin and supplies. Our prescriptions run out and we have to hastily find a time and way to refill them. We sit on the phone waiting to receive pathology results. We take time out of work time, out of family time, out of social time, out of our own time because diabetes demands it.

And then there is time dedicated to the day-to-day minutiae of ‘doing diabetes’. The time it takes to check our BGLs, or change a pump line, or site a new CGM sensor. Then there is the time to look at data, and act upon it. We lose time to treat lows, treat highs, watch CGM traces, question what to do with random numbers. We build up a sleep debt that never gets repaid, no matter how many early nights or nanna naps we try to sneak in.

It adds up. It all adds up – slowly and deliberately until suddenly we realise just how much time it takes. I tried to give a dollar amount to the time I spend doing diabetes, and stopped when I realised just how terrifying it was. If I was able to dedicate that much more time to paid work, I’d be spending a lot more time in New York each year. And then I got depressed and decided to stop adding up the hours I spend on diabetes.

But still, this is just scraping the surface. The money it costs and the time it takes are significant and must not be underestimated. However, the harder to measure personal costs and emotional burden should not be forgotten either.

I don’t really know how to gauge the extent of those costs. I don’t know how to quantify the psychological impact of diabetes – most of the time I can barely qualify it. But I know it’s significant.

During this month, there are a lot of efforts to try to explain diabetes to those not living with it. JDRF’s T1D Footprint calculator is doing the rounds again, and it’s an effective way to put numbers to just some of the tasks we do to manage our diabetes. I really like they’ve added an extra element to their social media activation: a photo frame with the words ‘T1DYouDon’tSee’ which acknowledges our invisible condition.

Because that’s the thing about diabetes. We can tally up hours and dollars, but measuring the stuff we can’t see is a whole lot harder. And for me, that’s where the real expense in diabetes lies.

Following last week’s post about how my ADATS’ talk was received, several things happened. Firstly, I was contacted by a heap of people wanting to chat about the reaction. Secondly, I was sent several designs of logos and t-shirts with ‘deliberately non-compliant’ splashed across the front, which obviously I will now need to order and wear any time I do a talk (or am sitting opposite a diabetes healthcare professional). And thirdly, discussions started about how we manage our diabetes ‘off label’.

While off label generally refers to how drugs are used in ways other than as prescribed, it has also come to mean the way we tweak any aspect of treatment to try to find ways to make diabetes less tiresome, less burdensome, less annoying.

When it comes to making diabetes manageable and working out how to fit it into my life as easily and unobtrusively as possible, I am all about off label. And I learnt that very early on.

Change your pen tip after every use.’ I was told the day after I was diagnosed, meeting with a diabetes educator the first time. ‘Of course,’ I said earnestly, staring intently at the photos of magnified needles showing how blunt the needles become after repeated use. ‘Lancets are single use too.’ I nodded, promising to discard my lancets after each glucose check. ‘You must inject into your stomach, directly into the skin – never through clothes, and rotate injection sites every single time.’ I committed to memory the part of my stomach to use and visualised a circular chart to help remind me to move where I stabbed.

Fast forward about a week into diagnosis. Needle changed once a day (which then, in following weeks, became once every second day, every third day, once a week… or when ‘ouch – I really felt that’); I forgot that lancets could be changed; speared (reused) needles directly through jeans or tights into my thighs, having no idea which leg I’d used last time.

And then there were insulin doses. ‘You must take XX units of insulin with breakfast, XX with lunch and XX with dinner. That means you need XX grams of carbs with breakfast, XX with lunch and XX with dinner. These amounts are set and cannot be altered. You must eat snacks.’ I took notes and planned the weekly menu according to required carb contents. Within a week, I’d worked out that if I couldn’t eat the prescribed huge quantities of carbs, I could take less insulin and that all seemed to work out okay. And I worked out how I didn’t need to have the same doses each and every day. It was liberating!

I switched to an insulin pump and the instructions came again: ‘You must change your site every three days without fail.’ I promised to set alarms to remind me and write notes to myself. ‘Cartridges are single use,’ I was told and vowed to throw them away as soon as they were empty. Today, sometimes pump lines get changed every three days, sometimes three and a half, sometimes four and sometimes even five. Cartridges are reused at times…

I was also told to never change any of the settings in my pump unless I spoke with my HCP. But part of getting the most from a pump (and all diabetes technology) is about constantly reviewing, revising and making changes. I taught myself how to check and change basal rates – slowly and carefully but always with positive results. (For the record, my endo these days would not tell me to never change my pump settings.)

CGM came into my life with similar rules, and as I became familiar with the technology and how I interacted with it, I adapted the way I used it. Despite warnings of never, ever, ever bolusing from a CGM reading, I did. Of course I did. I restarted sensors, getting every last reading from them to save my bank balance. I sited sensors on my arms, despite warnings that the stomach was the only area approved for use. I started using the US Dex 5 App (after setting up a US iTunes account and downloading from the US App Store) because we still didn’t have it here in Australia, and I wanted to use my phone as a receiver, and seriously #WeAreNotWaiting.

And today…today I am Looping, which is possibly the extreme of using devices off label. But the reason for doing it is still the same: Trying to find the best ‘diabetes me’ for the least effort!

The push back to curating our diabetes treatment to fit in with our lives is often frowned upon by HCPs and I wonder why. Is it all about safety? Possibly, but I know that for me, I was able to always measure the risk of what I was doing off label and balance it with the benefit to and for me. I believe I have always remained as safe as possible while managing to make my diabetes a little more… well, manageable.

It can be viewed as rule breaking or ‘hacking’. It can be thought of as dangerous and something to be feared. But I think the concerns from HCPs go beyond that.

As is often the case, it comes down to control – not in the A1c sense of the word, but in the ‘who owns my diabetes’ way.

When we learn how things work, make changes and adapt our treatment to suit ourselves, we often find what works best is not the same as what we are told to do. And I think that some HCPs think that as we take that control – make our own decisions and changes to our treatment – we are making them redundant. But that’s not the case at all.

We need our HCPs because we need to be shown the rules in the first place. We have to know what the evidence shows, and we need to know how to do things the way the regulators want us to do them. We need to understand the basics, the guidelines, the fundamentals to what we are doing.

Because then we can experiment. Then we can push boundaries and see what is still safe. We can take risks within a framework that absolutely improves our care, but we still understand how to be safe. I understand the risks reusing lancets, or stretching out set changes by a day or two. Of course I do. I know them because I’ve had great HCPs who have explained it to me.

Going off label has only ever served to make me manage my diabetes better. It has made me less frustrated by the burden, less exasperated by the mundanity of it all.

And the thing that has made me feel better – physically and emotionally – about diabetes more than anything else is using Loop. So, use it I will!


It seems silly to have to say this, but I will anyway. Don’t take anything I write (today or ever) as advice. I’m not recommending that anyone do what I do and I never have.  

I get to meet some pretty awesome people with diabetes around the globe. At EASD I caught up with Cathy Van de Moortele who has lived with diabetes for fifteen years. She lives in Belgium and, according to her Instagram feed, spends a lot of time baking and cooking. Her photos of her culinary creations look straight out of a cookbook…She really should write one!

Cathy and I were messaging last week and she told me about an awful experience she had when she was in hospital recently. While she wasn’t the target of the unpleasantness, she took it upon herself to stand up to the hospital staff, in the hope that other people would not need to go through the same thing. She has kindly written it out for me to share here. Thanks, Cathy!

______________

‘Good day sir. Unfortunately we were not able to save your toes. There’s no need to worry though. We’ll bring you back into surgery tomorrow and we’ll amputate your foot. It won’t bother you much. We’ll put some sort of prosthetic in your shoe and you’ll barely notice…’

I’m shocked. Still waking up from my own surgery, I’m in the recovery room. Between myself and my neighbour, there’s no more than a curtain on a rail separating us. I feel his pain and anxiety. He is just waking up from a surgery that couldn’t save his toes. This man, who is facing surgery again, leaving him without his foot. How is he gonna get through this day? How will he have to go on?

The nurse besides my bed, is prepping me to go back to my room. I tell him I’m shocked. He doesn’t understand. I ask him if he didn’t hear the conversation? His reaction makes me burst into tears.

‘Oh well, it’s probably one of those type 2 diabetics, who could not care less about taking care of himself.’

I’m angry, disappointed, sad and confounded. I ask him if he knows this person. Does he know his background? Did this man get the education he deserves and does he have a doctor who has the best interest in his patient? Is he being provided with the right medication? Did he have bad luck? Does he, as a nurse, have any idea how hard diabetes is?

The nurse can tell I’m angry. He takes me upstairs in silence. My eyes are wet with tears and I can only feel for this man and for anyone who is facing prejudice day in day out. I’m afraid to face him when we pass his bed. All I can see is the white sheet over his feet. Over his foot, without toes. Over his foot, that will no longer be there tomorrow. I want to wish him all the best, but no words can express how I feel.

What am I supposed to do about this? Not care? Where did respect go? How is this even possible? Why do we accept this as normal? Have we become immune for other people’s misery?

I file a complaint against the policy of this hospital. A meeting is scheduled. They don’t understand how I feel about the lack of respect for this patient. They tell me to shake if off. Am I even sure this patient overheard the conversation? Well, I heard it… it was disrespectful and totally unacceptable.

Medical staff need to get the opportunity to vent, I totally agree. They have a hard job and they face misery and pain on a daily basis. They take care of their patients and do whatever is in their power to assist when needed. They need a way to vent in order to go home and relax. I get that. This was not the right place. It was wrong and it still is wrong. This is NOT OKAY!

Helen Edwards from Diabetes Can’t Stop Me has written a thoughtful piece today on her blog about why she has ‘broken up with CGM’.

I truly love this post, because it once again reinforces the ‘one size fits no one’ approach that I have always advocated when it comes to diabetes.

As I read Helen’s story, I realised I could have written this post. I was reminded of the long and very winding road that it took for me to get to a point where I could live comfortably with all the tech. Learning to love it took even longer. It certainly was not love at first sensor! For a long time, I felt overwhelmed by all the data, the alarms drove me to distraction and I struggled at times to live with an invisible condition when all my robot bits are on show.

I showed the below photo during my talk at ADATS last week. It’s from a few years ago (and accompanied this post) when I was really struggling to live alongside CGM. I had to work up to convince myself to put on a sensor and made all sorts of deals to try to limit the stress I was feeling. I turned off all the alarms except for the low alarm. I promised myself that I would rip the sensor out if I was starting to be paralysed with all the information being constantly thrown at me. And I reminded myself that the data was just numbers trying to retrain my brain to not feel judged by the electronic device.

This wasn’t the first time I made such a deal with myself. And it took this and many other attempts of starting to wear CGM before everything feel into place. There were times where I pulled sensors out after two days because I just couldn’t cope with it.

Learning to live alongside diabetes technology is not an easy decision. There is bargaining, sacrificing and trade-offs. The tech is brilliant, but it rarely, if ever, works as simply as the shiny brochures promise. It’s not perfect and the limitations of the technology should never be blamed on the person wearing it.

Also, it’s no good speaking to people like me, because I’m all evangelical about it and spend all my time telling people how much I love it – while conveniently forgetting how long it took to find that place.

The tech is not for everyone and no one should be made to feel bad if they choose a more analogue approach to diabetes management. This is another slide I showed at last week’s ADATS meeting (from this post):

Right device; right time; right person. The right device might actually be no device at all. And that is absolutely fine!

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