Hemingway for the Win!

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“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”  -Ernest Hemingway

 

The rookie to diabetes blogging this year, I soon discovered a community that rises up and carries its pain together like garden ants that have stumbled upon a cracker at a picnic- only we’re not as gross, we don’t have antennae, and we would surely bolus for the cracker carbs.

In the act of lifting up this thing together- this disease and all of its pokes and prods, interrupted sleep, hunger, thirst, laughter, and tears- we speak and write from the souls of those who have stared down what hurts, and who will stare it down again tomorrow.

That’s what 2014 was for me: being awestruck by the passion, wit, humor, creativity, warmth, and truthfulness of the diabetic online community as it writes hard and clear about what hurts.

You make it hurt less.

May the New Year be a healthy and happy one for the #DOC.

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Pros and Cons, Do’s and Don’ts, X’s and O’s

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I could write a 200-page manifesto about the ups and downs of 2014 while insulin pumping and then transitioning to shots, but for the sake of not straining our eyes by reading a mile-long exhaustive blog post, here are some main points worthy of highlighting:

Pros of Shots:

  • I know with certainty that insulin is getting into me.  A reliable insulin delivery mechanism is something that I will never take for granted again.  There is something to be said for a good, old-fashioned jab with a syringe.  Plus, ketones have packed up and moved out for now.
  • The mental relief that this offers is difficult to articulate.  We are slowly but surely building back trust: a trust in insulin that it will do its job, a trust in eating a nutritious meal and knowing that insulin in my body will cover that food, a trust that I will not wake up in the middle of the night in a ketonic state, and- frankly and in violation of the “double negatives rule”- a trust that I will not not wake up one day due to ketones.
  • Trusting in the doctors’ knowledge:  While taking over twenty units of long-acting insulin such as Lantus after a decade of pumping might not be a big deal to some diabetics, for me it was a huge mental mountain to wrap my head around.  Multiple doctors chimed in throughout this process, thankfully.  One in particular yielded emails at all crazy hours of the weekend.  And the other reassured me over the phone that I would be okay, her voice calm and confident.  On the first day of injecting, I said a quick prayer and reminded myself that these doctors went through graduate and medical school and have been doing this for many years; I had to believe in their expertise.  So far, they have proven that they know their stuff!
  • Taking long showers without rushing to get out and reconnect to life-sustaining medical equipment.
  • Only one insertion (Dexcom) about every two weeks.
  • Wearing only one site (Dexcom).
  • Crossing a “Never Have I Ever” trump card off my list- at least if playing with other diabetics.  (I never liked that game, anyway).  “Never have I ever given myself an insulin injection in the stomach…”  Oh wait, I just did it three times today without flinching.
  • Finding the humor in the situation.  For example, shooting up at a rest area recently while a horrified mother spotted me and promptly peeled out of the parking lot, the wheels of her minivan screeching, after she unfairly assumed that I was a heroin junkie.  Far from it…
  • I don’t need a behemoth-sized-suitcase filled with back-up pump supplies when I travel.
  • Trying new things:  Even three months ago, I never would have consented to trying a different way.  I have the #doc and some very patient, compassionate doctors to thank for renewing my strength and for holding me up on the bad days.
  • Honesty.  This process has made me more upfront with myself and my doctors.  For years, I skirted around the issues, felt trapped in one method of diabetes treatment, and perhaps did not accept how multifaceted my insulin pumping problems had become.  No one likes to feel desperate, but I can see in my old blog posts, emails to pump reps, tears cried to my doctor, and so on that what I was doing on the pump was not working as optimally as it is intended to; hence, we needed to at least try something else.  A few weeks later, here we are…

Cons of Shots:

  • I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the pump (very strong emphasis on the “good pump site” days).  The stability in my blood sugar was better on the pump, but perhaps some of the severity of the recent “shots rollercoaster” is the fact that it’s only a few weeks into the trial and we have a lot of insulin dosing details left to address.
  • The pump is much more convenient.  Out of habit, I still reach down to my side to take a correction bolus with my invisible pump friend, only to find him missing in action.  I am in the process of waiting out an insulin pen prescription, and I hope that this makes things a bit easier in the day-to-day aspects of shots.  Currently, I prefill some syringes with typical Humalog doses or I manually fill the injections, making it a somewhat timely and tedious process.
  • Shots require more thinking.  I have to really focus when I draw up the amounts.  I quadruple-check that I have drawn up twenty-three units of Lantus, rather than Humalog.  (My doctor recommended using nail polish on the insulin boxes and bottles to help differentiate between them.  I know that there are colored lids, ties, etc., that you can also purchase.  The bottom line is that you want something that will catch your eye and make you focus on taking the correct type of insulin).
  • Where, oh, where, have my temp basals gone?  Plus one for the pump in that regard.
  • Once the insulin is in you, it’s in you for the day.  Currently, I take one Lantus dose daily, but we may transition to twice a day for some fine-tuning.  I am too high during the daytime, but at night I crash harder than a college kid at her first keg party.
  • Bruises.  Lots of them.  My hand-eye coordination has always been a bit defunct (i.e. my kindergarten teacher sent a note home telling Mom to have me practice cutting and coloring in-between the lines over the summer).  Perhaps this deficit is why I simply suck at shots.  It’s the opposite of “you can give it out but you can’t take it.”  Actually, I am pretty darn good at taking shots without any tears, but when it comes to giving them, the “stab repeatedly” method doesn’t work so well.
  • Lantus burns.  It’s not excruciating, but it’s there.
  • Socially, it’s either inject in public, or scurry off to the bathroom for every injection.  Because I find that I really have to concentrate when taking Lantus to make sure I’m drawing up the right dose, of the right medication, at the right time, I often take that shot in the bathroom at work so that I can have some privacy to focus.  I do not have much shame about taking injections in public, but it is more the “always having to have the diabetes conversation” element that I sometimes would rather avoid.  However, I have done many injections in my abdomen at work and in the local coffee shops, and no one has noticed.  On the plus side (I think?), my friends are eager to puncture my skin with a needle whenever they can have the chance; so far, I trust my mediocre injection skills over theirs.

Do’s of Shots:

  • Consult your doctor(s).  Consult the diabetic online community.  Weigh your options.  Take action if you are ready to try something new.
  • Write down all your pump information, such as basal rates and carb ratios, so that you have it handy if needed in the future.
  • Tell someone what you are doing.  Transitioning from the pump to shots after many years of pumping is scary and it is an educated-guessing-game under the guidance of medical professionals, as most diabetes-related things are.  During this time, there is a slightly-elevated risk that something out of the ordinary may happen, such as a severe low blood sugar due to an inadvertent insulin dosing mishap.  I emailed a few friends at work one day when I was not feeling well, on the off chance that an emergency did occur; I told them the name of my diabetes clinic and some basic information about my transition back to shots, on the very rare chance that I may not be able to articulate these facts myself to an emergency responder if a bad situation occurred.
  • This is another reason to have proper medical identification.  You can read more about this under disclaimers and disclosures, but MedicAlert has served me well for over twenty years.  I feel comfort in knowing that my medical and contact information is stored in their database, and that if I were ever unconscious an emergency responder would know that I was type one diabetic simply by reading the back of a MedicAlert medical identification bracelet that I wear at all times.
  • Restock on supplies: glucose tabs for the car, juice at the office, etc.
  • Understand that you may require more insulin in your boluses than you currently do on the pump.  My correction factors and insulin to carb ratios have changed significantly as we iron out the Lantus details.

Don’ts of Shots:

  • I do not regret trying shots.  My doctors and I were ready to do this in this moment.  In hindsight, however, I picked a rather difficult first week to test out multiple daily injections again.  Guys: You’ve been warned.  The next few sentences discuss female stuff.  #sorryimnotsorry 
  • A few days prior to the beginning of my cycle, my hormones seem to have an epic party where they are up all night chugging Red Bull and taking vodka shots within my body.  My blood glucose refuses to budge from its perch high atop the elevated blood sugar peak, despite increased insulin doses which are sometimes quadruple my normal amounts.
  • Dealing with this frustration on top of re-learning shots, as well as having planned a purposely-conservative Lantus dosage with my endocrinologist for the first few days just to be safe, created a high blood glucose dilemma for us.  I was stuck in the 300s and 350s for days on end, and was more or less feeling miserable.  Once the hormone block party subsided, things evened out a bit and I began to feel much better.  So, for the ladies, I would recommend planning around the week of your cycle if you are interested in transitioning back to shots anytime soon.
  • Don’t switch back to shots solely because you do not want to be attached to a medical device at all times.  To be honest, I have not felt an overwhelming sense of “freedom” being without the pump; in fact, I miss it for its good aspects quite a lot.  It was cool for like, a day, to have one less site to worry about while showering, but all in all, this should not make or break your insulin management decision.
  • Don’t throw in the towel quickly.  I’ll admit, I was ready to do so based on the first few days of non-stop highs.  I verbally committed while on the phone with my doctor to try for a week, and then I tweeted it out to make sure I held myself to that goal.  On the first week of the trial, the stubborn Italian part of me was not going to give up until Saturday, which would mark the full seven days of shots.  On Thursday, I emailed another doctor and asked the question that I wasn’t answering for myself: “So, I should try this shots thing for more than a week?”  She encouraged me to continue with the shots.
  • I was looking for her affirmation and for someone else to make the tough call, and I am happy now that she gave me the tough answer.  It was a difficult first week, but by the second week it was infinitely better.  Now on the third week, we still have things to tweak and my blood sugars are far from stellar, but I do feel better and there is insulin getting into my body.
  • The back to the basics, simple things about insulin are now appreciated more than ever.  I take a shot and I watch insulin do its thing.  In that regard, I am truly blessed to have access to this life-sustaining medication and to doctors who can tell me how best to use it.

X’s and O’s:

Consider this a big virtual hug to each of you for being my sounding board during a trying time in my diabetes journey.  Knowing that someone out there was reading this and perhaps going through a similar trial, receiving innovative suggestions to insulin management, perusing your blogs and tweets, and overall feeling the strong sense of community is what made the hardest part – taking the first step, or, in this case, the first shot – totally worth it.

My long-term plan is to continue this shots trial for another month or so and then perhaps switch back to the pump with reduced pump basal rates and some background injected Lantus basal as a precaution for faulty-pump-site days.

I feel blessed to have made so many friends in the diabetic online community and to have a health care team that has steadfastly worked to make me feel better.  One day many months ago, when my head spun from ketones-induced nausea after another failed pump site, I thought to myself, Maybe I should start a blog?  There must be someone out there who “gets it,” too?  Today, having been encouraged to fight for my health through the inspiration of the #doc, I lift my very light, no sugar coffee cup to you.

Thank you…

XOXO,

Ally

Housekeeping

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Before I publish a lengthy manifesto on the pros and cons of insulin pumping versus injections in regards to my recent switch over to shots, there are a few long overdue housekeeping details that I would like to highlight for those interested.

1.)  Meeting of the Diabetes Minds

Around Halloween, I had a big appointment with an insulin pump representative and my nurse.  My doctor also sat in during her lunch break.  I know that it was around Halloween because I brought a bag full of insulin pump supplies as well as Halloween cupcakes coated in frosting (see above) as sustenance for those who were kindhearted enough to meet with me on their free time.  So, it was a meeting of the multifaceted diabetes minds, fueled by large amounts of sugar for those with properly-functioning pancreases.

We went through every scenario, including a live insulin pump site change.  They all nodded their heads in agreement when I showed them how Humalog bubbled up quickly in the reservoir.  We were all baffled as to why the Sure T infusion sets continued to pool insulin at the connector site.  And so on.  Basically, we knew there were problems, and we had to try to tackle them each individually.

2.)  Sure T infusion sets

Regarding the Sure T, I have said it before and I will continue to say it: I like Medtronic.  Their pump rep nurses were as gentle as possible when we did the “human pincushion” trial and error game of inserting into different sites during appointments over the past two years.  Those days were not easy for any of us, on a mental and physical level, but their confident reassurance that it was going to be okay is something that I will always carry with me.  Medtronic’s customer service is timely, polite, and helpful.  One manager in particular has logged dozens of hours on the phone with me while we documented and troubleshooted what we believe to be a rare Sure T product defect.  Medtronic has sent me various lot numbers of Sure Ts to try, and I have sent them back my problematic sets for analyses, the results of which are still to be determined.

In a nutshell, we have tried repeatedly to make the Sure T work for me, but maybe the Sure T doesn’t like people with very light, no sugar coffee orders.  Sure T might perform better for a different diabetic coffee enthusiast on a different day.  You tell me.

The recent product warning sent out by Medtronic is believed to be unrelated to my issue.  See image above; note that insulin droplets pool at the connector site and do not get into my body.  The proof is in the sugar-free pudding: after many site changes, subsequent ketone spikes, stubborn high blood sugars, and droplets of insulin falling out at the site, we have decided to hold off on using the Sure T until new lots are manufactured in the future.  Although I like the steel needle aspect of the Sure T, as bent cannulas cannot occur, if/when I transition back to the insulin pump after doing multiple daily injections for awhile, I will most likely give the Medtronic Quick Sets another try.

Whenever I switched a Sure T site out, I always ate low-carb for a few hours afterwards in case the insulin was not getting into me.  My fear is that someone who is unaware of this risk might consume a big pasta dinner and have an infusion set failure unbeknownst to that person, leading to a very dangerous situation very quickly.  I disclose this information so that you are at least aware of this potential problem if you also use Sure Ts.

Note: If you experience any insulin pump problems, please contact your respective pump company so that they can document the issue and investigate safely.

3.)  Bubbles in insulin pump reservoirs

I detailed this extensively in Broken Record, but to summarize briefly: These were more than champagne bubbles, they blocked proper insulin delivery, and they caused blood sugar to stagnate at high levels until the problem was identified and the reservoir changed out.

A Facebook user recommended that I pre-fill a reservoir a day before an expected site change, let it sit undisturbed to allow big bubbles to settle, and then prime those bubbles through the tubing on the day of the site change.  For some reason, letting the reservoir sit for a day helped immensely.  I also found that Novolog produced bigger bubbles which were easier to eradicate than Humalog’s millions of feisty bubbles which had a knack for procreating over time.  Get a room, Humalog love birds!

Please note that this trick is not recommended by pump companies, as insulin has been shown to lose efficacy over time in the plastic reservoirs.  However, given the frequency and degree of problems I encountered with pump site changes, I found that pre-filling the reservoir was a risk I was willing to assume, and I was always cognizant and on the look-out for problems related to this risk.  So far, the benefits have outweighed these risks.

I hope that this update is helpful to anyone who was curious about the possible solutions identified for my insulin pumping problems.  Thank you again to all who offered encouragement and advice along the way.  More to come soon with a post chronicling the transition back to insulin shots.  Yeehaw!