Thumbs Up for the New Endo

Transitioning from one endocrinologist to another can be emotional and stressful.  We’ve been over this.

As many people expressed similar anxieties about perhaps having to switch doctors at some point in time when I first blogged about this topic, I wanted to provide a quick update on that front:

Today I met my new endocrinologist, as my former endo relocated far away.  New Endo was kind and understanding.  There were no lectures, which automatically earns her many (sugar-free) brownie points in my book.  We set realistic goals which will help improve quality of life a bit.  (Think along the lines of decreasing basal rates to avoid treating multiple lows in the early morning hours with old Christmas candy stash goodies.  And of course, I renewed my vows to put on my brave face and try to take more insulin each day.)

A lot of this stuff seems so obvious now that I’m writing it down.  But it helps to just speak it out loud to a knowledgeable endo’s ears and to have her input in making adjustments which can have big impacts on my health.

We’re going to get where we want to be in terms of my diabetes management eventually.  It has been a year of SO many big changes, but I am learning that change can be good, especially if you have the right people in your corner helping you to keep on, keepin’ on.

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The Real Patient Portals

For privacy purposes of those discussed here, some of the details of this blog post have been altered/omitted. The heart of the story remains the same.

 

To avoid the throbbing headache that is commuting from Providence to Boston during morning traffic, I stayed over in Massachusetts prior to my Joslin appointments this week.

I hoped to catch the end of the Providence-Villanova game at the hotel bar, but the thrashing PC was receiving was so embarrassing that the bartender instead flipped between The Voice and the Bruins. I asked a patron if the seat next to her at the crowded bar was available, and she nodded. The restaurant was busy and it seemed like it would be a while before my dinner was delivered, so I took a big gulp of my classy Bud Light and vowed to make friends while I waited.

“Are you here for business?” I asked the professionally-dressed woman.

“Actually, my child is being treated at Children’s Hospital.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. But your child is in phenomenal hands.”

“Yes, we have been here for a long time, but soon we will travel home with a stronger, healthier child. We have been very blessed.”

And so we talked for almost an hour. We discussed her home many miles away from here, admired the nurses who followed their professional callings to ease the suffering of their patients, educated one another on our respective areas of patient or caregiver knowledge, and, to be quite honest, took solace in finding a bar buddy who understood the stress and anxiety of Boston medical appointments. Sure, I seek out care in Boston because it is the best, and this lady does, too. But that doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching every time the appointment days arrive.

We eventually wished each other well and parted ways. I want to give SuperMom an anonymous shout out here, though, because of the example of strength that she provided that evening. I have so much respect for the parents of any child who faces illness- whether that be type one diabetes or something else. Being the patient for most of my life, I have mainly been preoccupied with my own suffering- something I know that I can and will handle.

Watching others suffer, though, makes me nauseous, anxious, and somewhat frozen in “What do I do?!!” mode. SuperMoms and SuperDads don’t have the option of “What do I do?!!” mode. They activate “Do” mode because their child is hurting and they want the pain to stop. They remain calm when the world is shaken up around them. Yes, they have days of sadness and tears, but they try their best to provide their children with the greatest lives possible, to comfort them on the rough days, and to keep on going.

So, to SuperMom at the bar, cheers to health and happiness for you and your family.

The next morning, I hastily checked out of the hotel and made my way to Joslin Diabetes Center, where I had one thing on my mind: very light, no sugar coffee, and even better if you can hook me up to an IV drip of it.

I generally enjoy my Joslin experience because it is one of the only places on earth where I feel completely safe from a diabetes standpoint. If I go low or high, there are plenty of people who know how to help. But this time, I was nervous and emotional, as it was my last appointment with Current Endo before her departure; additionally, these days are quite frankly long and exhausting no matter what the outcome is.

I fumbled my way to the coffee stand through a haze of anxiety.

“What’s ah matter, my darling?” the coffee stand employee cooed, her brow furrowed.

“Oh, nothing. I just need some coffee to wake up,” I said, shrugging it off.

“I asked how your morning was and you didn’t reply,” she sounded off, much to my surprise and admiration. (I like a person who tells it like it is!)

“My apologies. I must not have heard you.” My level of distractedness due to nerves was obvious now.

Without skipping a beat, she looked me straight in the eye and stated, “You will be okay. You are so strong.”

This kind woman had never met me before. She had no prior knowledge as to whether I was in the hospital district of Boston as a patient, a caregiver, a sales rep, an employee, or so on. But she knew, without hesitation, that I was hurting simply from the look in my eyes. She seemed to recognize that I was the patient, and that I was trying to keep it all together. Her confidence that I could do this was the gentle nudge I needed to go check in at Joslin, ready to take on the day and whatever it would bring.

Blinking back tears, I thanked her for her reassurance and sauntered off with coffee warming my hands and coffee shop lady’s words warming my soul.

After my appointments, I needed more coffee before racing back to work. I stopped at the same coffee kiosk, and the same employee was still there. I filled my cup and went to pay.

“You were right. Everything was okay. I wanted to thank you for what you said earlier. You made me feel better.”

“God will take care of everything,” she replied.

“Yes. And there should be more people in the world like you. Your joy is contagious.”

And we both fought back tears, nodded our heads in agreement, and vowed to pray for one another.

Bars and coffee shops are the real patient portals. These are the watering holes for the warriors- the patients and the caregivers- to assemble and collect their emotions. Here, the pep talks happen. The fears and aspirations are relayed. The hugs are handed out a little more freely. The tears are dried if necessary. God is there, as these women proved to me this week.

Lucky for me, I’m always thirsty. Something tells me I’ll be back soon.

To SuperMom and SuperCoffeeShopEmployee, this blog post goes out to you. You are both inspirations. Thank you…

Needles: #ItMakesSenseIfYouHaveDiabetes

In the early 1990s when I was in elementary school, I took part in a study through the Joslin Diabetes Center which examined whether or not patients “liked” new, shorter needles on their insulin syringes.  We had to fill out a chart with smiley faces for “minimal pain,” sad faces for “painfulness,” etc.  It’s probably why I remember this: the artistic part was fun.

A creature of habit, I emphatically voiced my displeasure with the new, short needles.  Big sad face for you on the chart, “new thing meant to help me!”

My parents, perplexed that I would elect to use the “behemoth needle model,” decided that it would be in my best interest if they switched out the needles unbeknownst to me.  I believed that I was still using a large needle, when in reality it was a short needle.  Not one to complain much about insulin injections to begin with, I did not notice the difference or care to vocalize it if it was there.

(Sorry to Joslin if we messed up your study!  I believe the switching out of needles was probably done after our part of the study concluded).  Also, #sorryimnotsorry to my parents for still being a little miffed about this.  I’m all about patient autonomy, albeit my parents were simply trying to lessen my diabetes burden at that time.

So, why am I reflecting on this during Snowmaggedon 2015?  Perhaps I have too much free time on my hands today.  But I’m also just plain kind of sore from injections right now.  The skin on my stomach bounces the needle off in protest after ten years of insulin pump sites.  Can I really blame it?  My upper left butt cheek looks like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey gone wrong, although the right side knows how to handle the infamous “Lantus Burn” like a champion.

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Needles are the easiest part of diabetes in many regards, but somewhere along the line I have noticed in social media groups that there is this pressing need for some to announce that diabetes never hurts.  Well, for some of us, it does.  And trust me, as a kid I was the first to judge the “insulin shot cry babies.”  Mine was a face of stoicism from a young age.  But as an adult making an effort to accept my emotions more freely, I can admit that sometimes the needle hits a sore spot and a few swear words are mumbled.

What can one do about this- this reality that needles keep you alive whether or not they cause pain?  Running with our theme of doing what works for you, exercise your freedom here.  If you like the bigger needles, use them, and then draw a big smiley face on your chart for good measure!  We have options here, and plenty of them at that rate.

#ItMakesSenseIfYouHaveDiabetes: Perhaps short needles work on some sites using a particular type of insulin, but larger needles work better in different areas with different insulins?  BD Nanos (4 mm) are the tool-of-choice for Lantus injections in my backside, while the BD Short (8 mm) needles work better for Humalog injections in less-padded areas.  Humalog does not pool at the injection site as often with the larger (confusingly named “Short”) needles.  Yet the Shorts with Humalog have the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey effect on my left side- go figure.  Maybe I will employ Nanos for those sites?  Again, #ItMakesSenseIfYouHaveDiabetes.

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This is my personal configuration that works well for me, so I’m going to stick with it.  When I need to make alterations, I will do so under my own good intentions.  And, in some weird sort of psychological spin on things, I acknowledge that I am a fan of the same method as I was two decades ago: using a combination of long and short needles to get the job done while maintaining my sense of independence in living with type one diabetes.  Ultimately, it is about how you feel as the individual; however wacky your methods may seem, do what works for you.

***Update: Erin Gilmer over at healthasahumanright.wordpress.com brought up a good point with me via Twitter.  Not everyone has these numerous treatment options due to various obstacles to proper health care: limited insurance coverage, out-of-pocket expenses, socioeconomic status, and so on.  While I am a firm believer in fighting hard for the health care that you want, I must concede that there are certainly limitations to this idea.

I meant to disclose previously that I paid for the 8 mm needles out of pocket.  My insurance had already covered a regular syringe prescription when I first switched back to shots.  Then my doctor and I chose to go with pens out of convenience, so obtaining the Nano pen tips took a lot of jumping through hoops until insurance was kind enough to override my refill a few weeks early.  When it came time to try the Short 8 mm needles after the Nanos weren’t working on my stomach, I purchased a box on my own out of fear of insurance tightening their pocketbook with me.  If I remember correctly, the box of 100 pen tips cost about $45 out of pocket.

I will blog about the health care coverage loop-de-loop at a later time, but wanted to acknowledge Erin’s point here, as I believe this is an important one, too.  Patients can fight for their health, but the health care system needs to give back some of that same effort in order to help us to get well.

Don’t Cry?

As type one diabetics- many of us diagnosed as children- we learned from a young age to be tough.  Grown adults cried like sissies getting their flu shots at the health clinic while we stood still with stoic faces.  One of my strongest memories is of my first endocrinologist’s office. I had just turned three years old and was getting accustomed to insulin injections and finger pricks. This particular office in the Worcester, MA, area performed A1C tests by drawing blood from their subjects’ arms with syringes and then sending the samples off to the lab. Pretty caveman-like if you ask me…

Well, I was three years old and a few nurses were pinning me down to stab me with a long needle. Naturally, I cried. We went back to that office a few more times. I can still visualize the indoor playground they once had in their waiting room, until someone became fearful of liability and it was removed. My mother tried to comfort me, telling me to be strong. “Try not to cry,” she said. What else could she really say? I was going to get shots for the rest of my life, so the sooner I learned not to fight this concept, the better for all of us.

At the next appointment, I bit my bottom lip and braced myself for the impact of the syringe in my tiny arm. I didn’t cry my usual amount, but I whimpered a bit.

“I didn’t cry!” I proclaimed as we walked through the parking lot afterwards.

“You didn’t…?” Mom asked.

She was not trying to come off as cold, but was rather incredulous at how my young mind had just rationalized away all of the tears flooding the examination room a few minutes earlier.

I had the three-year-old version of an “Ah ha” moment, in which I realized that okay, I had cried. But I wasn’t going to cry anymore. I resigned myself to this fact, and at the next appointment I did not cry. I had accepted my fate in some small way; shots were here to stay.

Shortly thereafter my parents took me to the renowned Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, a decision partially prompted by the fact that their A1C tests were performed with simple finger pricks as opposed to modern-day torture tactics. Over two decades later, I am still a Joslin girl. And I still fight back my tears sometimes, but I am slowly learning that it can be healthy to let them out once in a while, too. There is certain strength in vulnerability, in showing that you hurt emotionally and/or physically but that you are going to get through that pain.

I cannot speak for every type one diabetic out there, but I would venture to guess that some of you have difficulties letting your guard down at times, too. How can we complain about a head cold when we have endured thousands and thousands of injections over the years? I can’t believe my boyfriend is upset that he lost his football game! Seriously?!!  But the reality is that these are human emotions and normal trials and tribulations of life, even if these situations are not a life or death fight as diabetes sometimes can be. It is more natural to express what you are feeling than to avert your eyes to the ground while feverishly blinking back tears. Trust me, I have been there, done that, and many times at that rate.

I see today that my mentality of always being strong was a survival tactic yet a detriment all at once. Some days I have a quick temper because it is easier to be angry than to acknowledge being scared or defeated.  I am my own worst enemy when it comes to epic PMS-y Facebook rants, but this is an excuse.  Sure, we were dealt very frustrating hands by being diagnosed with diabetes.  The general public misunderstands the constant battles we endure.  We rarely get a break from the burdens of this disease.

But at the same time, if I cut the BS and allow myself to say, “Okay, your blood sugar is high and you’re afraid of the long-term damage this could do to your body, and you’re tired from being up all night responding to Dexcom alarms, and you’re stressed with ‘normal people’ factors like work and grad school,” then yeah, I am a human being. It is okay to cry.  It is okay to be fearful.  It is okay to feel, to admit that sometimes pump site and CGM changes hurt like hell even though you told yourself that the pain was the least of your problems years ago.

And I said that yesterday, too. To which my doctor replied, “But it’s not the least of your problems if you’re shooting a pump site into muscle because you have no ‘real estate’ left that is free of scar tissue.”  Fair enough, and directly to the point.  She is right.  Acknowledge that it is a big deal, Ally.

Sometimes crying makes one braver than not crying.  At least crying invokes honest, real emotion from which we can grow.  I’m ready to ditch the war paint if it means connecting with others on a more meaningful, understanding level.

True Life: I’m afraid of spiders and insulin, in that order.

Without fail, every summer night when I go outside to get in my car, a few yellow spiders are hanging out on the hood and roof.  When I approach, they look at me as if I am interrupting their block party.  After catapulting myself into the driver’s seat a la Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, I give myself the “spider pep talk.”

“Ally, you are better than this.  It’s one moment in time.  Try to forget about them and get on with your life.”

If only the “take your insulin” pep talk was that easy…

Every type 1 diabetic understands the rocky relationship that we entertain with insulin.  We can’t live without it, but sometimes living with it makes the act of living really, really difficult.  Like the times when it almost kills us at 3:34 am with a blood glucose reading of 45 mg/dL when we inadvertently over-calculate the spike effect of pizza for dinner by bolusing heavily.  Or the times when we hit a bad pump site at insertion and the cannula kinks and suddenly we want to drink water out of a fire hydrant like dogs do in 1960s cartoons.  Those times, and any other times that insulin doesn’t work perfectly.  Which is almost every time.  Because. insulin. does. not. replace. a. normally. functioning. pancreas!!!!  As we have all heard many times before, insulin sustains life, but it is not a cure for diabetes.

I will delve further into my own struggles with insulin as we progress in our blogger-bloggee courtship, but for now just know this: I sincerely appreciate the discovery of insulin and how much diabetes technology has changed over the course of my 23 out of 26 years of life spent as a type 1 diabetic.  Every time I go to Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, I look at the murals on the walls in the lower level of the building which depict some of the history of insulin, and I am so thankful to be a diabetic “now” as opposed to “then.”  But I also fear and respect this life-saving commodity for the abusive lover that it sometimes is to all of us.  I have a tendency to “under-bolus” because of the trauma that over-bolusing has caused in the past.  Whew- the hardest step is admitting that you have a problem, right?

We are stuck in an ongoing oxymoron of sorts.  We can’t take too little insulin or our sugar will be high; we can’t take too much insulin or our sugar will be low.  And many of us grew up with the dreaded lecture from (insert whoever is applicable for you) ____________ (doctor, parent, school nurse, etc.) if we did not perform flawless algebra to compute the correct “insulin to carb to exercise to stress to illness to social life” ratios every time we took insulin.

But you know what?  Once I admitted that the problem was there, a doctor looked me in the eye and told me that it was okay.  Hers was not a lecture of blame.  She told me that I could forgive myself, that I did not have to spend the rest of my days in self-imposed “diabetic timeout.”  She told me that it was normal to be frustrated, that trying to play the role of a perfect pancreas every day was “not a good look” because it was essentially bullying myself, giving myself that loathsome lecture that I never really deserved in the first place.  But why give yourself that negative commentary when you fully understand that diabetes is not so cut and dry?  You are not an outsider to the disease, so do not treat yourself like you are.

I understand that I have the tools to do this, to improve and maintain my health. Not carrying “survivor’s guilt” of sorts is difficult for all of us who put in 110% effort every day only to have diabetes knock us on our asses with a herculean effort when we least expect it.  What truly matters is that we have already entered the boxing ring.  We have given ourselves the “insulin pep talk.”  We have calculated the carbs in the 5 crackers that we snacked on and pressed a few buttons on our insulin pumps to account for them.  And if we forgot to do so, or if we mistakenly took half a unit of Humalog less than what we should have taken to achieve an ideal blood sugar goal, so be it.  We have tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.

And we keep showing up at the boxing ring ready for a fight, which is more than most people can say…