2.

My 2-year-return-to-insulin-shots-anniversary came and went a few weeks ago.  The anticlimactic day was all the validation I needed to know that this was the right choice for me.  I no longer count down the days, weeks, or months on shots; they are my new normal until I switch things up again or diabetes is cured.

People probably wonder why I still harp on my defective insulin pump saga, and the truth of the matter is that one can talk as much or as little about trauma as one sees fit.  Medical trauma is particularly cruel; our already-limited “control” further fades away as our cells cry out for insulin.  I continue to harp on this because the wounds are still fresh, however many years after the triage.  Yet the bandages of an engaged healthcare team have eased the pain, and I finally feel better.

Two years ago I feared that I would die of ketoacidosis while sleeping on my couch.  I worried that the graduate school experience I had always dreamed of might slip between my fingertips.  Or worse, that the mental desperation would become too much- that in my attempts to be heard my voice would eventually fade away.

Multiple daily injections (MDI) are not always pretty, but they are a guarantee that insulin is getting into the body.  MDI is literally and figuratively another shot at life.  (More to follow, but not everyone has this guarantee currently; they deserve a chance, too.)

Two years later and I have successfully completed my Master’s degree.

I flew to California twice to participate in Stanford Medicine X.

I didn’t die on my couch.

And I was too busy living to remember that it was my 2-year Shotoversary.

Insulin makes it happen.

graduation-tulips

 

Sleuthing

This week I exhaled and sent an email to my doctor, the opening line reading, “Today was so hard.”

It is unlike me to show that much vulnerability upfront, but I was exhausted. And, if I am being totally honest, the past few months have been so hard.

Please trust me that this is more than the typical “diabetes rollercoaster” term used to describe the highs and the lows inherent to living with diabetes. Heck, it has been the diabetes “Tower of Terror.” Blood sugars were thrown into the spiraling abyss of lows in early 2016, only to ricochet back up into the stratosphere, seemingly unscathed by my defensive insulin jousts this spring.

For most of my life, I have known this truth: There is a “great unknown” affecting my diabetes. As a young child, I would be fine one minute, building couch cushion forts with my siblings, and the next minute I would be covered head-to-toe in a rash.

I recall being about eight years old and lifting my shirt to see large, circular patterns of hives all over my abdomen. My limited reference point at that time was the worst case scenario discussed in Catholic grammar school. This was clearly modern day leprosy in a suburb north of Boston! I tipped my head back and screamed at the top of my lungs.

Mom reassured me that although hives are unpleasant, I was not dying. This outbreak was no match for an Aveeno oatmeal bath. Do they still sell that stuff?! Magic!

I developed blistering rashes on my hands and fingers, an itchy-then-painful contact reaction. Contact with what? We still do not know. Anything and everything could be the trigger. As an adult, this occurs less frequently, but still happens from time to time.

There are other vague symptoms much like those described in this articulate New Yorker piece: low-grade fevers, allergies, stuffy nose, scratchy throat- that general sense of feeling run down but not sure exactly what is wrong. All of these factors send my blood sugar (and ketones) soaring, due to the obvious biological response to inflammation/bodily threats.

While you may be reading this and thinking, “So what?,” I assure you that I have spent years asking the same. In acute instances, this stuff seems trivial. But long-term, the sum of the symptoms is messing with my overall health. I have worked so hard to rewrite my diabetes management with multiple daily injections, to push the limits of my anxiety and to experience more freedom as a result, and to play by the diabetes “rules”.  Therefore, I will not allow this undefined immuno-gobbledygook to strip me of my health and dignity.

Because no doctor has time in a half hour appointment slot to put all of these puzzle pieces together, the puzzle has laid strewn across the table, unfinished, for decades now. Perhaps it is seeing the CGM graphs with more yellow (“high”) than I would like to publicly admit, perhaps it is the struggle to get through adult responsibilities each day when feeling like a fatigued zombie, or perhaps now is simply the right time.

Whatever it is, I am ready to connect the dots, with the help of a qualified healthcare team. We will become the Sleuths of 2016, our magnifying glasses polished to uncover clues along the way. Inspector Gadget and Harriet the Spy will have nothing on Boston physicians- I guarantee it!

In a few weeks, I will attend my first appointment with a renowned immunologist at a Boston hospital. The receptionist forewarned me that an allergy scratch test is imminent, and friends in the autoimmune world recounted lots of blood draws. Although my symptoms may not meet a diagnosis standard, they still exist. While my hope is that the doctor’s investigatory work rule outs any major problem, I also fear not having a real answer. Actually, I mostly fear not having a course of action.

Best case scenario: It’s not modern day leprosy, I’ll live, and this is how we’re going to treat this immuno-gobbledygook so that it no longer wreaks havoc on my blood sugar. The End. Happily ever after. Puzzle fully pieced together into a picturesque Thomas Kinkade image.

Then I will send my doctor an email, the opening line reading: “Today was so good!”

The Liars’ Club, Catholic Grammar School Vignette Edition.

“You write like a chicken!  The nuns didn’t teach you any better than that?”  one of my many “Work Moms” asked.

In my defense, I should’ve been a lefty.  But I did get off easy with the nuns of Catholic “grammar” school compared to my Work Moms’ tales of the ruler cracking their knuckles for poor penmanship.

In “grammar” school, they taught us grammar.  My math, science, and arts skills are lacking to this day.

Reflecting on our Catholic grade school lessons recently, I confessed to one Work Mom that I was, in fact, a member of the first grade Liars’ Club.  Granted, I’m no Mary Karr, although that would be pretty darn cool.

It was Christmastime, and we celebrated with the appropriate holiday page in our first grade coloring books.  The scene was that of a Christmas tree decorated with big, shiny ornaments and a gold star on top.

“Are you done?” Sister Catherine* asked.

*Name changed because I still fear her wrath to this day.

The body of the tree had yet to be filled in with the evergreen colored pencil.  But I’m done coloring the ornaments, I thought.

“Yes!” I replied.

Sister Catherine’s eyes widened in fury.

“Liar!” she screamed.

You didn’t let me finish, I thought.

“God doesn’t like liars!  Shame on you!” she continued.

I blinked back tears and repeated my internal mantra, Do. not. cry.  I had simply misunderstood her.  In hindsight, I suspect that my blood sugar was low.  The fuzzy feeling where it all makes sense in your own head, but makes-no-sense-in-anyone-else’s-head-and-you-know-it, was definitely present.

This week, decades removed from the grammar school incident, I found myself in a similar predicament.  Words made sense in my head, but I needed to get them out into the air in order to breathe easier.

I took a sip of my iced coffee, exhaled, and looked my endocrinologist in the eye.  Do. not. lie.  And Do. not. cry. while you’re at it, I reminded myself.

“I don’t eat enough carbs.  I’m way better than I used to be, but I need more.  That’s part of the ketones problem,” I admitted.

Endo didn’t call me a liar.  She didn’t bristle at the words that made sense in my head, and now made sense out in the open, too.  Instead, she nodded and we immediately jumped into troubleshooting mode, discussing target carb-consumption goals and more.

I don’t eat enough carbs because my blood sugars do better on a low-carb regimen.  But perhaps I have veered too low-carb at times, so my body burns fat for fuel.  Hence, ketones.  Hence, dangerous.  Hence, this problem must be solved so I can live a full, enjoyable, healthy life. 

I also don’t eat enough carbs because I just plain couldn’t trust my defective insulin pump products to deliver the insulin to cover those carbs in the past.  Anxiety.  Mentally, it was easier to go low-carb than to deal with the sky-high values when the pump failed as often as it did.  This snowballed into a sticky situation, the residuals of which I am still trying to shake free from my mind.  Just because I am injecting insulin now does not necessarily mean that my brain feels any differently about carbs or insulin.  Only time, prayer, and hard work will tell.

^ All of this was understood and accepted, a starting point of honesty from which to move forward.

“Do you still talk to Dr. X?” Endo asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

A few days later, I went to see Dr. X.   I wasn’t happy with what I had to tell her about carbs- that this was a bigger issue than I had perhaps thought that it was.

But I didn’t lie.

***

“The truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

A 1 c.

My A1c was lower at my recent endo appointment.  Not by any earthshattering amount (and we still have a long way to go), but “lower” is enough for me right now.  In fact, my recent A1c was lower on a shots regimen than it had sometimes been while using an insulin pump.

I thought I’d write some overly-emotional, 2000-word essay on how much the lower A1c means to me being back on shots.  Instead, I’ll take my lack of wordiness as being one step closer to making peace with what happened to me and as a reminder to continue to advocate for others who need insulin.

Frankly, I am still bitter about how much I suffered due to defective insulin pump products.  A few tech glitches per year are understandable, as tech does not equate to properly-functioning islet cells by any means, nor should it pretend to do so.  But to have bi-weekly episodes of near-DKA due to tech issues is inexcusable.  It breaks my heart to think of other people out there who may be going through what I went through, who simply want someone to believe them and to make it all better.

Thankfully, through the support of the #doc and some topnotch doctors and nurses, I am still here, I feel alive again, and I am getting into a better diabetes groove on multiple daily injections.  The bruises are a visible reminder that diabetes does not go away no matter which treatment one pursues, but for me they are a small price to pay for the assurance that insulin gets into my body every day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: do what works for you, whether that be insulin pumping or injecting or artificial pancreas-ing or Afrezza-inhaling.  I just want all of us to feel good every day.  But I also want those who experience tech problems to know that they are not crazy or “bad” diabetics.  We are human beings; technology is technology; and, ultimately, #weneedacure. 

But what about the people who don’t have a plethora of options?  Having spent many days in bed with ketones when my insulin pump malfunctioned, I often find my thoughts traveling to Spare a Rose nowadays.  I will never take insulin for granted again.  When insulin was not getting into my body, I was like a fish out of water, slowly and painfully fading away.  Kids without insulin suffer like that each day.

We must work hard to improve their access to life-sustaining insulin. 

Diabetes is difficult enough to tame with insulin, never mind without it. 

Dorm Life

dorm pic

This weekend was my college reunion, aka we got to stay over in the dorms and pretend that we were back in school with all of our closest friends right down the hallway whenever we got bored!  This is like the adult version of Disney Land to us!  #GoFriars

We enjoyed every minute of catching up, singing our favorite songs from college, imbibing at the bar on campus, and not thinking much about real life stressors like work or diabetes for a few short days.  We truly needed this, judging by the smiles of joy on all of the alums’ faces for the entire weekend.

I have been fighting a fever / sore throat / mild ketones thing all week, and was losing my voice before I even stepped on campus.  The responsible diabetic part of me felt a bit guilty that I was going to be staying up late dancing instead of dwelling at home in bed piled under blankets and sweating out the fever.  But I decided that this weekend only comes around once every five years, so I better live in the moment unless there was a serious health problem going on, which thankfully was not the case.  I did take some time out during the day on Saturday and Sunday to rest, but the evenings were reserved for my friends.  The relief that this weekend provided in terms of being with my fellow alums and enjoying a mini-hiatus from grad school homework, et al., was so appreciated.

You didn’t win this weekend, Diabetes Guilt Monster!  Channeling our favorite movie, Mean Girls, YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!!!

“I never meant to make you cry, but tonight / I’m cleanin’ out my closet.” -Eminem

My apartment could easily get selected for a TLC special entitled Hoarders: The Diabetes Edition. I have mountains of old supplies stocked up just in case the apocalypse ever occurs and I for some reason need a 6-year-old infusion set for an insulin pump that I no longer utilize…  (Note: Proper medical guidance instructs never to use expired supplies.  I am in no way recommending that you do so.)

I have trouble discarding diabetes supplies because they represent my lifeline, even if they are expired.  The thought of running out of supplies freaks me out.  Temporary relief arrives when my mail order pharmacy prescriptions knock at my front door, providing life in predetermined 3-month packages per my insurance provider.  But what if I drop and shatter a vial of insulin accidentally?  I may need my fridge stockpile to get me through until my next order.  Most of us are privileged enough to obtain medication through various means, however much of a longwinded telephone loop-de-loop headache that process may render.  If we lived somewhere else or during some other time, we may not have been able to count these blessings.  My bedroom’s diabetes supply closet is a constant reminder of this privilege.

There are certain items that I can’t bring myself to throw out, but probably should.  I returned to multiple daily injections in December after going through the hardest time of my life- a period in which the only type of infusion set that would work with my body type just so happened to have a product defect in multiple lot numbers.  I spent a majority of my time on the couch chasing ketones and brainstorming with insulin pump company representatives and my medical providers as to how we could correct this problem.  I fought going back on shots tooth and nail, bitter that an infusion set component measuring only a few centimeters long could have such dire effects on my health when it was not functioning properly.

“My quality of life will be ruined on shots!” I exclaimed.

“Can you honestly tell me that you have much quality of life right now?  You’re on the couch with ketones every day fighting for your life,” my wise doctor replied.

And so I finally caved and returned to a Lantus and Humalog regimen.  It was rocky at first, but I am now enjoying my time (mostly) ketone-free.  The blood sugar management still has its ups and downs, an inherent trait of type one diabetes.  There are days when I miss the insulin pump’s fine-tuning aspects wholeheartedly.  I still glance down at my waist to check the time on my pump from time to time, only to discover that what was once such a major part of my life is not there any longer.

When I first transitioned off of the pump, my resentment was palpable. Screw you, pump! I’m moving on! This was a mental game in which I tried to convince myself that this was the right move.  A majority of modern day diabetics use pumps, and I felt crazy that this was not a viable option for me.  Yet time and time again, my infusion set changes proved that this was not working for me personally.

Subsequently, I grieved the pump’s loss under a mask of anger and sarcasm.  During some particularly emotional days, I still think it’s Halloween mask time.

Yet after this struggle, there remains a part of me that cannot bear to throw out the pump supplies.  They have defects, so I cannot donate them to charity for fear of putting someone else through ketone hell.  Instead, they crowd my coat closet by the front door, my bedroom closet from floor to ceiling, the space under my bed, and other spots below stacks of grad school books. I might need these supplies again one day, right? They are a lifeline to another time, another method of managing this jerk of a disease.

Perhaps I will try again.  Not yet.  But perhaps.  The pain is still too raw and we still have too much work to do on the shots before a new decision can be made.

I would be lying if I said that I am not still processing my frustration and disappointment in the entire faulty infusion set situation.  Heck, I’ve certainly blogged about it enough.  But I am more cognizant of the concept of forgiveness and enjoying the present moment now.  I saw firsthand how quickly health can change, what it feels like to watch yourself dwindle away into nothingness.  If it was not for determined doctors and nurses who believed me and did not give up, I may not still be here.  But I am here, so I need to make the most of this life.

Just in case I ever need the insulin pump collecting dust on a shelf, its infusion set and reservoir packages will decorate my room for now.  Whenever I move to a larger residence, I will box them up and put them in a storage closet, packed away neatly with the other memories of my life.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Honestly, though, whether insulin pump enthusiasts or shots supporters, we do not need bigger apartments with huge walk-in closets.

What we really need is a cure.

pump boxes

Insulin Angels in Hotel Mini Fridges

Please note: I was asked as a member of the diabetic online community to provide feedback on Insulin Angel and I am happy to do so.  I did not receive compensation in any form for writing this blog post.

Let’s be honest, no one designed hotel mini fridges with the intention of storing insulin at safe temperatures.  I was always under the impression that the original hotel mini fridge engineer wanted just enough tilt when opening the door to rustle a few alcoholic beverages and drive up your bill.

When most people open a hotel mini fridge, their objective is to quench their thirst.  My main concern, however, is just how cold the beverages in the fridge may be- because if the beverages are borderline frozen, well, so is my insulin.  You’ve all heard enough of my griping about ketones to last you a lifetime, so I’ll spare you the story this time around.

Bottom line: We all know that we need insulin to survive.  Insulin that is too hot or too cold compromises the efficacy of the medication, and, therefore, endangers our health.  Forgetting that insulin in the fridge when going out for the day is not highly recommended, either.

Mike Hoskins of Diabetes Mine provided a detailed take on Insulin Angel, a product which will alert users to unsafe insulin temperatures and inadvertent moments of forgetting to carry insulin by utilizing that handy dandy thing called modern day technology.

While I have not personally used the Insulin Angel product yet, I feel comfortable stating why I think this concept has potential:

1. Insulin Angel’s marketing strategy catches my attention because they are reaching out directly to those who their product will help: the diabetic community.  Through crowdfunding, diabetics will drive this idea.  Insulin Angel understands their consumers because they understand life with diabetes.

2. Have I mentioned how I just want a nice cold iced tea from the hotel mini fridge without thinking twice about insulin temperature yet?!

3. Fun activities like going to the beach in the summer should stay carefree.  Let Insulin Angel do the worrying about insulin temperatures for you; you can correct any potential insulin temperature problem early on, rather than suffer the consequences later.

4. This product offers possibilities in a world that is not always diabetes-friendly. 

As an example, diabetes is often considered a medically-disabling condition of military service.  Although we have heard of people with diabetes who are able to remain in service in some capacity, one big reason why the military and diabetes don’t jive well is because of the need for insulin refrigeration; this proves technically-burdensome on deployments.

While I in no way, shape, or form am implying that Insulin Angel’s product will be helpful to allow diabetics to join or stay in the military (nor do I want to start a debate here), the main takeaway in raising the example is this: Previous/current limits on diabetics- whether self-imposed or societally-imposed- may one day be lessened due to this product.

Insulin Angel has the potential to give us another useful tool in our diabetes toolkits.  It eliminates one of the many “I wonder if I’m high because of ______?” factors in that we can cross “unreasonable insulin storage temperatures/forgetting my insulin at home” off that list.

Think of it what you will.  In the meantime, I’m ordering my #SaveHotelMiniFridges bumper sticker.