Tequila Shots?!

Okay, Lantus shots.  Almost as much fun, right?

Many thanks to Jeremy of 70-130.com for his insightful piece on various insulin pump and insulin injections perspectives.  I found it therapeutic to reflect on my journey from shots to pumps and back to shots again.  You can read Jeremy’s blog profiling some #doc viewpoints here.

 

 

 

 

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“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

“Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots! Everyyyybodyyy!!”

(Thank me later for getting that LMFAO classic stuck in your head.)

May 6 will mark six months since my return to multiple daily injections (MDI), or, as I like to say, “shots.”  Let’s call it like it is, people.  It’s sticking a needle in your arm, butt, back, stomach, leg many times per day to deliver life-sustaining medication.  It is not a cure, but it gives us life each day.

At a recent doctor’s appointment I proclaimed, “This rollercoaster isn’t working.  I need to return to the pump!”

To which my doctor countered, “And you told me the same thing about the pump before you went back on shots, Ally!”

I responded with a stunned face that only a googley-eyed emoticon can convey.  My doctor was right.  Diabetes is not as simple as insulin pump versus shots versus Afrezza versus whatever floats your boat.

If I have learned anything in the past six months, it is just how different everyone’s diabetes is and just how different our treatment methods may be- whether out of personal choice or simply out of necessity.  I’ll give another plug for Spare a Rose here: Most of us in the #doc are blessed to have any access to insulin, never mind the added bonus of having some flexibility in treatment options.

With that said, I know I seem like a broken record about the insulin pump.  I want to set things straight here once and for all, while providing an update about my shots journey for those who may be interested.

Insulin pumps, when functioning optimally, are amazing devices.  Going on the pump in high school opened up a whole new world to me.  My parents breathed a sigh of relief that I could enjoy being a dorky kid with a bit more freedom back then.  There are things that I miss immensely about insulin pumping: fine-tuning insulin doses, temporary basals, basal adjustments in one minute flat, carb-count/correction factor/insulin on board “wizards,” stability in blood sugar values on the good days.

If the pump works for you without many issues, all the more power to you. I want you to use whatever makes you feel healthy and happy- the same goals that I want for myself. In my rare case, going on shots had to serve that immediate interest in order to save my health. Do what works for you.

You can achieve a healthy lifestyle on shots, but it is more of a clunky, awkward sort of dance.  Once that Lantus is injected, it’s there for the day.  On Friday, my pancreas decided to rev up a notch (sarcasm), and for some odd reason I could not get my blood sugar to rise all day despite having taken the same dose of Lantus that I take every single day and hardly bolusing Humalog.  I force-fed myself almost all of the leftover Easter candy to no avail.  Good Lord did I miss the temp basal feature of the pump then! I longed for the personalized touches of modern technology that brick and mortar insulin injections simply do not afford.

I would ultimately like to ease into an “untethered” regimen of background Lantus in case of pump failures coupled with insulin pump usage again. However, this is quite complex, and we are not quite there with the shots yet. More details need to be worked out in terms of my basal and bolus plans. We are not settled into our comfort zone at this time, but we will get there.  For now, we are enjoying the fact that insulin is getting into my body without technological glitches causing ketones each day, a freedom that I will never take for granted again.

Many topnotch brainiac doctors have looked into my pump issues. We know that the product did not work for me personally. But we also know that a pump-centric solution has not yet been provided. Right now, we do not need to add another factor to the equation. We’ll give shots a shot (see what I did there?) for another few months, at least.

I find myself daydreaming about a cure so often now: the party on the tropical island with the entire #doc; the sugary drinks consumed without having to stop and bolus- whether that be via insulin pump or shots; the happy kind of tears.

As a child when that elusive diabetes cure was “ten years away” (cue inside diabetic joke laughter), my father used to tell us about the enormous cure party we would have. There would be a table in the middle of the front yard with a sledgehammer on it. We would smash my blood glucose meter, syringes, and other diabetes supplies into tiny pieces to signify victory over a vindictive disease.

The sentiment was well-intentioned, although today I must admit that I laugh a bit at that particular daydream. If I were cured tomorrow, all of those diabetes supplies would immediately be donated to people who needed them in the interim. The supplies have nobler uses than being crushed by a sledgehammer.

We should be thankful for the supplies that we have keeping us alive right now. If an insulin pump does its job for you, perfect. If Afrezza is your drug of choice, inhale away. If shots suit you better, go for it. However you choose to do so, just fight the good fight until there is a cure.

Please keep those cure daydreams alive by continuing to advocate so well. #weneedacure

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

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.