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Call me picky, but language matters to me. I believe words and grammar shape how we understand and experience the world (hello, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and linguistic determinism!). Which is why the word “diabetic,” can really rub me the wrong way in certain contexts.

"Diabetic" (Adj.) + Thing (Noun)

Sometimes the word "diabetic" describes a thing. Diabetic neuropathy, diabetic glucometer, diabetic low. No problem.

"Diabetic" (Adj.) + Person (Noun)

Other times people use the word "diabetic" to describe a person. The diabetic patient, my diabetic uncle, their diabetic colleague. That's when you may see me clearing my throat and shifting uneasily in my seat. The condition is starting to eclipse the person.

"Diabetic" (Noun)

Now, when people use "diabetic" as a full-on noun - as in the diabetic who lives down the street - oooof! It's fingers on a chalkboard to me. Not only is it reductive – the disease is defining the person - but there's a suggestion of permanence that I find wholly dispiriting. I suppose I still maintain some hope that “a person who has diabetes” may some day be rid of it.

This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt:
Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. Some don't care, others care passionately. Where do you stand?

For more perspectives on this topic, click here.

I was diagnosed with diabetes the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The initial treatment plan? “Take 2.5 mg of Glyburide daily and restrict sugar intake.” Because it was 1987 and glucometers weren’t available yet for home use, the doctor sent me home with Tes-Tape® and instructions to test my urine once a week or “whenever I felt like my blood sugar might be running high.”

For those who don't know, Tes-Tape® was just litmus paper. You’d tear an inch-long strip off the roll, pee on it, observe the change in color, then compare the color to swatches on the back of the container. The darker the the paper, the greater the urine glucose concentration. As a refresher: for kidneys to spill glucose, serum glucose level has exceed 180mg/DL, high enough to be causing damage. And by the time it shows up in urine, it's likely been that way for several hours. So, any color at all on the test strip indicated some degree of bad news (with no strategy for correction).

Tes-Tape
Image courtesy of perlebioscience.com

I dutifully carried the Tes-Tape® to school every day at school, zipped in an interior pocket of my backpack. But here's the thing: peeing on a narrow, inch-long strip of paper is messy! So, no, I didn't test my urine in my high-school bathroom stall. In fact, I never, ever, would have used it at school. None of my friends had diabetes. None of my friends' friends had diabetes. No teenager I had ever heard of had diabetes.  And, like many teenagers, I just wanted to be like everyone else.

Over Spring break that year I visited my friend in upstate New York. At some point during the trip, her aunt asked me, “I understand you recently found out you have diabetes. How is that going for you?” I replied that it was OK, but admitted that it was a drag not to be able to eat everything my friends ate.

She listened, and then offered a fresh perspective: Had I ever considered how movie stars ate? She went on to describe that movie stars - who lived lives of luxury and ate as they pleased - elected to limit their sugar intake. Movie stars knew sugar was bad for them. It was bad for their bodies, bad for their complexions, and it contributed to premature aging.

I had not considered this, and it got my attention. Sure, she was appealing - very effectively - to my teenage vanity. But I also understood in that moment that I could create a positive framework for diabetes. Instead of feeling deprived of sugar, I could choose to bypass it in favor of something better. Say, ripe, seasonal fruit.

I remember this conversation often when I reach for a luscious July peach instead of a sugary doughnut. "What would Jennifer Anniston do?" I think to myself.

This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.
The Prompt:
How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally?  Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk?

To read more posts on this topic, click here.

SaveSave

Hooray for Diabetes Blog Week! It’s as good an excuse as any for me to resume blogging (ahem), and a great opportunity to discover other diabetes bloggers. (Follow these links to see who else is participating and join in the fun! You can also follow along on Facebook or on Twitter with the hashtag #DBlogWeek.)

Today’s Prompt: Why are you here, in the diabetes blog space? 

In early 2004 I was pregnant with my first child. I had recently switched to insulin therapy since the pills I had been on for years were not FDA-approved for pregnancy. So, I was learning to count carbohydrates, manage multiple daily insulin injections, and minimize the effect of fluctuating hormones on blood sugar. I was excited about the eventual baby, but felt acutely overwhelmed and isolated by diabetes. I pined for someone who understood what I was experiencing.

I searched online and found a diabetes message forum run by the Joslin Diabetes Center. I drafted a short post describing my situation and asked if anyone could relate. When I logged on later that day I found FIVE friendly, supportive responses. One that I found especially encouraging was signed "Type 1 Mom of two grown sons, 20 & 23."

Years later I came across Kerri Morrone Sparling's highly relatable blog Six Until Me, and was again inspired by (wait for it...) a person with diabetes talking about what it's like to have diabetes. When I had trouble finding blogs specific to MODY (my form of diabetes), I realized I should start a blog of my own and contribute something to the conversations!

***

To learn why other people blog about diabetes, click here.

 

I ran my first 5k yesterday.

I've never been much of a runner. So I downloaded a running app and started training the next day. I registered for a local race (Denver’s Adelante! 5k). Then I recruited a few pals to run with me once a week. The other days I ran on my own. In time, I began to look forward to the trainings as a way to spend time with people I don’t see often enough or to just zone out and listen to music.

With 7 weeks of training under my belt, I was feeling reasonably prepared on the day of the race. I ate an apple, drank some water, and stashed a juice box in my jacket pocket, just in case. My family came with me to cheer me on (it being Mothers’ Day, what choice had they?). I ran most of the way. And since I wasn’t running for any particular time, I was happy to complete the course in 36:12.

The numbers I care more about are the ones on my meter. And I was less happy with those yesterday. Given that I’d been testing and adjusting for weeks to determine a sensible strategy for the run, I was vexed by my body's response. Here’s what the day looked like in diabetes terms:

7:15 Test: 89mg/DL
8:15 Test: 81mg/DL
Eat apple (skip bolus) Preventively, to avoid mid-race low.
8:45 Decrease basal rate by 20% Again, preventively.
9:00 Run (mostly) for 36 min.
9:55 Test: 176mg/DL Woah…
Check site (it’s fine).
Bolus 2.5 units Hope that’s not too aggressive.
Hydrate.
10:10 Test: 172mg/DL Really?
Ponder test strip inaccuracy.
Verify recent changes to pump settings.
Second-guess skipping the apple bolus.
Second-guess the 20% basal decrease.
10:20 Test: 164mg/DL Still?
Bolus 1 more unit.
Head home.
Change site.
Spot a few air bubbles in line. Maybe?
Open new vial of insulin. It’s time anyway.
Continue to bolus against a stubborn high for most of the day. Sheesh.

It’s difficult to convey how damn squirrely diabetes is to people who don’t live with it every day. The best-laid plans often deliver uncertain results. It can be super frustrating. And yet, diabetes didn’t spoil yesterday; my first 5k was rewarding and fun.

Diabetes Blog Week 2014

This post was written for Diabetes Blog Week.
The prompt
(suggested by Kim of Texting my Pancreas): Change the World.  

By all accounts, participatory medicine is a growing movement. And The Pew Internet and American Life Project, which studies such trends, reports that people with chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes) are more likely than our peers to consume and share health information. The Diabetes Online Community (DOC) doesn’t replace my professional care, but I increasingly rely on its vast network of diabetes patient-experts for general support and practical advice.

I&D marks its first anniversary this January. Looking back on a year of blogging, it's clear to me that being part of the DOC has engaged me in new ways. I participated in Diabetes Blog Week, World Diabetes Postcard Exchange, and the Big Blue Test. I learned practical tips from fellow bloggers (e.g., the best sticky tape for securing a port; how to keep insulin cool in hot weather). I found new blogs to read like Karmel Allison's Where Is My Robot Pancreas and Kim Vlasnik's Texting My Pancreas.

Even when the DOC doesn’t have the answers, it’s reassuring just knowing that others are asking the same questions.

We don't usually exchange Christmas presents, but I got you one anyway - this clip from a favorite episode of The West Wing (No. 32, Noel.) Enjoy!

Pasta doesn’t do my blood sugar any favors, so I don’t eat a lot of it. At roughly 55g of carbohydrate per serving, I’d rather eat this:

bagelor a generous slice of this:

chez_panisse_pizza

But the rest of my family loves pasta, so I was happy when a friend turned me onto Dreamfields pasta. dreamfieldsIt tastes exactly like regular boxed pasta, but contains only 5g of “digestible carbohydrates.” It's a pretty amazing feeling to eat a bowl of pasta, dose for only 5-10g of carbs, do a post-meal BS check and find that I am perfectly in range.

There is one important caveat: over-cooking, re-heating, or letting Dreamfields pasta sit in cooking liquid/sauce breaks it down and raises the digestible carbs. So, on the rare occasions I make a pre-sauced pasta dish, I use “regular” pasta. To offset the ginormous carb hit, I also flip the typical pasta-to-vegetable ratio so the bowl is filled mostly with vegetables and accented with pasta.

When my endocrinologist suggested earlier this month that I go on a statin to lower my LDL (damn you, diabetes!), I didn’t love the idea. I agreed to think about it, but in truth, I began at once exploring alternatives. To begin with, I wanted to understand if my lipid numbers were in fact problematic.

Should I even worry about my cholesterol levels?
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), people with diabetes should meet the following targets:

  • LDL (aka "bad") Cholesterol: < 100 mg/dl
  • HDL (aka "good") Cholesterol: > 40 mg/dl (men) and > 50 mg/dl (women)
  • Triglycerides: < 150 mg/dl

The role of cholesterol in our bodies seems poorly understood. For years I believed in the protective benefit of HDL - the idea that a high HDL would offset a high-ish LDL. But this 2012 New York Times article points out that view may be outdated.
(So a high HDL isn't necessarily helping me avert heart disease?) I was further encouraged by another briefly popular notion that what mattered more than the individual numbers was the ratio of HDL to total serum cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) has stated that a ratio of <3.5:1 is ideal. And yet, the AHA has not incorporated the metric into their clinical practice guidelines. (So much for my own reassuring ratio of 3.55:1.)

Therefore, barring other measurements, I am resigned to the fact that the individual cholesterol numbers matter at this moment in time. Which leads to the question of treatment:

Should I lower my LDL with a statin?
Again, according to the ADA, yes. The ADA maintains that:
Statin therapy should be added to lifestyle therapy, regardless of baseline lipid levels, for diabetic patients without CVD (cardiovascular disease) who are over the age of 40 years and have one or more other CVD risk factors (family history of CVD, hypertension, smoking, dyslipidemia, or albuminuria.

There’s no question that statins lower cholesterol, but for whom, to what degree, and with what effect remain unclear. Statins' success in secondary prevention –  helping people (particularly men) avert a second heart attack or stroke – is well documented. But their effectiveness for primary prevention (initial heart attack/stroke) is less clear. It turns out that cholesterol levels may be less predictive of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than previously thought. (This 2012 Journal of American Medicine piece suggests the controversy).

Even if the indication were more certain, the benefits would have to outweigh the potential side effects linked to statin use (see the FDA's current consumer advisory on statins), notable among them: muscle pain, cognitive interference, and – wait for it – elevated blood sugar.

On the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website, I found a simple (now outdated) risk assessment calculator* where you can plug in different cholesterol numbers and see how they affect your 10-year risk of heart attack.
(I calculated mine based on my recent lab work: 1% risk. Not very statin-worthy.)
* 11/12/2013 update: new cholesterol treatment guidelines were published today. Per these new recommendations, anyone between the ages of 40 and 75 who has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes should be on a statin (period). However, I used the brand new calculator (which now includes stroke risk) to gauge my 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke. .04%. So, thanks, I guess, for the new guidelines, but I'll still pass on the statin for now.

Despite my skepticism, I don’t want to give my newish endocrinologist the impression that I ignore her advice. There seems to be no harm in trying to lower my LDL naturally.

My plan to reduce my LDL without a statin
Reputable web sites assure me that diet and exercise may help lower my LDL by 20-30%. The added bonus for me is that I’ll get more fit in the process. Excellent! So:

Exercise:

  • I upped my gym visits to 5-7 days/week.
  • I found my long-lost pedometer and am logging at least 7500 steps/day.

Diet:

  • Oatmeal or soup (why not?) for breakfast.
  • Meat and dairy are now occasional indulgences.

On the upside, I figure I’m just leveraging diabetes to make myself healthier.
(Take that, diabetes!)

I just stumbled across the diabetic problems tumbler site.
Rants, humor, gratitude - a glimpse into the diabetes details.
I found these especially relatable:

 

561 606645 636

591 594 530 662 647 648

 

Bear Mountain, Boulder CO
Bear Mountain, Boulder CO
Photo Courtesy ProTrails.com

I ditched my Saturday AM gym workout in favor of a family hike with good friends who live in Boulder. I expected we would be gone all day and considered taking my back up insulin and needles, in the unlikely event I might need them. But it was hot - close to 100 degrees - and insulin needs to stay cool. We were out of ice and I hadn't prepped my FRIO and I was concerned the insulin would get too hot in the car. So opted to leave my backup insulin and needles at home (and now you know where this story is headed).

We were hiking with small children, so as it turned out, it wasn't the most vigorous exercise. But it was a stunning Colorado hike.

Afterward, we picnicked in downtown Boulder. As I was unsure what the hike had accomplished for me metabolically, I dosed conservatively, planning to check my blood sugar again in an hour and re-dose as needed.

I didn’t have the chance to re-dose. Instead, 15 minutes post-meal, my pump alarm sounded. That usually means one of three things:

  • Check Blood Sugar  / Just ate - too soon to check.
  • Low Battery  / Inserted fresh battery that morning.
  • Low Insulin Supply / Replaced the infusion set and insulin the night before.

The beeping was getting louder and more urgent. It now had my full attention.
I unclipped the pump from my clothing and consulted the screen:

Button Error

Sounds fairly innocuous, right?
I tried to cancel the alert. No luck.
I tried to back out of the screen.
Again, no dice.

Suddenly, as though impersonating a Vegas slot machine, the pump began wildly scrolling through three-digit numbers – numbers so big it was downright uncomfortable to see them on an
insulin pump.

I excused myself and called Medtronic.

Within five minutes, a customer service representative was assuring me that my pump was still under warranty so Medtronic would send me a new one, for free. How great of Medtronic and what a relief. It made the next part easier to swallow.

Medtronic:       If you don’t receive your pump by Tuesday, please give us a call.

Woah. Tuesday? (This was Saturday.)

Me:                    I hope I don't sound unappreciative, but Tuesday is three days from now.
Medtronic:     Yes.
Me:                    Do you know that the pump is what I use all the time to manage diabetes?
Medtronic:     Yes. You will have to move to your backup plan.
Me:                    Okaaaay.

People with diabetes have lots of back up plans. We have plans for high-fat meals, plans for high-carbohydrate meals, for delayed meals, for exercise, illness, stress, unexpected lows, stubborn highs... But a backup plan for all-out pump failure? Nope. I didn't have that. Plus, my short-term back up plan was at home in the fridge.

So, there we were in Boulder with our friends, the kids, and the dog we were looking after. How much active insulin did I have on board? I really didn’t know.

So we went home. And I considered how to be pump-free for three days.

Option A – Multiple Daily Injections (MDI)
MDI therapy generally utilizes two types of insulin – short- and long-acting insulin. The long-acting insulin stabilizes blood sugars between means, the short-acting one covers food. Insulin pumps eliminate the need for long-acting insulin because it works as a healthy pancreas does – continuously delivering micro-doses of background insulin. And that’s fantastic, but it's also the reason I don’t have a prescription anymore for long-acting insulin. So, to temporarily implement an MDI approach, I would have to call my newish endocrinologist – the one I really don’t have a relationship with yet – on a Saturday for a prescription. A vial of lantus would cost $120. I’d use it for three days and throw it away (it lasts for a month when opened). Not ideal.

Option B
(Please read this disclaimer before reading on.) What if I could mimic the pump, giving myself little micro-doses of short-acting insulin throughout the day and night?

Had other PWDs considered this route? I went online found several pumpers who had apparently used this approach with some success. I decided to try it. Feeling that night time would present the greatest risk, I set my alarm for every two hours and gave myself teensy doses of insulin. The next night, I checked only every 3 hours. The night after that, I checked only once. It was tiring, but I stayed between 89-133 every night. I was glad to know I could do that in a pinch, but very, very glad when the pump arrived at my door Tuesday morning.

In the end, I am reminded how much I appreciate my insulin pump, the company that makes and supports it, and the DOC.

Here's the dream device I want: an integrated CGM/Insulin-pump device.

Along with that, I’d like a food log with voice recognition capabilities. It should also be able to track other diabetes details, like:

  • How much sleep did I get last night?
  • Am I stressed out? Under the weather?
  • Did I exercise today? At what time? For how long?
  • Am I properly hydrated?
  • How many days since last site change?
  • How old is this insulin?

It would be really fantastic if the device could learn some of this information through observation. Maybe there’s an embedded pedometer or fit-bit that tracks movement?

This artificial pancreas is a good start.

4th Annual Diabetes Blg Week 2013

This post was written for Diabetes Blog Week
The Prompt:
Tell us what your fantasy diabetes device would be. 

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