David Bernstein: Zen and the Art of Insulin Maintenance

Laddie: Today’s blogpost was submitted by my Arizona D-friend David Bernstein. David was diagnosed with diabetes nine years ago. After four years of frustration and ineffective treatments, David learned that original Type 2 diagnosis was a mistake and he was correctly diagnosed as Type 1. In recent years David’s pump and CGM have provided him with better tools to manage his diabetes but like many of us more experienced Type 1’s, he has discovered that the math of diabetes is only a starting point for managing blood sugar.

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David: As a Type 1 diabetic, I’ve ridden the sometimes wild and seemingly unpredictable highs and lows of the glucose roller-coaster.

Those of us who depend on insulin do our utmost to match insulin to sugars.  This match-up, after all, is the essence of diabetes management.  Yet the process can be so frustrating!  How many times are we surprised by the results of our efforts?  How many times do we feel like fools?  How many times do we scold ourselves for missing the mark?

We have been taught to administer our insulin according to empirical information.  For example, if your food to insulin ratio is 10 to 1, and you’re about to ingest 40 carbs of food, you need four units of insulin to handle the load.  Similarly, if your “adjustment” ratio is 30 to 1, you need one unit of insulin for every thirty points to bring you down to your glucose goal.

Math is handy, for sure, in diabetes management. We need the guidelines to get a sense of how much to dose.  From the various mathematical paradigms we’ve learned, we do lots of calculating and then come up with a number that determines how much insulin we take.

The system usually works, and most often gets us close to our goals.  But how many times are we surprised to find that a given dose is just not getting the job done?  How many times have we had sugars that go sky-high or nose-dive after lots of careful calculations?

Most of us have come to learn, and accept, that not every effort at managing our diabetes will be successful.  There will be times when our sugars seem so out of sync that we simply cannot fathom why!   It’s truly daunting to learn that dosing the same insulin for the same meal may not create the same results from one day to the next.

It’s common knowledge that various factors beyond insulin and glucose affect our glucose levels.  These include exercise, stress, sleep, pain, and more.  If we have a headache or some other physical discomfort, our sugars can be unpredictable.  If we are extremely worried and anxious, our sugars can vary widely.

Given the difficulty to maintain perfect control over sugars, many of us end up annoyed and confused.  Why did my glucose readings soar to 350?  How come I was steady all day and tonight my sugars dipped into dangerous hypoglycemic territory?

Should we blame the fates?  Is this thing called “management” of diabetes a fantasy?  Will we ever understand the inconsistencies in glucose levels?  Will we ever figure out the “perfect” dose for a given meal?  Tough questions indeed.

I would offer a way to deal with the seemingly crazy process.  I call it “zen” management.  Back in the 60s, a very popular book was published called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Subtitled an “inquiry into values,” the book explored our feelings about life and human interaction.

Among the many sayings in the book that became popular, one stood out in my mind: “First get the feeling, then figure out why.”  Isn’t that one way to approach our diabetes?  Should we strive to be more intuitive and less number-based about our insulin control?

“Zen” management of diabetes places more emphasis on our feelings at a given moment in time.  When it is time to dose, what factors other than numbers of carbs and insulin units should we consider?  Are we tired?  Sick?  Happy?  Sad?  Hassled?  Serene?

Since it is common knowledge that many factors affect insulin and glucose, it is important to look beyond plain and simple math.  We need to look inward.  We need to get a second sense about our dosing before we dose.

Before I take insulin, I sometimes do the math and then sit back with a cup of coffee (less milk, of course, in order not to begin the carb load!), and think.

Okay, yesterday the meal I’m about to have was perfectly covered with four units of insulin.  But today, things are different.  My readings have been on the high side since I got up.  I had a lousy night’s sleep.  I feel like I’m getting a cold.  I “feel” like five units will do a better job this time.

Such “zen” thinking flies in the face of the experts who would have us dose units with precision according to the quantity and quality of carbs we take.  But science alone does not always provide the complete picture.

If you’re tired of missing on the high or low side after dosing, try a broader thinking approach. Take into consideration emotional factors in your life.  Consider not only “thinking like a pancreas”, but also thinking like an individual.

Hopefully you will have more success reaching your goals.

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This article was originally published in 2018 as a commentary in the Diabetes Management Open Access Journal.

Bio:  David has a Ph.D. degree in French literature and a history of teaching French at university and secondary levels. After a career in education, he went into business with his son. They created an educational video company that sold to schools throughout the U.S. After retirement, he took up bluegrass banjo, wood bowl turning, and fused glass artwork. He is a passionate reader, writer, and TV watcher. He has been diabetic for nine years. He strives to learn more about type 1 so he can share his learning with fellow diabetics.

How Good?

How good do we have to be?

Or maybe I should ask how good do I have to be? Because what is good enough to keep me healthy might not be good enough for you. Diabetes complications can be a capricious foe giving retinopathy or gastroparesis to people who have relatively good numbers and leaving others living with erratic sky-high numbers unscathed. But we mostly know that the better we do, the better off we’ll be. 

Me, I’ve made it through 44+ years of diabetes with no major complications. At age 69 my eyes, kidneys, nerves, and cardiovascular system are seemingly okay. Same for my sister at age 72 with 40 years of Type 1. Something crummy in our genetics made us susceptible to Type 1. At the same time something good in our genes is protecting us from diabetes complications. In 2005 the Joslin Diabetes Center launched the 50-year Medalist study to investigate why a select group of people had managed to thrive despite longterm Type 1 diabetes. I am not sure that they have found definitive answers but I think that I share in the good fortune of those longtime survivors. My endocrinologist insists that hard work and newer insulins/technology are what have protected me but I strongly believe that luck and “unknown protective factors” are also in the mix.

Diabetes social media is inundated with people who use CGMs, pumps, newer insulins, smart computer algorithms, strict diets, incredible motivation, and lots of diabetes know-how to push the boundaries of what blood glucose numbers are achievable for those of us with Type 1 diabetes. Some people argue that we are entitled to and should target “normal” blood glucose numbers. But what is normal? The lab normals for my A1c tests indicate that results between 4.0 and 6.0 are normal. The CDC indicates that an A1c of 5.7 and below is normal. But an A1c of 5.7 equates to an average blood sugar of 126 and a 6.0 A1c is a 136 average. Those aren’t “normal“ although they are good for people with existing diabetes. Dr. Bernstein insists that normal is a blood glucose of 83 and our bodies are being damaged by anything higher. That 83 translates to an A1c of 4.5. So depending on whom you listen to, normal can be anywhere from 4.5 to 6.0.

As a contrast to Bernstein’s beliefs there are studies and other diabetes doctors claiming that an A1c of 6.5 is good enough and that anything lower has diminishing returns. Stacy Simms of the Diabetes Connections Podcast has a 2019 interview with Dr. Bill Polanski of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute and Dr. Steve Edelman of TCOYD called “Evidence-Based Hope and Type 1 Diabetes: New Info, New Optimism.” These doctors cite research studies and argue that “decent care” might be good enough and that might include A1c’s as high as 7.0 or 7.5. 

Interlude: I am hesitant to mention Dr. Edelman since his recent three donuts video is causing conflict in the diabetes online community (DOC). But lots of things cause conflict in the DOC and I believe that it is medicinal to laugh at many of the absurd things we do to live with diabetes. I like donuts, especially the old fashioned ones with chocolate icing, and am not too proud to admit that I have eaten three at one sitting. And yes, the BG repercussions were horrible. I don’t look at Dr. E’s video as a how-to or permission to gorge on donuts. But I do like his attitude that I shouldn’t be mired in guilt at occasional dietary indiscretions.

So what blood glucose numbers and target ranges should those of us with Type 1 diabetes strive for?

Is there an optimal balance between diabetes mental health and diabetes physical health?

Is diabetes social media filled with numbers games that don’t necessarily translate to better overall health?

Are we playing the numbers game rather than focusing on a good life?

I should insert here that many people with diabetes are struggling to achieve any semblance of “good results” and please know that I respect your struggles. Diabetes is a tough adversary. Diabetes is especially tough when you struggle to afford insulin and technology. Diabetes is tough when you’re doing your best and it is never good enough.

This blogpost is targeting the superstars. The people on social media complaining about an A1c of 5.2 and wanting to be in the 4’s. The people who successfully achieve one target range and then immediately set a lower target range. The people who are critical of parents who allow their child a cupcake. The people who insist on low normal blood sugars when our doctors allow higher. The people whom I am jealous of. The people whom I think are crazy. The people like me who are never satisfied with how I am doing.

Is there ever a number that is good enough?

For sure I don’t know. I just know that I can’t live a “perfect” diabetes life. I make lots of good decisions but never reach the nirvana of a flat blood glucose tracing. I make lots of bad decisions and no amount of pumped insulin, injected insulin, and/or inhaled Afrezza can control the blood glucose spikes. And sometimes I make good decisions and still get a crazy high spike in the middle of the night. Hormones. Pump sites. Who knows? There is no end to the things that can go wrong.

And how will I ever know if I am living a D-life that is “good enough”?

One answer is that according to my standards, my numbers recently haven’t been “good.” Control IQ with my Tandem pump keeps me somewhat higher than my previous targets. At the same time I feel good. I hike 5 miles. I walk for 18 holes of golf. Although I’ve gained weight in recent years, my clothes still fit. So I am probably doing “good enough.”

Another answer is that although my numbers with Control IQ have been higher recently, my endo loves them. I really appreciate virtually having no lows and when I do have lows, I feel them more than I have in the ten or twenty years. The fact of the matter is that I feel the same with an average of 125 as I feel with an average of 100. And if my average were 150, my guess is that I would still feel good. Is my body being damaged with higher numbers? My endo would say no and she would emphasize that at my age that it is hugely important not to have severe lows, falls from lows, and disorientation from lows. She very frankly says that I probably won’t live long enough to get complications from my current blood glucose numbers.

But I struggle to accept my current numbers. They “fail” compared to the stellar goals and numbers of some of my online diabetes friends. But they are probably great compared to most people with Type 1 diabetes. I often think my mental health is more at risk than my physical health when I look at my day-to-day life with diabetes. 

I play golf and am pretty good at the game. To me diabetes and golf are about the same on the frustration scale. No matter how good a golfer you are, you wish you were better. I think that a 6-handicapper is just as frustrated or more frustrated than a 30-handicapper. Same with diabetes. You start to get BG numbers that you never thought were possible. But you know you could do better. You remember those 3 chocolate chip cookies last week. You remember the unexplained highs last Tuesday and the crazy lows after changing your pump cartridge yesterday. All of a sudden your time in range is not good enough because there are people on Facebook getting 100% with a much-tighter range. 

Sometimes I wonder: Are we living diabetes instead of living life?

And BTW I can quit golf but I can’t quit diabetes.

Lots of questions. Not a lot of answers.

Control IQ Basal IQ: No, It’s Really Mental Health

I purchased my first Tandem X2 pump in December 2016. Shortly after that in April 2017 I transitioned to Medicare. Thus when my original pump went out of warranty in early December 2020, I was free to choose a new pump. I am sad that there are not more pump choices these days. I hated Omnipod and it is a poor financial choice under Medicare. I liked my Medtronic pumps ways back when, but I would never abandon Dexcom for Medtronic sensors. So it is Tandem again. I was not unhappy to continue with Tandem but I was sad to miss the excitement of a new D-device, because the new one is the same as the old one.

But not entirely.

I had the choice of purchasing a Tandem X2 pump with the Control IQ software or a Tandem X2 pump with the older Basal IQ software. So I chose Basal IQ and I am now in the unique position of being able to choose between Basal IQ and Control IQ depending on which pump I am using. 

I have never been completely satisfied with Control IQ and chafe at target ranges that are higher than I prefer and significant insulin suspensions that result in highs later on. Basal IQ is much quicker to resume insulin after suspensions and I was excited to get back to it. Initially I was happy with somewhat better BG readings and more control over my pump behavior. 

But after a month, I chose to go back to Control IQ today.

Why?

One of the reasons is minor. I really missed the automatic population of my sensor reading when I was bolusing. Somehow it has been a step backwards (okay, I am lazy!) to have to type in the number. Minor, but significant.

Another reason is that my initial excitement and honeymoon period with Basal IQ ended quickly and I wasn’t doing better with it than with Control IQ.

But mostly I missed the constant basal adjustments that Control IQ makes to tweak my blood glucose. (Please note that I use Sleep Mode 24/7 so I don’t get automatic boluses by Control IQ.) Because our infused insulin is slow, slow, slow, these adjustments don’t work as quickly as my impatient self would hope, but they do help. Control IQ gives me better and more consistent morning wake-up numbers. It also allows me to occasionally forget about diabetes when I hike and play golf. 

I have never figured out “perfect” pump settings with Control IQ and previously took an injection of Lantus every evening to give me insulin that Control IQ couldn’t take away. https://testguessandgo.com/2020/09/25/going-untethered-with-control-iq/ That worked well but I have not missed the daily 7:30PM phone alarm beeping “Time to take a shot, Laddie!” So I am going to try to do without the untethered regimen, but that remains to be determined.

I have a history of my doctors thinking I am doing great regardless of my diabetes regimen. I was one of the last Type 1 patients to start Lantus because my world-renowned endocrinologist thought I was doing well on NPH. During the 2015 Blog Week (remember Blog Week?!?), I wrote that the biggest improvement in my diabetes care was the result of an internal medicine doctor switching me to Lantus. So much for world-renowned endocrinologists….

https://testguessandgo.com/2015/05/14/my-blue-ribbon-first-place-change/

That being said, I think that I am capable of getting the same A1c on injections, pumping without sensors, pumping with sensors, Basal IQ, and Control IQ. I truly believe that I am safer with sensors, but I can get reasonable BG numbers without them. Not completely true, because there would be some bad lows. But what I truly want is easier diabetes and that seems to be an elusive goal.

The biggest weakness in all of my regimens is “ME.” Imperfect me, who works hard at diabetes every day, but who constantly makes less than optimal decisions. Second glass of wine resulting in too many post-dinner cookies. Thinking there is a way to successfully bolus for pizza or Kraft Macaroni ’N Cheese. Buying a Diet Coke at a convenience store and being too lazy to check to see if it is really regular Coke. (It happened this week. A perfect flatline in the 90’s up to the mid-200’s in 20 minutes.) There is no end to the ways to screw up. And I am a master at thinking WTH as I muddle through my days.

But WAIT!!!

I am not perfect but the real culprit is TYPE 1 DIABETES. It is amazing how incredibly difficult it is to control blood sugar without a functioning pancreas. When I make good decisions, I get a bad pump site. I wake up at a good number and don’t do anything “wrong,” but my BG soars today while yesterday it stayed in target range. I am a senior with skin and tissue issues that sometimes rebel at infusion sets and adhesives. I am really smart and experienced, but sometimes I have no idea what is causing highs and lows. My lab tests confirm that my body makes zero insulin and this is hard.

I am very cognizant of the fact that the more my insulins and technology improve, the more I raise my expectations of what my diabetes numbers should be. So I am always falling short.

I think that once again I am writing about diabetes distress. My endocrinologist is very satisfied with my diabetes numbers. She believes that at my age (68) with 44 years of diabetes, my Dexcom tracings are perfect. And I am really, really, mostly, mostly okay. But I could do better.

By switching back to Control IQ, I am going to work to accept the help it gives me and not stress over the limitations of the algorithm. And the limitations of my insulin. And the limitations of my behavior.

My old pump has battery issues and ultimately I will have to decide whether to update the new pump to Control IQ. But right now I am happy to have CHOICE. I may choose to go back to Basal IQ on the new pump next week. I may choose to stay with Control IQ on the old pump.

I like choice.

Unfortunately one thing I don’t have choice about is having diabetes….

Going Untethered with Control IQ

I activated Control IQ on my Tandem X2 pump in late January. After two weeks I wrote a blogpost sharing my goals for the system:

“Unlike some seniors who are askance at letting a tech device control their insulin, I am excited. I need help. I want to sleep better. I want fewer alarms. I want BG graphs with rolling hills and valleys and fewer Himalayan peaks. I want my diabetes to be  easier.”

A month later I wrote another post indicating that I mostly liked Control IQ because of the protection from low blood sugars. At the same time I shared that I was still struggling to dial in settings with my major problem being high blood sugars after long insulin suspensions.

“I think that one characteristic of “ideal” Control IQ settings is the avoidance of long suspensions of insulin. When I say “long”, I mean one hour or more.  Unfortunately I see such suspensions almost every day. Whenever I go 1-2 hours without insulin, I always go high because I just can’t be without insulin that long. The problem is that these suspensions don’t happen at the same time or in the same circumstances each day.”

Over the next 6 months I changed pump settings more times than I can count. Stronger basals, weaker basals. Stronger insulin sensitivity factors, weaker sensitivity factors. Stronger carb ratios, weaker carb ratios. I had easily accepted that eliminating most low blood sugars would raise my average blood sugar and I was somewhat okay with that. I never considered turning off Control IQ, but I was frustrated that the system was not close to hands-off for me. My biggest problem continued to be highs after insulin suspensions and random sticky highs. BTW I was using Sleep Mode 24/7 and continue to do so.

In August I started problem-solving again. I found that when I weakened my pump settings, I got fewer suspensions of insulins but lots of stubborn highs. When I used settings that allowed me to achieve my target blood sugar levels, I had long insulin suspensions. I determined that although I really appreciate reductions in basal insulin by Control IQ, I cannot ever be 100% without insulin regardless of my blood sugar level.

I don’t need a lot of insulin but I always need some. 

I have a long history of periodically using the untethered regimen (pump + part of basal injected) successfully. It made sense to me that having some insulin on board that Control IQ couldn’t adjust might help me achieve my goals. After a few days of experimenting with how much basal to inject, I settled on 30%. I began taking 4 units of Basaglar (Lantus equivalent) every evening and reduced my pump basal settings across the board by that amount. Assuming that the Basaglar absorbs evenly over 24 hours (it probably doesn’t), it provides me with 0.17 units of insulin per hour. Minuscule.

After 5 weeks I am amazed at how successful the untethered regimen has been. That little bit of constant insulin has really helped to reduce post-insulin suspension highs and other random BG excursions. Control IQ has power over enough of my basal insulin that it continues to protect me from most lows while helping me attack the highs. Both my average BG and standard deviation are lower. Time in range is higher. The differences in statistics aren’t huge but they are significant.

The additional work of injecting basal is minor and a phone alarm reminds me to take the evening injection. I keep the Basaglar pen in the refrigerator and use a syringe to withdraw insulin because I am more confident about the dose that way. I am not discarding pens after 30 days but will use them until they are empty or there is a noticeable decline in insulin potency. At 4 units per day,  the added expense of a second insulin type is negligible.

I am sure that many of you will argue that I just need to get better pump settings. My experience is that the times of day and the cumulative time of suspended insulin vary greatly from day to day. Am I more active? Is it a new pump cartridge with fresh insulin? Is the infusion site less than optimal? What am I eating? And so on. IMO all of this indicates that “perfect” pump settings are a mirage although I continue to reduce some of my pump basal rates and tweak settings. Right now I am finding the addition of a small amount of injected basal insulin is helping Control IQ do its job better and allowing me to micromanage less. So it is a win in my book.

Is diabetes easy-peasy now? No, but it is easier. Are my numbers perfect? Not really, but they are more manageable. Will I stay with the untethered regimen forever? Probably not.

I am not saying that you should do what I do. We all have different targets and different diabetes. At the same time I encourage you to be creative as you try to optimize your Control IQ experience. Although we can customize many Control IQ settings, we are limited by the fixed behavior of other settings and the slow speed of insulin onset. Sometimes we just need to think outside the box to figure out ways to get the results that we want.

Just another reminder that our diabetes is a constant science experiment….

Tangled and Intertwined: Diabetes and Covid-19

A while back I started a blogpost with the words “tangled” and “intertwined.” The emotions prompting those words were powerful but I abandoned the post in favor of laziness.

Last Saturday I “attended” a virtual session at Friends for Life Orlando titled “Avoiding and Overcoming Diabetes Burnout.” The moderators were William Polonsky, PhD, CDE and Kerri Sparling. Partway through the session Kerri mentioned something about her diabetes and coronavirus being iinseparable and I thought “yes!” That is what I had originally been planning to write about. No doubt if Kerri were still blogging, she would say it better than I will, but we likely have the same thoughts muddling through our brains.

A lot of my musings go back to late January when I began using Dexcom G6 and Basal IQ on my Tandem X2 pump followed by Control IQ. I was on Control IQ for less than six weeks when the coronavirus invaded my world. For those of you not knowledgeable about diabetes tech, Control IQ is defined by Tandem Diabetes:

ControlIQ technology is an advanced hybrid closed-loop system that uses an algorithm to automatically adjust insulin in response to predicted glucose levels to help increase time in the American Diabetes Association-recommended target range (70-180 mg/dL).

I wrote a couple of blogposts about my early experiences with Control IQ and I don’t think that my opinions have changed a lot since the March post titled “Six Weeks: More Thoughts on Control IQ.” I am mostly okay with it and really appreciate the fact that I have almost zero low blood sugars. But my average blood sugar is higher than pre-Control IQ and I am frustrated that I am required to use Tandem’s conservative BG goals instead of the targets that I prefer. In general I am still trying to figure out how to lower my average blood sugar without constant suspensions of insulin that result in sticky highs later on. Some people on Facebook seem to do that successfully and post daily graphs that don’t make sense to me based on my experiences. At a late May appointment I questioned my endocrinologist on whether she had any suggestions, and she said “No. Control IQ is doing what it is supposed to do and you are doing great.”

And she is right. But diabetes is never independent of mental health and I struggle to accept the new numbers when I liked the old numbers and don’t completely understand the new numbers. But the old numbers reflected many low blood sugars and a lot of glucose tabs. At the same time the new numbers don’t display what I think the Sleep Mode of Control IQ should target. I have never experienced classical diabetes burnout but my diabetes is mucked up with anxiety, perfection, lack of perfection, unattainable goals, and just plain never-getting-a-vacation.

In the last paragraph I introduced “mental health.” Enter Coronavirus. I am 68 years old and have lived with diabetes for 43 years. I consider myself to be healthy but I deal with multitude autoimmune conditions. If I get diagnosed with Covid-19, I am probably doomed. But who knows? My self-destructive side just wants to get the virus and be done with it. Either die or hopefully recover with ongoing immunity. But don’t get worried. I am not attending Covid-19 parties and have recently started using InstaCart for grocery and Costco deliveries. 

But like every other person in the world, I mourn my former life. I miss fitness classes at the YMCA and reminisce about hanging out at McDonald’s drinking cheap Diet Coke while surfing the web and writing blogposts. I miss going to the movies. I long for lunch and coffee with friends. I desperately want to visit my Maryland grandchildren and currently accept the risk of outdoor babysitting the local grandkids. I am okay most days but about once a week I wake up with a black cloud over my head.

The black cloud is part coronavirus and part diabetes-Control IQ. I can’t untangle what is what and for sure I haven’t figured out a way to eliminate the occasional days that are plagued with pit-in-the-stomach sadness and frustration. I am totally cognizant of the fact that 42+ things influence blood sugar and that I will never be a “Perfect Diabetic.” I am fine most days but the wind periodically blows in black clouds that suffocate my normally optimistic view of life. 

I am sad. I am frustrated.

I am healthy. I am mostly happy.

I know that I live a privileged life. I have no worries about acquiring insulin, CGM sensors, and pump supplies. I have access to online fitness and yoga classes and live near safe walking trails. My husband is employed and at the moment we are safe financially. My children have jobs and their families are doing relatively well considering the stress of home schooling and few daycare resources. 

But when the black clouds park above my psyche, I can’t tell whether they are the result of diabetes or Covid-19.

It doesn’t matter.

In my world diabetes and Covid-19 are tangled and intertwined. 

Tandem Occlusion Alarms: The Last Post

I started using a Tandem t:slim X2 insulin pump in December 2016 and immediately began having occlusion alarms once or twice a week. I had never had occlusions in 12+ years of pumping with Medtronic and Animas and quickly discovered that the vast majority of these Tandem alarms were false. All I had to do was dismiss the alarm, resume insulin, and go about my day. I can count on one hand the number of times that the occlusions were real and required a cartridge and infusion set change. It takes more than one hand to count the times that I had an embarrassing blaring alarm in awkward situations such as the movies, yoga class, and restaurants.

If you do an online search for Tandem Occlusion Alarms, you will be linked to some of my older blogposts. People still contact me with questions about their occlusion problems and I figured it was time to update my experiences and thoughts.

Although some of my previous blogposts suggested that I had fixed the problem, I never found a permanent solution to false occlusion alarms with some of my X2 pumps. I was fortunate that I wasn’t someone who had multiple alarms a day requiring cartridge and infusion set changes. The alarms were annoying and I mostly learned to live with them. Occasionally I called Tandem out of frustration but after a while they had nothing new to tell me and no real solutions.

If you notice in the last paragraph I say “some of my X2 pumps.” I am on my fifth pump in 3-1/2 years. My first pump had occlusion alarms starting the first week and was eventually replaced due to a failed battery. The second pump did not have a single occlusion alarm during the month that I used it, but the t:button was defective. The third pump had lots of occlusion alarms and was replaced for that reason. The fourth pump had one to two occlusion alarms per week and I gave up on solving the problem. 

But then….

In January 2020 I started using Dexcom G6 and wanted to install the newest Basal IQ update. It was determined that I had one of the older pumps with software that was incompatible with the Basal IQ and Control IQ updates. So I got another replacement pump. Amazingly several months went by with no occlusion alarms. I didn’t change anything in my behavior, cartridge use, or infusion set type. Through luck of the draw I finally had a pump that was not prone to false occlusion alarms. In the last 6+ months I have had 3 occlusion alarms all probably attributable to bunched up tubing during a mealtime bolus. 

I have long believed that some Tandem pumps are more prone to occlusion alarms than others. Is it an overly sensitive sensor or a less than robust motor? I’m not an engineer and have no idea. I have more than once been annoyed by people online being virtuous that they aren’t getting occlusion alarms and that I must be doing something wrong. Some times I felt as though Tandem techs blamed me.

No, maybe it was just the pump.

If you’re dealing with occlusion alarms, the best place to start might be with some of the “best practices” recommended by Tandem support techs and other X2 users on Facebook. Some helped me, some didn’t, and some I refused to do.

Things to try:

  1. Use the case
  2. Don’t carry the pump in your pocket
  3. Keep the tubing outstretched while a bolus is delivering
  4. Change your cartridge every 3 days
  5. Use TruSteel infusion sets
  6. Use insulin types approved for Tandem pumps
  7. Document everything and work with your local rep to get a replacement pump
  8. Just accept occlusion alarms, restart insulin, and move on

I don’t necessarily do all of those things and some of them made no difference in the number of my occlusion alarms. With only one to two alarms a week, I got very good at #8 and just lived with the alarms. I currently wear my pump on my waistband with a Nite Ize clip and use TruSteel infusion sets with Novolog insulin. But that’s what I did with the 3rd and 4th pumps that had lots of occlusion alarms. I dislike the size and weight of the case and don’t use it. I don’t change my cartridge every three days although I change my infusion set every two days. I rarely hold the tubing straight during a bolus.

So I live with a mixture of best practices and bad practices. I used to get a lot of occlusion alarms and now I don’t.

What changed?

The pump.

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I hope that this blogpost is my last discussion of occlusion alarms. If you’re interested, here are previous posts on the subject:

https://testguessandgo.com/2017/02/21/a-review-of-the-tandem-tslim-x2/

https://testguessandgo.com/2017/03/20/winning-the-battle-with-tandem-occlusion-alarms/

https://testguessandgo.com/2017/05/24/a-5-month-review-of-the-tandem-tslim-x2/

https://testguessandgo.com/2018/07/26/tandem-occlusion-alarms-an-engineering-experiment/

https://testguessandgo.com/2018/07/30/tandem-occlusion-alarms-crying-uncle/

https://testguessandgo.com/2018/08/07/thank-you-tandem-a-replacement-pump/

Jigsaws and James Bond

I would love to say that I am doing fantastic things at home during the coronavirus crisis.

But I am not.

I haven’t cleaned closets. I haven’t planted a vegetable garden or dug out the dead shrubs in the backyard. I periodically delete emails but still have 25,000+ and have been accused of being an “email hoarder.” I have finished a couple of digital books through my library’s Libby app, but have abandoned many more halfway through. I am doing better with romance blood and gore audiobooks which inspire me to walk and listen. Five to six miles a day.

Mostly my attention span is worthless. I am watching very little TV and would argue that most of it is not worth watching. One of my hiking friends recommended Belgravia on Epix and I have never made it past the second episode. I have watched the first episode 3 times hoping to get engaged. But no. 

What am I doing?

1500 piece jigsaw puzzles on the kitchen table. My husband is more addicted than I am but we both spend time every day constructing wild animals.

And then cows, cows, and more cows.

And then there are James Bond movies. Fortunately we have a cable TV package that gets us access to almost every channel in the universe. We are currently watching films from the ‘60’s and they are quite horrible. Except that they are James Bond.

JAMES BOND….

 

Looking at Diabetes:  After abandoning Tandem Control IQ for several weeks, I have changed my pump settings again. Again…like the tenth time. I am doing better with Control IQ but know that I won’t be happy with it until I can target BG 95-105 instead of 110-120. Overnight I spend a lot of time at 140-150 and don’t think that Control IQ is working hard enough. But if I make the pump settings more aggressive, my basal suspends for hours and I do worse. I have a telehealth endocrinologist appointment in two weeks and wonder if she’ll be able to see patterns and suggest improvements in my pump settings. Overall I know that my doctor will be happier with my higher BG averages and I know that I appreciate having fewer lows. 

Sleep or lack thereof:  I lose interest in books and TV by 9:00pm. I try to stay awake until 10:00 but don’t always succeed. I often wake up at 2:00am and toss and turn for a couple of hours. My dreams are crazy and vivid. I know that it is dysfunctional senior/diabetes sleep. At the same time I am never tired during the day and know that I am getting sufficient sleep. But exploring Minneapolis with Anthony Fauci night after night is a weird experience….

I am slowly but surely getting organized for diabetes if I unfortunately get Covid-19. I have started a medical resume as outlined by Joanne Milo, The Savvy Diabetic. I have filled a plastic bin with pump and CGM supplies. But I am not really organized and prepared enough. I need to focus more because my organization could be the difference between life and death.

I am mostly comfortable in how I am living these days. My close-by grocery store has senior hours and I feel safe in my mask and paying with Apple Pay. I spend time with the local grandchildren outdoors and 6-feet away. No hugs but I use my chalk and my 3-year old granddaughter uses her chalk and we draw flowers, squares, and stars on the driveway. I play Yahtzee with the older girls and they manage to beat me every time with lots of Bonus Yahtzees. My 12-year old grandson tries to convince me every day that he needs a new phone for his birthday. The other grandchildren live far away and we touch base weekly through FaceTime.

My days are not what I would have yearned for as I have moved into old age. But I am fine. I am a younger-oldster and not totally doomed. I do my best to celebrate the good things in my life and refuse to live in gloom and doom.

I pray that we will all stay safe.

ADA Webinars and Podcasts: Inpatient Care for Covid-19 Patients with Diabetes

In recent weeks Diabetes Connections and The Juicebox Podcast have featured interviews with individuals with Type 1 diabetes who contracted and recovered from Covid-19. These podcasts have also shared conversations with medical professionals discussing the coronavirus and diabetes. While these episodes were interesting, they did not address my biggest Covid-19 concerns as a person with diabetes. How will my diabetes be handled if I am hospitalized with Covid-19? Not if I have a mild-to-moderate case and can mostly self-manage my diabetes. How will it be handled if I am incredibly ill on a regular hospital floor or even in the ICU? Nothing I have listened to or read has answered these questions.

Until now.

For several years I have listened to the podcast Diabetes Core Update sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. The podcast has historically been a monthly review of “clinically relevant” studies from ADA professional publications. Most of the articles address Type 2 medications so the podcast is not usually relevant to me. But I listen anyway hoping to learn something and hear an occasional Type 1 discussion.

In April Diabetes Core Update released about 10 podcasts directly related to diabetes and the coronavirus. Although these podcasts are directed towards medical professionals, they contain the information that I as an engaged patient am starved for.

Last weekend I finally hit the goldmine with two episodes directly addressing the inpatient care of patients with diabetes, particularly those patients on insulin therapy. This population includes all of us with Type 1 diabetes and medical professionals in the trenches are finding that many/most patients with Type 2 diabetes and even pre-diabetes and undiagnosed diabetes are ending up requiring insulin when battling coronavirus. 

The first podcast is titled American Diabetes Association Town Hall: COVID-19 & Inpatient Care for People with Diabetes. The 6 panelists are: Shivani Agarwal, MD, MPH, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Jennifer Clements, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS, CDE, BCACP, American Pharmacists Association; Robert Eckel, MD, ADA President, Medicine & Science; Irl Hirsch, MD, University of Washington; Melanie Mabrey, DNP, Co-Chair – American Association of Nurse Practitioners – Endocrine Specialty Practice Group; Jane Jeffrie-Seley, DNP, BC-ADM, CDCES, Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists. 

The topics discussed include insulin regimens in the hospital, blood sugar targets, use of patient devices such as meters, CGMs, and pumps, how coronavirus seems to affect BG levels, lots of dangerous hypoglycemia, and so on. 

The town hall can be seen as a webinar at this link:  American Diabetes Association Town Hall: COVID-19 & Inpatient Care for People with Diabetes

To access the podcast, go to Diabetes Core Update Podcasts and find this episode which is titled Covid-19 Inpatient Town Hall and was released on April 23. This page will give you the ability to open the podcast in Google Play, Apple Podcasts, or listen on your device.

The second podcast/webinar is titled Inpatient Care Questions April 15 Update and includes questions and discussion related to the topics from the Town Hall. The panelists are:  Robert Eckel, MD, ADA President, Medicine & Science; Irl Hirsch, MD, University of Washington; Mary Korytkowski, MD, University of Pittsburgh.

You can access the webinar at this link:  Answering Your Questions: Inpatient Care Questions April 15 Update.

To access the podcast, go to Diabetes Core Update Podcasts and find the episode titled Covid-19: Inpatient Management #2 which was also released on April 23. This page will give you the ability to open the podcast in Google Play, Apple Podcasts, or listen on your device.

My thoughts:  Although I strongly suggest that you listen to both podcasts, here are some things that I heard. Coronavirus seems to raise blood glucose numbers drastically and many patients require multiple times their normal insulin. Many people who didn’t previously require insulin do need it while hospitalized. IV insulin is frequently used in the ICU but injected insulin is more common on regular floors. Patients are encouraged to bring their own supplies including meters, pumps, and CGMs. As long as you are able to safely operate your pump, you will most like be able to keep it. That might differ in smaller community hospitals. 

Severe hypoglycemia has been seen in some patients, especially elderly patients. For that reason BG levels are often targeted to be in the range of 140-180 rather than 110-180. Nursing staffs are trying to minimize the number of direct patient contacts and will try to bundle BG checks, vital checks, and medication administration into each visit. 

Although there is currently no hard data to support the hypothesis, the medical professionals thought that those with well-controlled diabetes prior to Covid-19 have a better prognosis than those with complications and co-morbidities. But they all considered blood glucose control in the inpatient setting to be hugely important.

I am terrified of contracting Covid-19 and being so sick that I must be hospitalized. Along with most people I know with diabetes, I will continue to stay home most of the time and social distance when I am at the grocery store or walking in my neighborhood. My next project is to organize a Diabetes Go-Bag to use if I do end up going to the hospital. I am currently woefully unprepared for that scenario. 

** Please note that these episodes have somewhat different titles on different webpages, but I think you’ll be able to find them.

Diabetes Daily: How Covid-19 is Affecting People with Diabetes

Background: Several years ago Diabetes Daily teamed with Thrivable Insights to create the Diabetes Research Panel. In late March 1,300 people with diabetes (48% Type 1 and 52% Type 2) responded to a survey addressing their concerns and fears about the coronavirus and what they were doing to protect themselves.

Here is an infographic sharing the results of this initial study. If you would like to read an excellent interpretation of the results by Maria Muccioli Ph.D, her blogpost at Diabetes Daily is available here. Below the infographic is information from Diabetes Daily about joining the ongoing study.

 

This is a copy of an email I received from Diabetes Daily. Please join the project to let your voice by heard!

Dear Friends,

Want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic? Your data can make the difference!

We have donated our rapid research platform to help leaders respond to the epidemic.

Fill out this 3-minute survey to join the project:

Join the Study Covid Project

Your anonymous insights on symptoms, social distancing, masks, the economy, and more will be analyzed by a talented group of epidemiologists and public health experts and shared publicly.

Who can participate? 

The project is open to everyone 18+ living in the USA.

How will my data be used?

Your data will only be used for research purposes. You will not receive any marketing messages. All personally identifiable information will be removed prior to the sharing or publishing of any data.

Who is behind the project?

Thrivable, the organization that created Diabetes Daily, has donated its rapid research platform to this project. The project is led by a group of leaders in public health who have important questions about your attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19. You can see the team here.

Can I share this with family and friends?

Yes! Please share far and wide. You can copy and paste this message to share:

Want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic? Your data can make the difference! Join me and sign up for the Study Covid Project at https://www.StudyCovid.org.

Best,

The Diabetes Daily Team

Coronavirus: Social Isolation in the Desert

I am sitting outside this evening in Arizona basking in blue skies, mountain views, and warm temperatures. I am feeling good and it seems that my arthritis has gone on hiatus. Diabetes is just being diabetes and I am doing my best to ignore it and leave the work up to Control IQ. The coyotes are howling and I hope it is with joy at the day and not for a recent bunny kill. Doves are cooing and a pair of Gambels quail is investigating my geranium pot as a potential nesting spot. Weird crane flies are everywhere with their whispy daddy long-leg look. A pair of mallards has determined that our swimming pool might be their new home. 

But coronavirus is out there. On paper I am at high risk for a poor outcome should I get sick with the virus. 

I wrote the above paragraphs 10 days ago when I was still living in the world of social distancing as a snow day. I knew that things weren’t a holiday but I wasn’t tired of being alone and wasn’t yet worrying about how diabetes would impact my prognosis in the coronavirus epidemic. I wasn’t yet worrying about how horrible it will be to get critically and painfully ill. (I haven’t even had the flu since the 1970’s.) I wasn’t yet worrying about how one of my sons will survive financially when he and his wife both need to work but have no childcare. I wasn’t yet worrying about the endgame of most of the country staying at home. 

I didn’t have a pit in my stomach yet.

I do now. Not every minute of every day but often at 2:30am for several hours. Not all day every day but a lot of the time. It usually disappears when I get to FaceTime with my children and grandchildren. I normally spend a lot of time alone and social distancing is not difficult for me. It allows me to go on solitary hikes in the desert and spend hours every afternoon doing computer jigsaw puzzles. Interestingly I have not been able to find a new Netflix or Amazon Prime series to binge on and I have very little concentration for TV. But other things keep me entertained.

But the pit in my stomach and the stress of the unknown is never far away.

When will it be safe to return to normal? Has our world forever changed and what was normal will never be part of our lives again? Does our country have the leadership to weather this crisis? Will we have enough healthy medical professionals to care for us through this crisis. Will an economic recession destroy as many people as the virus? 

Nothing that I am thinking or feeling is different from most other Americans.

I am writing this post from a life of privilege. My husband and I are comfortable at our Arizona home and we are able to walk around the neighborhood, hike in the nearby desert, and even play golf touching nothing communal on the course. We have enough food to last for several weeks. He has a job and is able to work remotely. I have several months worth of insulin in the refrigerator and diabetes supplies in the closet.

But I know that I am ill-prepared diabetes-wise should I get sick. My husband knows nothing about my pump and CGM. I am not sure that it matters much. If I am too sick to minimally care for my diabetes, I should be in the hospital. If I am hospitalized with coronavirus, my husband will not be able to visit or care for me. Plus he would also likely be sick since we are living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed. There is a good discussion on TuDiabetes about a diabetes checklist for the hospital. I think it is unreasonable to think that my pump and CGM would be supported in a coronavirus crisis, but I like the idea of a file card screaming that I have Type 1 diabetes and require a long-acting insulin. Now that I am a senior, doctors tend to not understand that while I have a lot in common with people with Type 2, I am different and will quickly die without insulin. 

Good things in my life: My husband and I are together and I know that he will take care of me to the best of his ability. I am able to FaceTime with my children and grandchildren. I love them and they love me. We have started a family blog and are sharing words, photos, and videos. My fitness instructor in Arizona is doing a MWF class live on Zoom. My yoga instructor in Minnesota is doing classes twice a week on YouTube. I have a diabetes online world with young and old friends alike. I have friends in Arizona and Minnesota who keep in touch. My husband and I are working hard to use our food efficiently and are varying meat and meatless dinners. Although it may be a blood sugar bomb, we are having French Toast for dinner tonight. Thick white buttermilk bread with lots of eggs, milk, and syrup.

Thick white buttermilk bread with lots of eggs, milk, butter, and syrup. 

A definite good thing.

Bright yellow brittle bush blooms with a bee (yikes!)

Mallard lovebirds at my pool.

A paint with water picture by my 2-year old granddaughter.