A Tandem Vacation

Is it back to the future or forward to the past? 

I’m not quite sure.

What I do know is that this month is my two-year anniversary using a Tandem insulin pump and I just went back to using my Animas Vibe. I am hoping that an older, simpler pump will ease my navigation through the current dark clouds of my Type 1 diabetes. I wrote a blogpost in late November about my diabetes life as a country music ballad and things haven’t changed much. My elderly dog is recovering well from pneumonia but struggling to move around due to arthritis and an injured foot. The cold and cloudiness of late fall continue to trap me in gloom and icy streets prevent neighborhood walks. I have been in an extended funk where my diabetes doesn’t follow the expectations of “If I do A, then B will happen.” A lot of time I do A and seemingly nothing happens. Is it the pump? Is it the insulin? Is it my behavior? Is it one of Diatribe’s 42 factors that can impact blood sugar? I am burdened by diabetes technology that doesn’t give me sufficient control over intrusive beeps and sirens.

Many of you know that when I get frustrated with my D-Life, I try new tools with the conviction that there is a solution to BG frustrations. I have added Lantus as an adjunct to pump therapy with the Untethered Regimen. I have adopted low carb diets and reset my life with a month of Whole 30. I have changed types of insulin and models of infusion sets. Wil DuBois of Diabetes Mine wrote an article this week titled “To Pump or Not to Pump with Diabetes?” and shared his feelings about the benefits of changing up your D-regimen: 

“I find that any time I change from one tool to another, I do better. If I changed every two months, I’d probably stay in control. I think it’s because change makes you focus. That, or diabetes is an intelligent alien parasite that can be caught off-guard only for a short time.”

But back to the subject of this post. I am using my Animas Vibe in place of my Tandem t:slim X2. I have always relied on the Vibe as a backup pump so it is not a bad idea to road test it after two years in the closet. I figured that I would quickly miss the X2 but have instead discovered that I really like this old pump.

I was concerned that going back to scrolling for carb and BG numbers would be horrible but in many ways it is easier than using a touchscreen and navigating through multiple “Are you sure?” screens. I really appreciate the immediate bolus delivery of the Vibe. With Animas, I program the bolus, it whirrs, and delivers insulin before I can get the pump back in my pocket. With Tandem, I program the bolus, it delays for a while, micro-boluses, and eventually finishes with a confirmatory vibrate a minute or two or three later. The Animas clip is a delight with its easy attachment and actually holds the pump securely on my waistband. Temporary basals are simple to enter and a temp basal of zero does not result in an annoying warning alert several minutes later. The Combo Bolus function remembers my last setting rather than requiring a recreation of the split and duration each time. My arthritic hands are having an easier time with the Vibe buttons than with the increasingly stiff T-button on my X2.

There are lots of wonderful things about Tandem pumps but I have been one of the unlucky people who gets occlusion alarms. Most users don’t get them. The vast majority of the alarms are false. I just hit “Resume Insulin” and go on my way. Lately I have had a couple of alarms that actually required replacement of the infusion set and/or cartridge. I have done extensive troubleshooting with Tandem over the years and am on my 4th pump. Only one of those pumps did not give me occlusion alarms and it unfortunately had a defective T-button. I never had occlusions in 12 years of pumping with Medtronic and Animas.

I am tired of troubleshooting. I sometimes experience one or two occlusion alarms a week and then go a while without them. But after two years of alarms, I think about occlusions almost every time I bolus. I average 8-9 boluses per day and that is a lot of thinking about occlusions. I am tired of holding the pump with the tubing extended post-bolus to prevent occlusions. I am tired of feeling guilty for stubbornly refusing to use the Tandem case and for not changing my cartridge every 3 days. I have a low TDD of insulin and an every 3-day cartridge change results in wasting as much insulin as I use. I do replace my infusion set every 2 days.

Longterm I know that I will eventually be back to Tandem. I am probably just being a pouty and whiny problem child. Despite fewer alarms and intrusions into my life, the Vibe has not cured my diabetes but I am doing better. I am committed to Dexcom and thus don’t envision switching back to Medtronic. I am super excited about getting access to the Dexcom G6 and Basal IQ; as someone on Medicare, that should happen in the spring. Hopefully the benefits of Basal IQ and eventually Control IQ will outweigh the insulin delivery problems. An Animas pump is not a longterm option. Johnson & Johnson abandoned the pump market and there is no customer support for my out-of-warranty Vibe. If it quits working or the case breaks, I am done. Fortunately I have a lot of supplies and was recently given enough reservoirs to last for several years. I can use Tandem infusion sets by substituting the t:lock tubing with luer lock tubing.

I think highly of Tandem and have always had good customer service. Until starting to use the t:slim X2, I was never a problem child with diabetes tech and continue to believe that there is something wrong with an insulin pump that frequently quits delivering insulin. Is it the design of the pump? Is it my low insulin use? Is it random bad luck? Am I at fault? I don’t know and am at a point as Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler would say: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Diabetes Country Ballad: One of THOSE Posts

Diabetes Awareness Month is not over so I guess I am allowed to  post a blood and gore photo. The bleeding on my belly was much worse than the tissue shows, so just envision 10x the blood of the photo. Oh let’s just be outrageous and imagine 100x the blood! It is still November and I can b*tch about diabetes and the frustrations of dealing with my D-tech. I can be strong on the outside and be sad inside. It is my 42nd November with diabetes and I can do whatever I darn well please.

Today was a weird day and it ended up being a perfect 12-hour basal test. 

My dog Abby had surgery two months ago for a condition called “larangeal paralysis” for which the poster child is elderly Labrador retrievers. The biggest risk of this surgery is aspiration pneumonia. I knew that Abby was sick yesterday and early this morning her lethargy and 103.3 temperature sent us to the emergency vet. She is currently in doggie intensive care inside an oxygen tent with an IV for fluids and antibiotics. We have chosen to treat this episode of pneumonia knowing that we won’t treat again. 

But I didn’t get breakfast.

Then I had previously promised to take care of the grandchildren today. I’m not quite sure why the older ones didn’t have school, but they didn’t. I could have canceled, but since Abby was in the dog hospital, I picked up the kids and we came to my house for Christmas crafts, game time, and doing our best to keep 18-month year old Natalie off of the stairs. I fed the kids lunch but didn’t get around to eating myself.

No lunch.

I drove the kids home mid-afternoon and then stopped at Costco on the way home. I got home at about 5:00 and my BG was at close to 100 after starting the day at 80-ish. Over the next 2 hours, nothing much happened. So a perfect basal test. A 20-point rise over 12 hours is testament to great basal rates and I was kinda feelin’ okay about that.

But then.

I bolused 32g carbs for the Whole 30 stuffed pepper I was having for dinner. The hubby hates dinners like this but he is out of town. 

Bolus. Tandem pump alarms for an occlusion alarm. Ugh! My TruSteel site was a little sore this afternoon so I changed out the site but not the tubing or cartridge. Tried the bolus again. Nope! Another occlusion alarm. 

Although I am a Tandem “doesn’t follow the rules” girl, I changed out both the cartridge and the infusion set. I tried to pull the 100+ units of insulin from the previous cartridge but it was mostly bubbles and I just tossed it. When I pulled out the TruSteel set, I got gobs of blood. My bathroom countertop shows the riffraff of my diabetes debris.

New infusion set, new cartridge, and new insulin. I bolused again for the stuffed pepper. 

Last time I looked at my CGM, it was 139 with a slanted arrow up. 

Remember my BG was about 100 at 6:23pm. 

So my daytime basals are good as my BG only rose 20 points over 12 hours. But my diabetes tech failed me: both the infusion site and the finicky occlusion alarms of my Tandem pump. I have double-bolused for dinner and my BG is still rising. Well, actually I tripled or quadrupled bolused but the pump alarmed on the first attempts.

It is now after 8:00pm and my BG is still rising. I am hungry for dinner but won’t eat until I am convinced that my infusion site, pump, and insulin are functioning properly.

It is now 9:00pm and the numbers are not going down.

Sometimes the hardest part of diabetes is that when you do it right, it does you wrong. 

A country music ballad of…

Betrayal, Frustration, and Sadness.

********

Tuesday morning note: Abby is home and doing well.

Lots of I Don’t Know’s

Okay. Let’s talk about Basic Medicare** and the Dexcom G6. Then let’s talk about Basic Medicare** and Tandem Basal IQ. And then let’s just admit that we don’t know the answers to our questions and that we’re not going to get answers in the next 5 minutes.

Who, what, when, where, why? 

Yeah, I don’t have a clue.

As someone on Medicare I’ve felt left out in some of my Facebook groups recently. In the Dexcom D5/G6 Users group and the DEXCOM G6 group, the vast majority of topics are about the G6. Do you like it? What is great? What is terrible? Adhesives, accuracy, and sensor longevity. Insurance and supply issues. The Tandem tSlim Pump group is all about Basal IQ with the majority of users stating that it is fabulous. There are questions about how it works and at what point basal insulin is suspended and then resumed. Stories about climbing Mt. Everest and others wondering about how to coordinate the prescription from their doctor, the training, and the software download. I don’t fit in anymore and I have no advice to give. In fact I am a little bored in these groups and mostly not checking in.

You see—I’m on Medicare. I don’t have the Dexcom G6 and my Tandem X2 t:slim pump is not updated to Basal IQ. I am not whining. Okay, maybe I am–just a little. But mostly I am just stating facts.

After weeks of rumors, it was officially announced on October 16 that Medicare will begin covering the Dexcom G6 for Medicare recipients. The nitty-gritty has not been worked out but it is estimated that April 2019 is a reasonable target date.

For those of us who have been involved in advocacy for CGM coverage by Medicare for years and who have been joyously receiving coverage since the second half of 2017, this announcement is welcomed but generates more questions than answers. I think that the more you know, the more questions you have. Addressing customers on the Dexcom G5, the news release states:

“Once G6 is available, Dexcom will be reaching out to current Medicare G5 customers when their transmitter is eligible to be replaced. Dexcom will also discuss the G6 and the Medicare beneficiary’s eligibility during routine monthly contact.”

That sounds very straight forward but I worry that it is not. The elephant in the room for those of us on G5 is The Receiver. In January 2017 after the initial approval of the Dexcom G5 by Medicare, I wrote a post titled “Medicare and CGM Coverage: Love Your Receiver!” and explained how Medicare justified the approval of the G5 as Durable Medical Equipment (DME) because the receiver had an estimated 3-year life. Therefore for those of us on Medicare, the G5 receiver has a 3-year warranty. Although we are now allowed to use our smart devices to read our G5 data, Medicare regulations still state that the smartphone is used “in conjunction with” the receiver. And FDA approval of both the Dexcom G5 and G6 requires a receiver to be provided as part of the initial bundle.

I have an old-style Dexcom G5 receiver that cannot be updated to G6 in contrast with the newer touchscreen G5 receiver that can be updated remotely to G6. Medicare through stupid regulations that I don’t understand does not allow Medicare recipients to participate in manufacturer upgrade programs. Thus Dexcom cannot give me the option of paying $100 or $25 or whatever to exchange my dated receiver for a touchscreen G5 or G6 receiver. 

Technically my G5 receiver is warrantied for 3 years and I can’t upgrade it. Am I going to be able to switch to the Dexcom G6? Interestingly, the Dexcom press release only addresses the transmitter and makes no mention of the receiver. Without knowing the details of Dexcom/Medicare negotiations, I have no way of knowing my status. Is everyone forgetting the FDA requirement of the G6 receiver? Is Dexcom going to provide G6 receivers to current G5 users at no charge? Will I get a G6 transmitter and sensors without a receiver? IMO there is no way in h*ll that Medicare will pay for another receiver. Because the Medicare/Dexcom relationship is on a subscription basis, will all of the previous rules about upgrades be thrown to the wind?

As I said above, the estimate is that Dexcom G6 products will be provided to Medicare recipients starting in April of 2019. I have neither seen nor heard of specifics regarding this rollout. There are lots of discussions and rumors floating around Facebook but no one really knows. I have been on Medicare long enough to live by the mantra: “When I know, I’ll know. Until then, I won’t.”

If I were not using a Tandem X2 pump, I would not care much about using Dexcom G6. I look forward to an easier insertion and no required calibrations with the G6, but neither is a huge deal for me. But I really look forward to updating my Tandem X2 pump to Basal IQ which automatically shuts off basal with predicted lows. And then the future Control IQ which will function as an early generation artificial pancreas. 

But if things are in the dark with Dexcom and Medicare, they are really in the dark with Tandem and Medicare. The last communication I had from Tandem regarding the use of my pump as a receiver for my Dexcom CGM was in November 2017. The webmail stated:

“Dear Customer: As someone who, according to our records, has a t:slim X2™ Pump and also has Medicare for health insurance benefits, you may be aware that Medicare coverage of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is limited to viewing CGM data only on a Dexcom receiver and NOT a smart phone or an insulin pump.”

Since then I have heard nothing.

Frankly I think that the current Tandem policy regarding Medicare is: “Live and let live.” Some people are being told by their Tandem reps that it is okay to use their pump with Dexcom. But I do not think that is true because there has been no official announcement allowing the pump as a Dexcom receiver. At the same time there is no enforcement of the policy and Tandem is not sending reminder emails about Medicare. Although one part of me thinks that it is poor customer policy that Tandem is not communicating with Medicare recipients, the other part is okay with just ignoring the problem.

Unfortunately the problem of Tandem and Medicare will come to a head when the Dexcom G6 is distributed to Medicare users. Will we be allowed to download the Basal IQ software update (which requires G6) to our X2 pumps? Tandem has said nothing and unfortunately IMO it would be a total violation of current Medicare policies to allow the update.

Once again we don’t know the answers.

No answers to who, what, when, where, why.

Just a reminder to be patient and go with the flow…

Of no information…

and…

Fingers crossed for the ability of those on Medicare to benefit from the latest and greatest in diabetes technology.

Until then, just remember the Medicare mantra:

“When I know, I’ll know. Until then, I won’t.”

*******

** Please note that although Medicare Advantage plans must cover everything covered by Basic Medicare, they may have more flexible policies than Basic Medicare and provide more benefits. Currently some of these plans are already covering the Dexcom G6, but most are in line with Basic Medicare.

Thank-you Tandem: A Replacement Pump

I recently wrote two blogposts (here and here) about false occlusion alarms on my Tandem t:slim X2 pump. I was not shy about sharing my frustrations and I want to update my story with the fingers-crossed!!! resolution of my problem.

I have always had good customer service from Tandem. Despite the long wait times on hold reported by some people on Facebook, I have never had to wait more than a couple of minutes. I have never yelled, cried, or been rude to Tandem tech reps, but lately I have worried that they might start to label me as a “customer from h*ll” as I repeatedly called to report more occlusion alarms.

The problem with false occlusion alarms is that when the pump is not shrieking about the stoppage of insulin, it works fine. Thus my pump passed all the tests that that Tandem support had me go through and in the end the in-house reps did not have the authority to authorize a replacement pump. The issue was referred to my local trainer. 

When my first X2 had weekly occlusion alarms for many months, I met with this trainer to review my technique on reservoir fills and infusion sets. We have a good relationship and when she heard that I had experienced 5 occlusion alarms in 9 days, she arranged for an immediate X2 replacement. The new pump arrived within 24 hours and I have been happily carrying the case-less pump in my pocket. So far there have been no occlusion alarms and I am cautiously optimistic that my problem is solved.

Although I am happy with the new pump, I don’t seem to be able to stay away from Velcro. Maybe it is an addiction…. Or maybe it is just the inability to accept diabetes tech when it doesn’t quite fit into my life. Soon I will be heading to South Carolina for a few days in the ocean and pool with grandkids and family. After that I am having hand surgery. Both occasions require a clip on the pump. 

The Tandem case with a clip would work for the surgery but not for the beach. I want a clip on my pump to attach it to the pants portion of my tankini swimsuit and the case would work for that. But when I am in the water, I want to use my Aquapac pump case (actually a Radio Microphone case) purchased many years ago as a waterproof case for my Medtronic pumps. It is an expensive and somewhat bulky solution that allows me to wear my pump strapped around my waist with guaranteed water protection. The Tandem case is too large to fit into the Aquapac. 

So I am back to a Nite ize Hip clip applied directly to my pump. Rather than using the two-sided tape that comes with the clips, I use Scotch Outdoor Mounting Tape because it is equally strong but much easier to remove. Unfortunately the Nite Ize clip is only marginally better than the Tandem clip when it comes to falling off my waistband and I applied Velcro hook pieces to both sides of the clip interior to provide some grip. People on Facebook have reported using heat shrink on the Tandem clip but I am not sure how that would work with the different design of the Nite Ize clip. And anyway, Velcro is what I know and Velcro is what I have in my junk drawer.

Today I have a new pump that seems to accept living in my pocket without a case. I have a Nite Ize clip applied directly to the pump which allows me to clip the pump to my swimsuit but is small enough to fit into various pockets and the Aquapac pump case. The clip is attached to my pump with a strong tape that is easy to remove when I decide to go clip-less or use the case instead. 

Pump. Clip. Velcro. No occlusions. That just about sums it up.

Tandem Occlusion Alarms: Crying Uncle

Last week I published a blogpost addressing my annoyance with false occlusion alarms on my Tandem X2 insulin pump. Periodically Tandem techs have advised me that using a case might eliminate the alarms and that has actually been my experience. But I hate the case which makes the pump heavy and bulky instead of slim and sleek. Thinking that maybe adding something to the pump to protect the vent holes might mimic the case, I experimented with attaching a black plastic ring to the back of the pump. 

A few hours after publishing the blogpost, I added an update:

7/26 Late Morning: Unfortunately my science experiment is already a FAILURE with an occlusion alarm during basal delivery this morning. I totally jinxed myself by publishing this blogpost. In defeat I have already taken off the black washer. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with Tandem and the pump passed all of the tests. Of course it would because the pump works fine most of the time. I even changed my cartridges every 3 days for the last week and a half and got 4 alarms within the last 8 days. The issue has been sent to the local rep and I guess I can try to work with him to get a replacement pump. But I am not convinced that a replacement pump will matter. Why do I get these alarms and so many people don’t???😩😩😩

In my typical stubborn fashion, I put the case-less and clip-less pump back in my pocket. Fast forward to Saturday where I had another occlusion alarm—the 5th alarm in 9 days. (Please note that these alarms stop insulin delivery so they are a serious problem.) Not only did the blogpost jinx me, one of my Facebook friends who never gets occlusions got an alarm on her X2. Then another friend got an occlusion on his Medtronic pump. Occlusions are spreading like wildfire through the diabetes pumping community!

Maybe the wildfire remark is an overreach, but I cried uncle and put my pump in a t:case vowing to wear it clipped to my waistband. Unfortunately I had previously broken my black case  and was stuck using the pink case which I don’t like. Boy, do I sound like someone with a severe case of #1stWorldPrivilege! In my defense, Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine figured out a long time ago that design is important for diabetes devices and her 2007 “Open Letter to Steve Jobs” went viral.

The 24 hours that I wore the pink case reinforced now much I hate it. Both the shade of pink and the amount of black showing through the cutouts bug me. I decided to purchase a new case and was disappointed that black is out of stock in the Tandem Online Store and at Amazon. So it was back to the drawing board. I devised a minor engineering solution to secure the Tandem clip to the broken case by using Velcro in place of the missing plastic anchor strip. So far it is working and my fingers are crossed that the fix will be durable. The Velcro does double duty by adding “grab” to help prevent the pump from sliding off my waistband, an unfortunate common t:case problem. 

So it has been another-day another-adjustment to diabetes tech. If I continue to get occlusion alarms on this pump, I will now be totally justified in battling for a replacement pump. If a case solves the alarm problem, I should be happy. But I will still be frustrated. Frustrated that Tandem promotes the small size of the X2 with photos of the case-less pump. Frustrated that many people use the t:slim successfully without a case and I can’t. And maybe most importantly, frustrated that I still don’t understand why.

*******

7/30/18 Afternoon: I need to stop publishing blogposts because once again my fix that was successful for two days FAILED. The clip slipped out of place and the pump fell off my waist mid-morning. Ugh! My latest solution to prevent going back to the pink case is to attach a Nite Ize clip to the back of the case using strong outdoor adhesive tape. There are various pieces of Velcro on the inside of the clip to make sure the pump stays put. Although I do not miss my Animas pumps in many ways, I do miss the clip that easily attached to the pump and held it tightly on my waist.

Tandem Occlusion Alarms: An Engineering Experiment

I began using the Tandem t:slim X2 insulin pump in December 2016. Since then I don’t think that I have written a blogpost about the pump without mentioning false occlusion alarms. In my first review of the pump, I wrote:

“I have used the Tandem t:slim X2 for almost 10 weeks. In that time I have had 9 occlusion alarms resulting in an immediate stoppage of insulin delivery. The first couple of times I panicked at the shrieking pump alarm fearing that something was actually wrong. Nope. Not once has there been a problem that did not disappear by working my way through the menu screens and pressing “Resume Insulin.” The vast majority of these alarms have been while delivering meal boluses, but not all.”

Periodically I have thought that I have solved the problem and interestingly I have had completely different experiences with my three X2 pumps. Pump #1 got weekly occlusion alarms during the first four months of use. I eliminated the alarms by either using a case or wearing the pump on my waistband with a Nite Ize Clip. But I hated those solutions and eventually went back to carrying my case-less and clip-less pump in my pocket. For no discernible reason the occlusion problem didn’t reoccur and I only had two or three occlusion alarms in the next 11 months. In February 2018 Pump #1 was replaced due to a battery failure. I only used Pump #2 for a month due to a defective T-button. But in that time I did not have a single occlusion alarm.   

Then I got Pump #3 and immediately returned to weekly occlusion alarms and sometimes two or three a week. I figured these alarms were the price of refusing to use a case or clip and I just lived with them. Then a couple of 2-alarm days convinced me that enough is enough. I dug the case out of my supply box. The pump became heavy and large with the case and would no longer would easily fit into the waistband pockets of my workout pants and pajamas. Total PITA. But I didn’t get occlusion alarms. Hating the case, I went back to the Nite Ize clip with the pump on my waistband. And ugh, I started getting occlusion alarms again.

So now my question became: Why does the case eliminate false occlusion alarms? A Tandem tech rep once told me that the case eliminated temperature fluctuations that occurred when I took the pump out of my pocket to enter a bolus. Seemed kind of far-fetched and if that was the case, why doesn’t everyone who carries the pump in their pocket get occlusion alarms? And when I was wearing the pump on my waistband with a clip, why did I get occlusion alarms because there was no temperature change?

My current hope is that the case works because the cut-out over the pump vent holes stops the vents from being blocked during insulin delivery. How could I replicate that without using a case? On Tuesday I went to the nearby Ace Hardware and wandered down the aisle with screws, washers, nuts, springs, etc. I bought a couple of gizmos including black plastic rings with a hole large enough to protect the 6 vent holes on the back of the pump. (It should be mentioned here that there are constant discussions on Facebook about the purpose of these tiny holes and some people swear that they are only for sound. A Tandem tech rep recently told me that the holes are dual-purpose and function both as vents and speaker holes. So that’s what I am choosing to believe.) I also bought 2-sided adhesive strips. 

Working in my kitchen laboratory, I used a hole puncher to cut a perfect-sized hole in the adhesive and then used scissors for the outer circle. Carefully I attached the ring to the pump. Voila! (It wasn’t quite that simple so if my experiment is a success, I will share more detailed instructions.)

It will take a week or two to see if this MacGyver fix works. I started a new cartridge yesterday and I rarely get occlusion alarms until the cartridge measure 80-120 units. If I make it a week without an occlusion alarm, I will have to see what happens with my next cartridge. And then another. 

Diabetes. A science experiment that sometimes requires engineering solutions.

7/26 Late Morning: Unfortunately my science experiment is already a FAILURE with an occlusion alarm during basal delivery this morning. I totally jinxed myself by publishing this blogpost. In defeat I have already taken off the black washer. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with Tandem and the pump passed all of the tests. Of course it would because the pump works fine most of the time. I even changed my cartridges every 3 days for the last week and a half and got 4 alarms within the last 8 days. The issue has been sent to the local rep and I guess I can try to work with him to get a replacement pump. But I am not convinced that a replacement pump will matter. Why do I get these alarms and so many people don’t??? 😩😩😩

*********

Other Comments: I truly believe that false occlusion alarms are related to a design flaw in Tandem pumps. I have so many questions. What percentage of Tandem pumpers experience these alarms? It is hard to tell because social media only attracts those having the problem. Are there common characteristics for those of us getting the alarms such as low TDD of insulin and small boluses? Or is it that certain pumps have overly sensitive occlusion sensors? I could go on and on with questions.

At the same time I want Tandem to succeed. I like almost everything about my t:slim X2 and I appreciate the innovation and good customer service that comes from this company.  There are few pump choices these days and my being on Medicare reduces that number even farther. My primary D-tech loyalty is to Dexcom as my CGM and I am unlikely to return to Medtronic although I was previously happy with my Medtronic pumps. At this time Omnipods are not a good financial option for many of us on Medicare and I have always been fine with a tubed pump. I am intrigued by Bigfoot Biomedical using the Freestyle Libre and keep my fingers crossed that it will be a future option for me. 

I do not follow all of the Tandem rules. Because of my low TDD of insulin, I refuse to change my cartridge every 3 days and throw away more insulin than I use. I change it about once a week while replacing my infusion sets every two days. This was how I operated on Medtronic and Animas and it works for me. With my first X2 I tried changing the cartridge every 3 days a few times and still got occlusion alarms.

I have always had superb customer service from Tandem. Although I am continually frustrated by false occlusion alarms, I do not regret my choice of the Tandem t:slim X2. If I had to choose a new pump today, I would probably choose the X2 again.

But false occlusion alarms are a problem.

*****   Relevant Links   *****

A Review of the Tandem t:slim X2

A 5-month Review of the Tandem t:slim X2

Tandem t:slim X2 and Dexcom G5: It Takes Flexibility

Living on Planet Dexcom

Starting with the Dexcom G4  released in 2012, I have bolused insulin based on my CGM. Although the G4 was not FDA-approved for insulin dosing, I was comfortable doing so “sometimes, in certain circumstances, and within certain guidelines.” That quote comes from a 2013 blogpost titled “To Dose or Not to Dose” and explains that I mostly trusted the Dex but averaged 8 fingersticks per day.

Fast forward 5 years. I regularly dose insulin off my Dexcom CGM and only average 4 meter tests per day. That average reflects sensor day 1 where I might test 8 times and other days where I may only test 2-3 times. The Dexcom G5 is somewhat more accurate than the algorithm of the original G4, but the difference is only a couple MARD points and not a huge statistical variation.

So what has changed that I have eliminated at least 4 meter tests per day?

What has changed is Me. 

I have 10 years of CGM usage under my belt. The early years of Medtronic SofSensors were rocky with a huge improvement when I moved to the Dexcom 7+. The 7+ was reliable for trends but I don’t remember trusting it enough to guide my bolusing decisions. With the mostly reliable G4 numbers, I frankly just became lazy about using my BG meter. I had good insurance with no need to ration test strips and no issue poking holes in my fingers. I was just lazy and welcomed a small reprieve from a few daily diabetes tasks. Before I knew it, the laziness turned into a habit. It was initially a guilty habit but over time CGM reliance became entrenched in my diabetes decision-making. 

And guess what. It didn’t kill me! And now it is FDA-approved.

Lately I have been frustrated with inconsistencies between my meter and my Dexcom numbers. It drives me crazy. I have always had issues with Dex sensors reading low. As I increasingly target normal-ish BG numbers, the Dex low tendency often results in alarms for lows that aren’t lows. Dexcom screams 65; meter says 85. Maybe I calibrate and Dex goes up to 75 before dropping back down to the 60’s. I know that numbers showing up after calibrations are determined by “The Algorithm” but sometimes if I enter 85, I just want the receiver to say 85. 

My perfecto personality overreacts to diabetes numbers. When my meter and CGM feud, I calibrate too often. I over-manage blood sugars. I get lows and highs as I target perfection and my mental health meter explodes. 

What do I do?

Do I start testing 8-12 times a day like in the old days? Do I donate the CGM to Goodwill?

Heck No!

I just move to Planet Dexcom and go with the flow of CGM numbers. I test less.

Although Dr. Bernstein might disagree, I believe that when you are 66 years old with 42 years of diabetes under your belt, 20 or 30 points here and there probably doesn’t matter a lot. Especially if I have a flatter CGM tracing because of fewer peaks and valleys. By not obsessively using my meter, I might miss some large Dexcom/meter discrepancies. At the same time, it hasn’t killed me yet. I am mostly hypo unaware. But because I have had so few catastrophic lows since the introduction of Dexcom G4, I have some confidence that if I pay attention to my body and my diabetes devices, I am somewhat protected from incapacitating lows.

Remember. It hasn’t killed me yet.

Note: Because I am on Medicare, I am using the Dexcom G5 and it will be a while before I have access to the G6. I find it interesting that many of the early-users of the G6 which requires no calibration are celebrating its accuracy. Simultaneously they are claiming that they are not using their BG meter. So actually they don’t know how accurate it is. They are living on Planet Dexcom and finding that it is a relatively safe and happy place to be.

There will come a day when blood glucose meters go away and everyone with diabetes uses some type of continuous glucose meter. We’ll live on

Planet Dexcom or

Planet Libre or

Planet Medtronic or

Planet Eversense or

Some other CGM planet in the diabetes universe.

Relatively safe and happy.

Living in the Orange:  When Diabetes is Tough

Diabetes is hard these days. I am usually a good problem solver and lately my usual fixes aren’t working. I am seeing patterns that differ from my normal ones. I am not sick. I am not on new medications. I am long past menopause and don’t think I’m dealing with raging or sagging hormones. Other things are sagging but that is a different story for a different day and a different audience.

I’m seeing large spikes after appropriately-bolused moderate-carb meals. My post-breakfast walks are not ameliorating morning blood glucose rises. I am giving ineffectual correction boluses all day long. My numbers climb on 6- to 10-mile hikes. The new pump profile “More” and its bucketfuls of insulin has not made a noticeable improvement.

I haven’t gained weight in recent months, but I do weigh almost 10 pounds more than 4 years ago. My doctors like that but my clothes don’t. My daily average steps are less than in previous years but arthritis and a recent bout with plantar fasciitis have dictated that I pay attention to sore joints. Abby the Black Lab will be 12 years old on Thursday and our walks are shorter than last year. And the year before. Some days we walk and I drop her off at home so I can go farther.

An old dog and an old lady.

But definitely some physical changes that might warrant more insulin.

I am frustrated with my diabetes technology.

Despite being a huge fan of my Dexcom G5, I go crazy with alarms claiming my BG is 48 and it is 98. With alarms that scream 189 when my meter says 140. With alerts that declare 240 and it is…240. And alarms that alert for BG’s of 52 and although I feel fine, my meter says 52. I accept, but hate the Medicare requirement that I use only my Dexcom receiver and not my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Tandem pump.

My pump was replaced a month ago due to a failing battery. Yes, I am still not on board with a rechargeable pump and yearn for the security of carrying extra pump batteries in my meter case. The new pump has an unresponsive T-button which means that every time I turn on or off my pump screen, I have to push the button once. Twice. Sometimes four or five times. The Quick Bolus feature rarely works because I get error messages of too many button presses or it just times out when the final push to deliver insulin doesn’t work. There is a possibility that I will be getting a replacement pump but unfortunately Tandem has changed the T-button to a “two-pronged design” and a new pump might not solve the problem. Facebook tells me that I am not alone in the woes of a stubborn, mushy, unresponsive T-button. I don’t know why Tandem changed the button design but I do know that whatever problem they solved created another. The T-button is the gateway to every interaction with my pump. When the T-button is problematic, my pump experience is problematic. 4 weeks of practice with the new button design has only marginally improved my success rate.

Five years ago when I was cruising in the “Doing Okay” zone of diabetes, I wrote a blogpost titled “It’s Not as Hard.” I concluded that “I think the reason I’m feeling good these days is that my hard work seems to be having good results.” By substituting a few words, I can describe my mindset these days. “I think the reason I’m feeling bad these days is that my hard work seems to be having bad results.”

As anyone with diabetes knows, it is hard to keep making good decisions when the numbers don’t reward the work. If a 12-carb cup of applesauce spikes me to 250, I might as well have Nutter Butters or Oreos. I have definitely fallen into this pattern and thus am not an innocent victim in my diabetes distress.

I know that I need a total reset in my diabetes life and things that have worked in the past include severe Dr. Bernstein-like carb restriction, the Whole 30 diet, and the untethered regimen. To be determined….

Part 2 of the Story

I wrote the earlier section of this blogpost on Friday morning and decided that since I do not entirely trust my pump and insulin absorption that I would choose the untethered regimen option. This plan entails taking a certain percentage of basal insulin by injection in combination with pump therapy. As of Friday evening I am taking 3 units of Lantus at both 7:00pm and 7:00am with the remaining 50% of basal coming from my pump. My blogpost “Building a Foundation with Lantus” gives a good description of the untethered regimen and provides links to other blogposts and articles on the subject.

How is it working? Amazingly well and on Saturday morning, I immediately began seeing some familiar flat lines between meals. The unexpected and unjustified spikes are gone. No doubt I am being careful about food choices but that didn’t make a significant difference in recent weeks. Once again I marvel at how much easier my diabetes is when I combine injections and pump therapy. Too bad it is so much more work.

I think a stable base from two daily Lantus injections protects me from absorption issues with my pump. I am taking slightly more basal than previously and maybe that’s the only difference. I am at a stage in life that I might consider going back to MDI (Tresiba-ready?) although I’m not psyched to abandon the convenience of bolusing with a pump. Ironically Basic Medicare with a Supplement plan makes pumping a much cheaper alternative than injections.

For the moment the arrow on my dia-bete-meter has moved from “Kind of Crappy” orange to a familiar place between “Okay-ish” yellow and “As Good As It Gets” light green. This zone isn’t perfection but it is an area where hard work and good decisions usually reward me with reasonable BG numbers. That’s all I can ask for and I am doing better today than a week ago and a month ago.

One small change in insulin delivery. One big improvement in BG numbers and emotional health.

When Diabetes Screams for Attention

Tonight I am in Phoenix.

No, that was last week.

Today I am in Minneapolis.

No, that was two months ago.

Tonight I am in Charleston. Well, kinda that but a few miles northeast. I am in South Carolina-my birth state.

I am here to care for my sister who just had back surgery. She is older than I am in real person years. She is younger than I am in Type 1 diabetes years

But she knows the drill.

Test your blood sugar.

Talk tough.

Take your insulin.

Eat lunch.

Say you’re fine.

Telephone your sister in the next room because you are….

Sweating.

Shaking.

Terrified.

Your BG is 36.

That wouldn’t be so bad except earlier today it was 45.

And yesterday it was 48.

And the day before 38.

And mixed in with those numbers were some 380’s.

The symptoms are bad and glucose tabs aren’t helping. Prune juice is good for old-lady bowels but not a quick solution for blood sugar levels.

Orange juice might work, but too many liquids can be counter-productive with lows. Says she who once projectile-vomited a second glass of juice over a friend.

So I grab my brother’s stash of honey and feed it to my sister teaspoon by teaspoon.

40 minutes later her BG recovers to an acceptable number in the 90’s. What would have happened if I hadn’t been there? Only D-parents and T1’s in “The Club” know the honey trick.

The visiting nurse came the next day and asked if we had called the doctor after the bad low. Huh? Why would we call the doctor?

Meanwhile the younger sister who uses a pump and a CGM goes crazy because the older sister won’t consider a pump. Won’t consider a CGM. Won’t even switch to Humalog from Regular.

Her way has worked for her. At least she thinks so. Quitting smoking and major surgery have exposed flaws in her care that need facing. At least I think so.

Meanwhile as I was slogging through my sister’s health stuff, my Type 1 screamed out for attention.

Look at me! Look at me!

My pump’s rechargeable battery failed with an overnight drop to 15% charge one night and 5% the next. Out of town and a holiday weekend to boot. Kudos to Tandem as a replacement pump was shipped from California and arrived in South Carolina within 24 hours.

My sister is headstrong and adverse to change. But she does fine in her world and will continue to do fine in her world. Ultimately she gets to make her own choices.

They are not my choices. But I have my diabetes and she has hers.

I am headstrong and have been known to be pushy and a PITA.

I was helpful for nine days.

Both my sister and I were glad to hug good-bye on Thursday and not try for day number ten….

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The Story: Two weeks ago my sister had major lower back surgery. Despite the number of times that she told the neurosurgeon and his medical team that she has Type 1 diabetes, the hospital orders specified a Type 2 regimen and she was not given long-acting insulin. Holy sh*t! This is a teaching hospital in 2018. I had offered to come for the surgery but my brother wanted me there for the recovery and promised to keep her alive in the hospital…. Thanks to a nurse advocate, he did.

My sister and I have always handled our diabetes differently and we’re both relatively healthy after my 41 years and her 37 years. My 2013 interview with her continues to be one of my most-read blogposts.

I accept that my sister will not use a pump or Dexcom CGM, both of which would be covered by Medicare at no out-of-pocket cost. The one thing I will continue to argue for is a Freestyle Libre. It is physically and emotionally less invasive than other CGM systems and possibly something she could live with. Although I appreciate the safety from middle-of the night Dexcom alarms, my sister doesn’t want that. I think that she would quickly appreciate the ability with the Libre to frequently scan her arm to see BG readings, 8-hour trends, and directional arrows. Had the Libre not required a physician prescription I would have purchased it, stuck in a sensor, and made her use it.

So Sister, I’m not giving up. Check it out!

A Libre is covered by Medicare under part D prescription benefits.

Freestyle Libre.

Amen.

Ordering a Medicare Dexcom G5:  What’s the Story?

Background:  In January 2017 it was announced that Medicare would begin covering the Dexcom G5 as a “therapeutic CGM” for patients with diabetes who met certain conditions. After months of delays where CMS, Dexcom, and Liberty Medical struggled to establish reliable procedures, we are now at a point where some Medicare beneficiaries are receiving Dexcom G5 bundles with payment by Medicare. I say “some” because Dexcom is totally overwhelmed by the demand estimated to be at least 20,000 patients. 

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If you are expecting this blogpost to be a “How To” manual, you will be sorely disappointed.

I am going to share my experience along with the stories of Medicare beneficiaries who have had an easy time getting their Dexcom Medicare bundle and those who have had or are having a horrible experience. I will provide some information that may be helpful, but I do not think that there is a magic formula for success. As I write this post, I do not know how to categorize my journey. I am 6 weeks into the process. I’ve made progress but I’m mostly mired in a black hole of no information with unanswered voicemails and emails.

Are there characteristics that separate the successful people from the chumps? Not from what I can tell although it is an absolute necessity that your doctor fill out forms correctly. Other than that, I think that placing a Dexcom G5 order under Medicare is a crapshoot. Some are lucky. Others are not.

I don’t have statistics on how many people are having an easy time getting their CGM versus those struggling mightily. People having a bad time are more likely to be online complaining and looking for help and I have seen a lot of negative stories.

Before I go too far I want to emphasize that I am a huge fan of Dexcom. After a few rocky years using Medtronic SofSensors, I switched to the Dexcom 7+ in 2011. The good results with that device were magnified with the release of the G4 in 2012 and my life was changed. The proof of success is I have not needed my husband to get me a glass of juice since 2012. I get lows but my Dexcom warns me in time to treat them myself.

The Good Stories

These are the people we want to be.

Joe:  “I contacted Dexcom about the Medicare G5 and was contacted by a representative who took care of everything and I received my Dex a week later! Sooo Easy!”

Ruta:  “My husband was using the Dexcom G5 CGM before going into Medicare. We directly ordered from Dexcom. The transition was flawless.”

Carol:  “I have to say at this point that I was feeling almost guilty about having my G5 kit and this wonderful new sensor. Other seniors were complaining on the Facebook group about all kinds of issues with ordering their G5.” (It took Carol 2-3 weeks from start to finish.)

Lloyd:  “I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was less than 2 weeks from phone call to arrival!”

Nolan:  “I got the phone call and email on 08/22/17. I filled out the AOB, etc. and sent them back, Dexcom sent data requests to my Endo. I was kept informed via phone calls and e-mails about processing steps. I got the official Dexcom e-mail with “Your Dexcom order has shipped” on 09/12/17. 8/22/17 to 9/12/17 is an excellent time frame in my view.”

The Grouchy Stories

Natalie:  “It took a long time — months — to get all the i’s and t’s dotted and crossed. If the doc misses checking off one box or not using the right word in their clinical report, your paperwork gets routed to GKW (God Knows Where) and it could be weeks before the doc is notified and Medicare can again begin to process it.”

Deb:  “Medicare’s rules make it far more complicated and time-consuming that it needs to be.”

Camille:  “Latest excuse: Medicare requires insurance company to purchase GCM through a Provider. Ins.Co.  cannot purchase it from Dexcom directly. My insurance (MHS Advantage) is particularly inept but my understanding is that they don’t have a contract with a provider so they’ll are working on that. (Bear in mind that they’ve had 11 months to do that.) Meanwhile, in the past year, I’ve had approximately 30 Lows (below 50). I live alone, I live in fear.”

Ginny:  “Medicare also asks for information that isn’t even on the forms. It took months!!”

Kathy:  “Back to square one. no supplies from Dexcom. a week of lame excuses.”

Another Kathy:  “I have been with Dexcom for 10 + years and they were always super good about returning messages. However since Medicare approved their G5 system, they are so far behind in responding that it has come to: if you hear from them at all you are lucky. I, too, am waiting for the email that was promised over a month ago and it never comes.”

Chris:  “Wow, just wow! I was willing to give Dexcom the benefit of the doubt, but not so much anymore. They have continuously dropped the ball. I’m usually fairly patient, but I’m beginning to feel like a crabby old lady.”

Helpful Advice

Carol:  “Not sure I have advice, except to hang in there.”

Patti:  “Stay on top of it. Ask for a contact person so you’re always talking to the same person. Call or email them every few days if it doesn’t seem like the process is moving.”

Sandy:  “Just know that my polite policy with customer service always gets more service than sass…”

Kathy: “So, just in case my information might help someone else, I will post what the tech support person told me today. He said that my chart notes should include: 1) the date of last visit, 2) type 1 or type 2 diabetes, 3) patient tests blood glucose 4 or more times per day, 4) patient uses insulin pump or multiple daily injections, 5) patient’s diabetes requires frequent adjustments of insulin.”

Bob:  “Managed care (Advantage) plans have a great deal of latitude in how they reimburse a claim. They are required by CMS to cover anything that would be covered by original Medicare. But they are not required to reimburse claims in the same manner as original Medicare.”

Other Information

Refills: Once you get in the system, supply refills are mostly a seamless process. IMO the Medicare requirement for monthly shipment of CGM supplies versus the quarterly shipment of pump supplies puts an undue burden on Dexcom and is slowing their ability to supply more Medicare beneficiaries.

My Personal Rant

It is unrealistic to think that Dexcom can immediately process the orders of everyone on Medicare who qualifies for a therapeutic Dexcom G5 system. At the same time Dexcom needs to communicate better with those of us who contact them. After my initial call it took several weeks for the assigned sales specialist to call me. After a first conversation with him and signing the AOB, I received an email: “We have a new update regarding your pending Dexcom order. We have recently requested new or additional documentation from your Physician’s office. We will notify you again once we have the approval.” That was great and I thought I was finally in the information pipeline.

That was 3 weeks ago and since then nothing. My account shows no open orders and my sales rep neither returns phone calls nor answers emails. My endocrinologist submitted my paperwork early in December. Calling my rep last week I was put on hold and hung up after an hour and ten minutes of piano music. I then called customer service who indicated that my endo’s paperwork has been received and they will follow through with my rep. I think that it is a realistic ask of Dexcom that once we initiate a Medicare order that we be able to see the status of the order online or at least receive regular updates.

My history is that of a “privileged” patient with Type 1 diabetes. I have had good insurance. My endocrinologist submits needed documents on time. Every pump and CGM that I have ordered has arrived within a week. Since 2011 I have had consistently good service from Dexcom. Even now everyone I talk to is friendly and helpful.

But now I am on Medicare and the process is slow. The biggest stress is not knowing what is going on. I need COMMUNICATION. I know that my order will eventually be filled and I trust that it will be before my stash of out-of-warranty supplies is exhausted. I alternate between being patient and as Chris said above, being “a crabby old lady.”

I don’t like to be crabby.

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To Order a Medicare Dexcom G5 in an Ideal World

Call Dexcom at 888-736-9967. Select Option #1 to place an order and then Option #1 again for Medicare. Another option is to submit your preliminary information online.

A Medicare representative will take your Medicare and other insurance information and you will be assigned to a Medicare Sales Specialist.

You will be contacted and required to sign a form:  Medicare Assignment Of Benefits, Authorization For Release of Information, and Acknowledgement of Rights and Responsibilities. This is a typical insurance form with the added provision that you promise to only use the Dexcom receiver and not use any smart device with your G5 system.

Your doctor will be sent the medical forms required by Medicare. He/she will complete them correctly and return them quickly.

You will receive a notice that your Dexcom G5 system is ready for shipment and a package will be on your front porch in a couple of days.

Voila!

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Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences.. I couldn’t include every quote, but your stories are important. We are making history—sometimes painfully—as we are the first to receive routine Medicare coverage for our continuous glucose monitors.

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Links

Latest Dexcom Medicare Update

Preliminary Dexcom Online Contact

Info Sheet for Providers

Dexcom Provider FAQ’s