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. 

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

RDBlog Week Day 1: Wildcard // Fitting In

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Today’s Topic:  Everything Else – Is there something we missed in this year’s prompts?  This wildcard is your place to add it in.  Not everything made our list so be adventurous and take us in a new direction.  Sometimes the everything wildcard is the seed of a new prompt for next year so let your mind roam and see where it goes.  Maybe mindfulness is on your mind?  Or perhaps you have a funny story?  We are all ready to hear the scoop on what is on your mind that was missed elsewhere.

Laddie_Head SquareI started blogging in the spring of 2013 in order to share my life with Type 1 Diabetes and to chronicle my journey towards Medicare. My blog title reflected the requirement to Test my blood sugar many times a day while knowing that diabetes was fickle and that I needed to Guess what would happen in the next ten minutes and the next ten hours. My attitude was and is to do my best and Go despite living with a health condition where sometimes 1 + 1 = 2 and other times equals 237 or 174 or 62. Although I stated in my first blogpost that I was living with several other autoimmune/inflammatory conditions, arthritis was not a big enough deal to warrant a specific mention. Five and a half years later I find that arthritis limits my life much more than diabetes. Sadly the list of favorite activities that I have abandoned or will have to abandon due to arthritis is growing longer. 

I have had Type 1 diabetes since 1976 and have been active in the Diabetes Online Community for almost 15 years. I had no problem finding my niche because my diabetes is “classic” Type 1 diabetes—whatever that means. The diabetes world used to be easily divided into Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes with a few pregnant ladies having Gestational Diabetes. But over the years diabetes social media has become more complicated as it has become apparent that there may be as many manifestations of diabetes as there are people with diabetes. In addition to Type 1, Type 2, Gestational, there is Type 1.5, LADA, pre-diabetes, MODY, Type 1 with insulin resistance, Type 2 with autoimmune components, and etc. and etc.

So here I am taking steps into the social media world of arthritis and finding myself in the “not sure where I fit in” category. I have a couple of online diabetes friends who live with rheumatoid arthritis and they have invited me into their arthritis online world. But I do not have RA and frankly have an easier journey of pain and disability than my RA friends. Interesting my “serious” and “systemic” arthritis is inflammatory spondyloarthropathy which can be every bit as debilitating as RA. But as the years go by it is apparent that the progression of my spondylitis fits very well with “undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy” as outlined in this article. My disease does not seem to have worsened much in the last 10 years and I continue to be very responsive to NSAIDs. 

Inflammatory spondyloarthropathy can have effects on peripheral joints of the hands, wrists, feet, and ankles. But all along my rheumatologist has emphasized that my peripheral joint issues are osteoarthritis. If I had doubts about his diagnosis, both a foot specialist and hand surgeon analyzed my x-rays this summer as “classic osteoarthritis.” In August I had surgery for the carpometacarpal (thumb/wrist) joint of my left hand. Foot surgery has also been recommended but I have chosen to do everything I can to modify my lifestyle to escape surgery. Unfortunately lifestyle modifications mean no more extreme hiking, no more long walks in nearby regional parks, and no more aerobics classes. I gave up tennis and pickle ball a long time ago. Fortunately I am able to participate in yoga and cycling classes at my local YMCA. I know that in the future swimming and water aerobics will be reasonable choices.

I used to feel out of place in the waiting room of my rheumatologist’s office. I don’t require a walker and for the most part feel strong and self-sufficient. But I look at myself at the gym these days. I wear lace-up wrist braces on both hands and last week added a knee brace for a tweaked knee. Unseen, but very important, are the orthotic inserts in my shoes. Then I add the diabetes paraphernalia of a continuous glucose monitor on the back of my arm and an insulin pump on my waistband. 

So I am not sure exactly how I will fit into RDBlog Week. But one thing about arthritis is that it is an equal-opportunity umbrella for many rheumatic diseases. Pain and disability don’t discriminate on whether or not you want to participate. I have found tremendous support in the online diabetes world and hope to find an equally supportive community in the arthritis world.

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If you’d like to check out other RABlog Week posts from today, click on this link.

Brittle Diabetes, Hand Surgery, and the Dog

My blog has been languishing in summer doldrums and it is time to check in or check out. Lest you think that the three subjects in the title are connected, they’re not—except kinda sorta.

Brittle Diabetes

Looking for information to update a health history document, I recently reviewed my medical record from a previous internist. I thought that his notes from my first visit were interesting. What jumped out was “Brittle DM” at the top of the page. A few weeks ago there was a Facebook discussion about the word “brittle’ as a descriptor of diabetes. Most people considered it to be an outdated and inaccurate term that should be trashed. I am a little more open-minded about the subject and believe that there is a small subset of people with Type 1 diabetes whose disease is much more difficult to manage than that of most of us. Diabetes Forecast had an article in 2014 that addressed the brittle diabetes debate and quoted a Brazilian endocrinologist who described brittle diabetes as “glucose fluctuation so severe that a person cannot have a normal life.”

I am not writing about brittle DM in order to start a terminology debate, but rather to illustrate that in the past many of us with Type 1 were labeled brittle and labile. My internist was not ignorant about diabetes in 2002 and other notes mention Type 1. He actually understood clearly that my diabetes was different than that of most of his other patients. As far as I know he had only one other Type 1 patient and he often asked about my technology, especially my CGM in later years, to learn more to help this other patient. 

Other comments from this visit showed that I was still using NPH despite having previously been under the care of a renowned endocrinologist. The new doctor immediately transitioned me to Lantus which resulted in the biggest improvement ever in my diabetes care. No reputable doctor could read this chart note without thinking Type 1 diabetes as I had frozen shoulder, dealt with hypoglycemia, and took Synthroid for the common comorbidity of hypothyroidism.

So in the old days, I had brittle diabetes and lots of the baggage that goes along with it. In 2018 I have regular hard-to-manage pain-in-the-neck Type 1 diabetes  and lots of the comorbidity baggage. 

Hand Surgery

Many of you know that I had hand surgery in mid-August for the carpometacarpal thumb joint of my left hand. Arthritis and bone spurs had resulted in enough pain that it was time to get it fixed. My rheumatologist assured me that this is one of the most successful joint surgeries and I hope that is the case. I am recovering as expected and trying to curb my impatience at not being good-as-new yet. I am still wearing a brace and dutifully doing the assigned exercises 3 times a day. I am back to spinning classes for exercise because I can do it mostly one-handed. My body and soul miss yoga but know that I can’t put enough weight on the hand to participate safely. I am on the mend and have at least recovered enough to type two-handed. BTW arthritis in this joint is one of the many gifts that post-menopausal women receive more often than other people….

The Dog

In May I shared that 12-year old Abby the Black Lab was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. Despite using an inhaler all summer, her breathing has gotten worse and it has been determined that she has laryngeal paralysis, or more specifically GOLPP. The only treatment at her stage of the disease is surgery and I always swore that I wouldn’t subject a 12-year old dog to surgery. But Abby is still active, happy, eating and drinking well and with the vet’s advice, we have determined that euthanasia isn’t the ‘right” choice at this time. She is having surgery next Tuesday with a specialist in “Lar Par” (vet lingo). I hope we have made the right choice because Abby has always been a much-loved and perfect dog. Abby used to write posts for Test Guess and Go and this is my favorite.

The Intertwined Relationship?

Exercise is a cornerstone of my diabetes management. Hand surgery, as well as foot arthritis, has limited my exercise this summer and I am unable to do things like mow the yard and walk the golf course. Although I am doing intense studio cycling classes, the rest of my day is fairly inactive. Abby is not allowed to go on walks until she has recovered from surgery and that is another unfortunate reduction in my activity level. Diabetes does not like that and I keep bumping up the insulin and periodically rage bolusing. It doesn’t help that I have a recently replaced insulin pump and wonder if I just need different settings than the old pump. Or whether it is this or that or who knows what. My diabetes may not be brittle, but it sure is hard to figure out sometimes. So yes, everything is related: diabetes, arthritis surgery, and the dog.

Diabetes, Arthritis, and the Dog

I left Arizona in mid-April and have spent the last month in Minnesota watching snow melt followed by grass turning green and trees getting leaves. For better or worse, medical stuff has taken a good chunk of my time in recent weeks. 

The Dog:  Abby the Black Lab is 12 years old which is old for a big dog. For the last 6 months her breathing has been loud with occasional gagging and coughing. It turns out that she has chronic bronchitis which is kind of like COPD for dogs. Her treatment? A steroid inhaler. The vet told me that I could check out prices locally but recommended that I buy the inhalers from Canada. Sounds familiar for those of us on insulin…. One inhaler at Costco. $369. One inhaler from Canada. $69. My understanding is that while it is illegal to import prescription drugs from Canada, the ban is not being enforced. I am not losing sleep over the threat that I could go to jail for importing medication for my dog. Dr. Google mentions that canine patients can be “uncooperative” when dealing with inhalers and the Aerodawg chamber. Well, duh.

Pump Supplies:  More than once I have written about my need to change infusion sets every two days. I had always received sufficient supplies with no problems until 2018. I recently criticized CCS Medical for being less than helpful in resolving the problem and switched to another supplier. Meanwhile reflecting the power of Social Media I received a call from a customer service supervisor at CCS and I suspect that she would have helped me to navigate the process. But I was several weeks into working with Solara Medica and it didn’t make sense to go back to CCS. I did eventually get my 45 infusion sets from Solara but it wouldn’t have happened without my bulldog sales rep Stephanie. My endo’s assistant had to submit, resubmit, and re-resubmit medical necessity forms and office notes. The normal 30-day BG log wasn’t enough and I had to provide a 60-day log. Ironically none of the ever-morphing requirements for 2-day site changes had anything to do with adhesive allergies and site infections. I am now good for 3 months and dread starting over again in July.

Fiasp:  At my April endo appointment, I was given a Fiasp sample. There were no vials available and I took home a yellow and blue 300ml pen with several pen needles. I didn’t do systematic testing to see if Fiasp injections brought down highs better than Novolog, but I assume it did. I filled a pump cartridge and started using it in my Tandem X2 pump. Immediately I seemed to have an easier time with my morning BG’s.  Unfortunately as others have reported Fiasp seemed to run out of steam on Day 3. By Day 4 my numbers were terrible and I switched back to Novolog.

Was this is a fair trial of Fiasp? Absolutely not and it doesn’t matter. Fiasp is not covered by Basic Medicare and I have no interest in paying out of pocket for it. I had to laugh because several times on my blog, I have mentioned that my sister is very adverse to changes in her diabetes care. After a few days of Fiasp I determined that I am entirely too lazy to figure out pump settings to be successful with a new insulin. Meanwhile my sister has switched her mealtime insulin from Regular to Humalog and will be starting Tresiba soon. She is actually considering ordering the Freestyle Libre! So who is adverse to change???

Arthritis:  A year ago I wrote that arthritis is the “health problem that most threatens my Pollyanna “Life is great!” philosophy.” My systemic arthritis is well-controlled with NSAIDs, but degenerative osteoarthritis in my hands and feet is relentless. Last week my foot doctor indicated that surgery is the only option for my left foot. I am not totally on board with cutting into my foot. It fixes one joint but I still have tendon and heel problems. And then I have my right foot. Psychologically I struggle with having this surgery because it opens the door to dealing with my other bad joints. There is something comforting with staying with the pain I know and avoiding the pain and unknown results of surgery. 

I will schedule surgery for mid-August with the option to cancel it. Two weeks on the couch with drugs will be followed by two months in a boot with a knee scooter. In the short run I have abandoned the close-by health club where I enjoy the fitness classes but know that they are not good for me. I have joined the YMCA which has an extensive schedule of fitness and water aerobics classes directed at various levels of senior fitness. Argh! I can’t even stand to write this but I know that I will feel better. 

Frozen Shoulder:  I think that I am in the early stages of frozen shoulder on the right side. I am unfortunately an expert on this condition and on the 4-year plan. I had my first FS in 2001 on the left side. Four years later my right shoulder was affected and four years later the left again. Now it’s back to the right. Only the first one was horrible. The rest have been annoying and long-lasting but not hugely debilitating. Don’t tell me to stretch the shoulder in the shower. As I wrote in 2013, “if you can get rid of your “frozen shoulder” by doing a week’s worth of exercises in the shower, you don’t have adhesive capsulitis.” My experience with frozen shoulder indicates that it is an inflammatory disease-driven condition that is more related to duration of diabetes than A1c levels. Whatever. If you want to learn more about frozen shoulder, check out my “Argh! Frozen Shoulder” blogpost.

Summary:  That’s it for today. The dog is old. I’m getting older and my feet hurt. So do my hands. I’m a chicken when it comes to surgery but hate the idea of quitting the activities that I love. I had diabetes yesterday and still will tomorrow. But the sky is blue and the grass is green. Life is good.

Happy spring to everyone! 🌷🌷🌷

Arthritis on a Diabetes Blog

When it comes to living with both Type 1 diabetes and arthritis, I don’t experience the amount of pain and disability that burdens some of my favorite people in the DOC. Rick Phillips who deals with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis shared his story on my blog a couple of years ago. Rick tirelessly advocates for people with diabetes, but he often admits that arthritis negatively impacts his life much more than diabetes. Molly Schreiber has had Type 1 diabetes for 28 years. Her rheumatoid arthritis is a formidable opponent and she deals with the worst that RA can dish out. In general I am doing okay when it comes to living with arthritis. Except when I’m not….

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I am good at diabetes.

I am bad at arthritis.

I have had a tough summer. Although I was diagnosed diagnosed with inflammatory spondyloarthropathy over 10 years ago, my problems are peripheral. My hands hurt and my thumb joints are shot. In May I woke up with horrible heel and foot pain which continues to get worse despite following doctor’s orders.

I don’t write about arthritis very often because I am a diabetes blogger. Type 1 diabetes is a constant in my life and I do little without taking diabetes into account. After 40+ years of T1, I have no major D-complications. At the same time diabetes is a “needy condition” that requires constant affirmation and is entrenched in my psyche. More than once I have mentioned that I deal with other inflammatory and autoimmune conditions in addition to diabetes. I once wrote about a skin problem called annulare granuloma and mentioned that I felt helpless in dealing with it because “When you have Type 1 diabetes, you get used to the idea that WHAT I DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE in my health.” I’ve never bothered writing about hypothyroidism because it goes hand-in-hand with T1 diabetes. Mine was discovered through a routine blood test 21 years ago. I’ve never struggled with symptoms and my Synthroid-generic dose is the same as prescribed in 1996.

Arthritis. This is the thing that I’ve not written about and it is the health problem that most threatens my Pollyanna “Life is great!” philosophy.

I think that some of the personality traits that make me “good” at diabetes make me bad at arthritis. Diabetes loves people who overdo things and power through when you don’t feel great. Diabetes thrives on doing the same thing over and over again. Arthritis does not reward overuse of my body and I know that I would feel better if I didn’t sync as many steps on my Fitbit. (Actually I put my Fitbit in the drawer a few weeks ago because I need to rest.) I know that I would feel better if I gave up playing golf. I quit tennis a dozen years ago and still feel sad about that. I don’t know about hiking, but I suspect that I would do better with fewer mountains and more walks around the block.

It all comes down to pain.

Unfortunately sitting at home doing nothing is worse than pain and diabetes is a bear when your body is glued to a chair. I have always been active and I attribute my relatively good health to exercise. Blood sugars are better with movement and I believe that exercise helps ward off D-complications such as heart disease and neuropathy. Transitioning to a couch potato life because of sore feet and swollen fingers doesn’t seem like an optimal life strategy to me.

But exercise currently brings me pain.

I am strong but pain makes me sad.

My primary arthritis diagnosis is inflammatory spondyloarthropathy and it is a type of arthritis where many people feel better moving rather than resting. It is a type of arthritis that fits my “can’t stand to sit down” personality. But my hands and feet are diagnosed as osteoarthritis. I’m struggling with achilles tendonosis, heel pain, and elbow tendonitis. Overuse “old people” conditions.

Back to diabetes. What happens to my blood sugars when I am not active? Mostly they get worse. But I can take more insulin and then they are OK. But I gain weight and my insulin sensitivity goes to h*ll.

I am a self-manager of my diabetes and my endocrinologist is totally mostly on board with that. Diabetes usually does best when you manage it in the moment (AKA Sugar Surfing) and my Dexcom G5 protects me from most of the submarine lows that drive my endo crazy. My rheumatologist has never gone ballistic at my decision-making, but he occasionally looks askance when I arrive at an appointment and say that I reduced the dosage of one medication and refused to take another. At the same time he is older than I am and still plays tennis. He goads me to get back to the courts and suggests that I wear an arm strap to help with elbow tendonitis and use more of the topical Diclofenac gel to ease pain. More than any of my other doctors he understands how my medical issues are woven together in a spiderweb of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

I am an uber-educated diabetes patient. I understand my disease and voraciously read diabetes research articles, websites, blogs, and message boards. I am an active participant in the DOC and credit my fellow PWD’s for most of my knowledge and activism. I arrive at my endocrinology appointments with printouts of BG statistics and always have a list of pertinent questions.

I am less capable when it comes to my arthritis. To tell you the truth, I am not completely sure of my diagnosis. I do not have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and once you don’t have that, it can be hard to find a niche for your condition. My medical records reflect terms such as inflammatory spodyloarthropathy, inflammatory polyarthritis, and osteoarthritis.

When I look at the future, I am much more afraid of physical limitations due to arthritis than I am of diabetes. I don’t worry about diabetes complications and have never experienced diabetes burnout for more than five minutes. But what will I do if walking is unbearably painful, elbow pain blocks me from playing golf and carrying my grandchildren, and hand pain rules out opening a jar?

I am good at diabetes.

Unfortunately arthritis scares the bejesus out of me.

Pain is a formidable opponent.

Pain.

* The image for the pain measurement scale was purchased from shutterstock.com.

The Connection: Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis – Part 3 of 3

Banner_Diabetes_Arthritis

Laddie:  Please welcome guest-blogger Rick Phillips who has written a
3-part series about Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis. To learn more
about Rick, please check out my recent post that introduces him to
the readers of Test Guess and Go.

*

Rick Phillips:  RA – Diabetes and Autoimmunity

Rick_Square HeadAs I move to wrap up this series, I am reminded that I am often accused of writing an epistle when a sentence will do the trick.  I cannot help it.  I am trained as a bureaucrat, so I tend to spin in place a lot with my writing.  That is a bad habit I am working to break.  If you have stuck with me up until now, I hope you have found the effort you expended a wise investment.

I really do owe a debt of gratitude to Laddie for publishing my work.  I am reminded that I am a guest here and the first rule of being a guest is to not overstay your welcome.  I hope I have not overstayed my welcome on Laddie’s site.  I am exceedingly grateful for her hospitality.  Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is something that interests me a great deal of course.

After diagnosis, I wondered:  “Are RA and Type 1 diabetes connected?  And if so, how?”  They are.  While I had never heard of such a connection before I was diagnosed with RA, the connection, the how, and why these diseases are connected really started to interest me.

First and foremost, RA is an autoimmune disease as is Type 1 diabetes.  In both diseases, it is thought that the autoimmune system mistakes helpful body tissue as being undesirable and in essence revs its engine to attack the body systems it finds offensive.

My dad loved war movies, so I tend to think of it like a war movie.  I imagine the autoimmune system (the General) hanging out in headquarters.  Suddenly, it notices some movement on the map; someone has mistakenly labeled that movement as the enemy.  The labeling is wrong, but the autoimmune system does what it does: it attacks.  It sends in tanks, missiles, aircraft carriers-you name it, to battle this new movement.  The trouble is the movement is not harmful or the enemy; it is the good guys.

In my case, my autoimmune system first attacked the insulin-making cells in my pancreas.  Later, it loaded up and started a war with my joints.  Still later, my autoimmune system got tired of hanging around with no new wars to fight, so I was diagnosed with a third autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).  AS is like RA of the spine.  AS has pretty much the same disease elements as RA, this time just targeting the spinal area.  It hurts as well and I had never heard of it before the doctor said I had it.  Go figure, another prize in the “autoimmunity-gone-wild” lottery.

So, how are these diseases connected?  According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is an overlap between the diseases.  This is how they explain that overlap:

Research shows a genetic connection between rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. In recent years, researchers have identified a gene called PTPN22 that strongly correlates with the incidence of type 1 diabetes as well as rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.  (Learn About Arthritis, 2014)

After one gets beyond that, finding the evidence for a link tends to get less pronounced.  A very large study in 2010 found the following evidence for a connection between arthritis and diabetes: “Among U.S. adults with diagnosed DM, nearly half also have diagnosed arthritis.”  At first blush, that seems like pretty compelling information for a direct link between the two disease conditions.  However, once one digs a little deeper, it is discovered that this link has more to do with Type 2 diabetes than Type 1.  More than half of the incidence of people with Diabetes Mellitus and arthritis were also judged to have arthritis-attributable activity limitation. While not saying it directly, it does suggest more of a relationship between Type 2 and arthritis than Type 1.

Of course, no matter how you cut it, RA and Type 1 are both autoimmune diseases.  Although I searched for several days and could not find a direct link, I still don’t think anyone will be surprised if one day a common thread between the 80+ autoimmune diseases isn’t found and shown.

There is one other very significant fact that needs highlighting.  Almost 3 in 4 people with RA are female (“Learn About Arthritis,” 2014).  No one knows why women are more susceptible to RA than men.  Whatever the reason, RA is a tough disease. The combination of RA and Type 1 diabetes is even tougher to deal with.  I hope this series has been informative.  If you would like to discuss it further, look me up at my blog at TuDiabetes or send me an email at Rphil2@Yahoo.com.

Special thank-you for help in preparing this series goes to: Erin Mattingly, for administrative support, Carol Eustice, Ask.com arthritis expert, and of course Laddie for allowing me to publish such a long blog series. (Laddie, I hope I did not run anyone off!)

The Connection: Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis – Part 2 of 3

Banner_Diabetes_Arthritis

Laddie:  Please welcome guest-blogger Rick Phillips who has written a
3-part series about Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis. To learn more
about Rick, please check out my recent post that introduces him to
the readers of Test Guess and Go.
*

Rick Phillips:  My Personal Journey with RA

Rick_Square HeadThank you once again to Laddie for me inviting me to blog at her site and especially for encouraging me to blog about arthritis.  While I traditionally blog at TuDiabetes and have been a type 1 diabetic for 40+ years now, I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  The connection between the two diseases is always fascinating to me.

I decided to stretch Laddie’s invitation to a three-part blog about RA.  In the first blog, I told of how I was diagnosed; today, I write of my personal path with RA; and the third blog will be a discussion of how RA and diabetes are related.  While sequentially written, each one stands apart and can be read independent of the others.  I hope you find meaning in my experience.  If you wish, I am available to answer questions.  I am not an expert, but I have had an interesting life with the two diseases.

The advancement of drugs in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is nothing less than amazing.  In an informative article about Rheumatoid Arthritis at medicinenet.com, RA is defined as:

“An autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune arthritis diseases are illnesses that occur when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system.”

The first line of drug defense is methotrexate.  It is inexpensive, readily available, and a proven agent; although, with some downsides.  One downside is that it does not always work.  In fact, in most cases today, doctors want to move patients with RA to the more aggressive biologic drugs.  You know these by the brand names: Enbrel, Remicade, Humira, and the secondary drug Orencia.  Each is administered via injection or infusion.  I prefer infusion, but most people prefer the injectable varieties.  These drugs, along with a host of others, target proteins linked to the TNF alpha gene (tumor necrosis factor alpha).  This gene belongs to a superfamily of genes defined as “a protein currently consisting of 19 ligands and 29 receptors in humans”  (“TNF Superfamily,” 2014).  This superfamily is thought to be involved in many types of diseases, including cancer (“TNF Superfamily,” 2014).  In fact, the class of drugs used to treat RA mostly came out of cancer research.  To read more about the TNF Superfamily, click here.

The doctor told me on the very first day that if I wished to continue to function, I must go to a biologic drug as soon as humanly possible.  That meant using methotrexate or a similar drug (Arava) alone for six months, then testing and going to a biologic immediately.  Those first six months were pretty tough.  My disease continued to worsen, and by the end of it I was barely walking.  So, my first “big gun drug” (as my doctor called it) was Remicade.  I used this for almost 5 years and it was amazing.  It absolutely stopped the progression of RA in its tracks.  That is, until it didn’t.  Over time, the frequency of doses began to get closer, and then it simply stopped working.  When it did, I moved on to a succession of five biologic drugs; four of which did not work, or worked only slightly, until they stopped altogether.

This is not uncommon for RA patients.  In fact, if you talk to RA patients who have had the disease for some time, many have been on every “big gun drug” out there.  I have been on many, but not all.

After 12 years of using TNF inhibitors, I had a scary incident where I developed something termed ”lupus-like syndrome” which caused me to be hospitalized.  Per the medical understanding at that time, I was forced to give up use of TNF inhibitors.  For those of you who would like the disease function explained, there is a nice technical paper here.   (Although I would skip it, if I were you.)

With the development of the lupus-like syndrome, I was forced to go on a different, potentially toxic, form of treatment using the drug Rituxan.  At the time, it was my last stop on the available drug merry-go-round.  The problem with Rituxan in particular is that during the clinical trials, people died.  So, the first time one takes it is very scary.  Doctors cannot predict who may be affected or when, but death is rare so it is unlikely the lights will simply go out.  With my experience with other drug side effects, it was a troubling decision to use the drug.  I put off the decision for about four months before I agreed.  During that time, my condition worsened and I was barely moving; sometimes during this time frame I returned to using a cane for walking.  I was once again a mess.

Today, my disease is managed with infusions every four months.  With constant appointments with the rheumatologist and a variety of secondary drugs, I am able to semi-manage RA.  I say semi-manage because I have had to stop working, I have periodic flares, and of course stamina is a big concern.  The truth is that no one really manages aggressive RA.  Instead, it is a series of highs and lows.  Some days you feel well, other days you feel terrible.  But with the assistance of biologic drugs, it is possible to live, albeit some days on a tight rope.  I have had no serious side effects using Rituxan, and while I am on the maximum allowable dose, the doctor and I are thinking we might have a chance to stretch the infusion intervals a bit in the future.  The drug is intended to be used on a six month cycle, with four months being the shortest cycle.  I am on a four month cycle at this moment, and doing well.

I also take an unreasonable number of drugs, in addition to the Rituxian.  Now, to be fair, most of these are not related to RA.  But, many are.  To give you an idea of my drug regimen, I have included two pictures that demonstrate the number of medications I use: one for morning meds and one for evening meds.  Yes, I know it is a lot.

Morning medications:

Morning Meds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening Medications:

Evening Meds