Diabetes Math

Here’s a little math problem for you. Your 13-year-old T1 has been sick with a nasty cold for a couple of days. At 2 AM you wake up to Dexcom alarm and see that your T1’s BG is 275 and trending up. You get up to give her a correction bolus. The pump says you should give 4 units of insulin for correction to bring BG to target of 100. You also notice that there are 17 units of insulin left in the pod. Your T1’s basal rate of insulin is 2 units per hour and you will not be able to change the pod until about 7:30 AM. You have ruled out a site failure, determining that it is working more or less OK. You are able to administer insulin correction via the pump and/or via a shot. How much insulin do you give her? How do you deliver it? For a bonus question, how long will it take you to fall back asleep after you are done?

If you quickly run the numbers in your head, it looks relatively simple. 17 units of insulin in the pod minus 11 units needed to last until 7:30 AM minus 4 units recommended for correction = 2 units left to spare. Administer a 4 unit correction via a pump. Fall back asleep within next 15 minutes.

Nice try. You get an F in diabetes math. If you administer a quick 4-unit correction, you could probably get back to sleep in 15 minutes. However, you will be woken up again very soon because the BG will continue to climb up, the alarms will continue to blare, and you will have to do this all over again. Diabetes math is far more complicated than what it seems.

The remarkable thing about our little math problem is that every bit of information I provided is relevant and changes the equation. So let’s do it together.

Age and sickness are important. Teenage hormones are not kind to T1D and can lead to heightened insulin needs, sometimes unpredictably. Illness also causes BG to go up. Both factors, combined with the fact that due to illness V was sedentary for a couple of days, lead to increased insulin resistance. The pump is not programmed to change its calculations based on these constantly moving targets. It recommends the amount of insulin needed based on preset ratios and estimated active insulin remaining (AKA IOB or Insulin Onboard). So when you see a BG of 275 and trending up, under these circumstances you should think about how much more insulin it’s likely going to take to bring V into a better range. This knowledge only comes with experience and trial and error.

I know from experience that in this scenario 4 units are completely insufficient. I also know from experience that when V’s BG is over 250, insulin resistance kicks in like there’s no tomorrow. And let’s not forget that her illness, hormones and lack of activity are also contributing to insulin resistance. This is time to dose aggressively. Not only will you need to give a much bigger correction, you should also increase basal insulin for a couple of hours. How much? Once again, informed by trial and error data, we need to jack it up to 200%. If you do the math again, you will quickly realize that 17 units left in pump are not enough.

Here is the answer. Give a correction of 7 units via a shot. Not only does it save you insulin in the pod, it delivers it more quickly and bypasses any potential absorption issues with pump site. The extra 3 units over the recommended 4 will account for insulin resistance and for the fact that by the time insulin starts working V’s BG will already be around 300. Then, increase temp basal rate by 100% (to 200% total) for 2.5 hours.  Three hours would be ideal, but there is not enough insulin left in the pod. 4 units for 2.5 hrs, plus 2 units per remaining 3 hrs equals 16 units. V will make it to 7:30 AM with only 1 unit to spare.

Mind you that you do this math in your head at 2 AM because you can do this shit like a boss. Then you go downstairs to get insulin vial and syringe. You go back up and turn on the lights. You are fully awake now, and you better be fully awake because you have to draw the inulin and do the shot. You go back to bed hoping that your math is not off by too much. Experience tells you that in this particular scenario you may not have given enough insulin (believe me!). Forget target BG of 100. Due to illness you haven’t seen it for a few days. Your goal is that 1. BG will start trending down instead of up and 2. at 7 AM V will wake up with BG closer to 200 than 300. But it’s 2 fucking AM and you need to go back to sleep. Which, to answer the bonus question, takes you at least one hour.

When you wake up in the morning, while you may be feeling tired, foggy and grumpy, you are rewarded with an A in diabetes math.

BG peaked at 300 around 3 AM and went down to 182 by 6:45 PM. GOALS MET!

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Dude, where’s my insulin?

When I’m at work, I rarely pick up my phone. Too many robo-calls to begin with, and if someone really needs to reach me they can either text me or leave a voice mail. I only answer if I’m expecting a phone call or if it has a potential of being really important. For example, when I see a phone number from kids’ doctors, I pick up. And when I see a phone number originating at V’s school, I also pick up.

Several weeks ago, my phone went off and I recognized that it originated from V’s school.

V: “Hi Mom, it’s me. My pod got snagged during PE, so I came to the health office to change it, but my insulin is not here.”

Me:??? What do you mean it’s not there? It’s supposed to be in the fridge.

V: I know, but it’s not there. We looked everywhere. We tried to tape the pod down but it’s not working well.

Duuuuuuude. WTF?

V keeps a box with back-up pump supplies and a vial of insulin in the fridge in the health office in school because things happen. Pods fail sometimes, or they get ripped off. A brand-new vial of insulin was placed in the refrigerator. It was in the box. It had V’s name on it. Who would remove it and WHY?

I asked V to keep looking. This was around lunchtime. Me and my husband were both about 30 minutes away from school. That particular day I had a very busy schedule and could not leave work save a big emergency. I called my hubby and put him on standby, just in case.

V called back. The insulin was nowhere to be found. And lucky her, she’s the only diabetic at school right now, so they did not have anyone else’s insulin there either. V said that she thought the cannula was still in, and that she’d try to tape the pod again and make it work another few hours before school was over. We left at that, she gave herself a bolus, and I asked her to keep me posted.

In the next hour, her BG continued climb up – not an encouraging sign. V sent me a photo of her taped up pod and it was not pretty. Much as I did not want to admit game was over, it was sinking in.

I called my hubby again. Luckily he was able to leave work early, picked V up from school and took her home. Needless to say we were upset. But it’s never happened before. And we really like and have a good relationship with the health tech. So a simple email was in order:

Heath tech responded promptly

Good! I would want administration to know.

What do I think about putting a vial of insulin in a clearly marked container? Sure! This is what V delivered to health office on Monday.

The price of staying alive

Here is our CVS receipt for insulin. V needs it to live, plain and simple. And thanks to puberty she needs a lot of it. The retail price of each vial is over $300. Retail price for V’s 3-months supply is nearly $3000. With insurance AND discount program from Novo Nordisk, our price goes down to $75. We are very fortunate to have decent insurance. This is fucked up.

Another sleepover story in screencaps

Once upon a time, on a lovely September day, V went to her friend’s house for sleepover. We made sure to put a new Dexcom sensor on a few hrs prior so that it would be working well and give us a peace of mind. V went to a sleepover and everything was perfect and everyone slept soundly and lived happily ever after…

Hahahahahahaha. Right.

Mere couple of hours into the evening, and following some pool time, I get this text

Great. We didn’t pack an extra sensor because it was not supposed to just fall off. No Dexcom, no remote monitoring possible, no easy access to BG data and trends. OK, time for Plan B!

Then it was time to figure out night time strategy. If Dexcom was working, we could rely on it to alert to any issues at night. Alas, no such luxury.

Don’t you love it when you have to ask your 13-year old to wake up at 3 AM to check her BG? I felt that this occasion called for some serious sarcasm.

And back to business…

Seriously, whyyyyyy?

Promptly at 2 AM…

At least things were more or less on track. Luckily no more checks or wake-ups were needed.

When we finally spoke in the morning, it was alright…

The End

Disaster-ready…or not?

The wildfires are raging in CA. Dry Santa Ana winds are supposed to return tomorrow and it is making me nervous. In 20 years of living in SoCal, we’ve had our share of big fires. Fortunately, we did not need to evacuate for any of them but I know plenty to people who had.

Side note: people who don’t live in CA tend to think that the biggest natural disaster we, Californias, are afraid of is an earthquake. Ha! Nope. Yes, earthquakes happen here from time to time. Sometimes we even feel them. And perhaps one day we may get a “big one.” But who knows if it will be in our lifetime and who will be affected? Wildfires, on the other hand, happen every year, and there is a good chance we will be affected directly or indirectly.

View from our backyard four years ago. This fire was small and was stopped quickly.

Emergency evacuation under any circumstances is stressful. Add T1D and Celiac to the mix, and it’s about 100 times more stressful. There are many things we can survive without, but Vic literally cannot survive more than a couple of days without insulin. And she has a million other important diabetes supplies. Plus, she has to have some safe GF food she can eat.

What we (and everyone, really) should do is have an emergency bag always packed and ready to go. Unfortunately, we are not that organized. But as I noticed that our complete lack of preparedness was contributing to my level of uneasiness, I decided that I can at least start organizing some things.

First up: diabetes supplies! I went through everything, spent about 20 minutes looking for the ketone meter, moved things around, and consolidated. In emergency, we grab 1. V’s diabetes backpack that contains opened insulin, pump, glucagon and fast-acting sugar; 2. Box of extra supplies from out bedroom; 3. Insulin from the fridge and 4. Pods and sensors from the family room.

Second: gluten-free food. After surveying our kitchen and garage, I now know that most of the non-perishable GF food is in the kitchen pantry and garage storage. In an emergency, we will grab as much of possible of cereals, bars, trail mix, and oatmeal packets. This will tide us, and especially V, over for a bit.

Third: water. Which maybe should be a priority over food? But in my brain, GF food takes priority over water. I can’t explain it. Anyhow, we usually have 5-gallon jugs, unless it’s a day or two before delivery and we may be running out. For now I’m comfortable taking our chances on one being available.

Fourth: asthma meds and nebulizer. V’s brother can be seriously affected, especially if it’s fires and the air quality is bad. Now they are all in one box that we can quickly grab.

We are nowhere near done, of course. We should have a bag on the ready with extra clothes, toiletries, and other emergency stuff. We need to make sure all important documents, such as passports and birth certificates, are together in one place so we can grab and go. And then we have our two dogs, so we will have to grab their leashes and food. Luckily, it’s all already organized and should not be difficult.

Best case scenario is that we will never have to evacuate. Second best case scenario is, if we have to evacuate, we will have time to pack and get ready. If we don’t have time and have to grab and run, I feel better now that we are more organized and I wrote down our plan. Of course worst case scenario is that we are not even home and are not able to go home to get our supplies. V always carries a backpack with insulin and some other basic supplies with her, so we should be OK for at least a day or two. And in that dire scenario we will have to wing it somehow. May we never need to execute our emergency plans!

Have you ever had to evacuate in an emergency? What have you learned from it? Am I omitting any important things specifically related to diabetes and Celiac? Please let me know in comments.

Flying Blind

“So, Mom, I have a question. Umm, what’s my insulin to carb ratio?”

V remained in her seat and waited for all of her carpool buddies to exit the car before asking me a little sheepishly. And confessed that she left her PDM (pump remote) at home. This was the first time in four years of pumping that she forgot to bring PDM to school, though we’ve had a number of close calls. OK, let’s problem-solve. I told her what the ratio was. She keeps insulin and syringes at the health office, so she would be able to give herself a shot to cover lunch. I reminded her that she could go off of Dexcom data (continuous blood glucose monitor.) “Umm, I left my phone with the PDM.”

Oops. Dexcom transmits readings to her phone. If her phone is at home, she has no way of knowing what her BG readings are.

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On the left is the PDM, which also acts as a BG meter. On the right is V’s phone displaying Dexcom data. When the numbers match, it’s call a Unicorn. When BG is 100 it’s also called a Unicorn. Therefore you are looking at a rare double Unicorn and it’s a thing of beauty.

So, without access to Dexcom data she’d have to test to know her BG. I was thinking hard and fast. I just happened to have a case with extra supplies with me, which had an extra meter. I found it, turned it on to test it and… Dead battery. But wait, I had an extra battery! I was standing in the school parking lot, fumbling with the battery and I could not take it out for the life of me.

“Forget it! I think you have an extra meter in the health office.” I knew for a fact that she had a meter for ketone strips. There was a good chance she had compatible blood sugar strips with it too.

I sent her off to school and hesitated for a few minutes before driving away. It was 8:40 AM and I had to be at work by 9. I could

A. Go back home, get her stuff and bring it to her, and be really late to work. OR

B. Let her go by feel and manage with supplies she had at school. It was a short day anyway, so I’d be picking her up about 4.5 hours later.

Her morning BG was in good range, her pod would continue to deliver background insulin regardless of where the PDM was, and she had supplies at the health office. She could give herself a shot to cover lunch carbs. And there were helpful staff and other resources at school, in the event something bad were to happen. I took a big breath and decided, for better or worse, to let her fly blind, and drove off to work.

At about 12 I noticed a missed phone call from a different number and a voice message. “Mom, I’m calling from my friend’s phone. There are only ketone strips here. I don’t have test strips for this meter so I can’t test.”

Well, shit.

I took out the spare meter again, and this time I was able to figure out right away how to replace the battery. It’s amazing how much better your brain works when you are not in a big hurry. I would be picking up V and her brother from school in about an hour. She could hang in there.

As I was driving to pick up, V called me again from someone else’s phone. “Yes, I got your message. I was able to replace the battery so we can test your BG when I pick you up. I am on my way. See you in a few minutes.”

When I picked up the kids, V told me that she gave herself a shot for her lunch plus an extra couple of units just in case. I pulled out the meter and reached into the spare supplies bag to get test strips except… they were not there! Murphy’s law never fails! Back to square one. I drove the carpool buddies home and then hesitated again. We would normally drive straight to piano lesson and I had no extra time to spare. I could

A. Go home first to grab V’s stuff and be very late for piano lesson. OR

B. Continue to fly blind for another hour-plus.

V was feeling OK. She ate lunch, so she was not starving. She was not experiencing any symptoms of high or low blood sugar. We had plenty of fast acting sugar with us. I took a deep breath and again, for better or worse, decided to continue flying blind.

V turned away from me looking upset. “You have no idea how stressful it is to not know what your blood sugar is! I already felt low in the morning and treated even though I didn’t know if I was actually low!” Good decision, kiddo!

I think it’s the longest she’s ever gone not having any information about her BG and going completely by feel. I do not doubt it was very stressful for her. To be honest, I was pretty nervous too, but proceeded to drive to piano lesson anyway. I have faith in V’s ability to listen to and trust her body, and lately she has been feeling both her highs and lows more consistently. And I have faith in our collective ability to deal with whatever situation may arise. If she felt low, we would treat. And if she felt high, while it’s not ideal, we could wait an hour or two before giving a correction. It would be OK.

Piano lesson was uneventful. When we got home, V immediately beelined for her PDM and tested. 60. Whew. *

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally test my BG!”. Not the words you hear often from a T1 tween.

File this under “lesson learned.”

Also, file this under “all is well that ends well.”

Also, file this under “go straight to D-Mom hell for being so reckless.”

*60, while considered hypoglycemia, is not necessarily a bad number for V, nor it is necessarily an indication of her BG dropping even lower. I know of at least a few T1’s who consider 60’s to be within acceptable range for them, just as I know a number of T1’s who cannot be below 70+. Sometimes we let her ride it out in the 60’s as long as she is feeling well, not trending down, not doing any physical activity, and does not have any active insulin in her system. At times she feels utterly crappy in the 60’s, and then we treat immediately regardless of circumstances. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason. Why? Diabeetus, that’s why!

Diabetes Blog Week Throwback Thursday: What Brings Me Down

Today’s Prompt: Today let’s revisit a prompt from 2014 – May is Mental Health Month so now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with, or caring for someone with, diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and / or your loved one, and how do you cope?

I asked V what brings her down about living with diabetes. Without skipping a beat she said “Low blood sugar brings me down.” She’s a wiseass. Wonder who she takes after?
I asked her to give it some more thought. “Think about it. What gives you the sads?” After mulling it over, she said “When I can’t eat when my BG is high. My life revolves around food, so it gives me the sads.” And then she happily scampered away.

Perhaps it’s no use asking a 12-year-old what brings her down about living with diabetes when it’s the last thing on her mind. And to her credit often she does this whole T1D thing way better than us, adults. She’ll wonder from time to time how much easier life would be without diabetes. She’ll get annoyed and frustrated about having to deal with the hassle of it. A bad high will add a generous portion of extra upset and anger when she is already upset and angry. A bad low will make her feel really lousy. Sometimes there will be a painful pod or Dexcom change. But she keeps moving along and happily living her life. How I hope that it stays this way.

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I hope she keeps this joy forever and ever

As to what brings me down? I don’t go there too often. I stay away from “what ifs”, take things in stride, and laugh at diabetes whenever I have a chance. When I do go there, it’s not so much down as worried. Worried about bad lows and future complications. Worried about V giving up on her diabetes care as she navigates adolescence. Worried about V being able to maintain good health insurance and access to healthcare when she becomes an adult. Worried about her quality of life with diabetes.

It’s not so much down as defeated. Defeated when we do everything right and still don’t get desired results. Defeated when we can’t put a dent into our credit card debt because medical expenses are relentless. Defeated when that stubborn high BG won’t come down no matter how aggressively we treat it. Defeated when we work so hard to tighten control but the A1C won’t move anywhere but up.

It’s not so much down as angry. Angry every time I hear about a cure in mice. Angry about so much ignorance and misinformation about diabetes. Angry about diabetes and diabetics being the butt of everyone’s jokes. Angry about judgment and hate.

It’s not so much down as exhausted. Exhausted after being up at night because of V’s highs or lows. Exhausted from fighting with insurance. Exhausted from having to shlep to so many doctor’s appointments. Exhausted from having to think about diabetes 24/7.

While V is young, I carry these emotions for her. It is my job as a parent to lessen her burden and I do it gladly. But I can’t do it forever. It is her diabetes and eventually, sooner rather than later, all these burdens that come with it will become hers. It is the one thing that really brings me down. 

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My really pathetic attempt at whipped cream art, created on one of V’s diaversaries. The message spells “T1D Sucks”. Because it does.