Lesson learned

As we drove into a small town for V’s travel swim meet, we passed a hospital with the ER. I took a note of it. I don’t know what non-T1D parents notice when they come somewhere new. Architecture? Restaurants? Me, I want to know where the hospital is. Because while we never needed it before, you never know…

This was going to be a fun weekend, V’s first travel swim meet. It was in a small town in a middle of nowhere, about two-hour drive from home. We decided to make it a girls’ trip, just V and I, and V was excited to spend time with her teammates.

As I packed all the diacrap for the trip, I followed the usual formula of packing extras to be prepared for pods to fail, Dexcom sensors to get ripped off, insulin to be accidentally left in the sun to go bad, and all other imaginable and unimaginable catastrophes that could wreak havoc with diabetes management. But as I picked up a bottle of Zofran, I set it down. Nah. We’ll only be a couple of hours away. What are the chances we will need it?

The first day of the meet went well. In the afternoon, we retreated to our hotel room to rest. Then we headed out to meet the rest of the team for dinner in a nearby restaurant. There were not many restaurant options. I fretted about being able to get something gluten-free for V, called the restaurant, confirmed that our choices were slim. V was uncharacteristically indifferent about it. “I’m not really that hungry.” She was perfectly happy to have a soda and then we’d get her something else from a supermarket next door. As we sat down and started to look at the menu, V said that her stomach was hurting a little and she did not want to drink even soda. Then she got up and disappeared for a few minutes. When she came back she motioned to me to come outside to talk and informed me that her stomach was hurting, so she went to the bathroom and threw up. But now she was feeling better, so she’ll just take it easy.

Well, crap. I started wondering if she possibly got “glutened” during the meet. I should not have allowed her to have those nachos. Yes, I checked the ingredients and it seemed OK, but I really should not have. But it’s strange that she’d react to strongly to gluten, she does not normally feel anything. Still, I shrugged it off. V went back to her table with other kids, I ordered my meal and started eating. I noticed that V made another trip to the bathroom. And another one. And one more. And one more still. She was trying to hang in there but clearly she was not feeling well. I ate my food without much chewing or tasting  so we could leave quickly. I was still clinging to hope that something V ate, combined with the heat and physical exertion, did not agree with her, and that it would pass if she could get some rest. Soon enough I was forced to face the fact: this was not accidental glutening. It was not even food poisoning. V was experiencing the worst GI virus she’s ever had in her life.

Once in the comfort of our hotel room, she began vomiting violently and frequently, multiple times per hour. Her stomach was already empty from the five rounds of vomiting in the restaurant. I begged her to drink some water but she’d have the hardest time with it. This was typical for a GI virus – she’s never able to keep anything down. Her other trademark symptom is crashing BG. Hence we always keep Zofran because it does a great job of taking the edge off of nausea and vomiting so that V can at least hydrate and get some sugar in to stabilize BG. Except that magic pill bottle was sitting on the dresser in her room, two hours away. Well, fuck. I ran out to the store next door to try to find something to decrease nausea. Came back with a bottle of Pepto Bismol. Forced one dose into V with a predictable result: it came out in a spectacular projectile vomit a few minutes later.

For the moment BG was staying stable, so I reached for the ketone meter. V is not prone to developing high ketones. Except when she has a GI virus. Then her ketones can rise rather rapidly and we always monitor it very closely. Whenever V has a GI virus, it is always a wait and see if we need to head to the ER because the danger of DKA is very real. I put the test strip in the meter and…nothing. The meter battery was dead. OMFG. We had not used it in months and I did not bother to test it before we left. Now we have crossed into a much scarier territory. If I cannot monitor ketones, it’s a lot harder to tell if it’s safe to continue managing symptoms on our own or if/when we should head to the ER.

I don’t panic easily but I started to feel really worried. I asked for any tips on my local T1D families Facebook group and someone suggested if I could find a meter battery somewhere. I went to the front desk and asked if by any chance they had the battery we needed. They did not, but they told me I could buy it in a dollar store a mile or two down the road. And it was still open! I decided that leaving V alone with a puke bucket for 15-20 minutes was a risk worth taking and rushed there as quickly as I could. Once I had a functioning ketone meter, I could breathe a little and go back to “wait and see”.

Indeed, ketones started to creep up. Miraculously, BG was holding stable. And then V started to feel thirsty – another completely unexpected turn of events. Normally, under similar circumstances she does not want to touch any liquid with a ten foot pole. Initially I was really excited and encouraged her to drink. Insulin and liquids are the winning combination to avoid DKA and safely ride out the GI nastiness. But she was drinking voraciously and promptly vomiting everything up. I started restricting her water intake. She was begging me for more. I was begging her to take small sips so that at least some of the water would stay in and get absorbed. She tried to sneak into the bathroom to drink out of a faucet because she was so thirsty. I lost my shit and yelled at her because I was trying to keep her from going to the hospital!

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6 water bottles downed in that many hours

In between V’s projectile vomiting, I would replace the trash can liner and throw the one full of liquid in the big trash can outside. I would wash my hands compulsively. I went back to the supermarket next door to buy more water. Then I would Google things. I Googled directions to the ER. I double checked that they treated pediatric patients. I Googled how quickly the body starts to absorb water after drinking. (FYI, a bit of it becomes absorbed as quickly as in 5 minutes, but full absorption takes a lot longer.) I Googled signs and symptoms of dehydration. And I repeatedly kicked myself for not bringing Zofran with us. It’s only a quick little trip a couple of hours away, I said. What could possibly go wrong, I said. There will be no need for it, I said. And even if V got sick, we can always come home if we need to, I said.

Of course V was in no shape to embark on a two-hour drive home. We decided to try to ride out the night, as long as ketones and BG were cooperating. Ketones went up a little more but seemed under control. BG stayed on a higher side, so I administered insulin with abandon. V got a reprieve from vomiting for about four hours and we both were able to sleep a little. I was hoping that when she’d wake up she would feel better. Wrong. She eagerly continued to drink water and vomit it back up.

I talked to my husband and he headed out our way to bring us Zofran. It just so happened that he was taking our son to a BMX race in a nearby town, so he left earlier to come to us first. In the meantime, I decided to page Endocrinologist on call and consult. She confirmed that we were doing everything right, and together we came up with the plan. If Zofran worked to eliminate vomiting and reduce nausea, we could try to drive back home. Otherwise, we’d need to go to the hospital first and get V re-hydrated and stabilized before we could hit the road. Our drive back involved a long stretch of going through the desert with no facilities whatsoever. No stores, no bathrooms, no medical facilities of any kind. If V was not stable enough, driving back would be a really dangerous thing to do. I went to the hotel’s front desk, explained our situation, and received permission to take an extra hour to check out.

My husband arrived to the hotel at about 11 AM with Zofran. Let me tell you, this pill is fucking magic. With a single dose and within 15 minutes, the vomiting stopped. Completely and totally stopped. V was still feeling crappy but she was no longer puking. We waited an hour. No vomiting. Shortly after 12 Noon we got into the car and started our escape. We drove past the ER again. Another half hour later we went through another town with a hospital, so before we hit the freeway and the empty desert I asked V one more time if she felt well enough to continue. She assured me she did not feel like throwing up. I took a big breath and hit the accelerator. We arrived home two hours later without incident and V slept through almost the entire drive. We kept up with Zofran for another day or two. It took V a few days to fully recover, but there was not another single vomiting episode.

I don’t know how about you, but I learn best when I fall flat on my face and it really hurts. Then it is prudent to memorialize the lesson and the pain because I will NEVER EVER LEAVE ON ANY TRIP WITHOUT ZOFRAN AGAIN. Never. Fucking. Ever. We got so lucky that somehow V’s BG stayed stable and din’t crash, so we did not need to get extra sugars into her, which would have been impossible if she could not keep anything down. We got so lucky that I was able to resurrect the ketone meter and monitor ketones, and that they did not spike too much. We got so lucky that my husband was able to come to our rescue. We narrowly avoided the ER visit, with all the lovely invasive interventions that would have followed, in an unfamiliar town, with doctors having no access to V’s medical history, and with possibly questionable knowledge and experience with T1D.

Lesson learned.

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Recovering at home with best helpers ever

 

Diabetes Blog Week Tuesday: The Cost of a Chronic Illness

Today’s prompt is: Insulin and other diabetes medications and supplies can be costly.  Here in the US, insurance status and age (as in Medicare eligibility) can impact both the cost and coverage.  So today, let’s discuss how cost impacts our diabetes care.  Do you have advice to share?  For those outside the US, is cost a concern?  Are there other factors such as accessibility or education that cause barriers to your diabetes care?

For those of us living in the US, this is a hot, scary and depressing topic, especially considering current political climate and escalating insulin prices. Living with diabetes is expensive! In our family, we have three people living with chronic illness. We spend thousands every ear on medication, medical appointments and supplies. And we have good insurance! And don’t even get me started on the price of gluten-free food. I think I will save that rant for a separate post.

Once upon a time, before T1D and before we had kids, hubby and I tried a high-deductible plan. At that time we were pretty healthy, so we figured it was worth a shot. It was definitely a lot cheaper than a standard plan. Turned out that getting reimbursed for our upfront expenses took a really long time. They lost just about every claim we submitted. We eventually got our reimbursements, but knowing that we would have to front a significant amount of $ for even basic medical care really deterred us from seeing doctors. Thankfully nothing bad happened that year, but I clearly remember postponing appointments just so we would not have to deal with costs. How that we live with T1D and other chronic illnesses, I can’t imagine having to deal with a plan like this again. And yet, many people have to.

What advice do I have to share? Is moving an option? Somehow the rest of the developed world figured out how to provide affordable quality healthcare to their citizens.

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For those of us staying put, we need to organize and educate ourselves. First and foremost, do you understand the terms of your health insurance? How much is your monthly premium? Do you understand that the monthly premium does nothing except providing you with access to insurance, and that you are going to incur additional out-of-pocket costs? Do you know the difference between annual deductible and annual out of pocket maximum? What is your individual vs. family deductible? When does your deductible re-set? Do you know the difference between co-pay and co-insurance, and when you are charged one vs. the other? Are your medical supplies covered under pharmacy benefits or Durable Medical Equipment (DME)? What Rx is on the formulary and what meds won’t be covered? Do you have a separate deductible for your pharmacy benefits? Do you know who the in-network vs. out-of-network providers are? Do you know what procedures and equipment require pre-authorization? How often? How much is your ER copay?

Second, you need to advocate fiercely. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you get a denial, appeal. Work with your doctors to document medical necessity. Learn the language, what to say, how to say it, and who to say it to, to get better results. Ask for help from your device reps – they often know how to get through the hurdles.

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Third, be strategic. We try to schedule medical appointments and supply orders strategically in the beginning of the year so that we can meet our family deductible spending the least amount of money possible. It worked well last year. This year it was a total fail. A similar strategy may work well toward the end of the year. If you met your deductible, and especially if you hit your annual out of pocket maximum for the year, stock up on those medications and supplies. Squeeze in that extra doctor’s appointment if you can/need to.

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Our little stockpile. Note the adorable doggie photobomb 🙂

Fourth, I’d tell you to be financially prepared and set some money aside for healthcare expenses. But I won’t tell you this. BECAUSE IF WE ALL HAD ENOUGH MONEY TO SET ASIDE TO PAY FOR OUR EXPENSIVE HEALTHCARE, MAYBE IT WOULD NOT BE SUCH AN ISSUE?! Yes, I just yelled. It makes my blood boil when some people insinuate that people with chronic health conditions don’t prioritize their healthcare expenses and instead spend money on stupid and unnecessary things. You know, like shiny new iPhones.

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Fifth, pride is stupid. If you need help, reach out. I belong to a vibrant and awesome group of local T1D families. At times people post on our Facebook page asking for a vial of insulin or some test strips to tide them over until their authorization goes through, or their insurance kicks in, or they get their paycheck. Other times people post giving away extras they no longer need. I’ve been on both giving and receiving end. Most T1D peeps will gladly help you out. I personally sleep a lot better at night knowing that if we are in a bind, I know who to ask for help.

Sixth, do your part in educating others about T1D and what it’s like to live with a “preexisting condition.” Help people understand the cost for someone with T1D just to stay alive. Your story and your voice matter. The better everyone can understand the human side of the cost of healthcare, the more we can achieve.

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Diabetes Blog Week Monday: Diabetes and the Unexpected

It’s time for 8th annual Diabetes Blog Week! Thank you Karen of BitterSweet Diabetes for putting this together.

I need this #DBlogWeek badly. I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been overwhelmed by various things in my life and blogging/social media presence/diabetes advocacy has taken a backseat. I am hoping that this week will provide an injection of fresh motivation and inspiration.

Today’s prompt is: Diabetes can sometimes seem to play by a rulebook that makes no sense, tossing out unexpected challenges at random.  What are your best tips for being prepared when the unexpected happens?  Or, take this topic another way and tell us about some good things diabetes has brought into your, or your loved one’s, life that you never could have expected?

The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to expect it. Ideally, you become clairvoyant and can accurately anticipate all future problems. In reality, we all learn from our mistakes. The main lesson I learned (or rather am continuously learning ) from my mistakes is to not leave without any supplies that we cannot do without for more than an hour, no matter where we are going, how close to home we will be, etc. We always carry extra supplies with us, except when I get stupid and forget about this rule. Like that day when I took V to her Endo appointment and didn’t bring her diabetes backpack. And of course her insulin pump’s pod failed there. Thankfully they were able to hook us up with an extra pod and a vial of insulin, though for a few minutes they worried that they ran out of spare pods. Or the time when I took V to a traveling swim meet 2 hrs away from home and decided to leave her Zofran behind. Because why all of a sudden would she get a stomach virus? Of course, she was hit with the worst stomach virus I’ve ever seen, and we were stuck overnight in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, with V violently vomiting several times per hour, hardly able to keep any liquids down.  And the battery in the ketone meter was dead! We narrowly avoided a trip to the ER, only because I was able to find batteries for the ketone meter in a store nearby and my husband was able to drive to us and bring Zofran.

Cue our last vacation. I wrote earlier about the hassle of packing all diabetes stuff, or “diacrap”, as Rick aptly suggested in his comment. I packed enough pods for daily changes. Of course, who would expect that a pod would fail every day? They are supposed to last at least 2-3 days. Nevertheless, I was not taking any chances. Sure enough, we had to change a few pods in rapid succession. One day involved two pod changes in 3 hours.

The truly unexpected part? One of the pods could not handle all of the vacation excitement and fell apart. Like, literally. It was quite amazing. These things are bomb proof. They are sturdy, waterproof, designed for all kinds of abuse, and if anyone ever tried to break one apart to see what’s inside, they will testify that it is not a simple tasks. And yet, while the bottom part was still attached to V’s arm via adhesive, this happened…
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What on Earth caused this? We have no idea. We are sending this pod back to Insulet for them to examine and figure out. Perhaps it could not handle the excitement of the FlowRider?

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And here is a close-up of what a broken pod looks like. You are welcome 🙂

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Diabetes Awareness Month, Day 29

Today was the day I rage suspended. Yep, I’ve created a new diabetes term of endearment. Rage suspend is the opposite of rage bolus. It means cutting out insulin completely and for longer than one hour after relenting lows in an angry attempt to stabilize BG. It usually results in high BG a few hours afterwards.

We’ve had a few days on a low side. V has been complaining of some mild GI symptoms – tummy aches here and there, no appetite, feeling tired. When my child is not hungry you KNOW something is wrong. She is always hungry. And when she has any kind of GI upset her BG tends to crash hard. This time BG lows are mild and protracting, just like her GI symptoms. She’s been hovering around 60s and 70s, with a couple of dips into 50s and 40s. We’ve been having great difficulty bringing her above 90. We had her sip on Sprite quite a bit. Today Dexcom would.not.shut.up. It kept alerting and alerting and alerting. It’s set to alert at 75 so that we can be proactive about lows, even though we are perfectly comfortable letting her ride out the 70s as she feels quite good in the 70s range. But today she was dipping in and out of 70s so much, and Dexcom kept thinking she was mostly in the 60s. We made her drink more Sprite and eat more food. Good luck forcing food down V’s throat when she’s not hungry because she’s not feeling well. At around 4 PM I forced her to take a couple more bites and cried uncle. We suspended insulin delivery for 1 hr. After one hour was over she was still hovering in low 70s so I said what the hell, and suspended for another hour. BG finally started to climb up. So I guess mission accomplished? Except she’s still climbing up, 184 as of this exact moment. But I’m reluctant to give her insulin because I don’t want her to crash at night. Again. (Did I mention she was 40 last night at 11 PM?) Stupid diabetes. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t.

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Diabetes Awareness Month, Day 12

Good sick day, bad sick day.

Well, there is no such thing as a good sick day. V has a cold. The combination of stress on the body, inactivity, and who knows what else, is not kind on BG. Yesterday was not too terribly bad, actually. Today, despite feeling better, BG decided to revolt and stay in high 200s and beyond most of the day. Stupid diabeetus.

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The battle of the Nutcraker, T1D edition

What is it about special events that compels me to mess with pump settings more adventurously than any other time? Perhaps it’s remembering that it won’t be a fun experience for anyone if the CGM loudly alarms in the middle of a performance? That it would be a real pain in the neck to rummage in the backpack in the dark, check BG and treat a high or a low? Or that it would be nice to avoid having to deal with Diabetes for a couple of hours or so and just enjoy the show? Well…HA.

V and I head out to watch the Nutcracker. It’s a fun girls afternoon out for us, we are all dressed up and excited. We pull into the parking spot and I have V check her BG. She is high, well over 300. It’s been a weird day from the morning, we can’t seem to beat BG into submission no matter what. She is at the tail end of a cold, which exacerbated her normally very mild asthma, so she was recently put on a different inhaler, and we are pretty sure it’s finally caught up with her and is wreaking havoc with BG. I look at the numbers, cringe when I think of CGM alarming in the middle of the ballet, and go for the rage bolus. I override the pump and administer 1.5 times as much insulin. But wait, I don’t think it’s enough. I increase her basal rate by 50%. That’s ought to do it. V will be sitting down for at least two hours, so even though it’s a  lot of insulin her BG should just normalize, and there’s not a change she’ll drop too much or too fast, I think. We haven’t been able to make a dent with less aggressive measures all day, so what could possibly go wrong?

We get into the theater and find our seats. I keep an eye on the CGM. She’s a hair under 300 and going down fast. Success! Or not? The show starts. It’s time for me to put the CGM away, relax and enjoy the ballet, right? Yeah, right. I have to keep an eye on that CGM now, because she’s still dropping, and fast. So far so good, she could stand to lose nearly 200 points. But things are unfolding rather quickly. By the time the party scene is over she’s under 200 and still dropping fast. By the end of the battle scene she’s under 150 and still dropping fast. Quickly I cancel the increased basal rate but it’s too late. The rage bolus is doing its thing and BG continues to go downhill. Snow scene, she’s fast approaching 100 and still dropping fast. By the time the first act is over she is under 100 and still dropping.

Intermission could not have come at a more perfect time. We get to the lobby and test. 82 and still going down, although not as fast as before. Whew, this was close, and V is excited that she gets a treat out of this ordeal. I get in line for concessions and procure a bag of peanut M&Ms. By the time I have it in my hand, CGM is alarming low like crazy. Yes, Deckie, we got it, we are on top of it. V is feeling fine and we are armed with candy. She gets about half of the bag, which is about 15 g. of carbs. CGM continues to alarm and bottoms out at 52. By now we know it’s a waiting game, it takes good 10-15 minutes for the sugar to absorb and even longer for CGM to catch up to the fact that BG is stabilizing.

We get back to our seats for act two. I continue to periodically glance at CGM and am reassured when it shows that BG is stabilizing and gradually going up. By the time the show is over V is back to about 140. That was quite a glucocoaster.

And by the way, before the second act started I finally remembered that CGM alarm can be set to vibrate only. Duh.

Ready for Nutcracker!

Ready for Nutcracker!