Diabetes care, management and health outcomes have undergone a complete transformation over the last 50 years. From diagnosis, to blood glucose monitoring, to medications, medical technology now offers many options that give diabetics the freedom to live more active and productive lives. Tracey Long, a type 1 diabetic diagnosed in 1982, shares her personal story underscoring how important technology has been in allowing her to live her life to the fullest.
Since 1982 when, at the age of eight, I learned I had Type 1 diabetes, the disease has been a constant in my life. Back then, I followed the “one size fits all” treatment. My days centered around twice-a-day blood sugar tests and insulin shots and avoiding sweets…unless my blood sugar was low. I was faithful to the rules, although I admittedly had my moments of rebellion — eating sweets when my blood sugar wasn’t low, avoiding a finger prick by “forgetting” to test my blood sugar and relying on an unreliable urine test instead. Feeling like a human pin cushion and having to constantly think about my illness didn’t exactly make childhood the fun and carefree experience it should have been.
So predictably, when I entered my teen years, I embraced rebellion. Gone were the days of constantly monitoring my glucose levels. No more frustration with seeing high readings — I could forget about my diabetes! And while in the throes of dealing with teenage hormonal fluctuations, I almost did. But I learned the hard lesson that all Type 1’s have to learn at some point: it’s impossible to forget. There will always be that anxiety of going to sleep at night. Wondering if you’ll wake up shaking, sweating, heart pounding, and panicked you won’t get enough sugar in time to stay conscious. Worried if you’ll wake up at all. Or feeling like a failure because you overdid it when treating your low and now your sugar is skyrocketing.
By the time I became pregnant with my daughter at the age of 23, the rules had changed and so had I. I accepted the only way to take control of my diabetes was to know where my numbers were at fasting, before and after meals and snacks, and before bed. I tested my blood sugar six to eight times a day. My A1C went from 9 to 6. Yet, I still didn’t feel in control of my disease — the near-constant anxiety of dealing with the management of it controlled me. Before bed, during exercise, or through any activity that could affect my sugar level, I worried. After my daughter was born, I continued to test frequently, but the exhaustion of constant vigilance set in and my A1C rose again.
Management of my Type 1 diabetes and consequently, my life, changed with the introduction of the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to my treatment regimen. My Diabetes Educator introduced me to this miraculous technology that uses a tiny sensor placed under the skin to track your blood sugar levels day and night. She explained to me how this device could send the results, in real time, to a pocket-sized monitor. The monitor could be set to alert me if my blood sugar was dropping or rising and to show trends on how my control has been throughout the day. It could even indicate if my sugar level was changing rapidly or staying level. There are no words to describe how excited I was to incorporate this technology into my life as a diabetic.
With a small learning curve and within the first week of using my CGM, my blood glucose levels began to stabilize. The only times I had to do finger sticks was twice a day to calibrate the device and also before treating a high or low — much less than before. My highs and lows decreased almost immediately. My Diabetes Educator helped me program the device to alarm if my sugar was dropping below 80 or above 200. Programming the settings is easy to do on your own once you get the hang of it. The other night, my blood sugar began to drop after I had fallen asleep. My device vibrated and beeped loudly to wake me up and let me know. The monitor indicated “LOW” with a reading of 80 and a sideways pointing arrow to indicate my sugar level was dropping but not rapidly. I grabbed some quick acting carbohydrates and my sugar stabilized.
My life as a diabetic has truly been transformed with this one simple technology. For the first time in over thirty years, I go to bed at night without anxiety. I no longer panic about possibly over treating a low, because my CGM enables me to treat appropriately. I no longer experience the fear of dropping at an unknown rate — I simply watch as my numbers normalize over several minutes after treatment. When my sugar begins to rise, I glance at my CGM to determine whether a correction dose is needed. My life is no longer a series of crises to be reacted to, but rather controlled management of a disease that just happens to be a part of my life. If I go to the gym, my little partner is right there with me alerting me if I need to take action to keep myself stable. My last A1C was down from 8 to around 6, and thanks to this technology, I am confident I’ll be able to keep it there.
For those of us who have been managing our diabetes the same old way for so long, some of the newer advances in diabetes technology may seem intimidating at first. From my personal experience, I can say it is worth giving these advances a try — it may just transform your life.