My guess is many of you don’t know this but some do – five years ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes. If you ask me what type – based on current medical definitions – I’m Type II. The way I think of it is: the type of diabetes doesn’t matter – what matters is I need to have an external source of Insulin to live – it is neither option, nor is it curable (yet). In some ways, it is no big deal really. We need air, water, food to survive as it is, and insulin is just another thing I need to take each day, right?
Of course the main difference is our human systems are autonomous – they automagically adjust to changes in requirements – sleep creates one workload type, running a few miles at the gym another. When your pancreas stops making insulin, then your autonomous systems try to compensate and unfortunately fail – sugar levels build up and your system takes all your food and your system sends it back out – literally starving to death while still eating and consuming (and craving) sugar (all the ingredients – carbs, protein, and fats). I lost 35 pounds in 3 weeks and ended up in the emergency room for the first time in my life with a blood sugar level just shy of 1,000. If I wasn’t basically healthy otherwise … well who knows. What I did learn is that Insulin is not an optional ingredient in the quest for one more day on the planet.
So in my own journey, I ended up using Insulin pens for diabetes treatment. For the past 5 years, I used an analog meter for blood testing, calculated what I needed for insulin to compensate, and if I was eating would look at my food and roughly calculate what I thought I was about to consume in terms of carbohydrates, and inject insulin. I also had to take a slow release version of insulin once a day to keep a constant level of at least a little insulin in my system. Over the 5 years, I’ve had varying success with this method until recently where life, job, stress, age, etc. factors have made it more challenging for me. Last summer I decided to try an insulin pump. This was a device you actually wore on your body and disposed of every 3 days and replaced with a new one. Workouts, traveling, etc. and the device and I parted ways because I couldn’t get the system to stay on me. For many this system works, it just wasn’t right for me. This was a tough failure for me to swallow because it takes a good deal of effort to integrate these technologies into your life and then to have to go back to the 5-6 time a day on the needle again … plus I hate to fail at anything!
Over the past few months, I’ve been wanting to give it a try again and came across a fairly new device that has three components – a pump, a digital meter, and a digital glucose monitor. The pump sits on a belt or can be put in your pocket and a tube connects the insulin delivery to your body. The meter tests your blood sugar levels and via Bluetooth tells the pump what your sugar levels are. The pump then prompts you to send an adjustment or if you are eating food, what the total amounts are. This saves me a lot of calculations plus it can be done without an interruption in a lunch meeting. It also tracks all the data. Added in is the Continuous Glucose Monitor, which is another sensor inserted into the body that monitors for sugar levels continuously. If you go below your low limit, it tells the pump and the pump gives you an alert that you are low and stops delivering insulin. It also can alert you if you go high, though it won’t take action (deliver insulin) without your telling the pump you want to deliver more insulin. This system is one of first semi-active systems on the market. Total active systems (artificial pancreas) are not approved by the FDA, yet but are definitely in the works and I’m hopeful I’ll be using one of them in the future.
So to sum this up – my body has two sensors on it (pump and CGM), one external (meter), and the meter and CGM send data to the pump. The meter also uploads data to the cloud via manual USB connection process. While this is not ideal – it does allow the manufacturer to monitor the functionality of the system, the caregiver can monitor my health and help me make adjustments, and the FDA uses the data as part of their on-going clinical data analysis for these types of systems.
I love technology, always have. I really love the fact that it currently helped save my life, and now it is an active part of helping managing my health so I can continue to life a full and active life. Pretty cool, huh?