When finger pricks take their toll
Three months of using the Freestyle Libre has given me a very welcome break from one of the aspects of having Type 1 Diabetes that has bothered me the most – having to do endless blood sugar checks. For different reasons over the last 11 years of having Type 1, doing a “good job” where blood sugar checking is concerned has often eluded me, making me frustrated, irritated, sometimes embarrassed and ultimately burnt out. I got back into the habit of doing frequent finger pricks earlier this year and while it did make a big difference in my HbA1c, it took so much extra effort that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it up and I decided to give the Freestyle Libre a go. That’s been life changing for me.
This post is a look back at the challenges I’ve faced with finger pricking over the years, and to explain why the Freestyle Libre has vastly improved my quality of life. So starting right back from my diagnosis in 2007, here’s a run down of the things that have made checking my blood sugar a pain over the years, and why these problems have now been solved for me.
Problem #1: My fingers didn’t bleed properly
It all started quite well, motivation wise. When I was diagnosed I did a “good job” of doing the requisite number of tests a day, and dutifully recorded them in a paper log book. I took this very seriously, wanting to please my doctor and “do my homework”. The problem I had was that, embarrassingly, I was prone to fingers that did one of two things when pricked: either they were sweaty, causing the blood to be too runny (and the test failed), or they were really cold and wouldn’t bleed enough (and the test failed). Repeated failed tests were painful, irritating and demoralising, so I had to do something about it.
I got myself a Freestyle Lite meter because it was marketed as only needing a tiny drop of blood, and it also came with a lancing device that allowed Alternate Site Testing. From that point onwards I used my forearm for blood glucose checks and constantly had a small purple bruised area on my arm. That part of my body didn’t bleed much either but it was enough to get a reading on the Freestyle Lite meter. I carried on this way for years.
I’ve now got an Accu-chek Insight pump and use the blood glucose meter integrated into the handset. I prick my fingers (which bleed more normally now) but still often get an error message because I’ve not drawn enough blood. It’s annoying.
Problem #2: I feel awkward testing my blood sugar in front of people
This problem doesn’t apply to all people and all situations, but it’s enough to prevent me sometimes from checking my blood sugar when I should. At my desk, next to colleagues I know well, or with family and close friends it’s fine. With anyone else I don’t like doing it. Situations like work meetings are difficult – getting the testing kit out and either fumbling under the desk or doing it in full view just doesn’t feel comfortable, even if it’s with people I know, but it’s even worse if it’s with people I’ve just met. In a professional setting I just don’t want to be distracting. The meter I have now also has a propensity to alarm loudly to declare an “electronic error” which happens randomly several times a week and is embarrassing and unwelcome when that happens in the middle of a meeting. Same goes for when I’m eating with people who don’t know I’ve got Type 1. I sometimes just don’t want to talk about it so I don’t test in those situations.
I’m also super aware that some people are freaked out by the sight of blood. I have had some memorable times when people have reacted to me checking my blood sugar as though I have just taken a hacksaw to my entire hand and so I prefer to keep the blood sugar checking under wraps as much as possible.
Problem #3: blood sugar checks are demanding
Want to check your blood sugar? It’s easy! All you have to do is:
Remember that you need to check your blood sugar
Stop what you’re doing
Ensure both hands are free and clean
Find a surface (desk, bed, floor, your lap, a chair, a windowsill).
Get three things out (lancing device, test strips, meter)
Insert test strip into meter (difficult in the dark)
Prick finger or alternative site to draw blood, apply blood to the test strip and wait for the reading. (Also difficult in the dark)
Repeat many times a day, every day, and try to remember to do it at the right times
I found these steps just about doable when I had a full time desk job and no kids, but even then I found it hard to remember to do anything other than quick checks before meals. Doing things like trying to factor in 2 hour post meal blood sugar checks was hard because I was too busy or distracted to remember to stop what I was doing, and even if I did, I didn’t carry my testing kit around the office with me every second of the day. There’s even less chance of doing blood sugar checks outside of mealtimes when I’m out and about at the weekend.
Problem #4: looking after an unsettled baby and a toddler made regular, frequent blood sugar checking almost impossible
My son, who is now six, had reflux as a baby. Looking after him in his first year was one of the most challenging times of my life. He was so unsettled and so uncomfortable from constantly regurgitating his milk that he needed to stay as upright as possible during the day and that meant that he spent a lot of time in my arms. With him and his big sister, I literally had my hands full. He slept very little in the day and didn’t sleep through the night for a long time. He was on all sorts of medications to try to help his reflux but none of them really helped for more than a few weeks and we just had to wait it out till he eventually grew out of it.
For that period, I was doing the bare minimum when it came to checking my blood sugars. Maybe once a day. It was a really hard time. It was much more difficult to get through the 9 steps above. I didn’t remember to test, and if I did, I was in the middle of something I couldn’t easily stop, or I didn’t have my hands free, or I was pushing the buggy and holding a toddler’s hand. Checking my blood sugars felt like a burden I couldn’t deal with at that time, and even when my son grew out of his unsettled early life, I couldn’t get back into the habit of regular blood sugar checks for a long time. I got out of my burnout earlier this year and getting back on top of my blood sugar checking was the biggest part of it.
The Freestyle Libre has solved these problems for me
I don’t need to worry about my reluctant-to-bleed fingers, I don’t need to draw blood at all.
I don’t need to worry about making a scene in a meeting or when I’m with people I don’t know that well. I can scan my blood sugars discreetly in a second and nobody notices.
I don’t need to interrupt my life and remember to check my blood sugars at the perfect time. I don’t need to stop. I just need one hand to hold the scanner, and I can even do that in the dark.
I don’t need to choose between looking after my kids and looking after myself because checking my blood sugar is now effortless.
I’ve let go of all my old problems with blood sugar checking and I’ve got the most data on my blood sugars that I’ve ever had.
Totally life changing.