Diabetes evolutions: The blood glucose meter

I remember my first blood glucose meter. It was called the Accu-Chek II, and it was a long, white rectangular thing.

It used test strips that changed color. The machine would read the strips, if you wanted, but you could also just check them against the side of the test side bottle. The reactive part of each strip had a top half, which was a tan color, and a bottom half, which was a blue shade.

What I remember about those early test strips was that the reagent pads were square, but you could actually cut the test strip into two halves. That meant you had two rectangular pads, covering slightly less space, but usually enough to get a decent idea of the blood sugar in question.  

Sometimes, if I was especially ambitious, I would cut the single test strip into three strips. That would mean exceptionally thin rectangles, but something was better than nothing if we were down to the last few in a bottle.

And the time – oh the time.

That’s what I perhaps remember best of all. After you applied your blood to the strip, you would have to wait a full minute. Then you would wipe the blood off, and wait another minute before comparing the strip to the other colors on the bottom. You could also, of course, put it into the machine for a reading.

All of that trouble, all of that waiting for a single blood sugar reading. Can you imagine? Can you remember?

Today and over the next several weeks, I’m going to be digging through my memories of diabetic supplies and treatment, past and present. We’re starting with blood glucose meters, which have changed spectacularly over the decades. I’ve spent enough years with this disease to remember technology that would strike folks today as primitive.

At the time? We couldn’t believe how lucky we were. The blood glucose machine even used lasers! This was some amazing technology from the future! Surely it would only be a few months before this irritating disease was cured.

I also remember my big switchover from the Accu-Chek II to a OneTouch meter, which finally disposed of the color-coding and blood-wiping. It still took a minute or so to give middle-school aged me a result, but I was stunned by the relative convenience.

Over the next 15 years or so, the meters kept getting smaller and smaller, the samples tinier and tinier, and the waiting time for results shorter and shorter.

Finally, a half-decade ago, I made the leap to a continuous glucose monitor. Honestly, that was one of the biggest changes in my life with diabetes, and one I’d urge almost anyone else with type 1 to explore.

Put simply, I didn’t have to wonder anymore. I didn’t have to worry about knowing where my blood sugar was or where it was going. I could just look.

Not that CGMs are perfect. Especially now that I’m using a closed-loop system and was forced to change my CGM brand, I’m realizing that all versions of the technology are not equally reliable. Indeed, I’ve spent hours over the last six months wrangling with my new brand of CGM, attempting to calibrate it correctly and waiting agonizing hours for it to boot up.

In other words, we’re back to waiting. But in the game of diabetes, knowing where your blood sugar is — where it really is — is worth the wait.

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