You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

That old dog is me (thirty-seven years living with diabetes). There’s a lot to be said for teaching someone who’s lived with diabetes for years new ways to manage diabetes, and some new things that have come into the marketplace recently.

Because I work in the diabetes field now as a patient-expert and author, I am privy to new products, emerging research, a remarkable network of patients and experts, and an inside view of what patients and professionals are talking about. Having enjoyed this privilege for the past seven years, the other day I took stock of the many new habits I’ve formed and new products I use now that make life with diabetes better: less effort, more calm, happier, time-saving-and, yes, easier to manage.

Just two years ago I wrote an article for this magazine about how I no longer performed many of the tasks I was taught when I first got diabetes in 1972 [“Confessions of a 35-Year Diabetes Veteran”]. For instance, using alcohol pads fell right away in 1986 when I moved to Japan and my company clinic didn’t have alcohol pads. When the nurse handed me a giant bottle of alcohol and a big bag of fluffy cotton balls (the only big things in Japan), I stopped swiping before a shot. Years later we learned you didn’t need to and that in fact the drying effect from alcohol was undesirable.

Today, I’m reflecting on how many things I now do that I was not taught years ago, things that improve the quality of my day-to-day, and I’m expecting, future days. Here’s my list of things I’ve changed: my tools, techniques, and life.

1. Insulin pens. I’m an old vial and syringe girl and always expected to be. But after my mail order pharmacy sent me Lantus in a pen rather than a vial by mistake, I said, “Alright, I’ll try it.” Now, there’s no turning back. It’s quick, easy, more discreet, and just feels nice in my hand.

2. Clickfine needles. Now that I’m a pen convert, I really like this pen needle innovation. Clickfine needles have a small yet distinct advantage that makes diabetes care easier, especially if you have any manual dexterity or vision problems. These needles “click” onto any diabetes pen and require no twisting to attach. Just makes my world a gentler, more comfortable place.

3. Dex 4 liquid glucose. It’s 15 grams of fast acting liquid carbohydrate that works quickly like glucose tabs. Being liquid, it might be marginally faster than glucose tabs. It’s easy to store and doesn’t require refrigeration. Word of caution: Peel the plastic off the bottle when you get it home, so when you need it, you won’t have to fumble with the plastic wrapper.

4. Rethink your medicine. I recently switched from rapid-acting Humalog to rapid-acting Apidra. Apidra works faster for me so I need less of it, and, if I’m in a restaurant, its speed allows me to take my injection moments before the first mouthful. That means I can actually see what’s on my plate that I need to cover.

5. Start a new bottle of insulin or pen the first of the month. Since I don’t use a lot of insulin, at the end of the recommended 28 to 30 days (the prescribed amount of time you should use your insulin), I would have so much left in the vial or pen that I’d forget to toss it. A week or two later I’d notice my blood sugar was running high and then, voila, it would dawn on me that my insulin had spoiled and I needed to start a new bottle. If you change your insulin the first of the month, you won’t run into this problem.

6. Find your favorite meter. Mine has no bells or whistles, but two things it does have make my testing less stressful and more pain free. When meters first came out with “no coding” I didn’t think it was a big deal, but now I love not having to make the extra effort to code my meter. My favorite meter is Bayer Contour because it has no coding and it uses the smallest amount of blood. This means I don’t waste test strips or have to poke my finger more than once. No matter how little blood I get, it’s enough for this meter.

7. Always leave your meter in the same place. Healthy habits help you expend less time and energy on diabetes tasks, and this is my #1 healthy habit. I always leave my meter in the same place on my kitchen counter so there’s never a need to look for it, which means there’s no excuse not to test.

8. Test and correct more. In the old days if my blood sugar was high between meals, I’d wait until my next meal to take a little extra insulin and play catch up. Today, I cover the high right after I test. That little extra effort makes me feel much more confident that I will have many more healthy todays and tomorrows.

9. Get more support in your life. I speak to patients across the country as a peer-mentor. Helping motivate and educate fellow patients is a very selfish joy for me. It has also brought a world of friends with diabetes into my life. Only now do I realize how lonely it was all those years I didn’t know anyone else with diabetes. Today I experience the richness, innate bond, and understanding we all share being in this fellowship.

10. (Because no list can end at 9) Use caution when following this advice. Side effects may occur. You may find life, and managing your diabetes, easier.    

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Riva Greenberg is the author of the book, “The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes.” Her new book, “50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life: And the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It” will be available from your local bookseller in August, 2009.