Friday, 18 July 2014 | by Mike K

Speed boats and oil tankers - Guest post for Diabetes UK

My ups and downs have been a little more up and down of late (read for most of this year, it's still early Spring, right?). Not exactly disastrous, but I've not really managed to ever get things into any kind of groove for more than a week at a time. A bit wearying to say the least.

Part of me knows the best way to improve things is to go back to basics and do some fasting basal tests and tweak my basal profiles based on actual information rather than the (un)educated guesswork I've been relying on for a while. Another part of me is having enormous difficulty summoning up any enthusiasm, since I know that the summer holidays are coming and I'm likely to stop going to the gym for a couple of months which will have a knock-on effect in itself.

So I'm spending my time grumbling and hurrumphing instead (my family are so lucky!).

On the plus side it does give me a chance to jot down this analogy that I've been meaning to for some time. It's something that usually strikes me when my BG levels are a bit errant, and insulin and food are just not playing nicely.

When it comes to trying to balance the effects of food and insulin on blood glucose levels (well and everything else.. but specifically food and insulin), one thing that makes it very tricky is the difference in the speed of action of carbohydrate and insulin. It's not enough to accurately match the dose of insulin to the amount of carbohydrate you are eating - you have to try to ensure that the two act more or less together to reduce BG wobbliness (technical term).

Almost all carbohydrate is very much in the speedboat class. Fans of glycaemic index tables (GI) might agonise over whether something is high GI, medium GI or low GI, but in my experience the differences equate to something being 'almost instantaneous', 'really very fast indeed' or only 'very fast'. Not a great deal of protection against the ravages of a post-meal spike, either physiologically, or that emotional kick in the guts of seeing your levels rise from a decent pre-meal number well into double figures an hour or so later. From the very first mouthful those big outboards start roaring and the carbs go zipping and zooming about, gleefully spraying glucose in their wake.

Insulin, on the other hand - even the fancy schmancy 'rapid acting' analogues can seem painfully slow to get going. More like one of those behemothic oil tankers or container ships. With a great groaning and clanking, the thrum of the plunger on an insulin pen or pump delivers the dose and then... Nothing. Watch and wait. Is it an illusion? Is it actually moving yet? Nope. Still can't see anything happening.

Vooooom! Swish! The carbs go tearing past again. Running rings around the slumbering giant.

This is particularly the case for me when I am waiting for a correction dose to kick in. I've had to stop myself from checking post-correction BGs before an hour has elapsed. Any less than that and the chances are my BG will be almost unchanged. An hour! Thanks Novo Turgid - not exactly breakneck.

Of course... one of the things about an oil tanker is that once it is moving, there's not a lot you can do about it. All those stories about them needing however many hundred nautical miles to slow down or turn a corner. And so it can feel with rapid insulins.

Nothing... nothing... nothing... Ah good, movement! Good... All good, back into range. Right that's enough now thanks... STOOOOOOOOOP!

But on and on, the dose lumbers forward - an unstoppable force. All-ahead full. The tanker has now run straight over those speedboats crushing them to matchwood and we could very well be steering directly toward Port Hypo.

Corrections can be a tricky course to navigate. Artoo tries to help by offering a suggestion of 'Active insulin' - how much dose is still working away, but there are *many* variables to factor into that equation. Sadly I find Artoo's attempts to be the vaguest of indications at best, and often wildly inappropriate to the particular circumstances of the moment.

Patience is the skill I have to master. I am always trying to remind myself that while the spike in my blood glucose levels may have happened in only 45 minutes or so, the insulin correction will only have stopped after something like 4 or 5 hours. If I get impatient and overcorrect in the meantime I am likely to cause myself another problem (and more wobbles) by overdoing it.

Aye aye, Cap'n.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014 | by Mike K

Hands up who thinks kids with diabetes deserve decent care and support in schools

I was diagnosed at 21, during the final year of my degree. Not perfect timing I suppose, but I recognise that I had it a whole LOT easier than the thousands of kids who are diagnosed at a very young age and who have to try to balance life with type 1 diabetes alongside the unpredictability, raging hormones, growth spurts and peer pressure of school life.

I. Cannot. Imagine. It.

So hats off to Diabetes UK for their 'Make the Grade' campaign which aims to improve the support offered to children with diabetes in schools.

If you'd like to find out a little about what they are doing and why it is so important, they have produced a nifty piece of You-Tubery here:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 | by Mike K

Uncertainty Tennis

I found myself playing 'uncertainty tennis' again earlier this week. Perhaps you don't call it that... 'paranoia ping-pong' maybe? Or possibly 'confusion Kerplunk'. On the other hand - perhaps it's just me... And no one else ever catches themselves doing this?

The game begins some time before it starts, usually at least a day before, often more. You make a treatment decision based on what we long-term pancreas impersonators hilariously think of as 'what normally works', except that, on that day, it doesn't. Undaunted, you take some more insulin and/or carbs that 'should sort this out'. Except that it doesn't either. Or the next thing. Or the next.

Now that the groundwork is in place, the game can begin in earnest. Evenings are my favourite time to play, since that is the time of day when I eat the widest variety of meals often with the highest carb load.


First serve the other day was a carefully carb counted plate of pasta. A meal I have often eaten without suffering undue BG chaos for many years (yes I know... odd isn't it). Bolus delivered and food eaten. 15 all.

An hour an a half later, since things have been a bit unreliable over the last couple of days I decide I should check post-meal just to see how things are going. BG well into double figures. Darn. And pasta has a reputation for being very slowly absorbed too! And I didn't even muck about with extended bolus, blah blah blah. 15-30.

Now I know that the meal dose is still chugging away. But I also know that I really shouldn't have shot up this much by now. Artoo thinks there is plenty of IOB (insulin on board), but from experience it seems that would only be the case if I'm 8 or 9 at this point, rather than 12-point-annoying. Override the advice and whack in another unit. 30 all.

Another hour passes and I come over all hungry. Hmmm. Best be on the safe side. Low 10's. Well OK. Not low then. Still quite a lot of IOB though. And I *did* override. Sit tight or do something else? Pasta will still be going strong right now, won't it? Will it? 40-30.

Then a stunning approach shot... 20 minutes later and for reasons I can never fully explain I pop in another .7u - Deuce.

The crowd gasp! I've stopped testing now and I'm playing on instinct...

Too much IOB now surely? 2 Fruit Pastilles.

Then a minute later another one.

Still don't want to test. Too many out of range numbers today and I just don't want to see another in either direction... It's like whatever action I've just taken immediately feels wrong so I have to counteract it before it has a chance to take any effect.

Third of a unit.

Swig of lucozade.


Too much surely?! Half a unit. The crowd are in their feet... (I'm milking it for comic effect now).

Finally after several hours, I can resist it no longer. I check again. 5.whatever with umpty units IOB, plus the last few lots of feverish carb corrections and whatever pasta remains still ticking away. Not only that, but (based on which part of the last two day's numbers I consider to still be applying tonight) I could quite possibly expect to rise, or fall, OR stay perfectly level overnight.

So bedtime looms and I have to decide whether to take it to the tiebreaker and wait up for some (most?) of the IOB and/or onboard carbs to work their way out along with whatever I decide to guess at to mop up the remaining IOB.

Or I simply munch a little something, retire, and hope for the best!

I am fully aware that my evenings of 'uncertainty tennis' are largely my own doing. Without a CGM, and when things have shifted such that I have little confidence in what I think ought to happen with a dose or correction I find it all too easy to slip into a rapid rally of insulin and carb corrections.

It would be easier to resist if I hadn't had so many evenings when 'just leaving well alone' meant I spent 4 hours in double figures only to eventually correct with what I had thought of doing in the first place. That and the fact that I've played some amazing games in the past where I've aced a high or low BG into flatline submission with some audacious... erm... 'shots' (sorry!).

Strawberries and cream anyone?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 | by Mike K

The "I can..." of insulin pumps - Diabetes Week 2014

The theme of this year's Diabetes Week is 'I can...'. Here's a guest post I was invited to write for the Diabetes UK blog.

When I was thinking about this year's theme of 'I can' I was reminded of a conversation I had with someone last week about insulin pumps. It was something that they were being encouraged to consider, but like pretty much everyone else (myself included) their initial reaction was uncertainty. Uncertainty over being connected to something 24 hours a day. Uncertainty about relying on a fragile piece of technology to keep them alive. Uncertainty about how it would make them feel and how others might view them. Uncertainty over whether it would actually improve anyything at all. In short, they didn't really think it was for them.

I know those feelings well. I had them all, and many more besides. I was 'pump averse' for many years. My clinic suggested that it might help with my recurrent hypoglycaemia, but could never really articulate how that might happen. All I could see was a big bunch of (what I thought were) downsides.

In the end, for me, it was reading the experiences of pump users online that convinced me to give it a go. The day to day nitty gritty of how it helped them. Now I'm not saying that insulin pumps are for everyone. Some people wouldn't want to touch one with a barge pole, others do just fine on Multiple Daily Injections and are completely happy as they are. But if it is something you are considering, here are a few 'I can's that an insulin pump has given me to add to your thinking:

If I want to go to bed at 5.0mmol/L, I can.
Ahhhhh basal! I have been through quite a few basal insulins in my 25 years of pancreas-impersonation. In the old days we were always advised to have a snack before bed. Why? Well because in all likelihood your basal-du-jour was going to be a bit over-enthusiastic in the early hours and could well plunge you into an overnight hypo. It was many years before I discovered 'basal testing' (systematically adjusting your basal insulin by fasting tests so that it just holds you steady) but try as I might, even with fancy schmancy analogues I could only ever get my basal 'near enough' on MDI. A bit too much here, not quite enough there... make up the differences with meal doses and guesswork. With a pump, the flexibility of multiple basal patterns which can be tweaked and changed with almost infinite precision mean that I can adjust things so that I am actually starting from a level playing field. To my mind, basal is the bedrock of my BG levels. If my basal is out, even by just a little bit, my meal doses and corrections just do not play fair. So I no longer have to worry about stocking up on carbs before bed, because my basal insulin should hold me level and when I need less insulin overnight I get less. Where I need more just before breakfast, I get more.

If I want to give a really accurate dose, I can.

My doses on MDI were often a bit 'ballpark' to be honest. I have always counted carbs and altered my doses based on what I am eating, but I usually rounded up or rounded down to make things easy. Plus I would use insulin:carbohydrate ratios that meant I didn't have to get a calculator out all the time. The Accu-chek Expert was a great tool on MDI for tweaking doses, but I was still using a 'whole unit' pen so there was a degree of rounding even then. Now I can bolus in decimal places. And those tiny tweaks of insulin here or there do seem to make a difference. True enough my carb estimates are still often done by eye, but at least one part of the puzzle is now being calculated and delivered precisely.

If I want to stop here for lunch, I can.
This was the biggest surprise for me. Rediscovering spontaneity. I began pumping with an fairly entrenched anxiety about being hooked up to something 24/7. I know almost no one who has not had that when considering an insulin pump. Many people say that within a few weeks (days for some people) they become completely at one with their new robot pancreas and never give it a second thought. I can't say that it was quite so quick for me, but certainly in less than six months I had stopped noticing being attached at all and my emerging 'unthought' behaviours (like automatically hooking it to a t-shirt when getting changed) meant I never really gave Artoo another thought. If you are newly on an insulin pump and it still feels a bit of a nuisance or 'in the way' hang in there. Where was I? Oh yes... Spontaneity. So I was well prepared to dislike being attached, but I really hadn't expected that attachment would turn out to be such a bonus. Out on a wander on holiday... get a bit distracted and it takes rather longer than anticipated... Oh this pub looks nice, shall we stop for lunch? What would have always previously been "No we can't, I didn't bring my pens with me" has simply become "Yes!". Wherever we are now I always have my 'kit' with me, and while I used to like the idea of being able to leave all this stuff on a table and just walk around 'like a normal person', personally I have come to realise that I feel much more 'normal' if I can eat whatever I fancy whenever I want to, without having to remember to bring a case full of gubbins with me everywhere.

If I want to have 20 boluses/corrections/snacks in a day, I can.
Well strictly speaking I always could have, of course. But in reality I never did. There is something so easy and effortless about push-button dosing that I am far more likely to add in a fraction of a unit here or there during a day when I recognise that I probably wouldn't have bothered to get a pen out, airshot, dial up and inject. This has increased freedom around snacks too. Where I previously found them just to be too much of a hassle on MDI, almost always resulting is a BG wobble in one direction or other (depending on whether I had bothered to bolus or not) I've had much more success with the effortless mini-doses a pump offers. It's easier, so I bother to do it.

If I want to run a marathon (or just vacuum the stairs), I can.
Again, this was something I more or less tamed with MDI, but the additional options available on a pump, like the ability to set a 'temporary basal rate' for several hours, have added considerable 'polish' to many of those day-to-day conundrums of physical activity. I am far less likely to see my BG levels dip below my target range when exercising these days and I'm buying far less Lucozade!

Just a few things of the top of my head. I'm sure most people on pumps could write their own list. Of course diabetes is still annoying and frustrating quite a lot of the time. A pump is not a magic bullet and it still involves a fair bit of faffing about. But for me having a pump has made a tighter set of BG levels more possible, with less effort and far, far fewer nasty lows.

If you are struggling with wrestling your diabetes into some sort of submission and have been offered a pump as a possible way forward I'd suggest giving it a go.

If I can do it... You can.

Sunday, 18 May 2014 | by Mike K

Looking back - DBlog Week Day 7

And so another Diabetes Blog Week draws to a close. It has been great to take part again and I have been really touched by all the encouraging comments and feedback. One of the best things about #DBlogWeek for me is that feeling of connection to a wider global community, the chance to find new faces and voices and also to see how some familiar faces respond to the weekly prompts.

Today's topic: As we wrap up another Diabetes Blog Week, let’s share a few of our favorite things from the week. This can be anything from a #DBlogWeek post you loved, a fantastic new-to-you blog you found, a picture someone included in a post that spoke to you, or comment left on your blog that made you smile. Anything you liked is worth sharing!

There are so many posts that I loved reading that I can't list them all. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

Day 1 - Change the world. Kev at Circles of Blue gets cross

Day 2 - Poetry Tuesday. Either Grumpy's limerick or Kim's haiku

Day 3 - Scott Strange's amazing post about depression

Day 4 - Could have been any of Pumplette's posts (ably edited by Annie). I loved the dialogue between you two!

Day 5 - Jules embraces change and mentions boobs. What's not to like?

Day 6 - Sara from Moments of Wonderful shares 12 hours of a Saturday.

And there are so many more I could have listed. I know if I wrote this post in another 20 minutes I'd probably write a different list entirely.

As ever, massive thanks go to Karen at Bitter-Sweet for making the whole thing possible.