Posted by on Saturday, 14 November 2015

Tragedy, togetherness #insulin4all and WDD2015

Today is Frederick Banting's birthday and also, not quite by chance, World Diabetes Day.

I was planning to post something on the blog today, but the appalling, tragic events in Paris last night have completely taken the wind out of my sails.

It doesn't really feel the day to be marking or highlighting anything else. My heart goes out to anyone involved, however obliquely. Parisians who now live in fear as they go about their normal, everyday, uneventful lives. And also to the many hundreds of thousands of innocent people who will now live in fear of violent Islamophobic reprisals.

But life, as the say, goes on. Instead of focussing on the division, violence and horror that a tiny minority are so evidently able to inflict, I find myself trying to focus on the exact opposite.

People, on the whole, are nice.

People, generally speaking, look out for one another.

People, more often than not, want to help - even if they may not receive anything in return.

People care about each other.

Yes of course there is selfishness, self-interest and general all-round rubbishness in human experience. Yes *some* people, perhaps even quite a lot of people, are prepared to do absolutely awful things.

But not most.

Not most.

I can see this in the Diabetes Online Community all the time. People wanting to support and encourage. People wanting to help. Wanting to affirm, strengthen, build up. People wanting to understand other people's point of view. People from wildly different social, economic and cultural backgrounds wanting to improve each other's lives. People willing to give of themselves without expecting, or requiring anything back, save to be part of a bigger, wider, more connected whole.

Better together. Better. Together.

T1 International and The Pendsey Trust are an example of this - attempting to co-ordinate and bring together support for #insulin4all - tiny charities raising awareness about the lack of access to essentials (insulin, test strips, education, healthcare) that many people with type 1 diabetes face around the globe.

As difficult as it can sometimes be to manage life with type 1 diabetes in the UK, it is a complete doddle compared to countries in the world where insulin is unavailable or unaffordable. In this day and age no one should die because they cannot access the insulin they need to survive.

Posted by on Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Painting the Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge (CC licensed)
Famously, the painting of the Forth Bridge (an enormous railway bridge across the Firth of Forth in Scotland) took so long that by the time the workers finished painting this spectacularly beautiful collection of girders, steel, bricks and sweat, it needed to be started all over again. Apparently this is no longer the case and the painting has finally stopped, at least temporarily, but bear with me here as I indulge myself in a little cliched allegory.

Painting the Forth Bridge - I wonder what it would be like to be one of those people given that task.

Perhaps a young man, in his early twenties. Suddenly, unexpectedly, given this massive undertaking. A job for life. It must surely have been a daunting prospect. But perhaps there was something of a challenge about it too. Something to get stuck into. Something to work towards. And while the tools were, at first, unfamiliar and clumsy, he was determined to see the work done. To do it the best he could. To protect this beautiful structure.

And the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into years. And still it goes on. It is hard work. The schedule is punishing, but it has to be done. He pushes on. The tools are more familiar now - he's actually got pretty good at this painting lark. He has picked up some tips from others who have been painting far longer than him. He can even take some of the difficult corners in his stride, the awkward spots that he could never really manage before. Occasionally a new brush or a fresh pot of paint kindles some excitement and interest. Spurs him on. Improves his technique. And then back to the graft.

And some days... some days it is just beautiful. Way up there at the top of one of the arches, alongside friends and co-workers, with the wind gently cooling his face, as the sun beats down on his shoulders. The view stretching for miles and miles. The distant thrum of locomotives passing below. The faintest call of birdsong from the marshes. When he compares his work to others' he thinks, "You know, it's not that bad." He feels lucky. Yes there is work to be done. Yes he has to be careful to keep himself safe, but in comparison to some other working conditions he knows about - he could have done much worse.

There are scary times too. When storms lash and winds howl. This work is no place for the faint-hearted then. But even then... even then there is something to push against. Something to overcome. A battle to be fought. Something almost heroic about it. Those are not the hardest times for him.

It is the grey days he fears the most. The grey, unending, energy-sapping days. Where the fog rises up and obscures everything else.

The days when his paintbrush seems to weigh even more heavily than his heart. When the neverending nature of the task overwhelms him. No matter how hard he tries, no matter what he does. He will never finish. Stroke after pointless stroke. Hour after pointless hour. And still no nearer the end. There is no end. And if he slows down, he only gets further behind. The task goes on and on. Unrelenting. Inescapable.

He has an annual performance review with the HR department. They seem happy enough with his work, but can only talk about the rust and decay that constantly threaten the bridge. The rust... the rust... always the rust. He must not let up they say. He must keep up his workload. They come down pretty hard about Health and Safety too. Apparently, though he tries to be careful and is pretty diligent with his harness, hardhat and boots, he is not doing enough. He could slip at any moment and that would be it. They don't seem to understand the reality of what it's like up there. Sometimes you have to move from point 'a' to point 'b' and it's not always possible to be fully harnessed-up in between.

He ventures to ask about a new piece of painting equipment. It would make his work much easier, and much safer. He has even tried it and has seen what a difference it makes. Unfortunately 'the management' will not provide it. It is too expensive, and they are not sure they believe the promises in the brochure. The HR department are sympathetic, naturally, but the decision is out of their hands. He knows, of course, that his equipment is pretty expensive already. It's not a surprise that the newest and fanciest stuff is out of reach. But his head and his heart feel differently about it. Part of him aches for what might have been. Part of him wishes he'd never even heard of this new stuff.

And the grey days continue. He blunders on. Barely looking at what he is doing now. So tired. So tired of it all. Sometimes he looks at his brushes with loathing. He wants to throw them over the edge. Cast them into the broiling waters below. Just watch the bridge decay and fall. The rust... the rust... To surrender the bridge to the elements.

To stop.

But he can't. He WON'T stop. He pushes down the melancholy as an act of will. He knows so many people that love this old bridge. Who rely on it. Who need it. He wants it to be there for them.

So he picks up his brush one more time.


And carries on.

Posted by on Wednesday, 16 September 2015


Just back from my annual pump clinic. If anyone from my clinic reads this, I'm very sorry. I know I was awful. I had been building up to this for days. Weeks possibly. I already pretty much knew where it was inevitably going to go. I was ready to feel angry and disappointed before we started. You didn't deserve that.

It didn't help that we started with the 'Statins' conversation I've been expecting for several years but have, so far, been spared. It seems I've tipped over the edge of the 'how old' question even for your fairly relaxed attitude. I'm sorry that I find the whole statins/cholesterol thing such a tangled mess of claim and counter claim. I'm sorry that the research into their effectiveness (or otherwise) generally - and also in relation to type 1 is so clouded, murky and beshadowed by claims of vested interest and bias. I'm sorry that I ever read any of that stuff and couldn't just say, "Yes OK". To be honest I'm still not sure that the whole lipid/heart hypothesis isn't fundementally wrong anyway and that I have begun to suspect that the relative benefits shown in Statin studies over all those years may simply be "accurate measures for the prevailing bias". I'm sorry there is no way to accurately work out whether they would be worthwhile for me as an individual. I'm sorry I didn't, couldn't just take your word for it.

Thank you for agreeing to differ with me. And YES. I genuinely did mean that I would continue to think about this as I grow older.

I'm sorry I don't know what you mean by 'a hypo'. What number or frame of reference you wanted me to use. I'm sorry that by now (while you were still impeccably professional and cheery) you were probably wishing I would just shut up and go away.

I'm glad that you were pleased with the reductions I had seen in hypoglycaemia, particularly overnight with the combination of MM640G and CGM.

I'm sorry that it's not an option that is available to me.

I'm sorry that the CCG has approved no CGM applications on compassionate grounds in the last 2 years.

I feel sure that you would like to help more people with technology like this. I'm sorry that you are not able to.

Next year I will try to just come in, fill in my boxes on the forms, answer your questions, and then go away again.

Posted by on Saturday, 12 September 2015

64 Days with the Medtronic 640G: Ep 9 Review - the best and worst of the MM640G

Well, this is it. The last of my posts covering my time with the Medtronic MiniMed 640G. Thank you so much for bearing with me over the last few months. Normal wittering will be resumed shortly. However, as seems to be the way of things with blockbuster franchises (HA!) I have split this last episode into two parts. Part (i) covers all the little niggles and irritations I had while using the MM640G, while part (ii) looks at the things I loved, and reviews my results including reductions (if any) in hypoglycaemia and an HbA1c I had done at the end of my time using the pump. HbA1c is the test which measures how much of the glucose in your blood stream has stuck to red blood cells. It is often used as a measure of your likelihood of developing the long term complications of diabetes.

For those who really can't bear wading through all those minutes of video I will summarise the results below. The video gives a lot more detail though, and features a fluffy bunny. What's not to like?!

When it comes to the things I really liked/disliked about the MM640G you will need to bear in mind that I am comparing to a MiniMed Veo. All of the really good stuff about pumps generally - precise basal patterns, advanced dual and square wave bolus options for tricky meals, ease of use, bolus calculator, temporary basal rates, precision of doses and correction factors, blah, blah, blah... are already assumed to be present and correct. Some of the things I loved about the MM640G are precisely because they fixed annoyances I found with the Veo. But more on that later. First:

The worst of the Medtronic MiniMed 640G

Those who have read any of my reviews before will know that I can get unreasonably irritated by the slightest things. It will come as no surprise then, that while I generally loved the MM640G both with and without sensors, there were a few things about it that drove me nuts.

  1. Pump lock
    After a few minutes the pump automatically locks and most interactions require you to play an annoying 'press the right button' game. This is no good if you are in a hurry, and is not an option that can be turned off.
  2. Change of orientation
    It's now 'portrait' not 'landscape'. As someone who wears an insulin pump on my belt this is a bit awkward.
  3. No small versions
    Medtronic have now abandoned plans to produce a smaller version of the pump. All MM640Gs will now have the little sticky-up bit to accept the larger reservoirs. The smaller reservoirs can still be used, but at present, with approximately 35u/day usage, the 'how full is my reservoir' icon on my status bar is pretty much permanently red.
  4. Sensor overtape irritation
    The glue used on the sensor overtapes (and also the little patch that holds the sensor down initially) caused a red rash to appear after a couple of days of wear. Initially it was only toward the end of a sensor but in the end it began pretty much at day 2. I used an alternative dressing, but even that was pretty itchy. Weird - because I don't usually react to adhesives at all.
  5. Sensor swap delays
    From start to finish swapping a sensor takes around 3 hours to begin providing new continuous data. That's a looooooong time!
  6. Occasional sensor lag
    Mostly I found the sensor accuracy was brilliant. But sometimes, particularly if I treated a low to try to fix a below target BG reading, the sensor was a little slow in responding (perhaps 30 minutes behind reality). Additionally calibrations by BG meter do not necessarily reach up to match sensor glucose and BG fingerstick value, but often end up with some odd half-way house. If the sensor glucose value had drifted a little there were even occasions where calibration triggered an 'alert before high' which was doubly annoying.
  7. Sensor Glucose Review
    The one-day graphs which allow you to flick back through previous days' results show no indication of SmartGuard interactions or insulin doses. Makes them about 10% as useful as they could have been.
  8. Home screen without sensors
    For no apparent reason, the icons in the status bar do not align neatly when using the MM640G without sensors. There's a gap where one of the sensor icons(!) would go, which makes it look untidy and poorly considered. The enormous dotted line 'we have no BG information to show you' panel where recent meter BG readings go (when not using sensors) also irritated me more than strictly necessary. Just doesn't feel like the visual look of the home screen for most UK users, who will be using the MM640G without sensors, was given enough finesse.

Watch the video

The grumbles, gripes, and irritations - everyone will have their own, I'm sure.

The best of the Medtronic MiniMed 640G

Whether you use the MM640G with sensors or not there is a LOT to like about it. There are all sorts of little, pleasing improvements in the interface and options that make a massive difference. Add the wizardry of SmartGuard into the mix and things are taken to another level - but even without there are lots of tasty treats for non-sensor users.

  1. Setting basals and temp basals
    There are now up to five basal patterns on the MM640G, and brilliantly you can copy entire patterns from one 'slot' to another to experiment with and then switch back if you need to later. The patterns also come with helpful names to keep track of which are which: Work Day, Day Off, Sick Day, Pattern 1, Pattern 2. Which pattern is set is not marked on the home screen, but thankfully setting any of them does not cause the 'alert circle' to appear like it did on the Veo.

    Temp basals can now be set in 15 minute increments for more precision and alter up and down by 5% at a time making them much quicker and less fiddly to set.
  2. No TBR 'chime'
    Setting a Temporary Basal Rate no longer causes the pump to issue a useless wittery alert tone every hour, which means you can ACTUALLY USE THEM OVERNIGHT! In even better news - the end of a TBR is now indicated by a single beep. Brilliant!
  3. Different Alert Tones
    There are now a series of different alert tones to indicate different things. There were a few on the Veo, but so many overlapped with either 'pip-pip-pip' or 'naah-naah-naah' that I find it much easier to work out what is going on on the MM640G without having to check the pump for 'information' alerts and being alerted (ha!) to things that actually require action. The ability to increase volume has also significantly improved.
  4. No lockout during bolus delivery
    It is possible on the MM640G to do rather more things during the time while a reasonable sized bolus is being delivered - for example you can set a TBR. The Veo made you wait until the bolus had finished before allowing you to do anything (other than stop the bolus!). This meant I could group my pump interactions together and then get on with life, rather than having to wait around tutting.
  5. Screen visibility in sunlight
    Really, really good - especially compared to some other colour-screen diabetes gadgetry I have tried. Not perfect from every angle, but really easy to turn a little and see very clearly even in direct sunlight.
  6. Remote boluses from BG meter
    Not a full remote control with bolus wizard, but a really useful standby when digging your pump out from within clothing is impractical or inconvenient.
  7. Waterproof
    Now rated as IPX8 - up to 12 feet of water for up to 24 hours.
  8. SmartGuard - overnight hypoglycaemia
    Unsurprising if you have watched my Overnight Hypoglycaemia post, but SmartGuard overnight for me was a real stand-out winner. No readings at all for 9 weeks below 3.5mmol/L overnight, and hardly any below 4.0mmol/L. Some nights almost no basal insulin required, and others requiring my more 'usual' 6-7 units at night. Looking at the results it's hardly surprising I had so many problems and so much Severe Hypoglycaemia during my years on Lantus!
  9. SmartGuard - results overall
    When compared to averaged results from 10 weeks of Libre sensors (the only other 24 hour data I have) time in hypoglycaemia fell by 90% during my 9 weeks with the MiniMed 640G. At the same time my overall levels, as measured by HbA1c fell by 0.3%. And all this with less effort and very little 'alarm fatigue'.

Watch the video

Improvements to the pump (with and without sensors) and the all important results.


It has been a great privilege to experience the MM640G system, and for me the results were spectacularly good. The comparison with Libre data is an interesting one, particularly where hypoglycaemia is concerned. Times wearing a Libre sensor were previously my 'best ever' results-wise. The ability to spot hypos coming during the day and try to head them off (I generally scan a Libre sensor something like 30-40 times a day), plus the ability to spot low levels overnight and make hurried basal rate changes meant that I generally had fewer hypos on a Libre than I would normally. And yet when compared to these data, the MM640G system reduced my time spent in hypoglycaemia by 90%. To be clear, that means that for every 10 minutes I spent below 4.0mmol/L trying my very hardest with a Libre sensor, I would spend only one minute when using SmartGuard. That and my HbA1c dropped over the same period from 6.3% to 6.0%. 0.3% - it's not a huge margin, but those fractions are pretty tricky to shave off once you get down below 7.0 in my experience.

My only hint of melancholy about the whole experience is, of course, the eye-watering cost of full-time sensor coverage (approx £3,500 per year inc transmitter). It's not something we as a family can afford, and full time CGM on the NHS is reserved for those who really need it most - and rightly so.

It feels a little like being given a chance to live in a multi-million pound mansion and drive an Aston Martin for a few weeks to see how I like it. I may think it's brilliant - but the reality is that it's not really an option that is really open to me long-term.

I have a pump clinic coming up in a week or two and will see what they say about the results - particularly my unpredictable and occasionally lengthy periods spent below 4.0 overnight. These do nothing to help my efforts to keep my Imparired Awareness of Hypoglycaemia under control. I may ask about the possibility of part-time sensor coverage. Even a few months in a year would make a massive difference (as long as the transmitter continued to function, of course).

My Veo is nearing the end of its warranty period, so I am looking to the future. I have some thinking and some sums to do after this experience - depending on what my clinic say.

Final verdict (with sensors and SmartGuard): 5/5
Final verdict (without sensors): 4/5
Final verdict (considering self-funding sensors): 4/5*

* because of Dexcom's more 'stretchable' reputation when it comes to sensor life

Disclaimer: I was offered a trial of the Medtronic MiniMed 640G system for 64 Days with full sensor coverage so that I could share my opinion and experience good or bad. I was not paid to write this post, and if I had thought the pump was terrible I would have written that. I was encouraged (not required) to post video blogs about my experience, but Medtronic did not have any control over what I posted.

Posted by on Monday, 31 August 2015

64 Days with the Medtronic 640G: Ep 8 Fine-Tuning SmartGuard

For all the times when SmartGuard has worked brilliantly for me (and there are - too many to count), there have also been a number of situations in which it seemed to make a bit of a mess of things. Overshooting and leaving my higher than I'd like... kicking in when a hefty carb load was just about to arrive and stopping basal for that 30 minute minimum (during which time I would be having a high glucose alert)... or cancelling various parts of dual and square wave boluses which I then may not spot until slightly too late.

I'm sure each user would have their own list - but these are my own #SmartGuardFails and some of the techniques I have tried to fine-tune the alerts and levels to work around them. It's interesting how irritating these odd occasions can be, and I suspect it is only because, well for me anyway, SmartGuard has worked so *brilliantly* for so much of the time that they really stand out.

If you have any MM640G SmartGuard tips and tricks of your own (or any other comments or questions), please leave a comment below.