Posted by on Sunday, 29 May 2016

Appointments, priorities and the importance of buy-in

Well this is a bit unexpected - but I have been going through a bit of a weird patch over the last 8 weeks or so, and even though it's not one of the posts I have been struggling to get written for some time - I have decided to leapfrog this post ahead of the others and get it written while I it is still fresh in my mind.

Some ground rules before I start - I will try to keep the moaning to a minimum. Please bear in mind throughout that I really like my clinic, and value the opinion of the DSNs, Consultants and Registrars I see there. However, with something as complex, fickle and infuriating as type 1 diabetes, there will inevitably be some occasional differences in priorities, and sometimes this can lead to what we might call less-than-fun times. I believe it is crucial that any changes suggested in a clinic get genuine buy-in from the person with diabetes. And any previous negative experience of the suggested strategies needs to be given careful consideration.

To summarise 'life with diabetes' so far - I have always preferred to run on the low side than on the high side. Oddly enough the idea of dying with my feet still attached, functioning kidneys and still being able to see, rather appeals to me. Anyone who has read these witterings before will know that I have fought long and hard to reduce my exposure to hypoglycaemia, particularly Severe Hypos, with some success - I have not experienced severe hypoglycaemia for over 5 years now I think. What lows I still have are irritating, generally short lived and in the 3s. With a more serious couple in the 2s each month. But I do have more than I'd like. And I keep tabs on how many I am having each week/month to clamp on them if I start having more. The darkest shadow on my shoulder remains hypoglycaemia at night. Perhaps twice or three times a month I might drift below 4 and (according to Libre sensors) can stay there for several hours. This is a problem for me. It is a problem that the MM640G with sensors had pretty much entirely solved, but sadly that still remains out of my reach as a therapy option.

You may recall I wrote about a less than ideal appointment last Autumn. I confess I did not arrive at that appointment in the best of moods. As you will find, this is becoming something of a regrettable habit. Following that appointment, and full of all the encouragement that 'You are going to die of cardiac arrythmia' predictions will bring, I decided to tackle my lingering hypos more aggresively, particularly the overnight ones. I took more intense precautions in many more situations than I would have 'normally' done. Unfortunately, what I observed in my logs is that those lows are perilously hard to predict. I would take precautions using all my experience and judgement only to see my levels soar up into the teens overnight. Meanwhile I was still caught off-guard by lows when I least expected them. Nights with no obvious precipitating cause saw me wake up in the 3s. I kept it up for a good two or three weeks until I had got frustrated enough to stop. The percentage of lows per month was almost unchanged but my averages and variation went up markedly. I felt worse. I felt less on top of things. I went back to my 'normal' way.


Of course, now I had let the cat out of the bag. In requesting access to sensors I had flagged up my problem to my clinic - and now they were worried about me. So I was called in for a more rapid three month follow-up appointment to see how I was getting on. Delayed by a couple of Junior Doctor strikes I actually went to my follow-up appointment on 13th April. We discussed the issues I had been having and their suggestion was blindingly simple - to take less insulin. I recounted my experience of trying to tackle these very overnight lows and how elusive they had been to tie down. That my attempts had made little difference to my monthly percentage of readings below 4, but had resulted in a significantly raised BG average, greater variation in results and raised HbA1c. Their opinion was that I had plenty of wiggle room in my A1c, which was (at that appointment) 6.7% - My opinion was more that the raised A1c and no significant reduction in the issue itself was less than satisfactory.

I wondered how high my A1c would have to be to prevent hypoglycaemia altogether (which appears to be their preferred scenario). Raising it by 11mmol/mol (1% in 'old' numbers) had done nothing - so how high would I have to go 8%? 9%? Oh no!!! not that high! Nowhere near... And yet I could not get past the thought that on the days when these overnight lows happen, I appear to need very little insulin overnight - to apply that approach to the other 28 or so nights in a month would inevitably result in consistently elevated BG levels.

I was given two options - to leave things as they were, or to try a small reduction overnight to see if it would help. They were persistent. Reluctantly I agreed. I suggested that simply dropping my basal pattern down one 'notch' would do nothing on those troublesome nights - if it was going to do anything it would have to be at least two notches (0.05u/hour).

My intention was to 'do it their way' for the next 6 months, and then go back for my next review.

The first night.
The problem
But herein lies the problem. I was reluctantly agreeing. I had tried this before and it had failed. I was not expecting it to work. In fact part of me was expecting it to fail. Perhaps even wanting it to fail? This was a problem I wanted to fix - but this did not feel like the right way to go about it. And the insistence that it was fine for my levels to be higher and my A1c to go up 'a bit' was not an encouragement - it felt like a separation between our priorities. To be clear, I know why they were suggesting it to me - from the outside it is almost something I can see myself recommending to someone else on a forum. I hate having these overnight lows. I want to be able to prevent them. But not at the cost of 90% of my overnight readings. I guess I felt trapped. Like I was doing something against my better judgement.

It probably didn't help that the first night did not exactly go brilliantly. 5.3mmol/L to 12.7mmol/L, and then a dip below 4 after lunch. A tried and tested lunch that I have eaten literally hundreds of times before. But I had decided to do it their way. So I continued.

And I am glad that I did. Because the second night showed a much lower rise. And two or three days later I *may* have dodged one overnight low because rather than a small (or very significant) rise in BG overnight I actually stayed almost level and woke at 5.5mmol/L.

I wish I could leave it there, with the problem more or less solved. But unfortunately that is not how it worked out.

Owning your own targets
I have talked before about the importance of owning your own targets - whatever you decide them to be. And here I was - trying to run my diabetes someone else's way. For all the right reasons, but following a plan of action that did not feel my own. Resisting my own management instincts to try to do it someone else's way. Watching my daily averages and glucose variation rise. Still experiencing a very similar number of low-level dips under 4.

And the more days that passed, the more the weight of running my diabetes against my instincts pressed down around me. As days turned to weeks any small early victories began to be swallowed by my rising, uncorrected, daily averages.

Type 1 diabetes is a grind. Type 1 diabetes is frustrating. Daily management can involve making hundreds of small interconnected decisions. And my aim is usually to attempt to get my BG levels to approximately mid-range by 3 or 4 hours after eating. Except now, I was aiming to avoid hypoglycaemia at all costs (not actually part of the original decision, but more reflective of multiple conversations over a number of years). So I was letting high BGs run. Sometimes all day. And still the lows peppered my results. Marginally less frequently perhaps... but adding insult to injury. Frustration grew. My mood darkened.

All in the mind?
After three or four weeks I knew I was struggling. But I had decided to run things their way for six months so I gritted my teeth and tried to carry on.

This was a mistake.

Way back in my diabetes dark-ages, there was a time where I would only test a couple of times every few days. It was not unheard of for Jane to ask me to test if I was behaving in an unsually grumpy, frustrated or short-tempered way. More often than not it transpired that I was running high. I find high BGs frustrating anyway, in that they usually suggest some sort of miscalculation on my part - but it seems that there may also be some physiological association for me between high BG levels and low mood, frustration, anger, dispair and feelings of helplessness.

Six weeks after my appointment I had reached the point where I was beginning to behave more erratically in response to my elevated BGs. I was either rage bolusing (significantly over-correcting out of sheer frustration) or rage snacking (eating rapid acting carbs without insulin in response to a moderately high BG - if I was going to be high, I might as well have 'earned' it). I was noticeably more angry and frustrated - it was beginning to impact on the family. I came to a point where I had to regain some balance.

And so I have switched back to doing things 'my way'. I'm not sure how much of this story I will share when I return to clinic in 3 months or so, as I really do not think they did anything particularly wrong. This post is more a question of me facing my own demons really, and how my reluctantly handing-over some of the control I had fought so hard to wrestle back from my diabetes, resulted in a spiral downwards towards disengagement and depression.

What have I learned?
  • Owning your targets is crucial. T1D is too frustrating to try to play to someone else's rules.
  • Where I recognise there are problems to address - I need to do it with strategies I actually believe have a chance of succeeding.
  • That reducing basal insulin such that I get a slight rise overnight is not a disaster and may, very occasionally dodge a period of low BG overnight.
  • That there are useful lessons I can learn from the first two weeks of the experiment which I can try to apply to my own self-management framework.
  • That agreeing to do something in order to demonstrate that it doesn't work is a very silly idea when it comes to T1 self-management.
  • That I need to be careful about my psychological and emotional state during periods of elevated blood glucose.
  • It's your diabetes - trust your instincts.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.

    Posted by on Saturday, 7 May 2016

    Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

    Apologies for the interruption - the fluffy four-footed addition to our household has made finding time for blogging very difficult in recent months. Which is unfortunate really, because I have at least three or four posts waiting in the wings that I would really like to put together!

    We picked up our young Clumberdoodle pup at the beginning of April and time has absolutely flown by since. For a couple of months before Marvin's arrival we were busily DIYing and generally attempting to puppy-proof (ha!) the house and garden a little. It's all been a bit of a blur to be honest and reminded Jane and I of a heady combination of those weeks with a newborn babe, mixed in with a good dollop of toddler mischief and a hint of teenage experimentation and boundary-pushing. Fortunately Marvin is a dog who likes a nap, and can be persuaded to do pretty much anything for the promise of a bit of chicken or nibble of Schmacko.

    Around the middle of March I was chuffed to be invited by the wonderful Dr May Ng to speak at the North West Children and Young People's Network Education Day - if you'd like to get a glimpse of what went on I put together a Storify of the tweets. Alternatively, everyone's favourite Diabetes Dad, Kev Winchcombe wrote a great, but altogether far too modest blog post about the day. His talk was far more packed with laughs and interesting detail about diagnosis, transition, DIY APS and Nightscout than my blathering about spurious similarities between daily management of type 1 diabetes and Scalextric!

    In the coming months I am really hoping to post a follow up to my reflections on DPC2016 detailing what I picked up from Iain Cranston's fantastic presentation on interpreting CGM data and Ambulatory Glucose Profile reports.

    Additionally I have seen a number of conflicting reports/research about cholesterol and Statins in recent weeks and I'd really like to post something about that - if only to be able to process it a little myself.

    Thirdly, I am honoured to have been invited by Abbott to attend an event in Stockholm in June called 'Dx' which looks to be really very interesting indeed.

    Lastly I have been quietly working with a few other DOC legends (quite how I managed to scrape into their hallowed company is beyond me) on something I am only half-jokingly calling "Project Enormous". We hope that soon - perhaps in the next month or two - it will reach the point where we can release it into the wild and see if it has any 'legs', and lives up to the promise of the idea.

    Exciting times.

    Hope your BGs play fair in the meantime and thanks, as ever, for reading.

    Disclaimer. For my attendance at the North West Diabetes Network Education Day my travel and accommodation expenses were generously paid, but no speaker's fees were offered or received.