Tomorrow, it will be exactly 18 months since I first got hooked up to Medtronic's original Guardian RT and I got to learn for the first time what truly amazing things my blood sugar could be doing while I wasn't looking.
Back then, the device looked straight out of the 1980s. The monitor was cumbersome and heavy and had a tendency to make a death leap from my waistband more than once a day. The numbers were real-time, but the graphs weren't. To figure out the trend, the true value of this device, you had to scroll back through the last dozen or so numbers and draw a mental picture of where you were going.
But compared to fingersticks alone, compared to what I'd had for the previous 23 years, this thing was a revolution. The drawbacks of irritation from the adhesive and the size of both the transmitter and the monitor were easily outweighed by the information it gave me. And the timing for me could not have been better, coming just days after the diagnosis of Addison's threw a huge spanner into the workings of my diabetes.
From the get-go, I didn't want to not have regular access to this technology ever again. I couldn't see that I'd ever really want to be without out. That still holds true, but I cannot believe it was only 18 months ago. Things have come so far since then.
After starting up with the Guardian I cycled between that and a loaner 722 until I got my own 522 pump which I've been using for the last 14 months. The real-time graphs were as much of a revolutionary step-up from the numbers alone as the numbers alone had been from fingerstick data. We've all heard the analogy about it being like driving with the windshield uncovered for the first time. It's true.
CGM really has made an enormous difference to me. Right back at the beginning it was the biggest single thing in helping me retrieve my confidence, bruised and battered as it was from countless episodes of severe hypoglycaemia as my cortisol deficiency went undiagnosed. It was the major reason I went back to work so soon and makes a regular difference to my working life now.
As a dentist, I cannot afford to be hypoglycaemic on the job. For my patients' safety. For my safety and the safety of the people who work with me. Even if a high-speed drill in hypoglycaemic hands weren't dangerous, how would I be able to do a good job, a job up to my high standards, if my brain were fogged by a low? I couldn't, plain and simple.
Previously, my only defence against lows was regular fingersticks, prevention and relying on my symptoms to alert me to quick drops between tests. With my hypoglycaemia awareness shot by recurrent lows and so many years of diabetes, I lost that weapon. The only other way I could see to cope was letting myself run higher, much higher, during the working day. That would have meat trading the immediate risks for the long term risk of my practicing life being cut short by complications such as retinopathy and neuropathy, as well as making me feel awful.
I do run looser targets at work, for safety's sake and because my mind is very focused on the job and not always so much on diabetes. But with my CGM in pocket to alert me when things are amiss, I feel safer. Without the worry of diabetes I stay focused and my patients get the best of me. And the targets are still tight enough that I haven't had an A1c over 6.6 in the last 18 months.
And outside of work, it makes innumerable differences too. I've written before about the difference between a blood sugar of 5.5 that is stable versus one that is going down or up. More than 50% of my bolus calculations are now influenced by the information about where I'm coming from and likely to be going to. Travelling across time zones, working out at the gym and living alone are all helped by the numbers from my CGM.
Of course I can, and did, do all these things without that information. Many people lived with diabetes long before even fingersticks were available. Anyone who strives for good control wouldn't dream of doing that now, and I'm beginning to feel the same about CGM. After all, a healthy body knows where it's at at all times, why shouldn't I?
There are drawbacks, of course. A recurrent problem is irritation from the transmitter rubbing on my skin, although I've recently begun placing a piece of gauze under the transmitter, which seems to help. I've written before about accuracy, and while it's true that I have few problems and I find the trend is almost always right, screwy sensors do happen.
I can get burned out by it too. Rob recently described my pump/CGM combo as a little bit like being permanently attached to a Tamogotchi pet, and it was a good analogy. When the fifth or sixth alert of the day starts up, I sometimes want to kill it! Sometimes when my numbers stay consistently above the high target range I get frustrated much more easily than I would by a series of fingersticks showing the same trend.
The bottom line though is that I still love it. The breaks I take these days are mainly for financial reasons. Eighteen months on, I'm still no nearer securing funding but the longer I go on using CGM, the happier I am about choosing to forgo something else and instead spend the money on sensors. I can't really give it a much higher endorsement than that.