In case you’re wondering what having a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) is like…

The coolest high-tech medical device that I use is definitely my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It monitors my blood sugar by testing every five minutes to see where I am, which has been incredibly useful for planning and finding trends in my blood sugars. For example: my blood sugar tends to drop a little bit around two in the morning, so to prevent overnight lows I’ve started going to bed a bit higher than I normally would.

It’s also been useful for catching highs and lows before they get severe. This is the main reason why I got it, actually–I’ve had diabetes for almost nineteen years now and I’ve lost a lot of my ability to feel my blood sugar fluctuations, so it requires me to be really low or really high before I can feel the effects. Not only is this dangerous because it can render me unable to treat it without help, but it also has long-term implications for my health.

The CGM can sense when my blood sugar is rising or dropping, and it alerts me when it gets above or below a certain level. It’s particularly useful at night when I’m even more susceptible to severe lows because my blood sugar has to be dangerously low before I wake up. But the CGM wakes me up (I’m a light sleeper and man, is that buzzing LOUD!) way before it gets to that point. It gives me a sense of security.

Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. The FDA has not approved it to fully replace the traditional manual blood sugar testing (you know, the one that involves a finger prick and a little machine) because it’s not 100% accurate so I’m not completely rid of the traditional blood sugar testing. I always test before treating a high or low, and at a minimum I have to test every twelve hours so that I can recalibrate the CGM. That being said, it’s still greatly reduced the number of times I check my blood sugar during the day from 10-12 down to 2-3.

The other way in which it isn’t perfect relates directly to roller derby (and other forms of exercise). There is a bit of a lag with the CGM when my blood sugars are rising or falling rapidly. The CGM could read that my blood sugar is 140 when actually it’s 90 and dropping, or it could read 140 when it’s actually 200 and rising.

This doesn’t happen often (my blood sugars don’t generally rise or fall that rapidly), so it’s not like this is happening daily, but it makes it tricky when I’m exercising. During bouts, for example, I manually test my blood sugar every time I’m on the bench just to be on the safe side since the extra rush of adrenaline I get from the excitement of bouting can have unpredictable effects on my blood sugar. So again, I’m not completely free of the manual finger-sticking mildly bloody form of blood sugar testing.

But overall, the positives far outnumber the negatives for the CGM.

A note on the way it works, for those of you who are unfamiliar with current diabetes technology: the CGM comes in three parts (the sensor, the transmitter, and the receiver). The sensor is the little bit that actually tests my blood sugar. It’s a little sensor that sits on my stomach with a piece that goes under my skin and looks a little bit like a reversed antenna. I have to change it every week or so, but since the sensor kits come with applicators, it’s pretty easy to do. After the first couple of weeks, I felt pretty comfortable with it and now it takes me about two minutes to change the whole set. Even though there’s a piece an inch or two long that sits under my skin, I can’t really feel it so it doesn’t hurt. And it holds up to a tough roller derby practice in the July heat, so they’re pretty durable.

The second part, the transmitter, is a little grey piece that snaps onto the sensor site and transmits the reading to the third part, the receiver. It sticks out a little bit, so if I’m wearing something tight across my stomach you can see a little thing that sticks out, but it’s not obtrusive enough for me to feel awkward or uncomfortable about it.

And the receiver is the part that I actually interact with. It’s a little device that looks a bit like an older cell phone (anyone remember the LG Chocolate phones in the late 2000s? It looks like one of those) and shows me my blood sugar reading on a graph over time. I can zoom in close enough to see the graph trend for the past hour, or far enough to show me where I’ve been over the past 12 hours. I prefer to keep it at the level where I can see where I’ve been for the past two hours because otherwise it looks too dense or doesn’t give me enough historical data.

On the receiver, I can also enter my blood sugar when recalibrating, I can change the levels at which it alerts me that my blood sugar is high or low, and I can shut it off if I need to. There’s also functionality for me to enter my meals, exercise, and insulin, but I don’t use that so I can’t speak for how that works.

It’s a really cool device, especially considering that when I was diagnosed in the mid-1990s the blood sugar monitoring technology consisted of a huge boxy meter that required a pretty big blood sample (big enough that it was difficult for a five-year-old’s tiny fingers) and took 45 seconds to count down to give me a reading!