A few days ago, I woke up to the wailing of my Dexcom continuous glucose monitor on my nightstand. I keep it set to vibrate, but if that vibration alert is ignored for several minutes, audio alerts automatically kick in to force me to pay attention.
In big, bold, red letters the iPod-sized device told me I was LOW, less than 55 mg/dL.
Thanks to modern technology and do-it-yourself ingenuity, my Android phone sitting right next to my CGM medical device was also working to keep me safe.
As noted before, I've been hooked up to the Nightscout-xDrip do-it-yourself CGM in the Cloud setup for an entire year now. Remember, that Hypo That Changed My Mind last year? I’ve been connected ever since, mostly when I am traveling, but often also in the morning hours when I’m home alone.
Thanks to that system, my real-time CGM data gets sent directly from my Dexcom receiver with built-in Bluetooth to an app on my Android phone, and it's then beamed to the Cloud. From there, it's sent to my wife’s phone and her Pebble watch for easy viewing.
On this particular morning, my LOW reading made her smartwatch vibrate while she was on her way to work, which prompted her to call me right away.
Had she not done that, I may not have actually responded to that LOW reading, but may very well have gone back to sleep instead… entering very dangerous territory.
At that <55 point, I was certainly feeling the hypo – blurry vision, noodle-like legs, a wave of bone-penetrating shivers, and that general sense of... fear. A sense that I was alone, extremely low, and in danger of not being able to treat myself or losing consciousness completely.
Fortunately, my wife called and her voice snapped me into treatment mode; a couple of Sunny Delights, a muffin, and one banana later, I was moving quickly upwards toward the higher end of my BG range.
Melodramatic as it may be, I credit my smartphone for saving my life that morning. After all, the phone is just as much part of my medical device setup these days as the FDA-approved device itself!
This got me thinking about how powerful our modern-day D-technology really is -- which shouldn't come as a surprise when we’re marking the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future" this month, and it’s 2015, the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to in that movie sequel (even if we don’t yet have flying cars and hoverboards).
Direct-to-Smartphone: Dexcom G5 Mobile
Just take for example the new Dexcom G5 system, which began shipping a few weeks ago and is just now starting to garner real-life feedback from people in the Diabetes Community.
I had ordered my upgrade at the end of September and expected to have it by now, but a week ago Dexcom reported it’s inventory was depleted and orders were backlogged. So, now the company says it could be December before my G5 arrives.
Granted, it’s only available for iPhones right now so those of us using Android are out of luck until sometime next year, but I am excited about this next step in mobile D-tech.
Years ago, I chatted with Dexcom's then-CEO Terry Gregg about how the company was just moving into the mHealth arena and getting ready for this direct-to-smartphone technology. At the time, they were still in discussions with FDA, trying to persuade the agency that including a phone in a medical system like this was OK. I vividly remember Terry saying then that phone companies like Apple and Android did not want to get into the medical device business; they were cautious about moving their phones into that category, putting them into the sights of FDA regulation.
Oh, how far we’ve come!
Yet there are still concerns... aired eloquently by our tech-savvy friend and fellow diabetic Scott Hanselman, who a wrote an insightful review of the G5 a few days ago over on his blog. His summary: “So much wasted potential.” Wow, that sure caught our attention.
While he loves Dexcom and lauds this latest-generation device as having much to offer, Scott points out that this G5 is very reliant on the phone, which causes some downsides.
Namely, it doesn’t fill in gaps in data, and sometimes the Bluetooth just loses connection.
That really concerns me, because I feel like we are moving to a point where we’re so reliant on our devices (including phones) that we’re losing a sense of what diabetes management was before this technology. Yes, new tech can be lifesaving -- but it can also be detrimental if we become so reliant that we don’t know how to survive or be calm without it.
Balancing Diabetes Tech and Know How
My point is that it's like teaching kids to understand math before they get a calculator -- otherwise, if no calculator is around, they may have trouble doing the simplest equations in their head (like many adults I know!). If your life depended on that math, you wouldn't want to be completely helpless without the tech device.
I feel like that's where we're heading with diabetes. I’m a big proponent of new gadgets that help us, but I’m equally an advocate for making sure people have the basic knowledge to survive without the tech. A big part of that goes back to advocating for better, more accessible diabetes education overall.
A former endo of mine once looked in me in the eye as I pitched her on prescribing me a new insulin pump, and flat out said: “It’s not the device, it’s the person. If you aren’t doing what you have to do, the gadget doesn’t matter.”
Touché to that former endo.
Bottom line: I love the technology and very much appreciate that my phone can help keep me safe, but I’m just as responsible for making sure I understand why those lows are happening and doing something about it, old-school style.