Seven months ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and my life became a great deal more complicated. For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with diabetes, here’s the wikipedia DL: type 1 diabetes is a disease where my wacky immune system decided to destroy the cells in my pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone, a chemical signal that tells my cells to absorb glucose from my bloodstream. Without insulin, my body doesn’t absorb glucose, but I continue to break down the food I eat into glucose, and so glucose builds up in my blood. Having high concentrations of glucose in my blood can cause all sorts of health problems, including starvation, wasting away and dying.
To prevent those problems, I have to do three things: monitor my blood glucose, understand how the food I eat will affect my blood sugar, and give myself injections of manufactured insulin in lieu of the insulin my pancreas should be secreting. Treating diabetes is all about the blood sugar: if I’m careful about keeping my blood sugar within the same range of a non-diabetic, the long-term impact on my health is pretty low.
The first thing I noticed when I started monitoring by blood sugar and giving myself insulin injections was how much trash I produced. Everything in diabetes care is disposable. I test my blood six times a day with disposable plastic test strips, and I prick my fingers for the blood tests with disposable lancets. I sterilize (in theory) my fingers and my injection sites with disposable alcohol wipes. I inject insulin with disposable needles from disposable plastic pens. I had become a veritable whirlwind of trash.
The diabetic’s toolkit:
The second thing I noticed when I went to the pharmacy for my first refill was the price tag. Standard supplies for treating diabetes easily cost about $3000/year, and getting more precise devices that give you better control of your blood sugar can make that cost skyrocket. Even with insurance, it’s expensive, and as a self-employed guy, finding health insurance as a diabetic can be insanely expensive.
Now, I like to be very deliberate about how I live my life. I like to have the freedom to choose how to work, where to live, what to buy and how to work. A diabetes diagnosis was a great big obstacle to all those preferences. I’m tied to insurance companies and pharmacies and doctors, and I want to minimize those dependencies. Over the past seven months, I’ve become intimately familiar with my body’s food-insulin-blood sugar feedback loop and the tools we have available to manage diabetes. One of the things I like best is hacking and building devices, and after using the tools currently out there, I think I can do it better. The next set of blog posts will be the story of me trying to build DIY versions of the supplies and tools I need to manage my diabetes.