Dexy’s midnight run, part 1

These people round here
Wear beaten-down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces
They’re so resigned to what their fate is
But not us (no, never)
No, not us (no, never)
We are far too young and clever (remember)
Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye
And you’ll hum this tune forever
    –Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Resigned to what my fate is? Not quite. But I am willing to see what the powers-that-be have in store for me before deciding if I want or need to change it. And if a change is in order, I’ll find a clever way to make it happen.

I decided it’s time to give “Plan B”, A.K.A. Dexy, a try

New Blue DexRather than continue to fight the insurance company battle, I went ahead and ordered the Dexcom G4. (yes, it’s the one that also has “platinum” and “share” in its name, but “Dexcom Platinum G4 with Share” is just as much a mouthful as “Medtronic Minimed 530G with Enlite”, so I’ve decided to shorten the name).

I had weighed the options almost a year ago. Some things have changed since then, some have not.

Still, it seems that so many others have tried it and liked it. And those who didn’t like it? They loved it. So I can’t lose (despite my hesitations), right? After a year of using a loaner 530G (disclosure here), I figured I could commit to a year (the insurance-eligibility period) of the Dexcom G4. Or perhaps 30 days, given the return policy, if I didn’t like it — though that would lead me back to my initial predicament.

The order-process was pretty much painless, and as I expected. The insertion, guided only by the Dexcom-provided videos (because I’m too cheap to pay the $40 copay to visit my endo’s office for proper training) was also pretty much painless. It was still a bit weird-feeling at first, but either the feeling dissipated or I got used to it.

As for my reaction (after wearing it for six days, as of this writing), it’s not exactly what I had expected.

OUT OF THE BOX / CHARGING

I’d suspected that I would need to charge the receiver. The documentation said I needed to charge the receiver. The documentation said that the battery icon would appear “fully green” when it was charged.

I spent about a half hour trying to figure out if my receiver was charged or not, because all I saw was a vertically-oriented, FULLY WHITE, battery icon. I let the thing charge for three hours, and still had the same thing, so I concluded that either it must be either charged, or broken.

Apparently, the old G4 has a nice-sized horizontally-oriented battery icon which turns GREEN when it’s charged (and has an easy-to-see lightning-bolt symbol on it when charging). But the G4 with Share has a tiny vertically-oriented white icon (which goes to black as the battery drains), I guess to make room for the new Bluetooth icon that may sit next to it.

The documentation hadn’t been updated, and though I’ve seen a zillion Dexcom G4 photos in blogs, I couldn’t find one of the G4 with Share online – presumably because everyone just takes screenshots of their iPhones, which is much easier to do.

Also, over the next few days, I discovered that the Dexcom receiver can’t be charged by a normal USB cord, and my phone won’t charge with my Dexcom charger — which is really frustrating considering I have two identical-yet-incompatible micro-USB cords resting on my nightstand. It also explains why my phone battery is presently dead.

Verdict: disappointing

INSERTION / MECHANICS

May 2014 prediction on Insertion: “Intuitive, relatively painless. My CDE says that most patients can do it well without training”
May 2014 prediction on Transmitter Mechanics: “Big and boxy, snaps securely into place. Visually hides sensor.”

This may be true. I took my time to do it right, watching the video with my laptop resting on the bed (I haven’t yet joined the iThing-generation, hence you will find nothing about Share here. Also, the “offical” tutorial videos come with the unit on compact disc, and iThings don’t have CD-ROM drives).

Immediately after insertion, I looked down at the thing and thought to myself:

Big Dex

THIS THING IS FREAKING HUGE!

It stood out from the skin like a brick, and had that ugly, gigantic white football-shaped adhesive (imperfectly applied; hence the wrinkle) surrounding it. And this is with the newer, slimmer transmitter! Turns out, the “sensor pod” that it snaps into adds plenty of bulk itself.

Compare this to the Medtronic transmitter which sits off to the side.  After my Enlite sensor expired, I tried to tape it next to this one just to illustrate the comparison. The tape-job is awful, but the Enlite is noticeably much flatter.

Dex vs Enlite

I had been in close contact with (No More Shots For) Shannon during this process, since she was just beginning a week-long trial of the G4 at the same time. She had just inadvertently knocked her sensor off around the same time I put mine on, so I didn’t have a good feeling about this oversized CGM. I’ve heard of this happening before, and it only happened to me once in four years with the MedT system.

It was easy to insert, though. And I could see how it can be done one-handed on “alternate” sites; something that is quite difficult with the Enlite.  In the end, the size difference is a trade-off of one dimension for another. The larger surface-area of the Enlite causes problems as the body moves and the skin twists and stretches, yet the height of the Dexcom makes it more delicate and prone to damage.

And one more thing — after getting an hour of ???’s on my Dexcom screen following my shower for the next two days, I discovered that the transmitter wasn’t fully snapped into place. I guess the self-training wasn’t as effective as I had thought. But after I snapped it in (hoping no moisture was trapped in there), I was back in business in about half an hour.

Verdict: undecided.

RECEIVER / GRAPH

May 2014 prediction on Receiver: “Extra device to carry around — carefully, or the buttons fall off.”
May 2014 prediction on Graph:”High-res, easy to read. Not a fan of using “red” for high, as the color incites rage on top of the inherent high-BG frustration. Three levels of trend-up arrows and three levels of trend-down arrows.”

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about carrying an extra device around. But I find that at work and in the car, I kinda prefer it. It’s small and light enough to slip into a shirt pocket, and I can easily access it (or set the receiver on my desk) without fiddling around with the pump clipped near a more private part of my body. When I found myself refereeing my son’s soccer game over the weekend (because the ref never showed up), I used the included belt-pouch clipped to my belt. The way it opens up, orienting the display in a manner suitable for looking down at it, was nice. But the pouch was very tight, and I suspect it’s responsible for so many of those those USB-port covers popping off.

The display is, without a doubt, magnificent. I didn’t think I’d much care about it, but it’s really nice and pleasing to the eye. I can now see myself letting the display factor into my choice of D-devices. I was mistaken, though, when I said last year that the red color was used for a high. In fact, it’s used for a low, but I still don’t like it. Red-on-black is difficult to read — and it still incites a Holy-shit-I’m-gonna-die-gotta-do-something-NOW! response, which I don’t like. Especially since, without predictive alerts (more on that later), the threshold is set where I want to know about it, not where I’m really in trouble.

I miss the ability to scroll-back to see prior BGs.  The trend-arrows give an idea of what’s going on, but I used to like to look back 5 or 10 minutes to assess for myself which way I’m trending and at what rate. Perhaps over time I’ll grow to understand and trust them, but not yet. And the horizontal (east) arrow is misleading, because there is ALWAYS a subtle rise or fall with my BG. Always.

Verdict: pleasantly surprised.

ALARMS

May 2014 prediction: “Only one high- and one low-threshold. No predictive alerts. Dex-in-a-glass workaround.”

First things first; I have my Dexcom receiver set for audible alerts (“Attentive”, to be exact.)  Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to do that — but there are enough vibrating alerts that precede the audible alert, in any profile, that I’m comfortable doing so. The vibrating alert is stronger than expected, with different patterns (which I’m still learning) for different alerts, and the audible alert is plenty loud for me.

Clearing the alerts is easy. Just press the center Select button. Since the receiver is a CGM only, it always works. I did catch myself once pressing Select-Right, to mimic the ESC-ACT sequence of the Medtronic. (Also, the Medtronic sequence is awkward; sometimes the alert doesn’t clear on the first shot — it depends what’s shown on the screen at the time.)

But that’s where the pleasantries end.

This is what a low alert looks like: (that white rectangle in the top corner is actual a gray area with some white trend-line dots that just didn’t come out in the photo).

LOW alert

That is what EVERY low alert looks like.  Whether my sensor glucose level is 85 or 65.  It shows the threshold limit, not the actual sensed glucose level, and an icon of a trend-line that seems to be flattening out.  A high alert is similar. It shows a giant 165 mg/dl (which is my set threshold), even if my sensed glucose level is really 265.

If I was 85 and my trend-line was flattening out, and perhaps making an upward tick, I’d be comfortable.  But this was the reality of the situation at that time:

LOW graph

Quite a different story, and quite a different response.

I appreciate the gigantic number in the alert, but for God’s sake, why can’t the number be correct!?!

But that’s not my biggest complaint about the alerts.

The beauty of the Medtronic CGM system is that there were NO SURPRISES. I was never caught off-guard by a high or low glucose reading, because I had a “Predicted Low” or “Predicted High” alert that preceded it. I’d also gotten in the habit of acting on those predicted alerts, in hopes that the actual BG-excursion wouldn’t go too far. But with the Dexcom, I’ve had plenty of surprises. I’ve found myself, more times than before, frustratingly trying to recover from an out-of-range BG than avoiding one.

I’ve tried playing with the settings, moving the thresholds tighter so that I get alerts earlier. Adjusting the “Snooze” settings (which will re-alert if the BG is still out of range) to be more frequent. Tweaking the Rise-Rate and Fall-Rate settings (which only have two settings, by the way: 2 mg/dL/min or 3 mg/dl/min). But I just don’t think I can make up for the loss of predicted alerts. But I’ve got time left in my trial, so I’m going to try…

Verdict: I can honestly see the absence of a Predictive Alert leading to my A1C rising or to more severe low BGs. We’re not talking convenience or niceties anymore. This could very well prove to be a reason for me to want to switch back to the Medtronic system.

***

Next time… I’ll share my observations on accuracy, data reporting, landfill-contribution, and trustworthiness.

 

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Posted on April 29, 2015, in Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), Diabetes. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I’m glad you’re trying it and can’t wait to hear more!

    But WAIT! Re “That is what EVERY low alert looks like. Whether my sensor glucose level is 85 or 65.” When you have a low under 55 you hit a new screen!

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    • That may be true, but I’m used to seeing LOW 78 or LOW 64 or LOW 57 (or HIGH 160 or HIGH 285) with my Medtronic CGM. It tells me, without any effort, how dire the situation may be. Always putting the same number on the screen seems stupid to me. Maybe it’s just a matter of what I’m accustomed to….

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  2. Always good to read about the pros who are comparing devices, so thanks for that!
    And, my kiddo always keeps her receiver in the clip case, which does relax a little over time, but not much. No button failure going on 1.5 years. I can imagine the only time she’ll use it without the case is when the Dex-in-a-glass trick actually wakes her up! Look forward to your next report!

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  3. Thanks for the post, Scott. I find your observations interesting. As a G4 user since Aug 2013, and someone who tried out the 530G for a month, I personally found the G4 to be accurate much more often than MedT’s. Yes, MedT offered a predictive alert — which would be great and much better, had it worked for me. It didn’t. And when it said I was low or going low, a majority of the time that was inaccurate and my concurrent G4 readings showed what was actually going on in that moment (confirmed an hour later, when studying the effect from both to triple-check). The alerts — Yep, you get the “Currently Low” and then the “Below 55” alerts when they cross those thresholds. And I found those to be accurate roughly 80% of the time, compared to the 530G being wrong about that same amount of time. For me, an extra button click to see where exactly my blood sugar is at below the threshold number wasn’t a big deal. Same with higher ones. YDMV. Anyhow, opinions vary and whatever your choice, I hope it’s what works best for you.

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    • Accuracy is something I’ll get to in my next post…and (teaser) what you are going to read may shock you! 🙂 Seriously though, the extra button-push should not a big deal – especially if it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to (as of now, I haven’t) – but it’s one of those little things that bugs me that no one considered a better way. Still, I can’t fathom why they decided to print the number of the threshold rather than the actual sensor BG value.

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  4. Great post! I agree with almost all of it. I also noticed the fact that when it says LOW it shows the bottom number of my threshold vs my actual bg. And I do miss the predictive alerts. And I can only imagine what you’ll say about contributing to the landfill – because that was one of my first thoughts when I put that first site in last week. 🙂 I did, however, find that it was very accurate all week. I had one bad calibration, that was easily corrected, and that was my fault. One of my favorite things was the range in which it can still read the transmitter, though. That, and the Share feature. But, to be fair, like we’ve discussed, I’ve never worn the Enlite and was planning to switch to that in October when my current warranty was up, but this opportunity to test out the Dexcom came up and I found that I really liked it. I’ve considered wearing both at the same time to get a true comparison – but I don’t know if I can convince myself to wear 3 sites at once. haha Can’t wait to read your next one!

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  5. Thanks for your review. When I switched from Medtronic, I initially missed the ability to scroll back and look at numbers. I still don’t quite understand why Dexcom doesn’t allow that because it shouldn’t be that hard to include. But I got used to it and never think about it anymore. The Dex transmitter is bigger but redeems itself by not needing all the extra tape that Medtronic requires. (There are some definite tricks to getting it to stick for two weeks and I’ll be sure to share them with you if you decide to stay with Dexcom.) Because I’ve never used the Enlite, I really can’t be critical of it. You’ve read enough of my stuff to know that I would be very hesitant to leave Dexcom but I will continue to miss the “system” that Medtronic so expertly provides. Looking forward to reading your next post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right about weighing the merits of a product by itself versus a whole system. In some cases, the system can overcome the shortcomings of a product. But the very nature of a system can limit its ability to easily upgrade components while navigating the regulatory environment that applies more scrutiny to systems than to standalone devices. Definitely something to think about.

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  1. Pingback: Dexy’s midnight run, part too (ra-loo-ra) | Rolling in the D

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