There is something really compelling about hacks. From little tricks to repurpose inexpensive furniture to new ways to use clothespins, the ideas that people come up with just look so simple, and yet they seem to produce great improvements to our quality of life. I really kind of believe in hacks, especially with regard to type 1 diabetes.
See, hacks by definition are small things. They are changes you can make to already good things or processes that dramatically improve functioning. The basics of diabetes management are not hacks. They’re the foundation and the things with which we start. Checking blood sugar is not a hack, nor is giving insulin or treating a low. These are the bedrock of a good life with diabetes. These are the quality construction or ingenious invention that all hacks start with. The hacks are the individualized, creative solutions that we come up with to help us better employ the basic tasks of diabetes management.
I’ve never put together an exhaustive list of our family’s hacks before, but I probably should. [Edit: And…I just did. Find it here.]
I’ll share a really simple one that just came up in James’ life recently. I’ve shared our system for keeping supplies on James before, but to recap: It comes down to cargo shorts. We’re fortunate to live in a climate that allows for nearly 365 days of decent shorts weather. In his shorts, he has a pocket for his pump, a pocket for his phone, which helps run his continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and a pocket for a meter. The last pocket is supposed to hold a sugar source.
When James fills all four of his pockets, he is a self-sufficient diabetes machine. I love that he doesn’t need to remember anything, that everything is ON his person so long as he leaves the house with full pockets.
But we ran into a snag. While I can easily send him off to scout meetings with a juice box in his pocket, that same juice box doesn’t look great when it has spent an entire day at school. We were finding that we were kind of wasting juice boxes that way. So he needed a different solution for school. For a while we used glucose tabs in a small tube. James really liked that solution because it was lighter than juice, but we had the same problem — the tubes would get really beat up. Additionally, James would need to use so many tabs that we’d go through them really quickly. And glucose tabs had two more strikes against them: They were a little expensive, and more importantly, they were difficult for me to keep replenishing because I couldn’t buy them at any of the grocery stores I usually shop at or the pharmacy where I get James’ diabetes supplies.
So our solution had to change. We decided that for school only, we wouldn’t send sugar on his person. Instead, we’d stock all of the classrooms with it. Initially we were hesitant to go that route, because it seemed like it would be a lot of work to keep up with five different middle school classrooms. Finally we came up with the idea to keep a large bottle of glucose tabs in each classroom. This worked for us, because although the initial investment was a little high, the tabs stayed in good condition in the classrooms, they probably wouldn’t need to be replaced throughout the school year, and the containers could be reused as long as James was in middle school. In other words, I only needed to buy them once.
All the steps we took to get to that point are so mundane, but I think the lesson for diabetes hacks holds: Keep what works. Try new things. Explore different options. Don’t be too quick to rule things out. And recognize that tiny changes can make big improvements in quality of life.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.