Sweet Geek

Thoughts on Health and Nutrition

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The A1c Is a Lie: How Mildly Bad Blood Sugar Levels Nearly Crippled Me

I’d like to share my experience living with “mildly bad” blood sugar levels, e.g. 140-200. In some circles, I realize this is not news, and they preach that anything over 140 can cause complications. Instead I am quoting every doctor who’s ever looked at my A1c or my daily blood sugar readings, and congratulated me on being “well controlled”, or only “mildly bad” but certainly not bad enough to either a) cause complications or b) warrant my requests for Metformin and insulin.

For two years, I was camping in that magical range. Not bad enough to get anyone with a prescription pad to take me seriously, but evidently bad enough to cause trouble.

One day while eating breakfast, I had a sharp stabbing pain in my right thumb. I yelped and clutched my hand, wondering what the hell had just happened. For the next 15 minutes, anytime I bent my thumb, the pain would return and I couldn’t think or move. Just waited for it to go away. This happened on/off for a week before I saw my doctor. They assumed that I must have somehow injured my thumb and had me splint it for 2 weeks. While splinted, my thumb didn’t hurt but when my two weeks were up and I took off the splint, the pain kept coming back.

I’m going to skip the very long rant/sob story where I spent the next 12 months seeing doctor after doctor, the best specialists money could buy in Chicago, and enduring three very painful (and failed) steroid injections. By the end of that year, they had investigated a number of possible diagnoses from trigger finger to carpel tunnel, but my thumb was still just as bad, and now both my hands were aching day and night as well.

Let me step back for a moment. I am a computer programmer and when I introduce myself I like to joke that “I am paid to type”. What I was going through wasn’t just about the pain, it was a threat to my entire career and sense of self. I was severely limited in how much I could work, and thanks to all the hoops I was jumping through with my keyboard and mouse to minimize the pain, was noticeably reducing my productivity. I didn’t know why but I was quickly becoming crippled, too disabled to work, play with my nephews, clean the house, button my pants…

Then I got lucky. In tears, I explained to my doctor that this was killing me and I needed an option other than exploratory surgery. She sent me to a physical therapist because she didn’t know what else to do with me.

The therapist measured the range of motion in my thumb, fingers and wrists then very bluntly said that if I didn’t figure out the cause, I really would be crippled. She showed me how my hands could barely open up anymore. I had “claws” instead of hands and was doing little things every day to compensate for it. I started a course of treatment, where she would massage my hands for an hour 3 times a week, which sounds pleasant until you see how she did it!

She would press those metal tools deep into my skin, working along the tendons, between the bones in my hands and in my joints. I could feel it scraping against these gritty lumps that I didn’t even know where underneath my skin. They were everywhere but especially on my tendons. Slowly, this “massage” broke up the insidious scar tissue and I could open my hands a bit further. After each session, my hands would double in size, hot angry red and I’d immerse them in ice for an hour afterwards, not feeling the cold.

It was some tough love but it worked. Over the weeks, I learned that this was from my diabetes. It wasn’t “just trigger finger” like the over-paid specialists thought. It was deposits caused by high blood sugar, coating my joints, sticking to my muscles and tendons.

After 3 months, the treatment was complete, or rather my insurance was done paying for it. She sent me on my way with instructions on how to massage my hands 10 times a day, flexing and pulling my fingers to prevent the claws from coming back. It’s been a year since I stopped treatment. I still follow what she says every day. Not because I’m a trooper, but because if I skip this for even ½ a day, my hands stiffen up. If I skip for a week, the thumb pain comes back in full force.

I was nearly crippled by my diabetes. My blood sugar wasn’t scary high. My worst A1c was 6.9, but most of the time was “just” 6.1. After fighting with doctors for over a year, I’m finally on Metformin and basal insulin, bringing my blood sugar down bit by bit. My hands are getting better since starting insulin; I only have to massage and go through my therapy routine 4 times a day.

I’m not sharing this to solicit advice or sympathy. I just want you to know that this or something else could happen to you. If your doctor is anything like the five that I have gone through, they may tell you that your blood sugar is fine. Don’t believe them.

Hurling Insulin

Rather than explain my multi-year hiatus, I’ll just jump right in with a video demonstrating how I hurl insulin. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks on how things have been going since my last update…

I was describing to someone new to diabetes how I “chuck my pen like a dart”, and realized that my silly metaphor was causing confusion instead of providing reassurance on how easy injecting insulin can be.

A couple points:

  • Insulin pens are awesome and syringes give me the willies.
  • Hold the pen like a dart, lightly between your fingers.
  • With the cap on, practice pretending to “throw” the pen like a dart. A single, smooth motion moving at a reasonable pace.
  • Do NOT put the needle up to your skin and push it in.
  • I much prefer my hips or the side of my fat tire to my belly.

With this, 99% of the time I don’t feel the injection at all, and wouldn’t know that I had just poked myself if I wasn’t watching.

Review: Crystal Cat Litter

All he ever wanted was to poop outside
Courtesy of icanhascheezburger.com

Below are my previous reviews of cat litter:

I have been field testing crystal cat litter for 6 months. “Crystal” cat litter is made from Silica, just like those little packets of crystal beads with the warning “do not eat!” you often find in packaging to keep things fresh.

I started with Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Long Haired Litter because I like their clay litter and it was available at my local pet store. It was a bit pricey though and isn’t sold in bulk quantities so I have tried a few others, notably PetSmart’s ExquisiCat Crystals and Petco Crystal Cat Litter.

They are simiar enough that I’m lumping them all together and will call out any important differences.

Clumping

Crystal litter does not clump which is a big difference from most litters. The way it works is that you scoop out any “solids” and the “liquids” are absorbed by the crystals which are replace regularly. FYI, I love euphemisms for poop and pee! :–)

Silica is extremely absorbant and holds many times its own weight in urine. It starts out clear/white and each time you scoop, you stir up any yellow spots to spread it out and prevent their favorite corners from becoming saturated while other parts of the box go unused. After a 2-3 weeks, when the litter is a uniform light yellow, I dump the entire box, scrub it and start over.

Odor Control

Each of the brands include some extra ingredient to deal with urine odors. I don’t notice any fragrance or smell from the fresh litter, which is my preference. I want my house to smell like I don’t have cats, not like their litter, even if it is clean!

None of the brands covered up the smell of poop as well as traditional litters. I believe that’s because the crystals don’t completely coat and cover like clay. I find that after scooping, I have to immediately take out the trash and can’t get away with putting it in a temporary trash can like I could with clay. Not a huge issue for me since it’s 2 steps to the trash chute.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the crystal litter dealt with the urine odor. As long as I stirred the box when I scooped, I never smelled the urine, even towards the end of the “litter cycle” when the litter was almost ready to be changed. Maybe that means I could go even longer between changes but once it looks yellow, I can’t help but change it.

Weight

This is the best part of this litter. It is very light. Normally I put 40lbs of litter in the box at a time (it’s a big box for my Maine Coon) and now I only need about 20 lbs.

One quick note is that many of the brands suggest only using 1.5 inches but I find that is just not enough. So I end up using more per box than what the manufacturer recommends. Maybe my cats are just prolific pee-ers but unless I use about 3 inches, I find that their urine soaks all the way to the bottom of the box which makes cleaning more difficult.

Dust

This is one area where the brands differed. Dr. Elsey’s by far has the least amount of dust, both when pouring and scooping. ExquisiCat came in second. Petco Crystal litter has the most dust, especially when I’m stiring up the pee spots. I would say of all the types of litter I have tried so far (clay, corn, wheat, walnut) that this has the least dust.

Another difference was in crystal size. Dr. Elsey’s has very small fine crystals which is best for fishing out the turds as I don’t have to sift or shake the scoop which helps prevent kicking up dust. ExquisiCat’s crystals were just too big, making it exteremely difficult to scoop. If you go with that brand I recommend finding a scoop with very large spaces between the tines. Petco Crystal litter is in-between. Sometimes I get crystals stuck in my scoop (a litter lifter) but for the most part, the crystals fall through with 1-2 shakes.

Tracking

I have found that the crystals do track out of the box but don’t make it very far before working themselves loose. Traditional litter would find its way throughout my house but with the crystal I only need to sweep the first 10 feet from the box. I haven’t noticed any dust making its way out of the box or sticking to the cats feet.

With both the clay and walnut litter, I had to clean my cat’s feet to remove the dust which clings and clumps in-between their toes. I was briefly concerned that the cats would eat the crystals or have trouble from licking it from their feet but luckily that has not been an issue.

Price

As always, these alternative litters are more expensive than clay… The most expensive litter is Dr. Elseys at $1.8/lb. Which explains why even though it is my favorite, I have settled on the Petco litter, which can be purchased in bulk at $1/lb.

Final Thoughts

I am quite happy with the crystal litter. Overall it seems healthier than the clay as I hear fewer kitty sneezes after they use the box and it doesn’t stick to their feet (and end up eaten when they clean their paws). I do wish that I could remove the urine as well each time I scooped the box but I think that’s a trade off as clumping litters all get stuck in my cats’ fur…

If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it goes or if you find a good brand. I do wish I could find Dr. Elsey’s in bulk as that is my favorite but I go through enough litter than I can’t justify paying almost 2x as much for it.

Coconut Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Dairy Free? No worries I drink it for you
Courtesy of icanhascheezburger.com

The internet has probably invented this already and with a better name to boot. But I don’t care. I threw this together in my kitchen late one desperate night. See I have been cutting out dairy for the past 2 months, in the hopes that it would help with my chronic stuffed nose. It’s been a rough, mouth-breathing fall and I needed dessert!

Ingredients

  • 1 can of full fat coconut milk, mine has 15g per 1/3 cup serving
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter
  • 1 square (1 oz) of baking chocolate
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 scoops (168 mg) of pure Kal stevia

Steps

  1. Pour the liquid from your coconut milk into another container for later. This leaves me with about ¾ of a can of solid coconut fat. If yours doesn’t do this… you don’t have a good brand of coconut milk and should find one with more fat. I am using the Jewel (Albertsons) store brand, which is cheap to boot. Lucky me!
  2. Put the coconut fat in a small food processor or in a container for use with an immersion blender. Mix until smooth.
  3. Melt the baking chocolate in the microwave. Mine takes 1 minute on high.
  4. Combine the remaining ingredients and mix.
  5. I usually add back 2 tbsp of the coconut liquid if it is too thick to mix well.
  6. Taste for sweetness and adjust as you see fit. Also if you really don’t like the flavor of coconut oil (I don’t!), more peanut butter will hide it.
  7. Portion into containers and leave in the refrigerator for 1 hour to set. I usually get 4 ½ cup portions.

It comes out with a smooth, creamy soft fudge consistency. I cannot resist this stuff!

Nutrition Info

I am not convinced that the carb count is correct on this. Maybe it is the high fat but I don’t get a spike as I would expect from ~10g of carbs. Perhaps most of the carbs in coconut milk are in the liquid? I am not sure…

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition info courtesy of Bytes for Health

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