An alternative to my party trick – by Helen May

Helen-May-letterbox-150x150When I was a teenager, I had a party trick: white fingers. I didn’t paint my fingers and I don’t mean my tan was so bad that my fingers were pale (although as a red-head, I have never “done” tanned): I mean, when it was cold I would “show off” my yellowy white fingers. It didn’t hurt much. In fact, I couldn’t feel my fingers when they were white. But it was a party trick because I could get the guy I fancied at the time to help me warm them up.

To be honest, it didn’t start when I was a teenager. I have memories arriving at primary school and being placed next to the radiator to warm up . My Mum tells me she had to buy expensive thick furry boots every year because my feet would get so cold. It also wasn’t a trick: I had no control when it would happen apart from knowing it was usually when it was cold, but a pair of gloves or mittens didn’t always help. And I wasn’t the only person I knew with white fingers: my Mum and my Grandmother had the same thing.

This is Raynaud’s Phenomenon which is usually triggered by cold temperatures and anxiety. The condition occurs because your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm, which blocks the flow of blood. Although it feels numb and I sometimes get pins and needles when the blood flow returns, it is not considered serious. Not only do the healthcare professionals not consider it serious, nor do I: I have had it for as long as I can remember and it’s not painful or anything. And it is often inherited along the female line.

However, there is one challenge as a result of Raynaud’s Phenomenon – if the flow of blood is blocked to my fingers, I cannot get any blood for a finger-prick blood glucose (BG) test. Sure, I can heat my hands up but I can’t do that too fast because I get chill blains. And it’s not always associated with cold temperatures: I also get it when I am stressed. For example, white fingers on a warm day is a sign I am having a hypo … a sign that I need to take a finger prick test and the difficulty in doing so make it worse.

Since I have had a pump, I have been taking more BG tests. This is fine in the summer but as the weather has chilled, it has started getting difficult again. I mentioned the problem to my diabetes specialist and she had two suggestions: drugs which seemed over the top because I would have to take them all the time for something that affects me 25% of the time; or drink more caffeine which wouldn’t be difficult because I usually drink herbal tea (no coffee or cola) but that’s a conscious choice.

As I have had Raynaud’s for so long, I don’t see it as the problem: I see the finger pricking as the problem. Therefore, I have been looking for alternatives to bruising my fingers.

Firstly, I looked at the option to draw blood from elsewhere. Some meters come with a cap on the finger-pricker to use alternative testing sites but they are not as reliable and the recommendation is always to check an unexpected result on your fingers. I interpret this to mean that it is not good enough for the accuracy you need when using an insulin pump.

Apart from not testing when I have white fingers, the other option is to have a CGM (Continuous Glucose Meter). My research into this continues. For starters, it is not a fix all solution today as the DVLA only accepts finger-prick tests for driving so I am unable to drive for the 15 – 30 minutes that it takes to bring some blood flow into my fingers whatever solution I adopt (although the CGM manufacturers are campaigning to get this changed).

The other thing I have discovered is there is nothing as accurate as finger pricks because there is a delay between finger prick readings and CGM readings of at least 5 minutes. And, finally, so far I have discovered no means for funding for a CGM. I have investigated funding through Diabetes and funding through Raynaud’s and neither provided an option especially as I have “good control”.

My next step is to investigate the CGM options. Last week, I managed to get myself onto a trial for the Freestyle Libre which I will discuss in a future post.

In the meantime, I’ll make the most of my white fingers to encourage my boyfriend to buy me a medicinal cup of hot chocolate.

Continuous Glucose Monitors

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