Reason to be creative with check strips – by Ben Rolfe

ben-and-alice-150x150One thing common to all new diagnosis stories is the sackfuls of new kit you have to take home from the hospital. In our case we had driven our daughter Alice to the hospital at 8am on a cold, damp December day, and left the hospital at 6pm on the same day. Still damp, cold and dark.

The equipment was in some ways a nightmare – having to get to grips with all the technology and calculations – units per carb, blood sugar levels, getting the finger prick check right (making sure there is no sugar of handcream on the finger first, for example).

Just remembering to take all the kit with us when we left the house was difficult enough – needles, insulin pens, blood sugar level checker, check strips, lancet to draw blood for the check, etc etc.

In some ways however the kit was a silver lining in an otherwise huge dark cloud. Alice could decorate the equipment with stickers, and within a few weeks was investigating new technology which might make things easier. Going from injections to a pump, for example. Three years on and the pump and the blood sugar checker are now combined into one unit. The finger prick check is essentially the same however – as it has been for years.

You take a thin strip of plastic, about 2cm long and 0.5cm wide, and shove the flat metallised end into the machine. Then you take the lancet, press the button which gives out an innocuous click, wince as the needle breaks the skin (for the first few months, anyway, after that there is no more wincing), then you apply the blood to the end of the check strip that is sticking out the machine.

Wait a few seconds whilst the sand-clock motif on the screen goes round and round for a bit, and then “TA DA” you get your blood sugar level, whatever it may be. Alice might do this 5-8 times a day on a good day, or she might do it 18-25 times a day on a bad day. Normally my wife and I do it for her before we go to sleep, as well.

There is no rhyme nor reason as to where the check has to be done. If Alice feels “funny” (feels a hypo or hyper coming on) she has to check. In class, in an exam, in the swimming pool (on the side anyway), at the top of a mountain when skiing (try checking your blood when you have low blood sugar with the shakes and feeling faint, and then add in -17 C temperatures!), it literally can take place anywhere. And boy those check strips get everywhere.

Alice empties her school bag and pencil case of them every week, and they mount up. It is not uncommon for me to pick up two or three a day just lying on the floor where they have fallen in the house – Alice might have checked, placed the check strip down for disposal, had to drink some Lucozade or do another bolus (add more insulin to treat high blood sugar) and then forgotten about the check strip in the meantime. I saw one on the Nice seafront recently when I was out for a run, and Alice had not been in the vicinity. Clearly Ben-Rolfe-Alice-blogpost2-Feb2017Alice is not the only one with the same problem.

There is humour to be found however.
“There’s a check strip on the living room floor.” I’ll say as I spy it from the hall way as I am exiting the house to walk the dogs.
“It’s not mine.” Says Number One offspring, Emily.
“It’s not mine.” Says Number Three offspring, Izzy.
“It’s not mine.” Says Mrs R.
“It’s not mine.” Says Alice.
So I pick it up anyway whilst the dogs paw at the door.

We recently found an excellent use for old check strips. We were thinking about entering one or more of her artworks to a competition if we can find one suitable. What do you think? Something for the Tate Modern? Turner Prize?

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