My Mother Is Trying to Kill Me

A continuous glucose monitoring murder mystery

Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

“Here’s another one” she said, in a loving voice that belied the deadly intent behind her actions. I winced as the second Aloo Paratha slid onto my plate.

I looked over at my father, who shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, ‘it’s not going to kill you.’

Just then I received an alert on my phone.

Glucose Alert: Blood Glucose above alarm threshold of 13.0!

It was the second week of my trial of a continuous blood glucose monitoring system provided by Abbot Labs for free, and the first time I’d ever gotten an alert. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing! What was happening?

As my paratha grew cold, I quickly typed into my iPhone browser, ‘is blood glucose above 13.0 dangerous?’ and got the reassuring reply that it wasn’t ideal, but also not immediately dangerous. Whew, I was still alive, but my appetite was gone and I gave the extra paratha to my Dad.

Diabetes sucks. I’m pre-diabetic and genetically compromised as a South Asian male. With diabetes and heart attacks rampant in my genealogy there was no chance I was going to escape unscathed, and I had a heart attack when I was 41. In addition to all the subsequent heart meds, my doctor suggested I start taking Metformin to stave off diabetes as long as possible. When I asked him what the downsides were, he said “if your stomach and your wallet can handle it, there is no real downside.”

I say all this to show why I pay attention to anything to do with my health these days. After reading Outlive by Peter Attia, I started benchmarking everything. Grip strength, VO2 Max, Body Fat via Dexa Scan. Turns out I’m average for my age in all the stats. So far so good.

Attia also talks about the value of continuous glucose monitoring. My blood sugar metric, usually referred to as A1C, has been between 6 and 6.5 for the last 10 years. 5.7-6.5 = prediabetic. Over 6.5 is… diabetic. So when a friend sent me a link to get a free glucose monitoring kit from Abbot Labs, I jumped at it. Thanks Nav!

Over the course of 14 day free trial I became hyper-vigilant about what I ate. I was checking my blood glucose after every meal and I learned a few things:

  1. Frequent smaller meals are better than two or three big meals, even if they’re exactly the same composition.

  2. Calories in liquid form really spike blood sugar.

  3. If I eat late at night, it takes a long time for my blood sugar to settle and my sleep is disturbed.

Revelations? Hardly. My nutritionist has told me the same things at my annual Medcan checkup. My trainer gave me the same rundown when I started training with him and he informed me 70% of all progress I was going to make was based on my eating habits.

Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a valuable experiment. The value of the monitor was that it slammed home vividly the effects of my eating habits. After the Paratha I decided to go have a healthy protein-laden Booster Juice (Ripped Berry, so yummy!).

Bam! Look at that graph. Another spike in blood sugar, but this time not lethal enough to get an alert. Damn. Drink that booster juice slowly, or don’t drink it at all.

Screenshot of FreeStyle Libre 2 app from Abbot Labs

After two weeks I was exhausted from watching all my meals and stressing over blood sugar spikes. Food that never seemed to cause me any problems in terms of energy or how I felt now raised tingles in my spine as I held the phone to the device implanted on my arm after every meal. This is no way to live, I decided. And after two weeks of the free trial, I removed the device and am back to normal, whatever that is.

Holding a phone up to scan a monitor attached to your arm - Thirunavukkarasye-Raveendran, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no question that technology like this is a life saver for people with type 1 diabetes, or anyone having to time the manual injection of insulin. For me as someone living on the edge, it is a valuable reminder of lessons I already knew, but perhaps occasionally ignored. On the evening of day 13 I actually had a bit of a meltdown and as Trump thought with COVID-19 testing, I decided I could eat chocolate if I didn’t check the monitor afterwards. Then I had some more. And some Doritos. It didn’t kill me.

See below to get a free monitoring kit from Abbot in Canada, the offer is also available in the US. I know they’re doing this so they can eventually charge you $500 a month for refills to the monitor, but providing a two week free trial is a genuine benefit to the public good. Thank you Abbott, much appreciated. I’m not going to continue the trial - on top of everything else, my wife thought it was ugly and was happy I got it off. I suspect she also didn’t like the reminder of my mortality.

My mother grew up in a village in India in a different time. You ate everything on your plate, and you ate whenever someone gave you food. Obesity wasn’t the problem it is for us in the west now. She of course isn’t trying to kill me, but I have to be careful to eat well. One paratha is fine. Two I have to think about, but sometimes it’s ok.

After all, how do you measure a mother’s love? It certainly isn’t by blood sugar.

Thanks for reading!

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