Of Macs and medicine

For nearly a dozen years now, I've carried around an incredibly advanced technological wonder of a device, first in a belt-clip holster (so you know how long ago that was, since I'm not part of the khaki-and-tucked-golf-shirt squad) and then in my pocket. Did I have some preternatural, supernatural access to an insanely early iPhone prototype? No. A pocket laser shark, perhaps? If only. No, for the past 12 years, my pancreatically challenged body has benefited from the use of an insulin pump. And for 12 years and over three models from two different manufacturers, those pumps have said diddly-squat to my myriad of Macs or iDevices. Until now.

Back in day, when I was still a kid being shooed off old folks' lawns, my pancreas packed up its Islets of Langerhans, gave me a third-finger salute, and Kevorked itself. I was 20 years old, a junior in college, and—I had wrongly assumed—past the age when heredity would hunt me down and permanently jack my Pop Tarts. For next seven years, I injected insulin in the morning and then followed a strict schedule of eating for the rest of the day. I kept my blood sugar under fairly tight control, but I lived under the constant threat of a hypoglycemia time bomb. So, I got a pump. And I've been counting carbs and eating poorly ever since. (Note to insurance adjusters: that's a joke. I consume nothing but berries and herbal tea. And the occasional tofu Ho-Ho on special occasions.)

My first insulin pump was a 507C from Minimed (now owned by Medtronic). It came with a lovely CD-ROM that allowed you to download things to your computer, assuming your computer ran whatever flavor of Windows was around at the time—probably a minimum of 3.1 with a 286. Which, as you can guess, I did not own. My glucose meter was the same way. For those unfamiliar with the fun that is a glucose (sugar) test, you basically get to stab your fingers several times a day, put a drop onto a test strip that costs about a buck, and wait for the meter to spit out a number at you. Hopefully, that number is between 70 and 120. Otherwise, you're spiraling out of control, your endocrinologist will frown sternly, and your HMO will send you endless flyers about symposiums and support groups (but never once offer to fly you to Geneva for a pancreas transplant).

Anyway, I never owned a pump or a meter that spoke Mac. Not even after the iPhone came out. Seriously. How ridiculous is that? When I was looking for a new pump a couple of years ago, one new version was controlled wirelessly. By an iOS app via Bluetooth? No. It was controlled by a proprietary PDA that was about 30% bigger than an iPhone even though it required about 1/100th the processing power. What a waste. How silly. Even the fact that a Jonas brother used it could not convince me of its worth. So I went for what I now have: a Medtronic Paradigm 700-series and its accompanying glucose meter, both of which have wireless connectivity—but only to each other. Not to my Mac. The quaint CD-ROMs they included were of no use, either.

I don't know why it took so long for someone to address the issue, but a company called Glooko (get it?) finally did. They created a syncing cable that attaches to the data port of your glucose meter and plugs into your iPhone or iPad. The free Glooko app then syncs all of your tests and sorts them into several lovely charts. You can add notes about your diet, exercise, or Vanilla Crème Pop Tart dalliances if you like. You can email PDFs or even eFaxes (because doctor's offices are still decidedly stuck in 1997) of this data. Très nifty.

I just like that it works and only costs $40 (cheap in the land of diabetes management). I've never been one to make charts or Excel spreadsheets about my blood sugar readings. I'd test and have a pretty good idea of how I was doing in between my more intense lab visits. But being able to glance at my numbers whenever and wherever is nice.

Glooko is a small company, a tech startup, in the parlance of these times. They're still looking for more rounds of funding (I think) and growth momentum. I hope they succeed in an area the big companies have chosen to ignore. I hope other companies join the fray. Use Bluetooth or NFC or something. And quit assuming every person with diabetes is over 80 years old and calls it die-uh-beet-us.

After all, why should the $600 phone in my right pocket not be able to speak with the $5,000 pump in my left?

Kickstarter project, anyone?




Update, 2/22/2012 – I just received an email from Medtronic, the makers of my pump, who inform me that their CareLink Personal software was made Mac-compatible in April of last year.

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