The Life of a Meter
How you treat your supplies is just as vital as age.
By Wil Dubois
It's a police lineup. "OK, ma'am. Just take your time. Look them over one at a time and tell me if you spot the one that's been causing you so much trouble," I said.
The hefty, middle-aged woman looked from one to the next. Slowly. Studying each one carefully. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She squinted and pointed, "Not that one. Too big," she said. Then, "This one looks kinda of like the one, but something's not quite right… Oh! Here!" She pointed excitedly, "That's the one! That one there!"
Wonderful, a positive ID! "So you've been using an older OneTouch Ultra," I say, and enter this fact into her electronic medical record. Yep, the entire back of my office door at the clinic is covered top to bottom with a mosaic of blood glucose meters, part art project, part collection, and part—as you've seen—diabetes education police lineup.
Meters, meters, everywhere a meter. There's a dizzying variety of makes and models of meters for checking your blood sugar, with new ones coming out all the time. Which makes you wonder, just how long is your meter "good" for? How often should it be replaced?
How Long Should a Meter Last?
It turns out there's no 100% agreement on the life-of-a-meter issue. For years I've been telling people that a meter's lifespan is four years, but I don't recall where or how that idea got into my head. So for lack of a better place to start, I checked the warranty length on all of the common meters on the market today and found that about a third had three-year warranties, about a third had five-year warranties, and about a third had lifetime warranties. Now, clearly no meter is going to last you your lifetime. But, as the money is made on the strips, not the meters, the folks that make the meters want to be sure you keep using their stuff. Bottom line (ignoring the lifetime warranty marketing ploy): Meter manufacturers clearly expect their products to last 3-5 years.
Of course, crazy things can shorten the life of a meter. Let me tell you two true stories from my case files. Not so long ago, a nervous man came in to my office and asked me for a new meter. "Didn't I just give you one a couple of months ago?" I asked.
He started ringing his hands, staring at his feet, and nervously mumbled that he had decided to try to help his wife out by doing the dishes. Halfway through, he felt light-headed and checked his blood sugar. But his wet, soapy fingers betrayed him and KER-PLUNK! the meter met its doom in the dirty dish water.
When I could quit laughing, I programmed a new meter for him. Then I took a sharpie and wrote "Helpful Husband of the Year Award" in bold letters on the back of the meter.
But my all-time favorite premature death-of-meter story happened in the depths of winter two years ago. It was very, very cold and both wood and propane for heating had sky-rocketed in price. Our patients were putting on three sweaters and keeping their houses colder than ever before. I was flooded with reports of error messages from meters: The temperature inside of people's houses was colder than the bottom end of the meters' operating ranges, especially in the frigid mornings.
During this time, one of my type 1's felt the symptoms of a low at about four in the morning. Of course, his house was too cold for his meter to work. And of course, when your blood sugar drops, so, too, does your IQ. His solution was to put his meter and strips into his microwave oven to heat them to operating temperature… an action that ended badly when his addled brain confused seconds with minutes.
His wife, who was awakened when the smoke detector went off, told me the meter was a melted and scorched puddle of blue plastic and electrical components.
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