Mundane, Yet Necessary. And Yet…

I was told, and I read, that prior to every blood glucose (bg) check, I ought to wash my hands with warm soap and water. I was told, and I also read, that if I wasn’t able to wash my hands with warm soap and water prior to a bg check, I should carry one of those "single serving" alcohol wipes along with me and swab the finger I planned to prick before using my lancing device.


These things I was told. These things I do not do. Not all of the time. Not very often.

Yes, if I’m in the kitchen (where, when at home, I perform most of my bg monitoring), I will often turn on the faucet and perfunctorily run my hands back and forth a few times. But elsewhere?

At work, at restaurants, in the car, at a friend’s, or pretty much anywhere I need to monitor my blood glucose, I fall short of doing such a simple thing. And while most of the time it’s probably no big deal, my failure to have a clean skin surface from which to take my blood glucose reading could have potentially dangerous ramifications.

It’s cold here. My work environment is dry. The HVAC system is doing a bit of overtime. So, I’ve thought about my no-wash bg checks several times this week. I spend most of my day working at my desk, typing, mouse-clicking, moving text around, and thumbing through lots of paper.

My hands get dry, and lately they’ve felt pretty chapped and cracked.

About a month back, my wife bought some — and the name’s a mouthful — Vaseline Intensive Rescue Clinical Therapy Skin Protectant Body Lotion for the home. It was on the end table one evening, and so while watching “The Daily Show,” I, uh, lubed up my dry, chapped hands. Although I’ve never been manly-man enough to just say no to lotion during mostly moistureless winter days, this season I’ve neglected to adequately moisturize.

I loved the lotion, and it had that no-scent scent that was quite pleasing.

The next day, on my way into work, I picked up a bottle at the pharmacy, and it sits on my desk. I try to remember to apply a pea-sized amount and rub it in after returning from the restroom or any other time I wash my hands. But now…

I started to worry that the lotioning might be elevating (or, hmm, potentially lowering?) my bg readings if I failed to wash my hands again before checking my sugars. Yesterday, I conducted a test to see if I was influencing the numbers. Thankfully, I wasn’t; the mg/dl were only off by four for the pre-lotion and post-lotion phases.

Potential catastrophe averted.

What potential catastrophe? Thinking you’re doing just fine when in fact you’re moving toward (or are already in) a low.

In the past, I’ve checked bg after eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Strawberry preserves had made their way onto my testing finger, but having forgotten to wash my hands first, and not really noticing the trace amounts of stickiness, I proceeded with my bg test. I felt low (which we all know can be misleading), and so I was surprised when the numbers were elevated. I pondered, remembered, washed, checked again, and voila! A reading that was dipping below my normal and aimed-for 120 mg/dl.

Test strips can detect trace amounts of sugars, even if I can’t.

I should always remember my initial self-clinical phase of blood glucose monitoring: In the first month or so after receiving my bg monitor, I was curious about this phenomenon of foreign sugar during the fingerprick stage. While sitting at the brewery with my wife, I took a bit of chocolate, melted it between my fingers, and rubbed it into the pad of my testing finger.

I tested. It simply told me I was “HIGH,” monitor shortspeak for “our monitor doesn’t go to eleven(hundred).”

Note: For more on how food on your hands can affect your blood glucose readings, see Jan Chait’s blog entry this week, “Freebies and Washing and Blood Counts, Oh My!”

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4 thoughts on “Mundane, Yet Necessary. And Yet…

  1. I would also be wary of measuring blood glucose with cold fingers. I often find that, in addition to having trouble drawing blood when my fingers are cold, the results I get are often ridiculously and unbelievably low. In those cases, I find a forearm test to be generally more reliable. A bonus is that my forearm doesn’t usually get contaminated with soap, water, ink, paper dust, coffee, etc.

  2. Why in the world are you still doing the barbaric act of pricking your finger in Year 2009? This is about the most painful way to get blood, and creating a hole in your finger exposes you to risk of serious infections afterwards (ever hear of MRSA?). Lancing devices for other areas of your body have been available at least since 1998 (I use the Vacu-Lance). Poking your arm is less painful and safer infection-wise.

  3. I have been told by numerous medical personnel NOT to use alcohol because it will give you a false reading. My husband was recently in the emergency room a technician used an alcohol swab the number was over 200. I wiped off his finger used my meter and the number was 145.

  4. Our daughter was diagnosed with type 1 in Jan 08 at age 12. Of course in the beginning she was good about washing her hands before checking her bg, but after a couple weeks she wasn’t doing it unless we reminded her. Over the past 1+ year, we’ve seen on several occasions when if she didn’t wash her hands first she received a false high reading even though she felt low. So she immediately washed her hands (or used an alcohol wipe if away from home) and sure enough she was low (between 50-70). Thanks for the well written article, I will have her read it.

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