Feeling Guilty About My Test Strips

A young man with Type 1 bumps up against a test strip limit in Australia.



“Why do you need that many boxes? Are you going away or something?”

My pharmacist grabbed a pen and paper and began writing down the number of test strip boxes that I had taken to the counter to purchase. She told me that she would have to go and check if it was okay for me to take that many.

I was at a loss for words. I felt so guilty and ashamed.

It was just days before I was due to fly across the country for a much needed holiday. I had made the mistake of letting my stash at home run down too low, and I had picked up a few extra boxes of blood glucose test strips than I normally would.

“I’m going over to Sydney for two weeks, but I can make do with a few less boxes if it’s a problem,” I replied, hearing the lack of confidence in the words that came out of my mouth as I waited.

I’ve never had any problem getting my diabetes supplies here in Australia. I’m so lucky that our government heavily subsidises the cost of diabetes consumables such as test strips and needles through our National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS). Because of this, I’ve never had to worry greatly about the financial burden of having diabetes. I’ve been able to use as little or as much as I felt I needed. And I’ve never had to worry about rationing or preserving my supplies.

My local chemist (pharmacy) is an NDSS outlet. They helped me to register with the NDSS on the day I was released from hospital after my diagnosis, and I’ve been able to get all my supplies through them. They’ve been extremely helpful over the years, answering my questions about flu tablets, broken meters, expired insulin prescriptions, meter software and travel-sized sharps containers.

So I failed to understand why I was being questioned this time around. It was still bugging me days after the encounter, so I decided to contact the NDSS hotline. I later learned that the most that I could order from the NDSS is 900 test strips and 1200 needles. And apparently, this is deemed a six-month “supply.”

I’ve done the math. That “supply” works out to just five blood glucose tests a day. It’s a supply that caters to someone with perfect control of their diabetes. I’ve developed a great interest in the diabetes online community since I started blogging this year. I’ve connected with a lot of other people who, like me, live with diabetes. And I have yet to hear of anyone who says they have perfect control over their blood sugar levels.

I test a lot more than five times a day. I test when I wake up. I test before and after every meal. Sometimes I test in the middle of the night. I test more if I’ve eaten at a restaurant or done exercise. And when I’m extremely high or extremely low, I’ll be powering through those test strips.

And I certainly don’t do it by choice. I do it because it helps me to better understand the foods that I eat and the activities that I do. It helps me to better understand the effect that almost every activity that I do will have on my blood sugar levels. And most importantly, it gives me peace of mind, and a sense of control over my diabetes. And when I’m dealing with a disease that operates 24/7, I need all the peace of mind I can get.

I know that if I were to contact the NDSS today, I would probably be told that I’m not managing my diabetes properly. That I need to get help. And judging by this quote on the NDSS website, it seems that I am right. The website says:

“There are limits to the number of products you can purchase on the NDSS. If you reach the limit, we will contact you to give you information to help you manage your diabetes.”

Thankfully, my pharmacist knew me well enough to know I was being honest. They insisted I take all of the supplies without having to wait for them to check. I’m forever grateful to have such a supportive team to rely on for my diabetes needs and general wellbeing.

However, I long for the day when diabetes supplies won’t be so expensive, and that I could afford them on my own. I long for the day when I will be able to walk into a pharmacy, enthusiastically fill up a whole basket of supplies and proudly take it to the counter. And I long for the day where I won’t feel guilty for taking the very supplies that keep me alive and healthy.

Until that day comes, good relationships with my healthcare professionals are my best asset.

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Frank was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young adult in 2010. He began blogging as an outlet to share his experiences of living with diabetes. He hopes to combine his background in Marketing towards working with people with diabetes in the future. Frank lives in Western Australia, and blogs about his life with diabetes at type1writes.com.