If you asked me to choose three words to describe my first few days with my insulin pump, I’d offer the following: My poor Mom.
By the time I brought home my shiny new translucent-blue Medtronic model, I’d been dealing with needles for just over ten years. I was 22, for crying out loud. But the infusion set struck a fresh sort of terror in my diabetic soul, and I took all that terror out on my mother. Alone in the bathroom, equipped with nothing more than the spring-loaded inserter, a prepared infusion set, loops of overpriced plastic tubing and the faint memory of my CDE’s instructions, I started to panic just a little bit.
I remember squishing my eyes closed, pressing the button on the inserter, and reaching down to remove the guide needle. And then I remember the needle being stuck in my skin.
“Mooooooooooooooooooooooom!” I wailed. “Moooooooom! I can’t get it out!”
I was starting to sweat by the time she made it into the room. “What do you want me to do, honey? How can I help?”
“I don’t know! Get it out! Make it come out!”
Cautiously, she made a move toward the taped-up set on my belly.
And I jumped. “NODON’TTOUCHIT!”
I tugged again, trying to remove the inch-long needle, to no avail. Clearly, it was stuck forever. It was never, ever coming out. I would go the rest of my days with a half-inserted Sof-set QR nestled in my guts. “I hate this thing! I hate this whole stupid thing! I didn’t even want it in the first place!”
Never mind that I had actually wanted the pump. Desperately, in fact. And that, while I’d dragged my feet, overwhelmed by the absurd demands of our insurance company and the reluctance of the endocrinologist I was seeing at the time, my Mom had bravely crusaded on my behalf.
But, she was the only one in the house at the time that I faced my first infusion set change, so there I was, taking all this diabetes rage out on her.
It’s a scene I’m reminded of every week or so, when I decide it’s time to stab myself with a fresh sensor — and the needle that comes with it. I usually choose the back of an arm or the side of my extreme upper thigh (read: my butt) as a sensor site — saving my midsection for infusion site access. Monday night, I’d chosen my right, uh, cheek as the site of my next sensor. I loaded up the inserter, wiped my skin with alcohol, and pressed the button, as always.
Then, I shuffled my way into the living room, where my husband was on the couch, trying to relax in front of the TV.
“Help me,” I whimpered. I was twisted halfway around, my hand still connected to the sensor inserter, which was still connected to the big-ass needle, which was still connected to my big ass. I didn’t want to take any actual steps, for fear that I’d dislodge the sensor needle, or accidentally stab myself in some crucial walking muscle. Plus, I was pretty sure I looked real sexy scootching along the way I was.
“Help me. I need your help. Help me?” I was making my needs perfectly clear. “Hold the thing down so I can pull the thing off.”
“I know,” my husband reassured me. “I’ve done this, like, 500 times.”
I slid the inserter off of the needle. “Now hold the tabs down. NOT THAT HARD! Hold them just a little. So that I can see. I can’t see. Not like that. I NEED TO SEE WHAT ANGLE THE NEEDLE IS AT SO THAT I CAN PULL IT OUT AT THE SAME ANGLE AND I CAN’T SEE. WHY ARE YOUR HANDS SO BIG? My neck hurts. You’re making me bleed. It won’t come out. NOT THAT HARD!”
If it wasn’t so pathetic, it’d be hilarious: a “That’s What She Said” festival just waiting to happen.
Of course, the needle always comes out. It came out 22 years ago, it’s come out with every infusion set since then, and it came out on Monday. But as familiar as I am with the whole needle concept, each new infusion site and sensor insertion takes a tiny bit of my breath away — in a way that injections and finger sticks never do.
I think it must be the semi-permanence of the whole thing. With a traditional syringe injection, you’re in and you’re out in a matter of seconds. Any pain is fleeting, and the syringe itself is flimsy and disposable. But pump and sensor supplies come in the mail, wrapped in elaborate packages with terrifyingly high totals on the invoice slips. Each one represents days of discomfort or convenience, depending on the angle or the depth it’s inserted at. They enter our bodies with that weird “Shunk!” noise, delivered by retractable mechanical devices — and then, as if the insertion wasn’t unnerving enough, we’re tasked with removing the guide needle just as smoothly as we jabbed it in there.
Ultimately, I know I’m lucky to have such things to jab myself with. The pump, the sensor, the meter — and all the tiny stabs that come with them — give me more control, better health, more knowledge, blah, blah, blah. Even more important, if you ask me, are the people who’ve help me take those needles out, or at least listen to me wail and bitch and verbally abuse them while I stumbled across another diabetes obstacle. Thanks to my Mom, my husband, the entire DOC, and everyone else who’s ever listened to me complain about these needles, the jabs in — and the yanks out — sting just a little bit less.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my site. Say a little prayer that it all comes out okay.