Sticky Subjects

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!”

The infusion set needle. Could be worse, right?

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.

Minimed CGM sensor, pre-insertion.

The formidable sensor needle: What goes in must come out.

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.

15 comments on “Sticky Subjects

  1. April says:

    You have such a talent at capturing those D-moments that I’m sure most of us have experienced! I can remember several times yelling down 2 flights of stairs “Mom!!! I can’t get it out!” usually in between sobs since those are always the ones that hurt the worst! Great post!

  2. Holly says:

    That exact same scenario happened with me and my first Dexcom sensor. I couldn’t, for the life of me, put the transmitter on the sensor and get it to stay. I was screaming at my husband from the kitchen, “Get the manual! I can’t get it in!” Well, of course, by the time he walked in the room I got it in.

    I loved that you still called for your mom when you got your pump. LOL, precious! =)

  3. Karen says:

    For me, at least, the horror that comes with sets and sensors – you know, the kind that makes me curl my toes and squinch up my eyes to prep for the kaCHUNK? – is about the shunking and the length of the insertion needle. I manually use lancets for fingersticks, so those are my only “automated” processes, and those insertion needles look like torture devices. Or the diabetic version of a clown car, where it just keeps going and going and going….

    And dude. Every Sunday I sound like you do when my husband puts in my Dexcom sensor on my back. “Don’t move so fast. WHY ARE YOU WIGGLING IT? Ouch. Crap! Stop! No, push it faster. Wait for me to brace it. OUCH.” And then when it’s all done I apologize for yelling….

  4. Sysy Morales says:

    You are such a great writer!

    Anyway you just reminded me how much I don’t miss the pump…ouch 😦

    Once, I really had the needle stuck in me for about an hour. It was like…entangled in a nerve. I felt intense pain any time I tried to barely move it. I cried through tugging hard at it and it wouldn’t come out (It was probably stuck in scar tissue?) Anyway, finally I pulled really hard one last time and screamed and it came out and I bled for about an hour.

    I was happy to see a site infusion awareness week just so this doesn’t happen to others lol

    (and just incase anyone doesn’t appreciate my saying that I don’t miss the pump…I mostly don’t because my A1c is really good without it-just know it is possible :D)

    • Scott S says:

      One of the reasons I chose an Animas pump over Metronic Minimed was the fact that Animas pumps used an industry-standard Luer-lock connection from the infusion sets, while Metronic Minimed migrated to a proprietary design. In fact, some of the more innovative infusion set designs are from other companies; my personal preference was the Disetronic UltraFlex (now rebranded as the ACCU-CHEK® FlexLink Plus Infusion Set). But too many people default to Medtronic because its the best-established salesforce, not because its products are superior. If I return to pumping, it will likely be with the Omnipod anyway, but I must admit that having a good salesforce is an under-appreciated reason Medtronic has such a large share of the market today, not because of superior products.

  5. Layne says:

    I don’t really have this issue with my pump site because the inserter is awesome and can easily be used (and pulled out) one-handed.

    BUT (and that’s a BIG BUT), my Dexcom sensor is a WHOLE different story. Sometimes I think those things were meant to be inserted only by humans who have 3 arms and eyes in the back of their head. First, there is no automatic option, so I have to actually push the needle in myself. And it. Is. Huge. And I can’t see it because it’s covered by the inserter thing-y. That’s one nasty surprise when it finally hits pay dirt. Plus, once everything is in place you have this huge, dangle-y thing hanging off you that you have to squeeze, rock, push and pull to get off.

    All this is barely manageable in my belly. In my flank? Forget. About. It. I made the mistake of asking my husband to help me the first time and I think he was scarred for life. I think he actually told me that I should never do it in my flank again! Poor guy. I’m glad I’m not the only panicky, paranoid diabetic wife who asks for help by shuffling into a room with a scary device dangling off her tush and then yelling, “Move your arm! I can’t see! Not like that! Straight out! Rock it back and forth . . . GENTLY! DON’T YOU DARE PULL THIS THING OUTTA ME!!”

    Just when you think your the only one out there this stuff happens to. . . . 🙂

  6. Kim says:

    This made me laugh so hard… I can totally relate. Even now after dozens and dozens of Dexcom sensors, I really have to psych myself up when I have to do a new one. It’s just so… barbaric.

  7. Rachel says:

    I can sooooo relate to this too! I used to flinch with anticipation when I changed my site because silhouettes always hurt. But with the mios, super awesome. I haven’t had one that hurt yet.

    But I just got my sensor, and holy hell those needles are GIGANTIC. Cracked me up when the Minimed gal was like “they shouldn’t hurt.” Uhm, are you serious? That needle is large and in charge and I just shunked a copper wire in my flank and it’s bleeding. Uhh YEAH it hurts.

    Great post, can relate 100%.

  8. Karen says:

    Oh yes, that CGM needle is a (insert swear word here) to get out. Sometimes I swear they glued it to the sensor!!! I did love all of the That’s What She Said opportunities to your narration though. 😀

  9. Lindsay says:

    This is hilarious and only because I can totally relate and have been there so many times. My poor husband. I try not to yell and have more patience but those needles hurt dang it!

  10. Amanda S. says:

    I love this post. I know that’s probably not what you were going for, but I love love loved it. I have had that exact same experience way too many times and each time (afterwards) I think “wow, I’m forsure the only one who does this” and it’s just so great to hear that I am infact not the only one who does this.

  11. Sam says:

    THIS! I get like that every time I have to change my set too!

  12. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this, I absolutely love your blog!! it’s very hard to put these situations into words, and you do it beautifully.
    My daughter is 6 and we use the same pump and sensor for her. It seriously AMAZES me every time we do a site or sensor change and she just takes it like it champ–no tears, no drama. I know if it was me I’d be the biggest weenie ever.
    It really helps to read things from an adult’s perspective. I want people to know what she’s going through and I’m going to have to send this link to family and friends to give them some insight!

  13. heidi says:

    This made me laugh because I so identify with it! I think it’s because the syringe needles (and that insulin pen!) are so tiny. And that CGM one is so…. not. I have no prob sticking a syringe in me, but the infusion sets and CGM get me EVERY time.. even after 6 plus years. 🙂

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I love the sexy scootching part. 😉

    I’m still a tiny bit unnerved when I have to pull the needle out after I insert my inset 30 infusion set. It always resists for a second, and I’m always an instant away from panic during that second!

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