Memories of a Former Needle-Wielder

The test strips are everywhere.

I find them in the shower, on the living room couch, in friends’ cars. Stuck to my arms and legs when I wake up in the morning. Yesterday, my husband texted me a picture of a test strip he found in the dryer.

Can you find the squeaky-clean One Touch test strip in this image?

It’s a phenomenon I’ve mostly grown used to, but the other day, as I peeled a tiny blue rectangle from the sole of my foot, I stopped and thought, “There was a time when it used to be like this with syringes.”

Okay, not exactly. I don’t think I ever found a needle in my bed, and I sure as hell never bit into one in a sandwich, but at the height of my Multiple Daily Injection routine I was using up to 6 syringes a day. And those syringes tended to hang around.

They accumulated in my purse, my car, on my dresser and in the designated diabetes drawer in the kitchen. It probably wasn’t the safest arrangement, but hey — at least I was taking my insulin, right?

Hello, old friends.

There was the time I sent my poor sister digging in my purse for my wallet or a tube of Lip Smackers, and when she removed her hand, the needle of an uncapped syringe poked through the pad of her ring finger.

During my senior year of high school, the EJECT button on the tape player in my Plymouth Colt broke off. It didn’t matter how much I loved whatever mix tape was stuck inside. I refused to spend the foreseeable future driving around to the same 13 songs, and that’s how the B-D Insulin Syringe Audio System Controller was invented. I’d just shove the cap-end of a syringe into the space where the EJECT button once was, and out popped the tape.

Those syringes also helped me sell myself as a fearless badass to peers and colleagues. In the Plymouth Colt on the way to the Village Inn or TCBY, while my passengers marveled, I’d pause at a stoplight to draw up and inject a fat dose of Regular insulin into my thigh. I kept a 2-liter-turned-sharps-container on the back floorboards of the car, and I’d joke with new acquaintances about my heroin habit — and then wait at least 6 or 7 minutes to tell them the truth.

I’d fantasize about being a contestant on a Fear Factor-esque game show, where the final prize of a bajillion dollars rested on one contestant’s ability to bravely impale herself with a 31-gauge 1/2-inch-long needle. Guess who wins?

On occasion, I used the syringes as tools of evil, as well. At the height of what was almost certainly a fight about watching Oprah vs. Star Trek: The Next Generation, I chased my sister through the house with a syringe in my fist. We ended up in the corner of my bedroom: she with the remote, me with the semi-lethal weapon. I don’t remember what show we ended up watching, but I do know that I never actually stabbed her — and that nonetheless, she’s been psychologically scarred ever since.

I don’t miss using those syringes every day, but looking back, I can almost track my Type 1 diabetes career by the needles I used — what kind, how often, and with which insulins. I’ve gotten so used to having this pump at my hip, and to administering a bolus of insulin with just a few beeps and button depressions, that I forget what it’s like to rely on such a basic — and iconic — diabetes treatment tool.

Of course, a diabetic’s life is never completely needle-free. When my good friend’s diabetic cat died a few years ago, I inherited all of her unused insulin syringes, and occasionally I have to employ one to help beat back a stubbornly high blood sugar. And I’ll always have the infusion set and sensor needles, but those don’t have the same recognizability as orange-capped stand-bys. They’re less of a lifestyle than syringes are, if you know what I mean.

Sure, you won’t find them in my car, on my bathroom counter, or in my little sister’s fingertips anymore, but each one of those syringes I used helped make me the pump-using diabetic I am today. They’ll always have an honorary place in my subcutaneous tissue.

15 comments on “Memories of a Former Needle-Wielder

  1. krisfitz says:

    Wow – love the story with your sister! A friend has a similar story about him and his brother – his brother asked him if glucagon needed to be stabbed into the chest, a la Pulp Fiction. My friend jokingly said yes. You can guess what happened when he passed out while running with his brother… He started beating up on his brother as soon as he came to. There should probably be a whole book of sibling T1 stories – thanks for sharing yours!

  2. smartDpants says:

    yes, yes, yes, and yes. I remember, too. I used to get free bags of syringes from camp when I was a counselor, and being on the pump, 1 bag would last a year or more for me. oh, the memories…not. 😉 good post.

  3. Dayle says:

    The idea of you chasing your sister with a syringe reminds me of when I worked at that [unnamed] diabetes place and received a call from some detective-based entertainment show. They were fact-checking a script and wanted to know if it was possible to bludgeon someone to death with an insulin needle.
    “[stifled laughter] Um, no, that’s not really possible”
    “Are you sure? I mean, needles can get pretty big, right?”
    “Sure, needles can. But not the type that people use to take insulin”
    Sometimes I wish I’d given a different answer just to see the episode…

  4. Rachel says:

    I was once almost arrested after a car accident because syringes had come out of my purse and were ALL over the car. The officer was convinced that I was doing/selling drugs! I had to show him my vial of Humalog before he believed that I was actually a diabetic. (Also, what drug dealer would use such weak syringes? I feel like they need something more….scary.)

  5. Mike Hoskins says:

    Great post! Love the stories of you chasing your sister and using the needle cap as a makeshift EJECT button! Now that’s just awesome.

  6. Shannon says:

    I was going through some old purses of mine the other day and in most of them, there were syringes. I had to chuckle, thinking it’s nothing to me but if anyone else would have gone through them — they’d have surely thought “Wth?” lol

  7. laura says:

    I had a Plymouth Champ. My first car. 4 speed. Red. (nostolgic sigh) Nice post!

  8. Lorraine says:

    I found a strip in that exact spot of my dryer. Very creative use of the syringe for the tape player! 😉

  9. Scott E says:

    I’ve found plenty of “off-label” uses for syringes (draining a blister or pimple, removing dirt from beneath my fingernails, cleaning out a coffeemaker), but I can’t remember actually chasing anyone with them.

    I haven’t had problems with used test strips all over the house, but I have with the clear-plastic end-cap on the plunger side of the syringe. I’d always remove it with my teeth while I removed the orange cap with my fingers (multitasking!) and chew on it while I drew up and injected the insulin. Then I’d spit it in — or near — the trash can. If you think chewed pen-caps are disgusting, you haven’t seen the trail of syringe debris I used to leave behind!

  10. Lindsay says:

    Hilarious! So true! Great post! 🙂

  11. shannon says:


    so were you on the side of oprah or tng, I MUST KNOW.

  12. Jillian says:

    I was cleaning my house yesterday and found about 10 test strips in the most random places and I thought to myself, “How the hell did that get there!?” Then I realized they are like sand…you’ll never get rid of it.

    I also love your story about chasing your sister. I never chased my older brother but I use to threaten to give him a shot of insulin in the middle of the night so he wouldn’t mess with me. I would hold up the syringe and say, “In your sleep pal!” Good thing we’re close.

    And just the other day I saw the white cap (from the plunger side) on the sidewalk and randomly said outloud to my friend, that’s for a syringe. I got the strangest look but whatever. Part of being a diabetic!

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