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.