Two months ago, a good friend of mine went on an insulin pump after living with type 1 diabetes for 20 years. Needless to say, it's a big transition. I asked her to share her experiences, and here she tells us woman to woman what to expect — from getting it on to fashion choices — when switching from daily injections to an insulin pump.
While I've resisted switching from syringes to an insulin pump for the past five years, the fact that my husband and I would like to have children finally convinced me to make the switch. Plus, as someone who was on intensive insulin therapy, I was giving myself five or more shots a day, and had the stomach bruises to prove it. Even though I have very good control of my disease, all of my doctors encouraged me to get on the pump before getting knocked up.
Overall, I am absolutely thrilled to be on the insulin pump . . . now. The first month of use was pretty rough. Low points included an accidental infusion set, which sent my bloodsugar level to 584 when it is normally 90 to 140, hooking my catheter on doorknobs (extremely painful), and a lot of issues with how the heck to wear this thing.
To see my top considerations about and reasons for going on an insulin pump,
- Be prepared to fight tooth and nail with your insurance company. This piece of equipment costs between $5,000 and $6,000, so if your insurance company covers part of the cost (mine covered 90 percent), you're going to have to be diligent about contacting them to keep things on track.
- You will likely be miserable for the first month. The longer you are on syringes (like I was), the harder it will be for you to adjust to having something on your body constantly. Hang in there, though. You will get through it, and eventually you will absolutely love your new diabetic therapy.
- This is absolutely essential for diabetic women. Women have to deal with more diabetic wonkiness due to hormonal cycles (my bloodsugars fluctuate a lot right before my period), so insulin pump therapy is perfect for us ladies. Also, this is a great way to ensure that you'll have a healthy pregnancy. Go on the pump before you get pregnant, if possible, because a month of adjustment time is a lot harder when you're a few weeks pregnant, on both you and your little one.
- You can eliminate the "dawn effect." Since I was first diagnosed, I've had the "dawn effect," which means that my bloodsugar tends to go up in the middle of the night and correcting the insulin levels with syringes is very difficult. But I have virtually eliminated the dawn effect since going on the pump, as I can program different basal rates to counteract the creeping rise in bloodsugar.
- You'll have to get creative with your wardrobe. I'm a big fan of dresses with pockets, and cutting a hole in one pocket and sewing the edges so they don't fray has allowed me to string my catheter tubing through the pocket, and keep my pump in my pocket. I've also sewn little pouches/pockets on the interiors of pocketless skirts and pants.
- Not getting a pump for aesthetic reasons is just silly. I resisted going on the pump for years for aesthetic reasons: I was afraid that it would look weird with a swimsuit, or it would mark me as a diabetic to the rest of the world. The truth is, hardly anyone is going to notice it, even if it's clipped onto your belt. As for the swimsuit, I place the infusion set high on my abdomen, and it isn't noticeable at all under my one-piece halter suit.
- Adjustable insulin rates mean you're going to be physically healthier. If you care at all about your long-term health, you need to consider going on the pump. It helps keep bloodsugar levels consistently lower, which lowers the chances of developing long-term complications such as retinopathy, which can lead to blindness, or neuropathy, which can lead to amputation.
- This will not affect your sex life, except for the better. First things first: When you have sex, you detach your insulin pump, so the only thing you have to deal with is your infusion set. Initially, I was self-conscious about having the infusion set on my body, and my partner was afraid that he would pull it off when he touched my back or my stomach. We both got over this issue pretty darn quickly, and now, since my bloodsugars are under such amazing control, we don't have to worry about low bloodsugars or high bloodsugars affecting our sex life, which has only made things better between the sheets.
- You're going to feel emotionally better on the pump. With tighter bloodsugar control, you'll be less likely to feel disoriented, woozy, or sleepy due to fluctuating sugar levels. This in turn has made my entire life better, including my moods, which used to dip and spike with my bloodsugars.
- You may be more motivated to get active. While I've always been active, my pump has encouraged me to exercise even more. I love that I can dial down my basal rate (the tiny amount of insulin delivered hourly to maintain my bloodsugar level) to account for my increased activity level.