Do You Know How Long OmniPods Last?

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on June 3, 2020. I’m sharing it again today because I have seriously benefited from learning the “true” length of time that a single OmniPod lasts on my body. Read on to learn more…

When people notice my OmniPod insulin pump, the first question that I’m asked is “what IS that?”

After I explain that it’s my insulin pump, and it’s called a pod, the second question I’m asked is some variation of “how long does it last?”

The canned answer that I provide is something about having to change it every three days, because that’s how the OmniPod is advertised.

But I’ve used this pump for years now and never bothered to really test this three-day limit. I’ve known for a long time that my pod works a handful of hours after the expiration alarm starts chiming, but I wasn’t sure about exactly how many hours I had before a pod expired for good.

So, the other day, I decided to find out.

Have you ever made your pod last longer than 80 hours? If so…are you a wizard???

My pod expired at 10:22 A.M. Since I prefer to change my pods in the evening, I figured it was the perfect time for this little experiment, assuming that the pod really would last me for the majority of the day.

And, well, it did! At 10:22 on the dot, the pod beeped at me to notify me that it was expired. And in the six hours after that, it would alarm every hour (on the 22nd minute) to remind me, time and time again, that it was expired. In the seventh hour – beginning at 5:22 P.M. – my PDM started chirping at me on and off every 15 minutes or so. First it was because I was running out of insulin, but then it was to really get the point across that my pod was expired!

I was determined to use every last drop of insulin in the pod, though, so I bolused for my dinner around 5:45 and I was pleased to discover that I got my full dose of insulin without any issues. As I was cleaning up after dinner, that’s when the signature OmniPod BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP went off as one blaring, unceasing alarm. I checked the time: 6:22 P.M.

So there was my answer. An OmniPod can last precisely 80 hours after you initially activate it for the first time (or in other words, 8 hours after you receive the first expiration message)…as long as it still has insulin in it. It’s definitely something good to know for sure now, because in the future, it might come in handy and help me avoid wasting precious insulin.

Swimsuit Season is Here and My Diabetes Gadgets and I are Not Ready

A “yay”: Summer is here!!! Hooray for warm weather, beach trips, and backyard BBQs! (Not to mention VACCINES!)

A “nay”: My pods and my CGM sensors are about to bare themselves for the world to see and we are NOT READY for it.

My confidence in my appearance is rarely, if ever, high. But I like to fake it ’til I make it and act like I’m rocking my summer wardrobe instead of stressing about how my legs or arms look in the staples of the season that are designed to show more skin.

Usually, I have a lot more success in feeling good about how my medical devices appear on my body. Whether they’re hidden under my clothes or out for the world to see, I typically don’t care because these gadgets are keeping me alive!!! And that’s a lot more important than any negative body image connotations they may create.

A picture from a time during which I was very okay with PDA (public displays of my arms).

But something about this year feels different to me. I am so not looking forward to the extra stares that my diabetes technology attracts. I’m not sure if it has to do with being sheltered in the last year and a half because of the pandemic, but whatever the cause may be, this is something I’m grappling with as the temps creep up and the temptation to hit the beach grows stronger.

I know I’m not the only one dealing with this. In fact, I was in Maine for a couple of days with my parents and I was wearing my pod on my leg, whereas my mom had hers on her arm. And we had multiple people approach us about our pods! They weren’t necessarily rude in their approaches – curiosity drove them to speak with us and that’s innocent enough – but it’s still weird to know that people are looking closely enough at our bodies to see our devices and feel comfortable enough to ask us about them. Plus, I felt extra self-conscious about it because in typical Molly fashion, I had a sunburn all around my pod thigh site…when applying sunscreen, I almost always miss the area directly around my pods because I’m afraid of the sunscreen making my adhesive weaker or interfering with the pod’s functionality. So not only did I have this big chunk of plastic sitting on my leg, it was also red all around the site, drawing even more attention to it. It was a relief when I was able to put shorts on over my swimsuit and cover up both the burn and the pod.

So while I’m not loving how wary I’ve felt lately about baring my diabetes devices, I’m also coming to terms that it’s just a sort of phase that I’m going through right now. And that’s okay. I’m also trying to remind myself that I don’t have to feel obligated to go into detailed explanations when people ask me about my pod or CGM. It’s a natural tendency that I have to use it as a teaching moment and be a good diabetes advocate, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that as the summer season goes on, my comfortability with my diabetes devices increases and I worry less about the looks they tend to draw.

How a Normal Pod Change Turned Into a Bloodbath

WARNING: If you are at all squeamish when it comes to blood…then this blog post is NOT for you! I will not be posting any graphic photos or anything, but I’ll be telling a bloody tale that might make the faint of stomach a bit queasy. Read on if you have no fear…

There’s nothing quite like waking up and doing a routine pod change…only to have blood literally pour out of your body the moment you tear your old pod from its site.

Okay, so using the word “bloodbath” in the title might be a gross exaggeration (LOL at my pun because yep it was GROSS), but I digress…blood really did stream in a rivulet down my arm. It sounds wild, but it’s true!

This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I don’t often change my pod first thing in the morning, but every now and then, I’ll time it so that my pod is set to expire (like, really expire – pods expire for good 8 hours after receiving the initial “pod expired” message on the PDM) as soon as my wake-up alarm goes off. My only goal in prolonging the pod like that is to use up as much insulin as possible that’s left in the reservoir…naturally, I don’t like the idea of tossing a pod when it’s still got 50+ units of insulin left in it.

So I literally woke up on this particular morning at 6 A.M. to my pod screaming because I’d hit the 8-hour mark. I rolled out of bed and stumbled over to my mirror so I could have a better view of the pod, which was sitting on the back of my arm, and proceeded to rip the pod off. That’s when I saw blood – not just a tiny drop, but a full-on stream running down my arm!

The ‘betes can get bloody from time to time.

I was surprised, but still had my wits about me to the extent that I was able to run into my bathroom and grab some tissues so I could start wiping up the blood and apply pressure at the site. I barely made it in time – the blood was coming out so fast that drops were falling on the floor and my sink was getting dotted with red. I wasn’t really freaked out, per se, because I knew that if I just pressed hard enough with a tissue, then I’d be able to staunch the wound. And sure enough, within 5 minutes or so, I’d successfully done just that. I peeked under the last tissue I’d used and noticed a purplish mark at the old pod’s site, which indicated to me that I must’ve hit some sort of vein when I had put that pod on. Definitely not intentional, but something I hope to avoid going forward.

And undoubtedly…definitely not my favorite way to start the day!

Dodging DKA: What Happened and What I Learned From It

In 23ish years of life with type 1 diabetes, I’ve never really experienced DKA…and I feel wildly fortunate to have avoided it.

But the other day, I came extremely close to it, and it’s something I won’t soon forget.

Here’s what happened: It was the wee hours of a Sunday morning. I woke up because I had to use the bathroom. My pod was on my thigh. I was due to change it that Sunday evening. I noticed that the pod’s adhesive folded up in the exact wrong way (it was crinkled up by the cannula), causing the cannula to bend and dislodge itself from my body…

…except I didn’t make that super-important observation until around 11 A.M., after several hours of tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep because I was battling both a headache and stomachache.

What’s more is that around 10 A.M., I noticed that my CGM had been reporting a high blood sugar since about 5 A.M., and I simply hadn’t heard it alarming. When I saw that I was high, I took a bolus, but I didn’t bother checking on my pod because to my knowledge at that point, there was nothing wrong with it. Fast-forward to one hour later to when I did discover the dislodged cannula and I was feeling downright terrible: My stomachache turned into full-blown nausea, my head was pounding, my throat was drier than the Sahara, I couldn’t unfold myself out of the fetal position, AND I was feeling incredibly stupid for 1) missing my CGM’s blood sugar alerts and 2) not checking my pod to make sure it was secure to my body.

What bothered me more during this whole ordeal: my headache, my stomachache, or my anger at myself for letting this happen? (If you guessed the latter, then you’d be right.)

Fortunately, I did have a back-up pod and insulin with me, so I went about activating the new pod as quickly as possible. I felt a fleeting sense of relief when it was on me, but that relief turned into panic when I felt a swooping sensation in my stomach that indicated I was about to be sick. I ran to the bathroom and retched once, grateful that nothing actually came up, then sank down on the floor in shame, wondering how I could let myself get to this point of obvious borderline DKA.

The next few hours passed in a blur as I crumbled back into bed. I drank as much water as I could stomach, gave myself bolus after bolus, increased my basal rate, and tried to settle into a comfy position. I was extremely lucky that I wasn’t alone during this whole ordeal: My significant other was very concerned and doing everything he possibly could to help me. I was and am still so grateful for his care and attention. I didn’t admit it to him, but I was a little freaked out by the whole experience, but I took consolation over the fact that it didn’t come down to him having to bring me to the hospital.

By 4 o’clock that afternoon, my blood sugar was finally below 180 again and I was able to eat a little food, though I wasn’t overly hungry. I spent the remainder of the day beating myself up for letting this happen, but I guess that if I learned anything from it, it’s that I need to remember to 1) keep the volume turned up on my CGM so I can hear the alarms going off overnight, 2) check my pod immediately after hearing a high alarm so I can rule out any obvious pod issues, and 3) bring a syringe with me wherever I go so I can inject myself with insulin/get it in my system faster than a pod would be able to.

The experience also taught me a couple of other things…DKA is very real, very dangerous, and should be taken very seriously. The fact that I just barely dodged it is a jarring reminder that I should never underestimate it. On a much lighter note, though, I also proved to myself that I’m able to take control of a situation like that the moment I become aware of what’s going on. Thank goodness I was at least prepared enough that I had an extra pod and insulin on hand. I hope there isn’t a next time, but if there is, I know exactly what to do in order to take care of it as quickly as possible, thanks to this icky experience.

The Forgotten Bolus

My friends and family have always complimented me for having a good memory.

What can I say? I have a knack for remembering names and faces. I’m slightly better than decent at keeping track of birthdays. And I’ve kept journals of some sort for most of my life, so I’m usually able to recall the date on which a certain event took place (or I can at least look it up fairly quickly).

But my memory can fail me sometimes, and it did just that the other day when I forgot to bolus for dinner.

I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten a mealtime bolus in more than 23 years of life with diabetes. I suppose there’s a first time for everything…

To give myself a little credit, I truly thought that I had bolused. I remembered picking up my PDM and entering my blood sugar and carbohydrate information, but I never actually hit the very important “enter” button that would start delivering my insulin.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw my blood sugar rapidly rising – I’m talking double “up” arrows here – approximately 20 minutes after I finished my dinner.

And at first, I decided to ignore it! I thought that my insulin just needed a little more time to kick in, so I waited. And waited. And waited. But when I saw that I was rising above 250 mg/dL, I figured I should increase my temp basal…perhaps my body just needed a bit more insulin than I anticipated.

That’s when I picked up my PDM and saw that I had zero units of insulin on board. Extreme confusion turned into extreme panic as I asked my mom if I could check her PDM – what if I had picked hers up instead when I bolused for dinner and mistakenly gave her the insulin that was intended for me?!

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and I slowly began to piece together that I simply forgot to hit the bolus delivery button.

Whoops.

Almost one full hour after finishing my meal, I was finally delivering my mealtime bolus and silently fuming over my high blood sugar that ended up lasting several hours. It was a completely avoidable situation that shouldn’t have happened, but at least one good thing came out of it: I don’t think I’ll be forgetting to bolus any time soon.

Hello, Highs: Pooled Insulin Under my Pod Leads to Elevated BG

Have you ever tried troubleshooting a problem so much that you start to feel insane, and then like magic, the solution to it becomes clear and you wonder why you hadn’t tried it earlier?

This was the case with me and the mysterious high blood sugars that plagued me for two and a half days.

Based on this image, can you tell what was causing my blood sugar to be stubbornly high?

Once I started noticing a pattern of high blood sugars that got worse every time I ate food, I started doing everything else except changing my pod. I tried taking insulin for double the amount of carbs that I was actually eating, I ran a 95% temp basal increase for 8 out of 24 hours in the day, I cut carbs altogether and ate only 0 carb foods, I skipped meals altogether, and I even tried marching around the house for 15-minute intervals to try to get my insulin pumping through my system faster.

And nothing worked. I was able to get my blood sugar no lower than 180, but for most of that 60-hour window of time, I spent a good chunk of it in the mid-to-upper 200s.

Finally, on the day that my pod was due for a change, I decided that it must be the culprit behind my high blood sugars. When I removed the old pod, I knew immediately that something was wrong because the smell of insulin was so strong; plus, there was a large, damp spot on the pod’s adhesive, indicating that perhaps my insulin was pooling under my pod instead of entering my body.

It took 5-6 hours after I removed the leaky pod, but I finally did start to come back down to my normal levels, and was totally back on track the next day. It was a frustrating experience to endure, but a stark reminder of something that I’ve known in the back of my mind for years: that when I’m in doubt, I should change my pod.

How Long Do AAA Batteries Last in an OmniPod PDM?

How long do AAA batteries last in an OmniPod PDM?

The answer to this question has subtly haunted me for years.

My PDM is the only device in my diabetes management kit that actually runs on batteries. Everything else, such as my Dexcom receiver and my blood sugar meter, can be recharged, which is highly preferable over batteries. But until I make the transition to the OmniPod DASH system (which uses a rechargeable lithium battery in lieu of AAA batteries), I’m stuck with replacing the AAAs in my PDM whenever they drain.

But it was never overly clear to me…how do I actually know when the batteries are out of juice?

Just by looking at the battery display, you’d think that I’d need to swap out the AAAs A.S.A.P…but I discovered that isn’t the case.

There’s a battery icon on my PDM, of course, that shows roughly how much life my batteries have left in them. When new batteries are put into the PDM, it shows a fully charged battery. Some time after that, the battery icon is half full, and then after more time, it goes down to a tiny sliver to indicate the batteries are running low.

Ever since I became an OmniPod user, I always assumed that the batteries had to be replaced as soon as the display ran down to that itty bit of battery life. I just figured that was the signal. Plus, I didn’t want to run the risk of delivering a bolus or changing my pod only for my PDM to completely die halfway through, leaving me to figure out how much insulin I had left to deliver – or worse, with a pod not fully activated that I’d have to scrap.

For a long time, though, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been changing the batteries prematurely. Maybe they had more life past that little sliver. So I put my theory to the test: Last month, my PDM displayed the low battery icon. Instead of changing the batteries immediately, I decided to wait and see what would happen.

And I can report that my batteries did last much longer after that initial low battery icon appeared. In fact, they lasted an addition 7-8 pod changes (I lost track after the first handful). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my PDM could make it almost an additional month past that first indication of a low battery! And even better, I learned that the system does give a warning that makes it crystal clear when the batteries should be changed: The battery icon goes from having a tiny bit of life left to a flashing display showing a completely empty battery. I forget what the exact message was on my PDM, but I also got a system notification telling me to change my batteries soon.

I wish I remembered exactly when I changed the batteries last, but if memory serves me correctly, then it was sometime in November. So the AAA batteries in my OmniPod PDM lasted roughly three months.

Not too shabby, and now I know exactly when I can expect to change my PDM batteries.

A New Pod in 5 Minutes Flat

I literally just got off the phone with OmniPod/Insulet as I’m writing this post.

I jumped on the computer right away because I was so impressed with the speediness of their customer support team.

Normally, I only call customer support to report the occasional pod failure. I had my first one of the year over the weekend, so I made some time during the week to give them a call and tell them about it.

I’m used to being hit with all kinds of questions when I call customer support: Where were you wearing the pod? What were you doing when it failed? How long were you wearing it for? What kind of insulin were you using in it? What’s your date of birth/shipping address/Social Security Number? (Okay, they don’t ask about that last one, but they need so much information from me that they might as well get that, too!)

This time, after I verified my shipping address, I was simply asked to rattle off the alarm code that triggered this pod failure, and state approximately how long I wore the pod.

That’s it.

I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was to get a replacement pod.

Just a couple easy questions that I could answer straightaway because I had my PDM on hand (I always do when calling Insulet because 9 times out of 10, they’ll need information from it). The rep I spoke to on the phone just had one final question for me: Did I mind ground shipping for the replacement they were going to send to me, or did I need them to overnight it?

I let her know that standard shipping was just fine, and then I felt compelled to tell her that I was appreciative of her swift solution and professionalism. She thanked me and also clued me into the fact that Insulet’s worked hard to streamline the number and type of questions asked when customers call in, which made someone like me doubly happy.

I thanked her for her help again before hanging up the phone. Then I noticed: The length of our phone call was just under 5 minutes. It takes me a bit longer than that, on average, to apply a new pod.

In 5 minutes flat, a replacement pod was on its way to this satisfied customer. It’s nice to know that when pod failures happen – they do, and they will happen again – it’ll be much easier going forward to get them replaced.

How to Make Medical Adhesive for CGMs and Pumps Last Longer

Something that all people with diabetes that I know – myself included – struggle with from time to time is the adhesive that keeps our diabetes devices stuck to our bodies.

Real talk? Both the adhesives for my pods and my Dexcom sensors can be lackluster. About half the time, the adhesives that secure them to my body begin to peel around the edges when I’m only partway through the wear time of both devices. And another (much smaller, though far more infuriating) part of the time, the adhesives lose their stickiness entirely, causing the device to fall off my body.

When the adhesive is the reason why a sensor or a pod doesn’t last the full 10 and 7 days, respectively, it’s practically like experiencing a slap in the face because at least a technology error or failure feels more out of my control…the adhesive, though, feels like something that should never be a real issue, and I can’t help but blame myself for not making a pod or sensor more secure when the glue completely fades.

On the bright side, my experience with less-than-sticky pods and sensors forced me to think of ways to get them to last their full lifecycles on my body. Here’s how I make them last as long as possible:

Protective barrier wipes: I use these wipes each time I do a pod change. When my new pod is priming, I wipe whichever site I’m about to place it on with a protective barrier wipe. (I use an alcohol wipe earlier on in my pod change process.) These seem to help with adhesion without adding a ton of stickiness like regular SkinTac wipes tend to do. They literally do what they say they’ll do, which is make a protective barrier for a piece of medical equipment to stick to easily.

Dry my skin: This seems incredibly obvious, but I make sure that new pod and sensor sites are as dry as possible before I apply a device. This is much more of a problem for me in the summertime when weather causes me to sweat more, but I’ve been able to navigate that by wiping my skin with a clean towel and making sure air is circulating well in the room in which I’m applying the pod or sensor so any excess moisture evaporates off my skin.

I may or may not have tried using Scotch tape in the past to get my devices to stick better…(Spoiler alert: It did not work and I do not recommend.)

Specially designed stickers: Both Dexcom and OmniPod produce stickers that customers can request for free. I get them mailed straight to me and I find that they are most useful when a pod or a sensor is hanging precariously off my body. The stickers are shaped exactly to fit around both, so I never have to worry about missing a spot, and they’ve definitely helped me save more than one pod and sensor in the past. I don’t like wearing them unless I have to, though, because sometimes the extra adhesive seems to make the underlying adhesive weaker (not sure how that’s possible, but I’ve always had more luck waiting to add a sticker on top of a loose pod/sensor that’s in its last couple days of wear than adding the sticker on top in the beginning).

The “circle and press” technique: Most people probably already do this, but I actively have to remind myself that when I apply a new pod or sensor, I need to take my finger and circle it around the adhesive firmly three times in order to make sure it’s pressing up against my skin as securely as possible. This method also sort of irons out any wrinkles that might have appeared when the pod or sensor was initially stuck on, so it’s a simple yet effective thing to do…which is absolutely something we could all use more of when it comes to handling diabetes.

PDM System Error: What It Is and What to Do When It Happens

I crack open the slot on the back of my PDM where two AAA batteries are nestled. I smack them out from their slots, insert two fresh ones, and replace the cover. I wait for the system to power back on and am greeted with a high-pitched beeping sound soon after it’s reactivated…

…and become simultaneously annoyed, confused, and a bit panicked when I see a “system error” message displaying on the screen.

I follow the steps that flash on its display, instructing me to reset the date and time. Once I take care of that, my pod immediately deactivates, aggravating me further. I assemble all the supplies I need to activate a new pod, and once I have it on, I receive a message that I won’t be able to use the bolus calculation function on my PDM for 3-4 hours.

The whole incident was majorly inconvenient, but such is life with diabetes…

Anyways, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what exactly happened, and why it triggered my pod to fail.

Error messages on diabetes technology are never something I’ll be glad to see, but they do happen.

Fortunately, I can explain it!

I’ve experienced this phenomenon before – it happens when the internal battery within the PDM (not the AAA batteries) has a problem and stops working the way it should. It causes the system to get confused when new AAA batteries are inserted (because the system shuts off and turns back on) and it doesn’t remember the date or time. Because of that, it can’t identify when the current pod was activated, so it immediately triggers it to stop working so new one can be applied.

It’s obnoxious as heck because it’s a total unpredictable phenomenon, but it is what it is. It can be dealt with in a matter of a few hours, and the best part is that Insulet can be contacted so they can be made aware of the issue and overnight a new PDM – which is what they did for me. The day after this PDM problem occurred, I gave them a call, and within 10 minutes I was promised a new PDM that I would receive in about 24 hours.

So when a PDM system error happens again – not that I actually anticipate it to for a long time – I know the right course of action is to keep calm, follow the system’s instructions, and give Insulet a phone call. In other words? Rolls with the punches, because diabetes is good at directing them my way.