A T1D Christmas Craft

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on December 16, 2020. I’m sharing it again today because this was a fun and festive (if not messy) craft that I did with an insulin vial that I saved. Currently, I have about a dozen or so empty insulin vials set aside and I’m wondering what kind of craft I should do next…

I love Christmas, crafting, and some might argue that I love T1D (that’s mostly false, but when you’ve got a chronic illness, you’ve got to learn how to love some aspects of it…otherwise, you’ll be miserable).

So I recently *attempted* to combine all three of these things and do a little DIY project with an empty insulin vial.

And I learned a few things along the way…

  1. do not recommend messing with a glass vial without safety glasses, gloves, and a trash can nearby. I was lucky enough to avoid any major glass breakage, but some did happen, and I could totally see this craft getting wicked messy and potentially ouchie without taking the proper precautions.
  2. Insulin vials are stable AF…they are not meant to be tampered with.
  3. Glitter cannot be directly injected into an insulin vial. Period, bottom line, don’t even try it.

Okay, so now that I’ve got my disclaimers/lessons learned out of the way, let me tell you why I decided to fill an empty insulin vial with gold glitter.

For years, I’ve seen DIY projects floating around online involving old diabetes supplies. They range in the level commitment and skill involved, but there’s no questioning the creativity of our community when it comes to recycling supplies we’d normally throw away after using.

One project that I’ve seen over and over again is transforming an empty insulin vial into a Christmas ornament: Simply stick an ornament hook into the insulin vial’s rubber top, hang it on a Christmas tree branch, and bask in its beauty. I decided to take this concept to the next level by putting gold glitter into the vial because insulin is often referred to as “liquid gold” within the diabetes online community. What better way to represent that than to make it appear as though the contents of a vial were truly liquid gold?

In order to do this, I set aside a vial once I was finished with it/sucked every last drop of insulin out of it. Then, I made a sad attempt at combining glitter with water and using an old syringe to transfer it to the vial (needless to say, I had no luck). So I came up with a new strategy: Pierce the rubber stopper and try to funnel glitter in…and that didn’t work. It became evident that I’d have to remove the top entirely, so using my nifty new toolkit that my father just purchased for me (thanks, dad), I set about the task. I used a razor to carve the rubber stopper up and out, and then pliers to get the metal maroon covering off completely. I broke off a small piece of glass in the process – whoops – but using those tools did the trick for me…all I did after that was take the cap from a new vial of insulin and glued it to the top of the glitter vial to ensure most of its sparkly contents would remain inside.

And voila, here’s the end result:

Despite the glass breaking off, this DIY came out better than I expected.

As I held the glittery vial in front of my Christmas tree for a few photos (if I didn’t take pictures, then it didn’t happen), it occurred to me that there’s a strong likelihood that many families will have to make a difficult choice this holiday season: Give a special gift to a loved one, or use that money to pay for insulin instead. Or even more seriously, to have to choose between making this month’s mortgage/utilities payments, or getting life-saving medication.

The thought shook me, as nobody should have to make a choice like that ever.

And so I thought of something to add to my Christmas wish list: affordable insulin for all.

Trying to Stay in the Loop with DIY Diabetes

I can’t remember exactly when I heard of “DIY diabetes”, also known as “looping”. It may have been at a conference a few years ago, or maybe I saw something about it on social media. Either way, it seems to have totally blown up as more and more people with T1D are looping.

TRYING TO STAY IN THE LOOP WITH DIY DIABETES
Are you a Looper?

Before I talk about it more…a brief definition of looping. Loop refers to a kind of automated insulin delivery system. According to what I read about it on diaTribe, Loop systems are open-source and DIY, meaning that T1D Loopers download an app for the iPhone that communicates with a device that also communicates with compatible pumps and CGMs.

If you’re confused, don’t worry – so am I. There’s a number of moving pieces involved with Looping that make it daunting and difficult for me to keep up with as the technology changes. But the ultimate goal of Looping is what has me interested in it. Looping is supposed to help improve time-in-range, particularly overnight, because it does a lot of the thinking for you and ultimately makes life with diabetes easier. And I’m all for that.

Looping’s been popping up on my social media a lot lately because at the end of April, the geniuses behind Loop announced that compatibly with the OmniPod for the first time. (Previously, Looping was only available to Medtronic folks.) On what feels like a daily basis, I notice more people on my social media platforms – particularly Instagram – who are Podders that have made the decision to start Looping. The common denominator with many of these individuals, besides being Looping Podders (sounds like a wacky band name) is that they’ve found great success in doing so. It seems like each person spends 90% or more of his/her time in range, encounters fewer low/high blood sugars, and wastes less time worrying about diabetes in general.

All of that sounds too good to be true. Of course my interest is piqued by such incredible results, and of course I’d love to dive right into Looping and see whether it’s a good fit for me. But the reason why I don’t is simple…I just hesitate to trust new technology.

Technology can fail. Plain and simple. All operations for Looping with the OmniPod take place on the iPhone. That means that the PDM is rendered useless. What happens if I lose my cell phone? What if the battery dies when I need to bolus? What do I do when I upgrade to a new phone? There are so many questions I can think of related to the phone issues alone, never mind any other potential problems. Put simply, the unknowns – the “what ifs” – terrify me so much that I can’t help but be skeptical of Looping.

But this doesn’t mean my interest goes away. My curiosity about Looping is stronger than ever. The DIY element is frightening, but the rewards could be greater than the risks.

The only thing I know for sure is that I won’t even attempt to Loop until I have a conversation with my endocrinologist about it. Together, we make decisions about my diabetes care and treatment that we both feel are safe and right for me. I’d love her opinion on Looping to see how much she knows about it and whether she has any patients who use it. Until I talk to her and gain more information from other Loopers, it’ll just be something that I cautiously admire from afar on social media.