5 Things I Hate About Pod Failures

I’ve had a slew of pod failures – three in the last two weeks.

What gives? I’m not exactly sure yet, but I’m hoping to get to the bottom of it. I sent my most recent failed pod to OmniPod/Insulet for analysis, and my suspicions are telling me that I have a bad batch of pods in my arsenal.

While I wait to hear back, I decided to write a blog post listing the five things I hate the most about pod failures as a form of catharsis…

1 – How suddenly and randomly they occur. Pods don’t give an eff as to whether or not they fail at an inconvenient time. In the middle of a conference call? Fails can happen. Sleeping? Fails can happen. On a date? Fails can happen. Just sitting there minding your own damn business? Yes, still, fails can happen. The unpredictability of pod failures makes them doubly obnoxious and loathsome.

2 – That wretched, unrelenting BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Crying babies, barking dogs, ambulance sirens – I’d much prefer any of those other sounds over the high-pitched scream of a failed pod. I get why it’s necessary – how else are you supposed to know that a pod is no longer functioning – but it makes my ears want to bleed. Plus, you’ve got no choice but to silence the pod by sticking a paperclip/toothpick/other equally skinny object into that teensy-weensy crevice in the corner of the device! Let’s be real here, who has a paperclip just…available like that at all times in the event of a pod failure? It’s no wonder I chose to silence my most recent screeching pod by taking a hammer to it (note to anyone else who chooses to use this method: DON’T DO IT INDOORS, go outside and smash it on the pavement or in your garage…and maybe wear something to protect your eyes, just in case).

I smashed this screaming pod with a hammer and let me tell you, it felt great to release my frustration that way!

3 – The perfectly good insulin that gets wasted. When I deal with a pod failure, I can sometimes salvage the remaining insulin left within by inserting the syringe from the brand-new replacement pod into the insulin reservoir and sucking it out (literally the opposite of adding insulin into the reservoir for a routine pod change). But it isn’t always possible to rescue the insulin due to time constraints, amount left, and so forth. So it’s extra painful to just toss the failed pod away knowing there’s insulin left inside it that I just won’t be able to use.

4 – You don’t always find out why it happened in the first place. I am a naturally inquisitive person who is always asking “why”. So when a pod fails, I want to know what went wrong. Unfortunately for me, I don’t always get an answer. OmniPod/Insulet customer service representatives might be able to tell me why based on the reference code I provide them when a pod fails – when that reference code is found in their database, the answer might be that static electricity caused it to fail, or that when the pod was performing its routine and automatic safety checks, the pod itself determined it could no longer be used. But there have been plenty of other times that my reference code didn’t signify anything, leaving me permanently clueless as to what happened to make the pod fail. SO FRUSTRATING!

5 – You have to call customer support in order to get a replacement. As someone who has customer support experience, I dread these sort of calls. It’s just a giant pain in the neck to have to go through everything about your experience with a failed pod, such as how long I was wearing it for, what brand of insulin I use, where the pod was located, the lot, sequence, and reference code numbers…the list of questions go on and on. The silver lining here is that I’ve almost always had a very positive experience when calling OmniPod/Insulet to report a pod failure. My issue is usually documented in 10 minutes or less, and I’ve never had a problem getting a replacement, which shows is indicative of superior customer service.

But…is it so much to ask for the dang thing to simply work the way it’s supposed to 100% of the time?!

Can Certain Sites Trigger More Insulin Pump Failures?

Insulin pump sites have been a hot topic for me lately.

Not only did I share that I’m in the process of experimenting with some new (intimidating) sites, but I’m also contemplating the efficacy of all of my current sites.

My site lineup (as of this writing) includes the abdomen, upper arms, lower back, and thighs. And I’ve noticed an unusual pattern emerging with one of these sites that I know for a fact isn’t happening just to me – it’s happened to my mom, too…

…and that pattern is a series of failures with sites on the upper arms.

I can’t offer any explanation for it other than it’s definitely been a “thing” for my mom and I these last few weeks. It started happening to her first. I think she had 3 or 4 pod failures throughout August, and it only happened to pods that she was wearing on her upper arms. At first, I was skeptical of this and assumed it was maybe a bad batch or a total coincidence.

But then it happened to me, twice in a row.

On both occasions, I’d been sitting there, minding my own business (well, the first time, I was a passenger in a car and the second time, I was leading a virtual meeting with a couple dozen people on the call…the latter was far more disruptive).

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Here I am, holding up the second offending pod, right after I wrapped up the call during which it alarmed. Clearly, I was not amused.

My pods hadn’t been delivering a bolus.

I didn’t bump up or come into contact with the pods in any manner whatsoever.

My pods weren’t due to expire for another 12ish and 48ish hours, respectively.

There was no blood at the pod sites.

The cannulas on both pods weren’t kinked.

Static electricity wasn’t a factor.

But what these pods did have in common was that they were on my upper arms – one on the right, one on the left.

It’s straight-up bizarre, and when I called Insulet/OmniPod to report the second instance, I made sure they noted in their records that this phenomenon has occurred not just for me, but also for my mom. The representative didn’t say whether other people have been calling in with this issue, but it’s definitely weird that it’s happened more than once to both my mom and to me.

So while I can’t say for certain – at this time, anyways – whether particular sites result in more pod failures than others, I can say that I won’t be wearing a pod on my upper arm any time soon…and I’m going to be on the lookout for similar stories from other OmniPod users in the DOC. After all, our ingenious community can be even better than the pump manufacturers themselves when it comes to troubleshooting, so I’m hopeful that I can get to the bottom of this before long. I like my upper arm as a site because my insulin absorption is great there, but I’m not willing to use it again until I know I won’t experience another pod failure in the foreseeable future.

Losing Patience with Customer Support

The other day, I nearly LOST IT on the phone with an Insulet representative.

I’m not proud of it, but I also was not sure why this particular phone call was taking so long.

I was calling in regards to a pod failure – something I’ve had to call and report many times before, so I’ve become very familiar with how the usual phone call goes:

Me: Hi, I’m calling to report a pod failure.

Insulet Representative: Okay, could I have your first and last name, date of birth, and shipping address?

*I provide the information.*

Insulet Rep.: Thank you for verifying your information. Could you please tell me about the pod failure incident?

*I explain what happened with the pod failure. The rep will ask me a series of follow-up questions, such as where was I wearing the pod? How long was I wearing it before the failure? Did I notice anything unusual about the pod activation? Did I need to seek medical assistance for the pod failure? Typically, this is the list of questions I’m asked, and then I finish my call with the rep.*

Insulet Rep.: We’ll be sending you a replacement pod. We will send it via standard shipping, meaning it will arrive in 7-10 business days. Is that okay with you?

Me: Yes, thank you.

*And then after exchanging pleasantries, the call is over. Standard running time on the phone is about 6-7 minutes. No big deal at all.*

So imagine my surprise, and growing ire, when a phone call that should’ve only lasted a few minutes stretched just beyond 20 minutes.

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I’m sure that all T1Ds can commiserate with me on this one…how many hours, and how much patience, have you lost due to customer support?

I still don’t really know why it lasted so long. The agent I spoke with was asking me WAYYYY to many follow-up questions regarding the pod failure, and what made it especially irritating was that I’d already explained every single detail surrounding the whole incident. It was like she was questioning my reporting abilities. Either that or she was really slow with taking notes, and maybe I was talking too fast for her? Who knows. All I knew was that I was calling in the middle of my workday, and I had to get this wrapped up ASAP so I could turn my full attention back to my work.

That said, it was difficult to stay patient, and I probably slipped up toward the end of the call. Actually, I totally slipped up, because my answers to her questions became very curt in my attempt to expedite the call…which didn’t work, by the way.

I felt a tinge of guilt for my brusqueness. After all, I used to be a customer service representative who spoke with her fair share of irate customers. I knew it would be appreciated if I at least said a sincere thank you before hanging up. So I did, and even though I wasn’t exactly proud of myself for losing my cool, I was glad that I could turn my attitude around in the end.

It’s kind of a metaphor for how I’m trying to handle my diabetes these days…allow myself to feel how I want to feel, but then go about handling whatever situation is in my way using a level head. Because that’s how to make things happen, IMHO.

What the…BEEP!

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

A long, unfaltering, high-pitched beep was emitting from something in the pharmacy. I saw heads turn in the vicinity as fellow customers, as well as myself, tried to identify the source of the noise.

I gulped. Could it be coming from me? Did my OmniPod fail right then and there as I was picking up my prescription?

WHAT THE...BEEP!
I wish an image could accurately portray just how annoying the beeping sound can be.

I anxiously dug through my backpack, my fingers searching for my PDM, until they met it. I pulled it out and prayed that all was well, that my pod was working as it should be.

A quick press of a button, and…I confirmed that my PDM and pod were, indeed, working properly. Simultaneously relieved yet still bemused by the noise, I put my PDM away while I scanned the area around me, determined to find out what was making a sound so similar to my OmniPod.

What was the culprit? Well, you know those little plastic boxes that drugstores encase things like razor blades in, to prevent theft? That was the thing emitting a blaring beep, in this situation. And like I’d initially assumed, it was coming from me: I was holding one of those boxes in my hand (because I was about to purchase razor blade replacement cartridges), and I’d unintentionally obscured the sensor that triggers the alarm to go off.

Whoops.

While it was nice to know that my insulin pump hadn’t failed on me, it was still somewhat embarrassing to discover that I was the cause of the ruckus, anyways.

Lesson learned: Keep those protective plastic cases in plain sight so I won’t have to misidentify what the beep is coming from.

A Pod Failure Won’t Foil my Fun

I had just zipped up my coat when I heard a faint, high-pitched beeeeeeeeeeep emerging from somewhere in the vicinity.

My mom and I exchanged looks. “Uh, oh,” we said simultaneously.

“It isn’t me,” Mom said, patting her pod.

“It can’t be me, it sounds too far. Are you sure it’s not the refrigerator door that was left open?” I asked, as I unzipped and peeled off my coat.

She didn’t have to answer the question, though, because as I took my coat off, the beeping sound grew louder. I looked down at my abdomen and cursed. Yup, my pod had just failed.

I wasn’t totally surprised that it happened. The dry winter air was triggering excessive static electricity that weekend, and the sweater I chose to wear that day seemed to be charged with it. I couldn’t move my arms without hearing little sparks going off. If I was smart, I would’ve changed my top to one that was less filled with static. But I had somehow managed to convince myself that there was no way my pod could possibly fail due to my clothing choices.

I know better than that.

The real kicker in this situation is that we were obviously headed out somewhere – we were hoping to go to our favorite bar for a quick drink. But with the pod’s failure occurring at basically the most inopportune time, we were left with a three choices:

  1. Stay home. Take out the insulin, wait a half hour, and resign ourselves to the fact that it just wasn’t a good night to go out.
  2. Go out, but take a syringe and a vial of insulin with us. That way, I could give myself a shot, if need be, while we were at the bar. We could head home after the one drink and I could change the pod once we were back.
  3. Go out and take a total risk by leaving all extra diabetes supplies at home, and just wait until after we had our drink to change the pod.

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A cocktail by the candlelight.

I like living on the edge sometimes, but option #3 is just way too dangerous. So we went with option #2. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just opt to wait a half hour (insulin needs 30 minutes to come to room temperature before it can be put into a new pod), it’s merely because we didn’t want to stay out late. And yes, a half hour can make that much of a difference to me and my mom!

So we left the house with an emergency insulin vial and syringe in tow. And it’s amazing how much better it made me feel to know that I had both, just in case.

Fortunately, I didn’t need them. I monitored my blood sugar carefully during our hour-long excursion, drank plenty of water, and deliberately chose a lower-carb, whiskey-based cocktail that wouldn’t spike me. And I was able to enjoy every last sip of it before returning home and changing my pod soon after walking through the front door.

I do have to say, though, that under different circumstances, I’d absolutely make different choices. If we weren’t less than three miles away from the house, and if we’d planned on staying out for more than a single drink, then you bet your bottom dollar that I would’ve changed my pod before going out. But in this situation, I made the decision that felt right for me, and felt comforted by the fact that I had backup supplies in case I needed them.

 

The Possible Pod Failure, or “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Judging by the title of this blog post, you might assume that I’m rewriting yet another Christmas song to make it about diabetes. Well, I’m here to tell you that is false – no more Christmas carol transformations for me! (At least, not until Christmas 2019.)

Rather, this post is all about an odd, kind of silly thing that happened to my mother and I when we were out on a walk with Clarence, my parents’ dog.

We both heard a high-pitched beeping coming from…somewhere.

We exchanged glances and my mom asked me if I heard that sound. I nodded, and we both sighed as we fished through our pockets for our PDMs. That’s because we both just knew that one of us was experiencing a pod failure, and that the pressing of a couple buttons would reveal who was about to become extremely annoyed.

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My walking buddies, moments after the false alarm.

But both of our PDMs indicated that our pods were working just fine. Bemused, she told me that sometimes her PDM won’t recognize the pod failure right away, and it will be the pod itself that emits the beep-of-dread. So I started lifting up layers of my heavy winter clothing to see if my pod was making the sound, while she briefly stopped walking to listen closer to her pod.

After our careful scrutiny, we determined that…

…the beeping sound was actually someone using a weed whacker or some other piece of lawn-care equipment in the distance. Oops.

We continued our walk, chuckling a bit about it while Clarence pranced along in between us. It was a relief to know that we wouldn’t have to scramble home so one of us could take out insulin and a fresh pod to apply as soon as possible.

What’s the point of sharing this little vignette? To show that diabetes is such a significant part of our lives, always one of our first thoughts, even in the most mundane cases. It also illustrates how volatile diabetes can be – just like that, a random beep can change the course of the day and determine your next series of actions.

Just some food for thought, all triggered by a (literally) false alarm.