Why Backup Supplies are Important to a T1D

“It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

Growing up, this mantra was frequently repeated by my mother regarding my diabetes supplies. More often than not, I’d roll my eyes at the saying – not because I was annoyed with her, but because the prospect of carrying extra supplies “just in case” felt very inconvenient. My purse/backpack/overnight bag would already be crammed to maximum capacity, so squeezing in backup needles or insulin was practically impossible. But typically, I’d cave and make it all work somehow, because the fear of not having something essential when I was away from home was strong enough.

I’ve kept up this practice in my adulthood, as overnight travel and increased distance from home have become more common. And I was reminded why it’s a good idea very recently.

I was staying at a friends’ place for the night. They live about 45 minutes away from my house, which isn’t far, but it was far enough for me to want to make sure I had extra supplies. I definitely did not want to have to make that drive twice in one night, and I knew it wouldn’t even be a realistic option, because chances were good that I’d be drinking alcohol – it was game night, after all.

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If you have T1D, always be prepared.

Pizza, beers, and laughs were had, and before we knew it, it was one in the morning. We all headed off to bed, and just as I do every night, I checked my blood sugar before I got totally settled.

I was wicked high – the mid-300s, actually.

I was worried, because I thought I’d been on top of my blood sugar for most of the night. I gave myself an extended bolus for the three slices of pizza I ate, limited my beer intake (too many carbs), and kept a watchful eye on my CGM. While I did know that my blood sugar was climbing, I thought that I was staying on top of it with correction doses. Apparently not.

No matter, I figured. The best I could do was take more insulin, drink some water, and try to relax a bit before bed. I didn’t want to sleep until I knew my numbers were coming down, but I also knew that my willpower to stay awake was fading. So I set an alarm on my phone to wake up in an hour and check my blood sugar again.

When I did, I was 377! I couldn’t believe it. I followed the same process again – bolused, drank water, set an alarm to wake up in another hour – and hoped for the best. But when my alarm blared again at 3 A.M. and I discovered that I was STILL stuck at 377, something told me that there was more to the story here. I lifted up my shirt to check my pod, which should’ve been securely stuck to my belly…except it wasn’t. The end with the cannula was sticking up, revealing that the cannula was not underneath the surface of my skin.

I felt simultaneously pissed off and relieved. I was mad because I’d just changed my pod earlier that day, so it should not have come off so easily. But I was relieved because finally, I had an explanation behind the super-high, super-stagnant blood sugars.

And I was seriously relieved that I’d thought to pack my insulin, a spare pod, and an alcohol swab in my overnight bag.

So there I was, changing my pod at 3 A.M. Far from fun, but it was necessary. I even wound up giving myself an injection with a syringe – yet another diabetes supply that I don’t really need to carry but had stowed away in my kit (just in case) – to ensure that my system had insulin in it to bring my blood sugar back down.

From there, it was a long night (morning!) as I set numerous alarms for the next few hours to wake up, check my blood sugar, and bolus more as needed. I couldn’t rely on my CGM for readings, because guess what? It got torn right off my arm as I tossed and turned in bed. Go figure, right? (I didn’t have a backup sensor because the CGM is one thing that isn’t exactly necessary. It makes life a helluva lot easier, but for a single overnight trip, an extra sensor wasn’t needed.)

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What a long night…

I probably only got three hours of sleep that night, and I was pretty damn defeated looking at a shitty CGM graph the next day. But you know what? The whole incident serves as a stark reminder that it’s important to ALWAYS have backup supplies: You never know when you might depend on them.

When in Doubt, Change the Pod

I’d only been wearing my new pod for about an hour when my arm brushed up in exactly the wrong way against a chair. Riiiiiiiip!

My pod tore right off – not from my arm, but it lifted up from the adhesive that it was glued to and dangled precariously from the still-intact adhesive stuck to my arm.

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Would you have kept the pod on, or changed it?

After cursing loudly, I asked my mother for her opinion. I wanted to know if she could see the cannula, because that was the component that made me most concerned. As long as the cannula was still stuck under my skin and delivering insulin, it shouldn’t matter that my pod was a little loose – right?

She tried to peek under and around my site, but it was virtually impossible to tell whether the cannula was where it should be. I thought about it for a few moments, and decided that it would be wise to just change out the pod. The notion of tossing one that had only been in use for an hour was unappealing to me, but I know myself pretty well, and I know for damn sure that I would’ve been super paranoid about the pod functioning properly for the following 72 hours. I also figured that it couldn’t hurt to try calling Insulet to see if they would replace the kaput pod. The odds were slim, but why not try?

So after I changed my pod, I dialed up Insulet and described the situation to the customer support representative. And…I got a replacement! I was pleasantly surprised by the rep’s empathy towards the situation and how easy it was to get my replacement. She reaffirmed that I did the right thing, noting that if she’d been in my shoes, she would have called it in, too. It goes to show that when in doubt, change the pod – and don’t hesitate to call for a replacement.

How to Change an OmniPod

I decided to do something a little different and take video of how to change an OmniPod. Rest assured, though, that it does not take 22 seconds – it’s more like a seven-minute process.

Some things you’ll notice about my process:

  1. I fill my syringe with insulin and set it aside before deactivating my old pod. This simply means that I wear the old pod a little bit longer so there’s less of an interruption in time that I go without insulin.
  2. I use a pen to smack bubbles out of the syringe. Air bubbles will inevitably develop when drawing insulin out of a vial, so I find that gently hitting the sides of the syringe with a pen is the most effective way to get rid of the pesky air pockets.
  3. I prep my site with an alcohol swab, followed by a skin-tac wipe. The alcohol merely cleans the site, whereas the skin-tac makes the pod adhere to my skin better and longer.
  4. The new pod activates best when it is adjacent to my PDM. I always place my new pod to the right of my PDM. This helps the PDM register the new pod.
  5. It doesn’t actually hurt when I rip off an old pod. Not sure if you detected my dramatic facial expressing, but I was just yukking it up for the camera. It truly doesn’t hurt, especially if you just remove it in one swift motion.

So that’s it, the full process boiled down into 22 measly seconds. I admit that I kind of had fun making this video, even though the sight of myself sans make-up is semi-horrifying. But give me a break, I was on my way to a Pilates class! And let’s be real, diabetes isn’t always glamorous.