Navigating New Insulin Pump Sites and Nerves

Am I the only T1D out there who feels incredibly nervous about trying new insulin infusion sites?

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember, now that I’m thinking about it. Throughout my childhood, I stubbornly stuck to injecting in my arms, legs, and upper buttocks (tee-hee) because those were the areas I felt comfortable with. I don’t think I even considered jabbing myself in my stomach until I was in my teens, and it was only after I realized the importance of site rotation and reducing scar tissue.

So it’s kind of funny that when I went on the OmniPod just over five years ago, I only used my stomach and my lower back (just above the upper buttocks region, tee-hee) for pod placements. It was partly because my guinea pig – I mean, my mom – used those areas for her pods with success, and also because I was hesitant in the beginning to wear my pods on my arms or legs because of their increased visibility.

It went that way for a couple of year – four basic sites ’round my abdomen – when it occurred to me yet again that site rotation was also important for insulin pumpers, not just MDI-ers (multiple daily injection…ers). So I added my upper arms into the mix, and soon after, my upper thighs followed.

Navigating New Insulin Pump Sites and Nerves
The little diagram (courtesy of Insulet/OmniPod) above only shows a few of the sites that people with diabetes use…over the years, we’ve gotten a lot more creative!

But lately, I’ve shied away from wearing pods on my thighs because the area isn’t overly comfortable. When I roll over in my sleep at night, my pod presses up against my leg and the resulting pressure is just enough to disrupt my sleep and make it difficult for me to find a more restful position to sleep in.

As a result, I’ve started contemplating potential new pod sites, and one of the first places I went to for advice was…Instagram! Because…duh.

The DOC (diabetes online community) on Insta is a natural resource for this sort of thing because many people tend to share photos of their sites. It’s kind of a thing. One simple scroll through my feed taught me that people can get very inventive when it comes to finding new locations to place their CGMs and insulin pump infusion sites.

I saw people wearing Dexcoms on their forearms and calves. I saw pods on backs, calves, and even the upper chest area, the latter of which I found most intriguing. For men, it seems like a very accessible spot that causes little irritation, but for women? How the heck did the T1D ladies I saw with pods on their chest deal with it?

The general consensus, it seemed, was that women wearing pods on the upper chest agreed it was a site with great absorption and minimal discomfort.

I was still skeptical, though. I was worried about how it would look if I was wearing a v-neck tank with my pod poking out of, well, my bra! Then it hit me that my pod garners questions from strangers regardless of where it’s located. Furthermore, people will (probably?) be less likely to ask about it if it’s located on my chest because, um, that’s really awkward. My eyes are up here, people!!!

Then I remembered: I could give the site a try without wasting a pod because I have a demo pack that I got from a diabetes conference awhile back! The demo pack comes with a dummy pod that looks and feels just like a regular pod, but there’s no reservoir built into it, so insulin can’t be injected into it.

So right now, as I’m writing this, I’m wearing two pods: one on my upper arm that’s actually giving me insulin, and a fake one on my chest just to see how I like it. I must admit, so far, so good! I slept comfortably with it on last night and I haven’t had any issues wearing clothing or undergarments with it. I even went for a jog with it on and got pretty sweaty, but it stayed secure/I didn’t feel it bouncing around at all (thought the adhesive got a bit too damp for my liking…it stayed on but if I wasn’t careful I totally could’ve knocked it off).

While I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around an actual cannula piercing my skin at this location (eeeek), now that I know I can handle the pod itself living there, I’m one step closer to trying (and liking) a site that’s more intimidating to me – a win in my book.

Favorite Things Friday: My Very-Precise Pod Change Procedure

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

Not too long ago, it occurred to me that I am very, very, very, very, very strict about following a specific protocol every three days when I change my pod. In fact, it rarely deviates, but when it does (due to circumstances beyond my control), it throws me off track, like, a lot…which is why the way I do it is my favorite way.

my pod change procedure
Detritus from a typical set of site changes.

What’s so precise about my pod change procedure? Let me walk you through it…

Step 1) The numero uno thing I do, a half hour before I start my procedure for real, is remove a vial of insulin from the refrigerator. I’ve always been told that it’s important to let the insulin reach room temperature for at least 30 minutes before I start the pod change process. My mother was the one who told me that this step is crucial, because years ago, she’d heard from a representative at Insulet that room temperature insulin works best with pods for whatever reason.

Step 2) Once my insulin has reached room temperature, I set myself up at the island in the kitchen to go through the rest of the process. I make sure I have a totally clear area and ample lighting before I start on step #2.

Step 3) Next, I take an alcohol swab and wipe the top of the insulin vial that I’m drawing insulin from, and then I wipe my new site.

Step 4) Before even touching my PDM, I grab my syringe, stick it into the vial, and suck up the amount of insulin I’ll need for the next three days. This is usually somewhere between 100 and 150 units.

Step 5) This is where I deactivate my old pod, and jab at the buttons on my PDM to start the new pod activation process. The only reason why I get insulin into the syringe first is to minimize the amount of time I spend without a pod on my body. You might be surprised to learn that a short period of time without insulin can make a difference on blood sugar levels, but that’s just the way it is.

Step 6) I fill the new pod with insulin and hit a button to get it to start priming. During the priming period, I use an adhesive wipe around the new pod’s site to help it stick better to my skin.

Step 7) I finish up the process of removing the pod’s needle cap, then the adhesive stickers. I apply it with care to the new site and put pressure on it as I wait for the cannula to inject itself under my skin’s surface. And then I’m good to go!

Of course, I can’t always follow these steps as I’ve outlined them above. And while it messes me up a bit, and I usually have to take a little longer to change it, I roll with the punches and get it done. For instance, when I last visited Disney World, I had to change my pod in one of the park’s dimly-lit family restrooms with my mom using her outstretched hands as my mini work surface…far from ideal, but it was what it was.

Like all things associated with diabetes, I guess that I take comfort in keeping a routine, even with something as minor as a pod change.

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.