Diabetes has affected my life since before I was born. You see, my father was diagnosed with diabetes in his early teen years. By the time I was born, chronic high blood sugars had done their devastating damage to him-he was nearly blind and in the advanced stages of diabetic kidney disease. He died of the latter complication when he was just over 30 years old. I was nearly 3 at the time and my older brother was five. My mother was left to raise us alone, and developed good deal of anger at the disease. I know many of us share that anger towards diabetes and how it has affected our lives.
Something I was always fearful of was to actually “get” diabetes. The nightmare of this dreaded diagnosis came true on a day with too much significance-my father’s birthday.
My doctor sent me right away up to the Boston Joslin Diabetes Clinic. I found the clinic was full of other patients, just like me, living and learning about our disease and sharing our experiences for an entire week. It was a great experience.
After I returned home I exercised, I followed the diet restrictions, and I did incessant blood tests. But I began to feel worn down. It’s the endless struggle, with no time off for good behavior no matter how good you are.
Five years ago my doctor broached the subject of insulin pump therapy for me. I certainly thought he must be crazy. My initial reaction to this idea was, “No way, I don’t want to be hooked up to that thing!”
I continued struggling along and put a lot of effort into being the very best diabetic I could be. My attempts at tight control, which were largely unsuccessful, led me to the land of “hypoglycemia unawareness.” My husband found me unconscious on numerous occasions and in varied locations. One terrible time I awoke in my bedroom filled with paramedics and my doctor’s partner reviving me. Because of all the uniforms I was wondering why all the “policemen” and “policewomen” were in my bedroom. I couldn’t remember breaking any laws; heck, I couldn’t remember anything. That was the very lowest point in my life with diabetes so far.
My doctor continued to gently suggest the benefits of pump therapy, but I resisted. He tried again, I declined. Finally after over three years of this gnawing away at my stubbornness, I began to entertain this idea. I began to search out any mention of the insulin pump in the many diabetes publications I subscribe to, and I purchased the book Pumping Insulin by John Walsh and Ruth Roberts. I could not put this book down-I read and re-read every page. It consumed my interest for the summer, and became, of all things, my beach reading material.
When I discovered that there were only two pumps available in the United States, I called for each manufacturer’s information packets and videos. I proceeded slowly and cautiously, and next met with each of the sales reps. I asked to be in contact with actual pump wearers on each pump, and I spent a lot of time interviewing these most helpful resources. That was a useful avenue throughout this decision process.
I finally chose the pump which best suited my needs. I feel everyone entertaining the prospect of insulin pump therapy would do themselves a great service to be well educated before they make such a major decision. After all, who is the one living with and benefiting from life on the pump?
It has been more than one year and four months now since my release from the prison diabetes imposed on my life. I am absolutely thrilled with the level of freedom that has been returned to me via my pump. This is not to say that there is no initial period of adjustment. It is not a perfect duplication of a functioning pancreas. It is a machine, one that will follow the instructions that you program it to follow. Change is difficult, but the idea of the pump was by far more difficult than the reality of the pump.
My life now is the best I’ve had since my diabetes diagnosis. I feel like a regular person, not one living on the edge of the constant time schedule. I now have the freedom “normal” people take so for granted. For example, if I want to sleep late and then have brunch-I can. If lunch on another day won’t be until 3 p.m.-no problem. If I want to eat a bit more or less than usual-it’s okay. If I don’t want to eat at all, like when a stomach virus hits, I don’t have to.
The multiple basal rates I currently use made dealing with my strong dawn phenomenon and a late afternoon blood sugar rise much easier. By “fine tuning” these rates, which is a changing lifetime need, I am able to keep my HbA1c’s in the near non-diabetic range without the chronic hypoglycemia of years past. I have also been able to slowly lose weight since I started my pump. The greatest strength of pump life for me is the psychological empowerment I now feel. I am grateful that I am back on an almost even level with the rest of the population, at least as far as my diabetes is concerned. My only wish is that I had done it much sooner, but resistance is one of my strong suits. Sometimes we can’t allow things to happen until we’re really ready.
Bruce Bode, MD, Comments: It is amazing that many current pump patients struggled greatly with the decision to go on an insulin pump. Many people specifically struggle with the idea of being attached to something, and how such an attachment would greatly cause further problems in their freedom on a daily basis. Many of these people struggle for months and even years trying to make this decision. However, upon going on the pump, almost all of these people say “I should have gone on the pump years ago! What a difference this pump has made in my daily activities and in how much freer I am on a daily basis.”