Insulin, Skin, and Needles: Oh My!

Whenever I tell someone that I have type 1 diabetes, the first words that I typically hear are “I’m terrified of needles! I could NEVER give myself a shot!” But needles are the least of my fears when it comes to my disease. I have bigger fish to fry. Concerns about daily management, combined with fears of heart problems, blindness, and kidney failure, equal one very stressful disease.

For the first three months after my diagnosis, I injected insulin using syringes. I would squeeze my eyes tightly shut and then plunge the needle into my stomach. Sometimes I would bruise quickly, sometimes it would sting, and other times I felt nothing.

It’s funny how the sting or the lack thereof paralleled my feelings regarding diabetes. As I was learning, diabetes is one tricky beast. I was perpetually terrified of forgetting my diabetes supplies, so I stored insulin vials and syringes in multiple places. I remember watching footage of New Orleans residents stranded without their insulin after Hurricane Katrina. It made me realize just how fragile life with diabetes is.

Fear of bolusing too much or too little insulin was concerning as well. Syringes allow users to inject only whole units of insulin. I was constantly having to choose between my blood sugar running slightly too high or too low.

Without writing down every meal and injection, I couldn’t keep track of how much insulin was in my body at any given time. So I was constantly “insulin stacking,” which means that I had active insulin in my body and injected more insulin on top of that, sometimes resulting in hypoglycemia.

Additionally, injecting insulin in public could be embarrassing. Some people stared, some shuddered, and others turned away. I wondered if anyone thought I was a drug addict. Once when I needed an emergency supply of syringes while on vacation, the pharmacist would sell me only ten, while giving me several up-and-down looks.

When my endocrinologist and diabetes nurse educator decided to put me on insulin pump therapy, the thought of yet another change in my newly diagnosed life had me cowering. The idea of pump tubing, snaking from my body to a pager-like device that was always attached to me, seemed foreign and frightening. But four months into my diagnosis, I succumbed to my doctor’s wishes. After filling out some paperwork and talking to my insurance company, my pump order was placed. Now all I had to do was worry and wait.


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