I like to think that after 13 years of using an insulin pump that my pump and I have done quite a lot. I would also like to think that my pumps have had quite a good time along the way with me. So after Facebook stalking myself (turns out Facebook has a better memory than me) I’ve managed to come up with some of the things that I have done with my pump and those people who are maybe considering using an insulin pump may be wary about. My pump has been constantly by my side through the bad times (riding the Swarm at Thorpe Park was not how my friends had sold it to me – no one else was crying when they left the ride) to the good times (the rubber dingy rapids however wet were more my thing).
I have visited multiple airports with my insulin pump over the years and on most occasions with no problems, especially within the last few years as insulin pumps have become more common. However thirteen years ago an insulin pump was a strange object at security check points. I will always remember the security checks when I went to both Bermuda and Antigua while travelling alone. Going out from Manchester was fine – the usual disconnect, put everything through the scanner (as was advised by Diestronic back then!) and have my hand luggage and multiple batteries in my hand luggage searched. However in both Bermuda and Antigua, on two separate trips, I experienced the panic of after disconnecting having my insulin pump taken away for other security members of staff to investigate! Luckily, it came back – and I did have another spare in my hand luggage. Last year I went to Australia with my insulin pump and spares of everything (including two spare pumps). The only problem I faced in Australia was when my luggage was lost on an internal flight within Australia. Luckily, my medical supplies were all in my hand luggage (clothes etc were gone!), so once again my insulin pump was fine. The time difference didn’t seem to have any effect on my insulin pump. I changed the time at Dubai, then added on a few hours half way through the second flight to Australia and updated to local time once I arrived in Austalia – I arrived at breakfast time and then stayed awake for the rest of the day. The pump and I had no problems in Australia. In fact I think I showed it a very good time – partying at Surfers Paradise where for some reason all drinks were free all night proved not to be a problem, climbing the Sydney Harbour bridge however presented a little more of a challenge.
When you climb Sydney Harbour Bridge you have to wear a fetching jump suit, you are not allowed mobile phones or anything lose (even jewellery) on you. I hadn’t realised this or even considered this when booking to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was only when I was pulled aside for a safety talk with the manager that I realised ticking the “diabetic” box may have caused an issue! It was explained to me that I would be unable to carry anything with me; however the tour guide had jelly beans and two cereal bars I had asked him to carry. I was allowed to keep my pump on me as this was attached and worn in my shorts under my jump suit. I did a Temporary Basal Reduction and ensured my blood sugar was high (12mmol) to start. Luckily the climbing didn’t cause me to drop and I finished high (preferable to a low at the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge). I also did the speed climb, which I didn’t find too demanding on my blood sugars.
Before beginning my career as a teacher I mainly worked as a lifeguard and swimming teacher. Never when I worked as a lifeguard did it occur to me that this may be a problem with my insulin pump (I think I was pushed / thrown in by fellow lifeguards more times than I had to enter the water for a rescue). Nor did the possibility of getting my pump wet and breaking it ever concern me, the mindset of a 17 year old is probably accountable for this. However my accu-chek spirit pumps survived lifeguarding and being immersed into the water (I didn’t disconnect before a rescue). In saying that they survived I should maybe add that they would start with error messages a few weeks later following a submersion… This didn’t stop them from working and delivering insulin, it just meant that they had to be returned to Accu-check Roche once a new pump had been sent out to me under warrantee. Lifeguarding involved working long shifts (12/13hrs) with teaching swimming lessons or cleaning. Without my pump I don’t think I could have suspended my TBR to allow me to teach swimming lessons without hypos, provide gym inductions, clean out changing rooms without hypos or the lovely job of sweeping the pool bottom without hypos. My pump simply stayed by my side within my shorts pocket. Although if you are thinking of taking up a career in lifeguarding remember when you do have to go in with your insulin pump in a shorts pocket do not think it will stay in the pocket. You will have an insulin pump trailing along on the end of your string (I use 80cm strings) attached to you! Or the weight of water on the shorts plus insulin pump will cause your shorts to come down.
I have also taken my insulin pump on a ski season. I worked in France as a hotel receptionist for a ski season aged 18 years old.
When I decided to do my ski season I didn’t consider my diabetes at all, as with most things it is my second thought! It was when the hospital asked me how I was going to have enough supplies that it dawned on me that maybe not everyone at the clinic was deciding to work a ski season. At this point I had been using my pump for 5 years and the main problem I faced when moving out to France was taking enough test strips, insulin and pump supplies. Luckily my GP is fantastic and allowed me to stock pile four months worth of insulin and test strips to take with me (oh yes a lot of my suitcase was filled with medical equipment) alongside a spare insulin pump, spare bm machine and a sharps bin. Once I arrived in resort and had the hotel address of where I would be working my mum was able to post out more insulin pump consumables as I needed them. Never once during a ski season did I need my spare insulin pump, did my diabetes cause a problem or get in the way. I learnt that after a mornings work, quick lunch (no bolus) the afternoon ski would require a TBR reduction of 60%.
I learnt that my pump needed to be zipped into my ski pants in an outside pocket so I could access it. The temperature didn’t seem to affect the pump and it didn’t freeze being kept in a trouser pocket. However my bm machine needed to be in an inside pocket otherwise it would get too cold and refuse to work. Sugar lumps were vital on any ski day along with rice crispie squares which I had taken out to resort with me. After an afternoon’s skiing it would be a quick shower and back to work stocking up on the tea and cakes left out for the guests to refuel before serving dinner. It was hard work, it was exhausting, the days were long and I partied / skied hard. However my diabetes didn’t cause me a problem due to being able to reduce my basal rates for exercise and knowing that I could bolus for highs if / when they occurred.
I like to be outdoors and I like to keep myself active. My pump kept up with a triathlon last year. Using a pump during a triathlon didn’t cross my mind until I realised that my Accu-check Combo pump hates getting wet. What would I do with it during the swim? How could I go from dropping my stuff in transition over an hour before the race to the end of the race if I didn’t have my pump? Luckily I was able to fall back on my spare pump. I stayed connected to my main pump until I had to finally zip up my wetsuit and enter the water leaving the main pump (and most favourite) in the safe hands of my mum. My other pump was placed in transition with my bike and trainers. I judged that most people would have more expensive bikes and kit than me, so an insulin pump hidden under my towel would be of little interest to a thief. Once I finished the swim I was able to test my blood sugar and reconnect in transition one before beginning the bike. This was easier said than done. My hands were too cold from the swim to reconnect my insulin pump (no nudity allowed in T1 and my infusion set was too low on my stomach for easy access) and then too cold to test my blood sugar. My transition one took me 6 minutes, as my friend said to me – Did you sit down for a rest in there? Transition two was faster with a second finger prick test and changes to my TBR before starting my run. Using the pump to increase / decrease insulin during this time was fine, although I did finish with a blood sugar of 27mmol due to adrenalin which next time I will be taking into account for my TBR.
My pump continues to support me throughout my daily life, whether it is waiting in the car while I surf, bringing me down from a post pizza high or drip feeding me insulin throughout the night. There is nothing my pump can’t do (I haven’t tried skydiving or bungee jumping, but I’m sure my insulin pump would be fine – me probably not).