Sometimes, a fully-grown adult in my life will fret that they have to go to the doctor for a tetanus or flu shot, and they will complain about the impending injection. They may forget that I have type 1 diabetes and that shots are a part of my daily life.
“My arm is going to be so sore,” the offending party will say, and I will nod my head sympathetically.
“Wimp,” I say to myself. Well, most of the time I say it to myself.
Many people simply forget that I’m a human pincushion. Part of me can’t really blame them as insulin therapy often happens behind closed doors (or within the occasional bathroom stall). While our needles may be slightly different in shape and size, all people with type 1 diabetes are united by the fact we use lots and lots of them.
For those not in the know, here is a list of the important sharp objects in my life.
These little fellas stick my fingers and forearms to create a drop of blood big enough to measure the sugar in it. On any given day I like to poke myself 5 to 10 times. However, “like” is a loose term, as I do not get enjoyment from making myself bleed.
Pain factor: Ouch.
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INFUSION SETTING NEEDLES
My pump needs a pathway to put insulin into my bloodstream. That’s where the infusion setting comes in. The particular one I use is called the “Silhouette.” This dainty-sounding name does little to make needle feel smaller.
Despite its size, I don’t use an insertion device because I don’t want to have to rely on one. Anyway, every three days I push insertion needle into my skin, letting it hang around just long enough to deposit a new cannula and the white adhesive part around it (on the left). After removal, the needle resembles a gray sword from a post-Apocalyptic movie (on the right) making me double glad it’s no longer in my body.
Pain factor: Ouch. Ouch.
PUMP COMPONENT NEEDLES
As pieces of my insulin pump’s component parts, these two different needles siphon the insulin from the vial to a cartridge and from a cartridge to the cannula, respectively. Though they aren’t supposed to touch the skin directly, if you accidentally poke yourself with either, you will bleed. Trust me on that one.
Pain factor/components: Yow! (for stupidity)
There are occasions when I can’t trust that my pump or my infusion setting isn’t functioning properly, and I need to step in manually with a syringe. Injecting offers no advanced technology to calculate my insulin-to-carb ratio, forcing me to do math. Needless to say, this makes me crabby. Or, crabbier if my blood sugar is already high.
Pain factor: Ouch. Ouch.
CGM SENSOR NEEDLE
I cannot stress this enough: Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) is awesome. However, the way in which the sensor goes into the skin is not. Unlike my infusion setting, I use the insertion device when I change it every three days.
In its picture, I left the protective coating on so you can get a better sense of its thickness and length. On a good day, it only hurts a little. The rest of the time it simply hurts. It’s no wonder when a sensor prematurely errors I’m prone to the kind of language that I teach my kids not to say.
Pain factor: Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!!!
If you’re on the verge of passing out from a low blood sugar, this emergency kit is a lifesaver, quite literally. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use mine. But I do try to carry it with me when I travel and I do my best not to let it expire. I would show the needle uncovered, but then I’d contaminate it and have to buy a new one. I visit the pharmacy enough.
Pain factor: I hope I never know.
For some reason by blood sugar inexplicably spikes in the morning after eating. No diet, basal rate, or insulin-to-carb ratio tinkering has managed to keep it at bay. My endocrinologist has prescribed a morning dose of Symlin to slow down the food absorption and the pesky spike. While it makes a lot of sense for me medically, it took me months to get started on it because I hesitated over adding yet another needle into my daily routine, even a relatively small one.
Pain factor: Ouch. (physical) and Ouch. Ouch. (mental)
In addition to this list, there are the routine doctors visits that involve a trip to the phlebotomist – where I cross my fingers and hope I get someone who finds my vein on the first attempt and not the third.
And I know some people with functioning pancreases assume that, after a while, you get “used to” all the needles, as if they somehow don’t bother you after needing them for months, years, decades. I’m not sure how most people feel, but isn’t that like saying you get used to being scratched if you have a cat? Sure, there are plenty of positives that help you look past Fluffy’s negatives. But her claws still hurt.
So don’t come to me looking for sympathy about the needle you’ll have to face for the flu shot; you won’t get it. Now, you want to discuss taxes? For that, I’m ready and able to commiserate.
Lisa Taylor is a freelance writer, wife, and mother of two. For more than thirty years, she’s been living with type 1.