When Technology Fails
Making sure you're ready to go back to basics when emergency strikes
By Kerri Sparling
September 2007 — It's tucked into my pocket at work, or hidden neatly away in my sock. It's clipped to my shorts while I sleep and it lies next to me on the beach during the summer. And most of the time I don't notice or pay it any mind. I just assume that it's doing its job.
Until it breaks.
A few nights ago, a button on my insulin pump stopped responding. I didn't think too much of it, as I was only trying to access the backlight option on my pump to check how much insulin was left in the reservoir. I've been pumping for almost four years and had never had even a glimmer of a problem with my Minimed 512. The thing just pumped along in accordance with my programming and beeped occasionally to let me know it needed something.
I pressed the down button, expecting to see the screen light up, but nothing happened. I pressed it again. I pressed it one more time. It was 11:30 at night. I pressed it again. I needed to change the site in the morning, and the "down" button is the only way to access the "prime" function on the pump. Therefore, no "down" functionality, no prime. No prime, no site change. No site change, no insulin.
I pressed it again. A bead of sweat popped up on my brow. I pressed it again, banging my thumb against the button. Nothing.
"What. Is. Wrong. With. You?" I punctuated every word with the click of the button, hoping it would catch and everything would be fine again.
I tested my blood sugar. 214 mg/dl. I pressed the "up" button in hopes of being able to manually click my way through a bolus, then hoping the insulin would still be delivered. As my wounded pump boop beep boop'ed its way to a correction, I called my customer service pals at Medtronic.
Thank goodness for 24 hour customer service.
After a lovely midnight back-and-forth with Damien, customer service fella extraordinaire over there in Medtronic's California headquarters, it was decided that my pump was toast and a new one (read: certified pre-owned, like it's a Honda or something) would be FedEx'd out immediately. The next morning, after a night of constant testing, some insulin pen moments, and watching the pump crap out completely, I received my new pump and returned to my regularly scheduled programming.
But the whole experience caused me to take stock of how heavily I rely on technology to manage my diabetes. When forced to go back to basics, I wasn't entirely ready. I have been diabetic for 21 years, and I spent 17 years juggling multiple daily injections. Back in the day, I timed out meals in accordance with insulin peaks, I counted carbs and made swift use of Humalog, and I had an arsenal of orange-capped syringes stashed around my house. I knew this regimen by heart. (By pancreas?) This was my life for almost two decades.
The pump and I have only been buddies for barely four years, yet I've allowed myself to get sloppy as a result of it's attentive care. When I first went on my insulin pump, I had a whole series of doctor's appointments to help me figure out basal rates, correction factors, and insulin-to-carbohydrate ratios. However, once this information was plugged into the pump and things were working smoothly, all I had to do was make sure I was wearing it. Aside from the insulin pen I keep in my purse at all times, my once supply-laden life was all but forgotten.
Until it broke.
I wasn't ready. I had no idea what my basal rates were. Only by luck did I have a bottle of Lantus stored in my fridge. Even my syringes were tossed in a crate in the back on my closet.
Having experienced a technology melt-down, I'm now better prepared for another one. I have my basal rates – all five of them – written down and stuck to the back of my home and office computer. I called my doctor and asked them to call in a standing script for Lantus to my 24-hour pharmacy, just in case. And even though the bulk of my syringes are still in the closet, I have rescued a handful and put them in emergency kits at my office, in my car, and in accessible spots in my home.
Even though it was just a little hiccup and I was back to pumping within a few hours, this experience proved to me that my comfort in technology should always be accompanied by faith in manual management.
Oh, and 24 hour customer service.
Visit Kerri's website.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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