August 3, 2005

The next thing

[continued from previous post]

Over the next few days I seesaw through lows and highs until I figure out the new score. Breakfast, which was 1:6, is now 1:9. Lunch has gone from 1:13 to 1:20. Dinner, 1:15 to 1:22. And my correction ratio, formerly 1 unit to lower the BG by 55, is now 1 unit for 80.

All of which will be moot when I return to the pill the following Sunday, but at least I’m back in control for the moment.

That Friday, I’m changing my set as usual. I go through the zillion and one steps until I’m ready to prime the tubing to fill it with insulin.

Charlotte beeps a lot at this point. She’s supposed to, to make sure I’ve remembered to disconnect the pump before I prime. If you prime while connected, you’ll infuse all sorts of unwanted insulin, a Very Bad Thing.

So she beeps as always. Good old Charlotte. But then, just before she starts the prime, she beeps very oddly. A strange sequence. And a strange message appears on her screen: A33.

I’ve never seen this before. I fetch the manual. Clear the alarm, it says, and if it continues to occur, call for assistance.

I clear the alarm. Charlotte’s screen goes completely blank, but restarts. Phew.

Funny, she wants to be rewound again. Okay. I rewind.


I clear the alarm again. She restarts, asks to be rewound again, and alarms again. And again. She is stuck.


I call Medtronic’s 800-number. I follow a push-button menu, expecting to be put on hold. I am not put on hold. A tech support guy answers, takes my name, and asks what my last blood glucose reading was.

Grrr. He wants to know if I’m having trouble with my pump because I’m running low & therefore confused. A reasonable, necessary, and patronizing question. “106,” I reply through gritted teeth. Then I describe the problem.

Mr. Medtronic Guy talks me through a diagnostic process that consists of doing exactly what I’d done before I called him. Charlotte remains steadfast in her refusal to leave the rewind cycle.

“Did you possibly drop the pump?” Mr. Medtronic Guy asks. “Or could it have gotten banged somehow?”

I assure him that this is not the case.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to send you a replacement pump,” he says.

I am shocked. Charlotte is dead? She is not even six months old. How could she be dead?

“It’s an internal communication error,” Mr. Medtronic Guy says. “Sometimes these things just happen. We don’t always know why. Do you have a backup plan for insulin delivery?”

I do. Will I get my pump back when it’s fixed?

No, that isn’t how it works. The new pump they’re sending will be mine for good. Mr. Medtronic Guy arranges the shipment, gives me some instructions, and apologizes for the malfunction, all in a timorous tone that suggests he expects me to erupt into rage at any second. His must be a lousy job.

I do not, of course, erupt into rage. I’m too busy trying to stave off panic. After the call, I instruct myself to breathe. It will be all right. I know what to do. It will be all right. Adapt, adapt. That’s what diabetics do; we adapt.

I’m starving. I renuke my dinner and fetch a syringe. Sixty grams of carbohydrate, no problem. I know my ratios like the back of my hand. I will adapt. I draw out four units of Novolog and do the belly stab.

Astute readers may notice a problem at this point.

I eat. I mourn Charlotte. How can she have broken after six short months? Are the pumping naysayers right after all? Is the technology not truly reliable? Have I built my diabetes care on a house of cards?

All that is well and good to ask. But here’s the heart of the matter: CHARLOTTE has broken. She’s dead. My beloved pump, whom I anticipated and welcomed and named and personified, my partner in health whose virtues I extolled throughout cyberspace, has left me. I’m alone with my diabetes.

If all this sounds more than a little neurotic, well, yeah, it is. You do what you have to do to get through the night, if you know what I mean. All that Charlotte business was what I had to do to get through the long dark weeks of adjusting to diabetes at age 33.

We all imagine contracts with the universe. I imagined that if I went on the pump in a way that felt true to me, I would be safer and happier. I was both of those things. Now I don’t know what I am.

But I am, at any rate, well fed. I call the pharmacy and get them to fill the Lantus prescription they had on file for me. I’ll need basal insulin to see me through until the arrival of Charlotte’s so-called replacement.

The pharmacy is just two blocks away, so I walk there, dragging my feet and fretting. I bring the Lantus home and call Mr. Brooklyn. He is startled: he’s put his trust in Charlotte just as I have.

“What do you mean, it broke?” he says. “How can it just break?”

As we talk I feel funny. It’s a slightly familiar feeling, like a low but with its own odd quality. A bit like the office-supply low of the tangerine chairs. It’s the feeling of free fall.

It takes me a few minutes, but then I understand: I took the hussy-on-the-pill dose of insulin with my shot. I should have taken the nimrod-off-the-pill dose.

I do the math. Slowly. I took 4 units for my 60 grams, using a 1:15 ratio. But I should have used 1:22.

I should have taken 2.7 units. Or, given the idiocy of my whole-unit syringes, 3 units and eaten 6 more grams of carbs.

I test and find some candy. 110. I had the insulin an hour ago. Yeah, I’m heading for a big ol’ crash.

I spend the next hour on the phone with Mr. Brooklyn, eating and testing, eating and testing. I keep myself out of the danger range, but the BG won’t seem to level off.

“I want my pump,” I tell him.

The astute reader will realize that this low has nothing to with Charlotte’s death and everything to do with my nimrodity, but I am not feeling astute at the moment.

After 55 grams of carb, the BG does level off. I am fine. But now I am terrified to use the Lantus. I don’t know what my nimrod-off-the-pill Lantus dose ought to be. And once you take Lantus, it’s in your system for 20-24 hours, period.

I could, and perhaps should, contact the endoc-on-call at my clinic. But I can’t imagine explaining that I am off the pill by accident, and my ratios changed, and then my pump broke, and how much Lantus should I take, please?

I know that I need very little basal insulin overnight, as I’m still honeymooning. I make an executive decision to skip the Lantus. I’ll correct periodically until the new pump comes, I decide.

I go to bed, trying to enjoy the feeling of not being attached to a mechanical device. I don’t enjoy it.

In the morning, I’m at 168. Unhealthy but hardly a disaster. I have to work a conference today, doing a presentation in front of 60 people. I decide to let myself run high. There’s no way I can stomach a big low on a day like this.

At lunchtime, I’m at 239. Whoops. I didn’t mean THAT high. Oh well.

The new pump arrives via Fed Ex, Saturday delivery. Kudos to Medtronic. I only needed three shots to see me through, albeit a bit shakily.

The pump looks just like Charlotte. Same color, same model. But it feels like a foreign object. I program it and am up and running within minutes. Then, following the instructions of Mr. Medtronic Guy, I put Charlotte in New Pump’s box to be picked up by UPS on Monday. It’s a tiny box, lined with foam. It’s absurdly like a coffin.

It's been a few days now. I still miss Charlotte; how weird is that? So far, New Pump does not seem like a girl. It doesn’t seem like my partner in self-care. It doesn’t seem like anything. It just does what it does.

I’m working on this attitude. I know it’s all mental. I need to live with this pump just as I needed to live with Charlotte. And New Pump is not, after all, inherently different than Charlotte. I’m the one who’s really changed.


  1. Violet,

    I'm so glad you figured out the cause of those crazy lows, but am very sad to hear of Charlotte's passing.

    Hang in there,

  2. V,

    As one who fervently mourns inanimate objects, I offer my sincerest condolences to you in your loss of Charlotte.

    (And I'm glad you are back online. You've been MIA for a while. I was debating calling the Ninjas out to make sure you were still alive. They can sneak up on you with an armful of bells, they're so stealth.)


  3. I really sympathize. I too had to replace my first pump. It feel over, after I had had it for a year, and it broke. Both Animas and I decided it probably wasn't waterproof anymore, and they replaced it. The new pump never seemed like the old one. That one even had marks from another person the case and that kind of creeped me out.

    I've got the latest model now (IR1250), but I have never felt the same about my pumps -- since the first IR1250 was recalled and replaced--as I did about the first one.

    It's really weird.

    Oh, and I've already decided, no long acting for me, I'll just inject every few hours. I did that the day before I got my first pump, and I'd rather do that. I never did have good luck with long acting insulin.

  4. It's like getting a new dog after your old one dies. Even though it's a dog, it's not the same. But, of course you come to love the new dog.

    Do as Kathleen says and dose with the Novolog if you ever run into this pump problem again. Don't use Lantus. Cozmo's guide tells how to use Novolog if your pump craps out on you. I'm sure Medtronic does too. Sorry to sound so bossy.

    What are you going to name your new pump?

  5. Thanks, guys. I really appreciate the sympathy.

    Whoa, near miss on the Ninjas there, K. I'll try to stay more visible :) It's just been a bizarrely stressful month, and something had to go for a while.

    Kathleen, your report makes me think that neither of us are weird. Just deep thinkers ;-)

    My main reason for considering the Lantus, Shannon, is that my CDE said to go that way if I ever went off the pump. My basals are so low that I'd need a half-unit Novolog pen to safely use Novolog as a basal, even with hussy-on-the-pill dosing. The last time I talked with the CDE she said Novolog doesn't come in half-unit pens. But that would be a better backup plan, it seems.

    I have a name in mind for New Pump, but it's feeling hard to name it when I have no sense of connection (err...the spiritual kind) to it. If it earns the name I will of course report here.

  6. Sorry if I sounded like a know it all about the insulin. I tend to give advice when it's not warranted. I have to learn how to hold back. :)

  7. No, no. You didn't. Just offering context. Once my honeymoon ends, I expect my basals will soar and I would be able to use Novolog as a basal if I ever need to. Which I hope I won't, but of course that would require decades (optimistically assuming a lengthy life span) of perfect pump functionality...

  8. wow, i had the exact same A33 problem with my pump a little over a week ago. how odd... i wonder if it's the heat? hrm. and my pump is only 6 months old too. Except, I've been on pump therapy for five years and this is the third time i've had one break, so going off the pump wasn't necessarily a heart-stopper, but it was frustrating. ah well, i'm glad you have your pump back.

  9. Ahh the joys of hormones ;)
    Sorry to hear about the loss of your buddy; take the new one out drinking (moderation being the key!) and give 'him' a rousing initiation!

    Novo-nordisk does make a pen that delivers half units; it's called the Novopen Junior ( - sorry, not too great at codes here lol). Far as I'm aware it's still on the market...

    Fantastic blog BTW!

  10. Allison, hello, and how bizarre that we should have pumps the same age die of the same unusual cause. Hmm...

    In my case, I'm guessing heat was not a likely culprit. I'm indoors a lot, in AC. Anyhow, three pumps in five years is terrible. The dang things should last as long as the average TV set, shouldn't they?

    Hi Tiffany, thanks for the info. I should get a prescription on file for that pen--would be handy.

    Never occurred to me that New Pump might be a boy. I think I'm too shy :)

  11. Thank goodness New Pump is here at least!

    Let us know about Pumpy's name when you decide on it... Xo M

  12. Vi, thanks for the vivid description of your all-too-familiar experience. Familiar to me, that is, in every way except the particulars, because I'm a guy and haven't had to deal with those hormonal issues. But I have had moments that seemed like these, and admire your ability to tell the tale.

    You're a jedi and will adjust very soon to your new pump. Hope to hear more soon.

  13. I would be completely lost if my pump died on me. Geez I don't even know what Lantus is... just humulog. It's been so long for me, I really don't remember what life was like before the pump.

    Sorry to hear about Charlotte. When I first starting reading all the blogs it took me awhile to figure out who Charlotte was. I would never have thought to name my pump. Hope you come up with a good name and she OR he can accompany on your many journeys.

  14. Hello! I just read your blog and all this replacement thing. My pump had the same problem a week ago. I changed the batteries and to my surprise, the settings disappeared. I could´t turn it on again!!!!!!! So, I called the distributor and guess.....they don´t have pumps!!!! So here I am waiting for Minimed USA to send me the replacement! I can´t belive how this can happen. Of course, I live in Mexico City (that´s basically the problem). People in charge of selling and distributing pumps here are all a bunch of %&$&#! I just had a phone conversation with them and they can´t understand why im so angry. (They don´t understand that my pump (Lola) and I must not be appart).

    Well, wish me luck. Glad to read you got your new pump immediately.


  15. Hey Violet,
    How you doing with your new companion? Looks like no posting for a while; we miss you!

    Updates, pls?