The highs and lows of starting on an insulin pump

Published by Tiffany on

This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Diabetes Australia magazine Circle.

The highs and lows of starting on an insulin pump

Twenty years ago, I ventured on a journey of self-discovery through Europe. Young and enjoying my freedom, I went canyoning. On 27 July 1999, I was swept away down the Saxetenbach Gorge in Switzerland in an avalanche of water

The 1999 Swiss Canyoning Disaster stole the lives of 21 young people, 14 of whom were Australian. Only six survived the treacherous waters that day, and I am one of them.

Battered and bruised, I returned to Australia. I suffered multiple injuries including a fractured tibia, dislocated jaw, soft tissue damage to my legs, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a damaged pancreas, leading me to a life with diabetes.

After managing my diabetes for 20 years, my body is no longer working on insulin injections and I have now decided the time is right to start insulin pump therapy.

I had avoided taking the plunge until now because I couldn’t envisage how it would work – it’s bulky, obvious, and attached to you – ALL THE TIME. Would I get any side effects? What happens to my body with a battery against it all day every day? Will it get hot? Burn me? How will I wear dresses? Shower? Swim? No thank you!

However, after a distressing period of illness and blood glucose levels that looked like the Himalayas, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith.

With so many unknowns, my anxiety grew to new heights, I wondered if an insulin pump could really do all the things my team of experts insisted that it would.

At my first appointment, I was ready and confident. I wore pants so I could hide the pump in my pocket. The only thing was, I wasn’t getting my pump that day, I wasn’t even close. It takes months to get an insulin pump. There are training manuals to read, forms to fill out, funding to be approved, buttons to test, carb counting to do, apps to find for your phone. It wasn’t nearly as easy as I had hoped. I walked out of that first appointment, overwhelmed and anxious, more so than when I had walked in, and with no pump in my pocket.

After months of training, test runs with cannulas, carb counting to the precision, allergies to adhesives, and still no control over blood glucose levels, the day finally came. I needed this pump, I needed it to help take care of my life.

As I walked out of the three-hour appointment with my diabetes educator, this time with a pump in my pocket, I remained confident I could make this work. I had to.

There have been tears, tantrums, highs and lows, but my blood glucose levels now look more like a kid’s rollercoaster ride instead of a giant mountain range. I’m managing to get the hang of it, the beeping at night, changing cannulas, sensors, testing multiple times a day. It is a lot more work, but as with any major illness, if you want to stay healthy, then it is going to be a lot of work.

Technology has come such a long way, and the features on the pump are life-changing. It is as close to a healthy pancreas as possible, it’s just that you wear it on the outside.

Diabetes is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. I live a normal life, it’s just a bit different. Considerably more thought goes into how much I eat, exercise and what I need to have with me at any time of day or night. Sometimes it gets me down. Recovering after a bad hypo can be debilitating. Worrying that I’m having a hypo when really I’m just feeling anxious can prevent me from actually living.

But for now, with the pump, I can tell within a second what is actually going on and I can begin to live life a bit more freely. 

Tiffany Johnson
Tiffany Johnson