Carrying a Pancreas Outside My Body

Clay Wiewstone

| Aug 16, 2014

One of the pluses of having a working pancreas is that you do not often lose it. The organ just comes along for the ride, as it were, safe inside your abdomen.

Type 1 diabetics have the unenviable job of carrying their pancreas-equivalent with them. If they use insulin injections, they need to have their needles and vials of medicine. If they're on a pump -- as I am -- they will need a control unit. If they have a continuous glucose monitor, they need a receiver.

None of these devices includes a simple blood sugar meter and test strips, which are still required even with a CGM. And you probably hould bring along some glucose tablets too, just in case you go low. That's a lot of stuff to replace the functions of a single, simple organ. But without them, we might find ourselves in serious trouble. So we cart the technology around, hoping against hope that we never get distracted and lose any of the pieces.

In high school and college, my diabetic kit was simple. I brought along a glucose meter and test strips, along with some insulin and a couple of syringes. I didn't bother with glucose tablets, given that I was on a rigorous and regular meal schedule.

Things started to change when I began using an insulin pump. I carried my control unit around (it doubled as a glucometer), as well as the insulin and syringes. I started using glucose tablets, realizing for the first time what a different they made in treating lows precisely. When the CGM arrived, I finally went all the way. I bought a little, grey hiker's pack. Inside, I stuff all the respective control units, insulin, syringes, glucose tablets and record books. Sometimes I put my phone in there, too.

What was once a couple of items I could put in my pocket has become an arsenal.

It's weird essentially to start carrying a purse. But it's also convenient, and I know that I would be lost without these devices. So I smile and carry the pack, and it's surprising how few people comment or even notice.

The problem, though, is that this pancreas (or pancreas equivalent) is on the outside of my body. And while I seldom forget it, I have misplaced the pack a time or two. Usually, I'll be inside a grocery or department store and be distracted by my son. After running around for a minute or two, I'll notice that the pack is gone.

I retrace my steps and find the pack, usually resting on a stack of tomato soup cans or next to a set of Lego construction kits. I'm hugely glad to have it back -- but not quite as glad as if I had a working pancreas.

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Posted by Colleen Fuller on 21 August 2014

Great essay. This reminds me of all the reasons I decided to switch to animal insulin. From my perspective, the whole purpose of the pump is to address the poor quality of the insulin being marketed these days. Biosynthetic and analogue insulins are unstable and necessitate a pump which provides what these insulins don't have. But animal-sourced insulin has provided me with stability and security (including being able to sense low blood sugars much more sharply). The insulin pump saved my life, no doubt about that; I was able to set the dosage to minute levels per hour and that helped me avoid severe hypoglycaemia. But the quality of my life was very very poor. When I rediscovered animal insulin I switched and have not had a single crisis since 2003 - and the cost of managing my Type 1 diabetes is also significantly lower.

Thanks for the essay - I am feeling blessed after reading it!

Posted by laforĂȘt on 21 August 2014

Well said ! As the mother of a diabetic son, I have lived through all the changes in technology during the past 55 years. The worst times happened before the era of the disposable needles, when you had to boil seringe and needles many times bigger than the ones used today. Blood glucose was a rough guess based on a urine test. My son was 3 when he was found to have diabetis, and it was a hardship to have to perforate his tender skin with those rude instruments. All these years the hope for a cure was kept alive by research and the media, but only technology progressed. Diabetics are the unsung heroes of our times.
simone paradis

Posted by Joan Hoover on 25 August 2014

This article is a classic example of all our diabetes research focus. Let's find a cure for this poor fellow's diabetes instead of spending thousands of research dollars dreaming up stuff for him to have to carry around with him, only to line the pharma- corporate pockets, and, incidentally, keep himself alive.
Joan Hoover

Posted by Anonymous on 27 August 2014

Yes, I carry all those gadgets, too. I'm happy to have technology provide my artificial pancreas. It is much better knowing where my blood sugar is than passing out due to a low.

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