Back when I was a young bird with type 1 diabetes, insulin cost about $70 dollars per bottle. (And I had to walk uphill both ways to the endocrinologist's office.) I had no concept of this cost, or how it played into my family's finances, at the time. I would just open the fridge door, grab the bottle, uncap the orange top to a 1cc syringe, and take the units my mom would yell to me from the kitchen sink.
"Two. Two of Regular should do it. Rotate to your right arm this time, okay?"
"Okay!" (And then I'd proceed to jab it into my left arm because I'm right-handed and also stubborn.)
Now, twenty-five years later, insulin has taken a bit of a price hike. I just ordered a three month supply of Humalog from Medco and the total for the insulin came to six hundred and ninety-seven dollars. For six bottles of Humalog that will be all gobbled up by early March. (And thanks to a high, but manageable-on-paper deductible, we're responsible for the full cost this round.) Almost seven hundred dollars worth of insulin.
We're lucky that we're able to pay for that cost without panicking, but knowing what these bottles cost without the assistance of insurance makes me look at everything through a diabetes lens. When three days are up on my insulin pump site, I am very aware of the twenty-odd units left in my pump cartridge and in the tubing. And when I refill the pump, I make sure I only put what i think I'll need into the reservoir, instead of automatically filling it to the 185u mark. (Which is what I did before, but now I'm very aware.) And when I prime the 43 inch tubing, I have this mental image of siphoning it out like I'm draining gas from a Jeep Wrangler when I'm done with the site. (Ew.)
The other day, my insulin order arrived. The UPS delivery guy rang the doorbell, and I greeted him with a messy ponytail.
"I have a delivery for you, but I didn't want to leave it outside in the cold. It's medication," he said, handing me that familiar "giant pillow" that protects the insulin vials during shipping.
"Thank you! I appreciate you taking good care of ... of the drugs," I said, realizing I wasn't going anywhere productive with my statement.
"Yes, the drugs." He smiled as I signed the electronic receipt. "I'm curious what comes delivered in a giant puffy pillow."
"Insulin. There are some bottles of insulin in there." I handed him back the signature pad. "Thanks for bringing ... the drugs. That makes you sort of my dealer."
He tucked the signature pad back into his pocket and, without missing a beat: "No problem. Call us when you're ready for your next fix. Happy holidays, miss."
Diabetes is an expensive disease. And the things we use to keep ourselves alive are pricey little items, from the vials of insulin to the little plastic test strips we shove into our meters. In the last few years, I've had the benefit of forgetting how expensive managing this condition can be, in part thanks to sponsorship agreements and excellent health insurance, but I have had my share of hits to the wallet, and many, many reminders of how lucky many of us are. (Watch the "Life for a Child" documentary when you're feeling a little financially strapped and your perspective will shift in a moment's notice.)
I went back into the house and unpacked the insulin that was just delivered by my UPS drug lord. And as the bottles lined up neatly in the butter compartment of the fridge, I was thankful. I'm thankful that I can afford this necessary medication, but I remain hyper-aware of the costs of both having and not having access to it. A fridge full of insulin makes me a very, very lucky girl.
(With the holiday season upon us, now is a good time to think about others and help, if you can. To make a donation to the Life for a Child efforts, please click here.)