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Insulin Pump Refill: In a Pinch.

Usually, I am a thorough diabetes packer. Extra test strips? Yep. Back-up insulin pen? Yes, again. Glucose tabs? I have a WHOLE JAR and will share them with the plane.

But today, I effed up my routine.

I’m currently en route to Seattle for work and there are 59 units left in my insulin pump.  To last me until Saturday night.  This may not be quite enough.

In my carry-on bag (no checked luggage because I tie my clothes into intricate, teeny pretzel-esque knots before shoving them into my suitcase), I have all of the aforementioned diabetes supplies but I forgot my vial of insulin.

HOW?  I’m usually so fastidious!  Ish!

Normally, I open a bottle of insulin and work my way through it over the course of however many weeks. While I’m using it, it sits in a makeup bag in my bathroom, along with some infusion sets and insulin cartridges.  (One stop shopping – just reach my hand in and I come out with everything I need to do a site change.  Convenient, especially if Birdzone is waiting [im]patiently for me.)  Once the bottle is kicked, I throw it away and crack open a new one.  (Not literally, though it has happened.)

Whoops on that last part because I forgot to grab a new bottle and add it to the bag when I last filled up my pump. And in the wee early morning hours today as I left for the airport, I totally forgot to get a new bottle.

So now I’m flying across the country with a half-filled insulin pump and only an insulin pen in my bag.  Stupid forgetting things brain.

insulin pump refill

Thankfully, there are some MacGyver‘ing options available to me.  I do have a bottle of Levemir and a few syringes that I could use, alongside the pen of Humalog, and I could go off-pumping until I get back home.  But I can also refill the insulin reservoir by pushing the refill needle into the top of the insulin pen, dialing back a bunch of units, and pushing the insulin into the cartridge.  My preference is to remain pumping, so I’ll be knocking out air bubbles aplenty when I do this to refill before flying home.

It’s a messy, make-shift refill, but when you’re far from home and it’s the only option, it’ll do.

36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yay for MacGyvering! 🙂

    03/20/14; 11:39 am
    • Better than having to muddle through MDI for a travel day! 🙂

      03/20/14; 11:42 am
  2. Kim #

    I’ve definitely filled a cartridge from a Humalog pen before. You got this. Safe travels!!

    03/20/14; 11:41 am
    • I’d be wicked impressed if you were all, “I’ve refilled from a ballpoint pen.” 😉

      03/20/14; 11:45 am
  3. Deb #

    Are you on diabetes-related business? Can someone loan you a vial? Can your doctor call in a prescription to a pharmacy for you?

    03/20/14; 11:42 am
    • I am traveling to a diabetes-related event, but I have enough supplies of all kinds to not have to bother anyone. Refilling from the insulin pen will work just fine! 🙂

      03/20/14; 11:44 am
  4. Extra low carb diet for the next few days and squeak every last drop of the precious stuff out.

    03/20/14; 11:45 am
  5. Susan #

    Interesting – I’m going on the pump next week and trying to get the insulin vials sent from the insurance and when I asked the nurse if I could just use my Humalog pen to fill the reservoir until it arrived “No, you can’t do that.” Glad I’m not the only one who has thought of it.

    03/20/14; 12:07 pm
  6. I spent my entire time pumping in Italy filling from pens and it was absolutely no problem. In fact, I found it easier because I knew exactly how many units I was dialing into the reservoit. So, unless I’m misunderstanding the differences in filling an Animas reservoir vs. a Medtronic one (entirely possible!!), there is no difference in filling from a vial or a pen. Right? Am I crazy?? (The answer to that is a resounding YES. Too much on my plate and a big belly to go with it….)

    Good luck, KerriGyver!

    03/20/14; 12:09 pm
    • I’ve refilled using pens before, so I’m not worried at all. I just felt stupid that I’m usually so prepared when I travel, yet this time I left insulin behind. 🙂

      03/20/14; 1:12 pm
  7. Corinn #

    Use pump for basal and corrections, use pen for meal-boluses?

    03/20/14; 12:28 pm
    • John #

      Agree with Corinn…this is what I’d end up doing.

      03/20/14; 6:20 pm
  8. Bet you can find someone in Seattle to fix you up. Twitter shanselman — and if he doesn’t answer twitter me.

    I’d fix you up if you were in Dallas.

    03/20/14; 1:05 pm
  9. We all forget stuff. I once forgot the plunger thing for my infusion set. Sometimes we’ve just gotta SUMO. Good to know you already have it figured out.

    03/20/14; 1:14 pm
  10. Angie #

    I’m on Novorapid, but I’ve done the same thing before – needs must sometimes! Never really had a problem with doing it. 🙂

    03/20/14; 1:24 pm
  11. Dawn L #

    We always fill the reservoirs with the pen. Works like a charm!!

    03/20/14; 2:09 pm
  12. TacsGirl #

    I too have had the same issue! But….you really don’t have to ‘dial up’ from the pen! IF, that is, you have a full reservoir and needle…simply stick the needle in instead of the pen top and draw it right out! As if the pen were a little vial but No need to replace with air at! Stays bubble free :-). Hope I didn’t misunderstand the whole process and just rewrite what you already said!!

    03/20/14; 2:53 pm
  13. Great solution! We have been out and about had to come up with some serious rocket science skills to keep the girls humming along. Whatever works!

    03/20/14; 3:34 pm
  14. Kris #

    I too did this the other day. It was a matter of switching to mail order prescription (and saving $80 every 3 months…woohoo!) from a monthly script at the pharmacy. I ordered close to the weekend…and they couldn’t ship in time for me to avoid the insulin from the pen straight to pump scenario. 🙂 Luckily it worked like a charm! Hope you have a great trip!

    Ps. Because I’m super excited and your blog has been an awesome resource for me…I thought I would share that as of TODAY I am officially in my third trimester of pregnancy!!! So far myself and Baby Boy are wonderfully healthy! 🙂 Can’t wait for the end of May to be here already though!! Your blog is such an encouragement for Type 1’s and pregnancy! So, thank you!

    03/20/14; 4:41 pm
  15. John #

    Glad you’re coming up to my neck of the woods! If you’re staying through Saturday night, you should tag along with Gary Scheiner Saturday evening when he speaks at our Sports & Diabetes Group NW meeting at Benaroya. I’m looking forward to hearing Gary talk about CGM, and would love to meet you both. Anyway, safe travels and good luck with the pen refill(s)!

    03/20/14; 6:26 pm
    • I wish I was here on Saturday but I’m leaving on Saturday morning. Another quick trip in the books. But I’ll be at the WADE meeting tomorrow – will you be there?

      03/20/14; 7:10 pm
      • John #

        No, no. I’m not a CDE, just a run-of-the-mill T1D! I’m about 90 miles from Seattle and just coming to the Saturday evening event for SDGNW, which isn’t associated with the WADE meeting. Great timing for our event, and I’m sure that’s how they were able to get Gary Scheiner to stay and give another talk. Enjoy your trip – looks like we let the sun shine for you. Don’t tell anyone how beautiful it is when it’s sunny here! 🙂

        03/20/14; 7:23 pm
  16. Derek #

    I think it’s time we build a support grid of people for the diabetics who travel. Kathleen may have stumbled onto something . This may be me coming up with half cocked ideas at the end of a long day. Take it however you please. I am going to be traveling a bunch soon, and it’s good to hear some diabetic life hacks. Thanks yo!

    03/20/14; 6:55 pm
  17. Sandy T #

    Oh this is one of my biggest fears. So along with everything…I have a spare prescription. Yep. That’s right. I have the doctor write me an extra prescription for 1 vial of insulin just for trips when I MIGHT forget the insulin. Yes I admit, I’m a bit crazy, BUT it makes me feel better.

    You keep your open vial in the bathroom, huh? I always keep mine in the fridge. And I will admit, on the rare occasion when I add insulin and change the infusion site at the same time, I’m always frustrated walking from the bathroom to the kitchen no doubt multiple times. I put insulin in the vial in the kitchen. Infusion set in the master bath. And all the supplies? In the guest room. I may need to rethink that!

    03/20/14; 9:31 pm
  18. Alexandra #

    I live in Seattle and work a couple blocks from where WADE is being held (and I also use a Ping with Humalog)…so if you need ANYTHING, or would rather not MacGyver it (impressive as it is), don’t hesitate to email me! Hope you enjoy your time in Seattle!

    03/20/14; 9:33 pm
  19. katie #

    when I first went on the pump I had just started getting three month shipments of all my insulin, so I had nearly three months worth of humalog pens. I definitely wasn’t going to let those go to waste, so I used them in the pump until I had just a few left as back-ups.

    03/20/14; 10:13 pm
  20. Jennifer #

    I’m just down the road in Portland, OR- happy to share my insulin with you 🙂
    It’s the least I can do since your blogs provide so much inspiration and comfort.

    03/20/14; 10:21 pm
  21. Dean #

    We’re Seattle-based, and we have a fridge chock-full of humalog cartridges for my T1D kiddo.

    Feel free to e-mail if you’d like me to drop one off for you somewhere. We’re in Seattle proper, near the UW.

    03/21/14; 2:02 pm
  22. Dean #

    Sorry, just re-read this, and realized you have a Humalog pen cartridge with you.

    We fill kiddo’s Animas pump reservoirs *exclusively* from Humalog cartridges, so that he always has fresh in the pen he carries as a backup. (Fridge->Pen->Pump)

    In any case, don’t dial anything on the pen. Just insert the reservoir needle into the cartridge and pull. It takes a second, but the red rubber plug will begin to slide down and the reservoir will begin to fill, with nothing but the suction from the pull.

    If you get any air in, then just push it back into the cartridge, and cycle it a couple times till you’re all-insulin with no bubbles (this can be a little tough if you’re at the end of the cartridge). If you’re a stickler, you can then dial the pen and get the plunger at the right depth for normal use, and even use a pen needle to expel any air you pushed back into the cartridge.

    It’s not quite as easy as filling from a bottle, but should be much less McGyver-ish and messy than trying to push it into the reservoir.

    03/21/14; 2:19 pm
  23. Ok, our CDE asked us to fill our daughter’s t:slim with her insulin pen b/c (it’s just going to waste most of the time) she wouldn’t prescribe 3 insulin bottles a month (daughter would probably only need a 3rd bottle once or twice a year). But I really wasn’t sure what to do and she didn’t answer me and the pump trainer didn’t call me back!

    The other day I just shot from her pen into her pretty much empty insulin bottle and filled from that. But does anyone else do this with a t:slim pump? (Doesn’t have a reservoir like her Medtronic did, but has a syringe that we fill into and push into the pump.) Thanks in advance!

    03/21/14; 4:40 pm
  24. Dean #

    So, I vastly prefer to work with cartridges. At only 300 units each, it means that if one gets lost or broken, or hot, or opened and then not used, or whatever, it’s not a big deal.

    Similarly, taking 2-3 cartridges traveling is no big deal, where taking a second bottle as a backup means it’s at risk of breakage, overheating, etc.

    By contrast, 1000 unit bottles are a major loss, taking a spare is tough, etc.

    With the Animas reservoir, and I’m pretty sure the Medtronic, cartridges are no big deal, as noted in my post above.

    Not sure about the T:slim – be interesting to see if it generates enough pressure to draw from the cartridge on its own, or if you need to keep some pressure on the insulin with the pen plunger for that to work. The one thing you can’t do with a cartridge is pre-pressurize it with the syringe like you would with a solid bottle, obviously.

    With that one exception, though, a cartridge is just a funny-looking small bottle, and ‘ought’ to be able to work. I’d be super-curious about the outcome, if you give it a try.

    03/21/14; 6:19 pm
  25. Have you considered using a ClimaPak to keep one or two vials of insulin with you at all times at the perfect temperature. I never leave home without my ClimaPak. I always have enough insulin. OK, honestly, I almost never run out of insulin !

    03/25/14; 11:30 am
  26. Carl #

    I am waiting on training before I go on a pump. I still have a good supply of pens and was wondering if this would work. Thanks for sharing.

    05/13/14; 3:25 pm
  27. Thanks for the protip! Definitely trying this tomorrow – I’m helping my aunt with her wedding, condo remodel, and moving her across 3 states so even though I remembered all her stuff, I forgot my giant diabetes bag and my emergency vial is MIA…

    09/14/14; 1:57 am
  28. joann #

    Hi where do you get that syringe you can use to take insulin from pen to get into cartridge of pump as above?? Can you use a regular syringe? i have about 10pens and do not want to waste the insulin now that I have a pump. thanks joann

    Thankfully, there are some MacGyver‘ing options available to me. I do have a bottle of Levemir and a few syringes that I could use, alongside the pen of Humalog, and I could go off-pumping until I get back home. But I can also refill the insulin reservoir by pushing the refill needle into the top of the insulin pen, dialing back a bunch of units, and pushing the insulin into the cartridge. My preference is to remain pumping, so I’ll be knocking out air bubbles aplenty when I do this to refill before flying home

    05/26/17; 7:20 pm

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