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What is it like to take insulin?

This was a search term that brought someone over to SixUntilMe, and I realized they probably didn’t find their answer easily.  I don’t have a pile of “How To” and “Five Ways You Can …” sort of articles, despite the Internet trend in that direction.  (Closest I’ve come is the one about the ten best cocktails for people with diabetes.)  But I wanted to address it.  So …

What’s it like to take insulin?

The act of inserting the needle is one thing.  Years ago, I drew insulin into a syringe from a vial, tapping out the bubbles and then pressing the needle tip to my skin. Thirty years ago, my style was to press the needle through my skin in a slow, deliberate sort of manner, using the speed to gauge whether or not the injection site would hurt (and if it felt uncomfortable at first press, I’d move to a different site).  I still do it this way now, whether it’s a syringe, an insulin pen, or the infusion set for my insulin pump.  Controlling the pain is important to me.  It’s on the short list of things I can control.

The kind of insulin has changed for me throughout the years, as well.  Upon diagnosis in 1986, I took Regular and NPH, which were pretty sluggish and forced me to plan my meals around my morning insulin injection. I’ve also used Lente, UltraLente, Lantus, Levemir, Tresiba, Humalog, and Novolog.  NPH used to be rolled in my mother’s hands so it would mix properly before injection.  Lantus burned when I took it, and the burn would spread under the injection site for a second or two.  I’m currently using Humalog in my pump.  It claims to start working in 15 minutes but my body seems to make that timeline 35 min.

Insulin is serious stuff.  It lowers blood sugars.  Not enough keeps blood glucose levels higher than is safe, subjecting my body to the abuses of elevated sugars.  Too much insulin throws me into a “hypoglycemic event.”  I’ve had a number of low blood sugar episodes that have scared me.  “Scared me” isn’t really a fair description, either, because in some of those moments, I wondered if I was going to die.  Not being dramatic, but more pragmatic.  Will I be able to consume enough glucose to keep me from passing out, going into a coma, dying?  These thoughts sometimes go through my mind like a ticker tape when I’m severely hypoglycemic.

Physically, aside from putting a needle into my body, insulin is crucial to my body’s metabolic processes.  I’d be dead without it.  Dead.  It keeps my body from starving to death.  Acknowledging that is crazy, and gives way to the other side of taking insulin:  the headspace side.

Acknowledging that my ability to stay alive relies on the contents of a small, glass vial is humbling as hell.  The fact that so many people with diabetes cannot afford or access insulin and they die without it is beyond humbling.  Every time I finish a bottle of insulin, I make sure to grab every last bit, waiting for any bubbles to burst and grabbing them when they go liquid.  I do not waste insulin.  A bottle broken against bathroom tile is mourned.  And as the price of insulin continues to climb, my panic response does as well because not having insulin is not an option if I want to continue to exist.

That’s some crazy shit to think about as I tap the bubbles from a syringe.

So what’s it like to take insulin?  Humbling, if I think about how lucky I am to be alive after Banting and Best worked their magic.

But the weird thing is, on most days, I don’t think about it.  This hormone I’d die without, this item in my fridge that’s worth more than my entire house in total, it’s not something I deliberate or celebrate every day.  I just take it, ignoring any quick pinch on my skin and moving on.

… and that right there illustrates how lucky I am.  Which is why I’m ending this post with a call to donate to Life for a Child through IDF.  Nothing like sparing a rose a few months early.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beth K #

    Exactly. Amazing how sometimes you put my thoughts into your words exactly as they occur in my head. Thanks for making this (not at all) fabulous situation less lonely.

    07/28/17; 4:56 pm
  2. Gene Silverman #

    Very humbling indeed, I can relate to all these thoughts and emotions. Thank you for putting it into words.

    07/28/17; 5:19 pm
  3. Basic Joe #

    Nicely explained. I was asked only once about the sensations from injecting insulin back when I was pre-pump, but that was a room mate’s buddy who was only interested in getting high nearly anything he could get his hands on. I told him there was no high from it, and he never tried to sample it.

    07/28/17; 8:28 pm
  4. sam #

    Nice post regarding insulin take.

    07/29/17; 10:58 am
  5. Nick Argento #

    Thanks Kerri!

    For people with type 2, they sometimes think of insulin as a punishment for ‘bad behavior’- maybe because sometimes HCP’s threaten them with it.

    As T1D since 1968, I see life when I see insulin. A miracle. Anyone who does not feel that should read 2 books-
    The Discovery on Insulin, Michael Bliss > read chapter 6 page esp 150-151 about Dr Frederick Allen, who ‘perfected’ the starvation treatment of T1D, arriving in his hospital after returning from Toronto in 1923; chapter 7, esp page 164-165 to get a taste of the transformation it brought….

    Cheating Destiny, James Hirsch, there is a chapter about a T1D patient who had fled WWII Europe, only to find herself in a ghetto under Japanese control, where a doctor and a food chemist had to figure out how to make insulin from animals again, or all the diabetics would die….

    You’ll never think of insulin the same way….

    07/29/17; 12:25 pm
  6. Gillian Garside #

    Thank you Kerri. I don’t have diabetes but I try to help those who do as much as I can. I have learned so much from your blog to help me understand the lived experience of Type 1. I am humbled by all that people with Type 1 do to survive, thrive and excel. You motivate me every day to do more to help. Thank you Gillian G

    07/31/17; 10:55 am
  7. Sandra houle #

    I take insulin 5 times a day it doesn’t t bother me it helps my sugar stay at a good level once in awhile it goes a little high but not bad when I was t taking insulin. is was always high so I’m happy

    08/20/17; 4:09 pm

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