What to know about taking a diabetes insulin pump "vacation"

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April Blackwell

I've been physically attached to my diabetes insulin pump on and off for two decades. While I love the convenience a pump provides, there are times when a short vacation from the device makes sense. I've taken a few in the last 20 years!

During these pump breaks, I revert back to the multiple daily injection (MDI) method of diabetes management, which relies on good old-fashioned syringes and insulin vials.

I've found that there are pros and cons with this management method (just as there are with any other diabetes strategy). Here's what you should know about the benefits as well as some actionable guidance if an insulin pump break is on your radar.

Understanding the benefits of MDIs

There are several reasons you may want to book a short insulin pump vacation, including:

  • Giving your skin a break from adhesives. Even though I'm diligent about rotating pump sites, my skin still experiences breakouts occasionally. A short break from the adhesives used for insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) gives my skin some extra time to recover.
  • Avoiding technology worries or insulin delivery issues. Insulin pumps and CGMs are powerful tools for managing diabetes, but that also means they're susceptible to failure. A short switchover to MDIs can ease the mental burden of potential glitches or technology failures.
  • Keeping costs down. It's no secret that insulin pump and CGM technology come with a larger price tag. A month or two of MDIs can provide some financial breathing room, if desired.

Beyond these concrete reasons for a diabetes insulin pump vacation, there's the underlying freedom of being "disconnected." The technology we use to manage diabetes can, at times, feel cumbersome and obtrusive. A return to MDIs for a brief (or not-so-brief) period of time may be just the break you need from tubing or Personal Diabetes Managers.

For me personally, the MDI method requires a little more active thought, which can be a good reset for my diabetes management! With an insulin pump, the algorithms are built-in — I rarely have to think about what my insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio is; I just let the equations compute the final bolus figure.

But MDIs force me to focus on my numbers, the calculations, and the carbohydrate counts. This helps me be more active in my diabetes management and feel more in control.

Accounting for transition considerations

As with anything diabetes-related, it's crucial to have a plan. Before jumping from insulin pump therapy to MDIs, have a detailed discussion with your endocrinologist, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, and perhaps even a nutritionist. You can use the data stored in your insulin pump to project your long-acting insulin needs and know your numbers (insulin-to-carb ratio, insulin sensitivity factor, and correction target) because you'll need to make dosing calculations manually.

Think about the logistics of your insulin pump break as well. If your pump supplies are on an automatic reorder status, think about halting the reorders temporarily. You may want to talk to your doctor about switching prescriptions from vials (with insulin pens as backup) to insulin pens (with vials as backups). And don't forget a healthy supply of insulin pens (including needles) and plain, old syringes.

If you currently use your insulin pump as your CGM receiver, consider choosing a different way to display your trend graph — or for a total technology break, switch to finger pricks. Many CGMs can be paired with your phone for a seamless blood glucose trend transition. Otherwise, you'll have to find an old receiver or order a new one.

Giving your pump a break, literally

When it comes time to pull off your insulin pump site and transition to MDIs for a little technology break, here are some steps to consider following:

  • Remove the used reservoir from your insulin pump
  • Ensure you have all your settings saved somewhere
  • Power the pump off
  • Store it in a cool, dry place out of reach of any young children
  • Pull off the pump site and apply gentle lotion (or a cool cloth) to ease any skin irritation

The bottom line is there's no "right way" or "best way" to manage your diabetes. And just because one method of management works now doesn't mean it needs to be your only method forever. Temporarily disconnecting from your insulin pump may be just the motivation you need to reconnect with managing this condition in a fresh way.

Ready to book an insulin pump vacation? Edgepark makes it easy to order supplies for any insulin delivery method you're considering.

April Blackwell

April Blackwell is an aerospace engineer who works as an Attitude Determination and Control Officer in the International Space Station mission control center. She has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for over 20 years and is a passionate advocate with the hope to inspire everyone to reach for their dreams regardless of medical status.

Social Media links: https://www.instagram.com/nerdyapril/ https://www.facebook.com/nerdyapril

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