My Non-Aquatic Pump

Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?

My pump is not waterproof.

Some of you know parts of this story already thanks to Facebook and/or Twitter, but here it is in full.

About two weeks ago, I was on vacation with my family.  We were staying in a resort town about 3 hours outside of Winnipeg (my home city), in a lovely set of cabins with an outdoor pool.  The weather was sunny and hot, my daughter was excited about swimming, and I was feeling relaxed and pretty carefree (which is somewhat unusual for me).

Normally I’m really good about remember to take my pump off at times that I shouldn’t be wearing it.  But the sequence of events in this particular instance threw me off.  Here’s what happened:

  1. My husband brought my daughter out to the pool area, where I was already sitting in a lounger.
  2. I said I would take her in to the pool, because sitting in my lounger had made me pretty hot and I wanted to cool off.
  3. I started to take the pump off and realized I should maybe check my bloodsugar first.
  4. Checked and was too high.  Dialed in a correction bolus and let it run while I got my daughter ready for the pool.
  5. Took excited child into the pool.
  6. Discovered good old Mr. Pump on the bottom half of my swimsuit after about 10 minutes of immersion.

See where I went wrong?  There should be a step 4b in there: REMOVED PUMP!!


Immediately after noticing, I took the pump off, handed it to my hubby who was still outside the pool and he took out the reservoir and let the pump sit and dry in the sun.  It was still working when I got out of the pool, so I put it back on and it kept working.

Do you know how long it kept working?  8 hours!!

But then…

Just before I was going to get ready for bed, I went to check how many units were left in my reservoir, and the buttons started acting funny.  First they wouldn’t work, and then they would scroll to places I hadn’t meant for them to go.  This was starting to feel a bit like the old Pump Ghoulies were back.  I waited for a bit and tried again in case there was just some weird glitch (trying to ignore the fact that really any pump glitch is a bad glitch).  No dice.  (In fact, by the next morning, the pump was wailing and saying “Button Error”.)

Time to call Medtronic (I use a Paradigm 522).

No cell service.  And no phone in the cabin.


I may have cried a bit at this point.

While Hubby stayed with the sleeping Kid, I found a payphone nearby and called Medtronic.  Correction: I got my Dad (staying in a cabin near us) to read the teenie tiny toll-free number off the back of my malfunctioning pump since my glasses-less, retinopathic (is that a word) eyes couldn’t.  He also stood under a light a few feet away from the phone and shouted the serial number on my pump to me when the Medtronic Man asked for it.  (Thanks Dad!)

Now, I have to say that Medtronic Customer Service was absolutely fantastic in this situation.  I haven’t always had stellar service from them, but this time I really did – just when I needed it.

The long and short of it was that I was advised not to use the pump anymore, even for basals, even though it may have been delivering, because the malfunctioning buttons could, in the off-chance that they possessedly chose the correct sequence, give me an unwanted bolus in the middle of the night.  So unlikely, but in combination with the possibility that the malfunction may extend to basal delivery, wasn’t worth the risk.  Medtronic Man promised me a pump by mid-afternoon the next day.  But I was going to have to wing it until then.

Because of my weird basal quirks that make the pump so great for me and MDI so unsuited to me, I don’t carry long-acting insulin.  My basal profile has so many ups and downs that finding a reasonable dose of Lantus or Levemir for me is like solving a Rubik’s Cube.  Instead, my backup consists of extra Apidra and an insulin pen.  It’s a fine approach during the day, but it meant that I was waking up every 2 hours at night to take a shot of short-acting insulin and do my best to mimic my pump.

The good news is that I woke up at 5.8 mmol/l (104 mg/dl).  The bad news is that I had barely slept and felt like I had been hit by a truck.

I muddled my way through the day (which was much easier than muddling my way through the night), mostly trying to ride out meal boluses for as long as possible, and then at 3:00 a glowing man in a halo delivered a new pump to me.  (Part of that last statement isn’t true.)  The pump had been flown from Toronto to Winnipeg and then driven 3 hours to me by this nice man.  All at no charge to me, thankfully.

The lucky part: my warranty is up at the end of this month.

This was almost a $7500 (out-of-pocket) mistake.  Ouch.

It’s funny how plugging back in made me feel “whole” again.  As much as I complain about the inconvenience of being tethered round the clock, and as much as I bitch about having this device on my waistband all the time (especially at night), I can honestly say that I did not enjoy my pump vacation.  I didn’t even have a dress along to take advantage of the fashion opportunity!

So I can’t really be too sure exactly what happened.  My understanding (which may be based on only partial-truths) is that any pump, whether advertised as waterproof or not, should keep water out as long as there are no cracks/fissures or breaks in any seals.  I heard from people who took their non-waterproof pumps swimming without problems and from people who took their waterproof pumps swimming with problems.  Somewhere, somehow, I must have developed a crack or seal issue in this pump, and I guess it took 8 hours for the moisture to make its way in enough to cause a problem.

I felt pretty dumb for a while, and really kicked myself about it for quite some time.  Let’s be honest, though – it’s really hard to remember to take off a pump before going swimming.  It becomes a part of you when you wear it 24/7, and it’s very difficult to remember to remove it.  Who hasn’t accidentally gone into a pool/lake/ocean with earrings, a watch, glasses, a hat, etc?  It’s just that the pump is so much more necessary and so much more expensive to replace!

My new strategy is to take my pump off when I enter a swimming area.  If I need insulin while I’m in there, I’ll reconnect to bolus, but if I have any intention of going into the water, I’m not risking wearing it and making this mistake again.

So the moral of the story is this: insulin pumps are not meant to swim.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Been there, done that! 🙂 lucky for me, I live less than an hour from Medtronics distribution centre and they had a new pump out to me in less than 3 hours!
    Medtronic customer service is great like that, I’m so glad even where you were, it was less than 24 hours.
    More than the incident, it’s the reminder of how important our pumps are to us. Glad there was a happy ending to this story with hardly any upsets.


  2. Posted by Catemann on August 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Just found your blog thru….. Maybe “six until
    Me”— my last pump disaster happened in bermuda and I forgot extra resevoirs, I was doing MDI until my friend showe up in the island after hitting my supply closet. I had 2 pumpfree days at the beach and pool.
    Looking forward to reading more!


  3. Posted by Catemann on August 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    And I can’t believe someone snapped your picture! And didn’t say ummmmm insulin pump? Cell phone? Whatever that is on your waistband!


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