Diabetes Made Visible Dammit

Warning – graphic and gross pictures ahead. Turn back now if you are bothered by blood.

I changed my infusion set tonight. It had been three and a half days, a little less than another day of insulin in the cartridge, and just time to do it.

My old site was on my lower back, an inch or two left of my spine, an inch or so above my belt line. As far back as I could reach. I put my new site in a similar location but on the right side this time. All was good.

After inserting the new site, there are still things left to do. I have a routine that goes almost automatically. Part of that method is after removing the old infusion site, I like to wipe the area with the alcohol swab that I used to clean and prepare the new site. It’s just something I’ve always done.

So in the middle of my routine, I am filling my tubing, grabbing my used alcohol swab, and wiping the old site. Once, twice, three, then four times. I’m done wiping and set the swab down. And it’s soaked with blood. A damn gusher.

My gushers rarely spray or squirt blood, rather, it just, well, gushes! Huge, steady, thick streams of blood. And they take forever to stop bleeding.

For those unaccustomed to the term, a gusher sometimes happens when you remove your infusion set. You might nick a capillary or something (insert proper medical terminology here…), and it bleeds like crazy for a little bit.

Nothing to worry about, but it can be messy. And hope the cops don’t come in the middle of one, or someone in the house is likely to get locked up. Blood is fricking everywhere.

There was a delay between pulling my old set out and wiping it with the swab. Nothing huge, but easily 10 or 15 seconds. Do you know how much blood can ooze out in 10 or 15 seconds?

Now I’m still filling the tubing on my pump – and trying to scramble to find a tissue, napkin, or something I can put back there. This has two purposes – to soak up whatever blood is already there and absorb the blood that continues to gush out. So I’ve got insulin dripping steadily out of my unattached tubing and blood gushing steadily out of my back somewhere.

I find a napkin, stick it on my back, then tell my pump to stop filling the tubing (after confirming that there was indeed insulin dripping from the exposed end (safety first, people – pumping air will do you no good…)). The napkin stuck on my back by itself, held on by the blood (just like toilet paper and shaving nicks…).

I sat and applied pressure to my “wound” (?) for a bit, then took off the napkin. I found a clean spot on the napkin and wiped it again to check for any fresh blood, and confirmed I was through it. Messy tragedy dealt with.

As I surveyed the carnage, bloody napkin, and alcohol swab lying there with the rest of my normal site change trash, I thought, “why is this Ok?”.

Why is it Ok for any of us to deal with this?

All of this technology, science, and money – why are we forced to use these primitive tools to deal with this shit? It is settled for. People are Ok with having to stick something under our skin to deliver insulin, and we settle for it. This is not how the non-diabetic person works!

Don’t get me wrong – without the tools and advancements we have, our job would be much more difficult. I am thankful for what we have. But I am pissed that we are Ok with it. And I am pissed that the basic treatment for us (insulin) has not changed. Insulin is not a cure.

These pictures are gross and bloody. But if I deal with this sometimes, you will see them too. I will not censor the images because this is diabetes made visible. It’s the real deal, folks. It should not just be OK to deal with stupid shit like this.


In the end – it’s really not a big deal.

My very wise wife said, “well, it’s no use in getting mad about it!”, and she is right (as usual).

But I was not mad at this specific gusher, but instead all that it symbolized for me at the time. The very primitive treatment that we deal with, accept, and adapt our lives to.

Diabetes made visible, dammit. Put it out there so people can see what it is about on a daily basis. It is not Ok. It should not be settled for.

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Scott K. Johnson

Patient voice, speaker, writer, advocate, and Senior Community Manager at Blue Circle Health. Living life with diabetes and telling my story. All opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent my employer’s position. Read more…

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