Party tricks for diabetics – Tiernan Douieb on insulin pumps

Author: Tiernan Douieb's story | Posted: 27 June 2014

By Tiernan Douieb

When I was a kid, one of the best party tricks I had was being able to take out my insulin injection and jab it in my arm. The ooohs and aaaahs of the other children would give me a never ending grin. They would question “didn’t that hurt?” and I would proudly explain that no it didn’t, because I knew exactly where to inject myself. Some would ask stupid questions about whether it had to go in a vein and is it like taking illicit drugs. I would explain diabetes as best as I understood it at the time – seeming like some sort of smart but dangerous, needle bearing maverick.
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This status was duly upgraded on receiving a Novopen. I remember my diabetes nurse offering me one of a range of colours – from the sort of green you only see when a pet is sick, to blues and reds that seemed to be designed just for Butlins Redcoats. Then at the end I saw a silver one. A shiny silver Novopen. It looked just like a big flashy marker, but then on the inside, an injection. I was essentially the James Bond of diabetics.

I have had a diabetes pump for the last three years. It has in so many ways, improved my diabetes control since I’ve had it. My life is always erratic, so having a constant basal rate of insulin that I can adjust and fit around me doing shows, missing meals, or just generally racing around – has made life quite a lot easier. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to five injections a day. I often feared it would get to the point where I’d injected so often that I’d drink a glass of water and it would all sprinkle out of every entry point like in cartoons. So doing one injection to insert the cannula every three to four days is a blessed change. But despite all that, my diabetes pump just doesn’t have the dangerous spy image that my Novopen had.

Sure I’ve tried to pretend I’m like the NHS version of the Six Million Dollar Man, but that doesn’t quite hold much ground considering my lack of bionic powers.

So instead, I like to exploit the fact that I have a small electronic device containing liquid attached to me by a tube.

My first few plane flights with my insulin pump, I would take it out and wave it at security and say: “I have this thing and it’s attached to me, do you need to check it?” Rarely they would care – knowing full well that it’s medical equipment. Occasionally they’d swab it, but to find the only traces on it were from my pocket fluff or bits of crisps I’d just eaten. Once, in Tromsø airport in Norway, they actually seemed uncertain as to what it was. I asked “will it set off the security gate?” and the guard replied “who knows? Why not try?” I walked through and it did, until we both realised I’d just left my belt on like an idiot. So now it just sits in my pocket – unnoticed.

There’s nothing cool about having a non-dangerous object in your pocket. There’s nothing cool about trying to leave a room, catching the cable of your pump on the door handle and being pulled back in. And there’s nothing cool about having to use the term ‘pump supplies’. Though I suppose it is pretty cool actually having control over my diabetes. But it’s not cool to boast about that at parties. So look manufacturers of diabetes pumps – thanks and everything, but next time can you at least add a laser?

Tiernan does stand-up comedy for adults and children – see his website for a list of his upcoming gigs.