Ode to My Wooden Leg


A Story of Adventure and Love in the Endocrine System

Since 2005, I have been the appreciative owner of a Kaiser-subsidized Medtronic Minimed insulin pump, model 515. It has been good to me; it has accompanied me through sleet and through snow. We have flown together, tanned together, climbed together. We’ve never showered together, but we have slept together. Often.

Anthropomorphizing aside, I spend a lot of time attached to, looking at, and relying on my pump. Many people ask if I have named it; I have not, and that is likely because I view it not as a separate, thinking entity beside me so much as an externalized, detachable fraction of my body. My secondary pancreas. My hippy chip. My wooden leg.

For five years now it has served me quite well. But, alas, plastic though it is, it is mortal: two years ago, I had an issue with the pump. I was visiting my parents in LA when the “Low Battery” indicator went off. I went to change the battery, grabbing a triple-A and a quarter to open the compartment.

But the compartment wouldn’t open. After years of opening and closing, the plastic groove in the battery compartment cap was stripped, worn away to the point that I could not– with a quarter, screwdriver, or even a file– get sufficient torque to unscrew the cap.

To those of you with pumps, there is an implicit “needless to say” here– I panicked. I was away from home, the battery was low, and I could not replace it. How long did I have before the pump died? Did I have any syringes? How could I possibly know how much insulin I would need?

I called the Medtronic support line. They didn’t do partial replacements; the whole unit would have to go. Luckily, it was still under warranty. Even more luckily, they could ship it overnight. Perhaps the battery would hold out!

But! It was Saturday. Even shipped with their fastest carrier, the soonest I could get it would be Monday. Panic! Malaise! Needles and syringes!

And a glimmer of hope: “On my pump, it says your offices are in Northridge.”

“Yes, our Minimed division has offices in Northridge, California.”

“I’m about twenty minutes outside of Northridge– could I just pick it up?”

“Well– yeah, I guess so. Let me see….”

And within an hour I was the deeply satisfied owner of a brand new 515 pump, reprogrammed and plugged in. Zero down time.

Other than that, the pump has been a faithful organ to me. But I have kept my eyes open. I have not forgotten its transgression. And sure enough, recently, I’ve seen the familiar signs of decay– the slowly widening groove, the growing number of plastic scales sloughing off the cap, the increasing difficulty of each battery change.

This time I was ready. I wasn’t going to be left without a vital, if non-native, organ. I called Kaiser, navigated the deep recesses if the Durable Medical Equipment departments, and determined that my insulin pump was out of warranty, but could be replaced with the 20% copay on a well-insured and therefore drastically marked-up device. I was looking at a charge just under $1,000.

A lot, yes. I translated the amount into weeks of my hourly wage and wavered. But would I pay $1,000 to save my toe? My leg? My pancreas?

“Do it,” I told the Medtronic representative.

And so. In about three days, I will be the proud owner of a Medtronic Minimed 522 insulin pump, in all its pink plastic glory. Like the Barbie Dream House, but with a complimentary box of infusion sets.

“I’m getting a new pink pump!” I told my mother.

“Shoes?” she asked.

Oh, so much better than just shoes. This is like a whole new leg. I am so excited!

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12 years ago

Having dropped my pump in the toilet this morning — in Yosemite — I can sympathize with your pancreatic malfunction. I’ve been on NPH all day for the first time in eight years (same deal: my replacement pump arrives Monday) and my blood sugar today has fluctuated from between 35 to 314 (it’s currently somewhere around 280). I’m always amazed — and alarmed — by how dependent on technology I am, and how prone it is to failure.

Jessica Apple
12 years ago

A pink pump!  I went through a short phase of calling my insulin “insulina.”  i liked giving it a little femininity.

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