The Stupidest Thing I Have Ever Done With My Insulin Pump


When I travel, I like to be prepared. As my husband and I got ready to depart on our seven-month trip around the world, I packed a first aid kit worthy of an EMT — everything from bandaids and thermometers to Cipro and Malarone, decongestants, allergy meds, even an Epipen (despite the fact that neither of us has allergies that require one). This preparation extended, naturally, to diabetes. In addition to a backpack full of pump supplies, Symlin, Humalog, Lantus (just in case), test strips, alcohol swabs, syringes, glucagon, pen tip needles, backup glucometers and CGM supplies, I made sure to contact Minimed ahead of time and get a hold of a loaner pump.

With only two weeks remaining in our trip, I’m satisfied to say that we’ve used almost everything I brought at least once. I’ve squirted nasal allergy spray. I’ve used both laxatives and Immodium (thankfully, not at the same time). I’m down to my last box of Quickset insertion sets, and just the other night, my glucometer broke and I had to bust out a new one. Basically the only thing that hasn’t screwed up is my insulin pump.

Given my pumps’ track record (they tend to break in the most inconvenient of locations), I was surprised.  Every once in a while I’d notice the loaner in my bag and think, isn’t that funny — I have never had to use that! This pump, it seemed, was determined to keep on working till we got home. The only way to stop it would be to do something truly stupid.

And so I dropped it off a waterfall.

Let me explain. My husband and I were in Chiang Dao, Thailand, and our guest house had given us a ride to a beautiful waterfall near the Burmese border.  The water flowed over limestone, which constantly erodes and redeposits itself so that it never becomes slippery — as our guide explained, pointing at the shallow, rushing water, we could walk all the way to the top.

I had my bathing suit on under my clothes, but I didn’t particularly feel like swimming, so instead I simply took off my shoes and clambered up a few levels, enjoying the feeling of the water rushing past my ankles. My husband, on the other hand, stripped down to his suit and began playing in the falls. He also figured out a way to set up our camera to take long-exposure shots, so that we would remain clear, while the water blurred around us.

We took a couple of these photos just standing in the water, but then Peter decided to sit under a section of the falls so that the water would massage his shoulders. It looked kind of fun, and besides, I thought the two of us sitting under the falls would make a nice picture.

Since the water barely reached the tops of my feet, I decided to just take my pants off right then and there, resting them on a stump while I joined Peter in the falls. Holding on to his shoulder for balance, I unzipped my pants, shimmied them off my hips and — major tactical error! — unhooked my insulin pump.

I didn’t even see it fall. My pants were damp from the water, and the extra weight prevented me from immediately noticing that my pump had somehow slipped from my pocket. By the time I did notice this — maybe 3 seconds later — my pump was nowhere to be found. I checked my pockets again and again. No pump. We looked into the water. No pump there, and no pump on the limestone shelf of the level below. It had completely disappeared.

Lest you think I’m a complete and total idiot (as opposed to just a partial one), let me reiterate: this was not Niagra falls. The water was not moving at a speed that one would usually think necessary to sweep an insulin pump away in less than three seconds. But that was the only explanation.

Our Kodak moment forgotten, we both began scurrying around the waterfall, trying vainly to catch sight of its tubing, maybe just a glimpse of turquoise blue under the falls. Peter even got a net from the park office — the sort you use to catch goldfish — and began searching the muck at the bottom, even poking into underwater crevices with his feet (that’s devotion).

“Does it float?” he kept asking me.

“How am I supposed to know?” I replied. “It’s not waterproof!”

His question kept echoing in my mind as we continued our search — obviously it makes a big difference to know whether pumps tend to sink or swim, but it’s tough to know if you can’t ever put it in the water to check. But then I had a flashback to the time in Yosemite when I broke my pump by dropping it into the toilet bowl. It sank to the bottom. Supposedly, this one had done the same.

Unfortunately, despite nearly a half hour of poking around in the falls, we didn’t find it. What’s more, this particular pump is out of warranty, which means that this may well be the most expensive mistake I’ve ever made. Add “negotiating with my insurance company” to my growing list of things I’m not looking forward to when we get back.

The small, small upside? I haven’t been carrying that loaner around in vain.

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11 years ago

Always at the wrong time in the worst possible situation huh? Lucky for you, you had the loaner insulin pump handy! Also take a look at

April Ann
11 years ago

Hi Catherine,   I met you at the UCSF Diabetes symposium this year just three weeks after our thirteen year old son was diagnosed with severe DKA. Your speech was so helpful to hear during that difficult time. Re-enforcing that despite Type 1, our son would do anything he wanted in life. He started pumping with a minimed revel in June. This summer on vacation he jumped into a lake-with the pump on. Oops. It still worked fine. I pretended to scold him and tell him to be more careful. As I walked away, tears of joy streamed down my… Read more »

Michael Hoskins
12 years ago

Oh, wow Catherine… Just like Kerri said: I really really really tried hard to not laugh or find humor in this, but it’s hysterical. Good thing you were carrying that loaner around, after all! Hope the loaner cooperates and avoids any potential adventures while you’re still there, and hope the “negotiations” go well when you get back.

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