Diabetic Life

Why A Trip To The Wisconsin State Fair Convinced Me To Get An Insulin Pump

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This may sound like a joke, but the Wisconsin State Fair was truly the final straw that made me want to get an insulin pump.  Every August Wisconsinites gather on the hallowed fairgrounds to devour a collection of food on a stick, visit animals, ride the Giant Yellow Slide, listen to music and eat cream puffs.  My first trip to the fair as a Type 1 Diabetic over 10 years ago convinced me to get an insulin pump.  Looking back it was one the best life decisions I ever made.

How does this diabetic carry supplies through the Fair?  These KAVU sling bags are my absolute favorite.  So many fun colors, super durable, easy on your back and shoulders, and tons of pockets.  Want one?  Click the link and check em out!

Why We LOVE The Wisconsin State Fair

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For those of you who have not been able to partake in the eating extravaganza that is the Wisconsin State Fair I will give you a list of the things we eat, as a family, every year.

  • Gyro
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Baked Potato
  • Grilled Cheese (my kids favorite and I always steal a bite or two)
  • Fried Eggplant (a new addition this year)
  • Usinger’s Brat
  • Flavored Milk (Chocolate Peanut Butter was the new flavor this year)
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Sprecher’s Root Beer on tap (so much better than in the bottle)
  • Cream Puffs (these are the size of a softball)

We operate on a “share everything” platform so as to maximize the amount of things we can all try without the fear of being wheeled to the car at the end of the night.  A few bites here, a few tastes there and we cover all our bases after two trips to the fair.

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Blood Sugars Don’t Always Play Fair

Blood sugar wise I honestly survive the trip quite well thanks to the miles of walking we put on visiting goats, cows, and pigs.  Combine this with shuffling through the expo building filled with miracle mops, hot tub sales, Avon products, and the last veggie peeler you’ll ever need and a obligatory stop at the midway rides and I actually find myself eating out of necessity to combat a low.

In fact, the Sprecher’s Root Beer stand is typically seen as my oasis after making it through the ear piercing sounds of the Midway.  This stand is located at the exit of the Midway and for the past few years, thanks to a low blood sugar, I have been reminded just how good a non-diet, draft root beer can be.

The all-time highlight for me truly is the Cream Puff.  It is the signature dish of the Wisconsin State Fair and they are made fresh, in assembly line fashion, as you wait in line.  This year over 400,000 cream puffs were sold during the 11 day fair….they’re kind of a big deal and honestly not all that cruel to my blood sugars.

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So I believe it is safe to say that I truly enjoy the fair because I really, truly, whole heartedly love food.  Diabetes made a valiant attempt to interfere with this love story and threatened to put the kibosh on my fair-time fun but nothing will come between my love of fair food.

Why I Got An Insulin Pump After The Wisconsin State Fair

Ten years ago I went to the fair for the first time as a Type 1 Diabetic.  I was armed with my insulin pen, blood glucose meter and glucose tablets.  I did everything I could to get through the day, but thanks to the endless sampling, I found myself playing the role of a human pin cushion.

I lost count of how many injections I had given myself and since I had no way of knowing how much insulin was still in me from my previous injections I quickly began to do something called “insulin stacking”.  (Taking numerous doses in a row without taking into account what was still at work from a previous injection)  I was stacking doses of insulin along with walking long distances and this inevitably led to a low blood sugar.

This low blood sugar along with my overly punctured skin led me to finally listen to my husband, who had been reading about insulin pumps and recommending one for months.

It was not long after this day at the fair that I called my doc and set up an initial consultation with an insulin pump rep who sat down with me and my husband and explained how the pump worked and answered all of our questions.  After working through insurance and my doctor I was more than ready to say goodbye to the endless shots and hello to my first insulin pump.

Before I go much further I want to say that I most certainly know that insulin pump therapy is not for everyone.  I know many diabetics who are very well controlled using injections.  How you treat your diabetes is your choice and I am merely telling my personal story.

Making The Switch

Switching to an insulin pump was not an easy choice, and it took this tipping point at the fair to push me over the edge.  I had settled into what felt like a routine with my injections and it had finally started to feel like known territory.  It was scary and unsettling to think of returning to the unknown and a part of me was not ready to give up control to a little machine.

Regardless, I chose to take the leap and, I will not lie, it was like starting over.  I had learned to count carbs but I had never had to program a basal rate.  What is a basal rate you ask??  Check out this earlier post about what a Basal Rate does and why this blog is called Sweet Basal.

It was a true test in patience because a large part setting up my pump was a process of calculated trial and error.  Change one factor, gather a few days of data, and repeat until we got close to a steady blood sugar.  There is no fast version or cheat code, just good ol’ fashion wait and see.

Finally my doctors got everything calibrated….then the wind changed and the settings had to be adjusted.  Recurring theme of my older posts, nothing about diabetes stays the same for long.

Still, it didn’t take long to adjust to life on the pump and put my trust in my new little sidekick.  I thoroughly enjoyed being able to turn my basal down or off when working out and I was now able to avoid “insulin stacking” because I could now see how much insulin was still working from previous doses.

My first insulin pump was an Animas Ping (which is no longer in business) and it was lime green (classy but fun).  It was not nearly as advanced as the pump I currently have but it was waterproof which was fantastic because it meant I could swim with it on.

Learning to change my infusion site (where the insulin goes under the skin) was a monumental task.  I remember covering my whole kitchen counter with supplies and finally getting it changed after a good twenty minutes of concentration.  I can now change these sites in an airport bathroom stall in less than three minutes.

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Game Changer: Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGM)

About three years after getting my pump I got my first continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  It was one of the original versions made by DexCom and it came with a huge receiver that would tell me my “current” blood sugar.  It was rarely accurate and it beeped more than a smoke alarm at a bonfire.  My husband threatened numerous times to throw it out the window in the middle of the night.  I eventually stopped using it because it honestly was forcing me to think about my diabetes non-stop thanks to the constant alarms.  It was seriously starting to mess with my head and I finally decided to turn it off and find a place for it on a basement shelf.

(Note: DexCom has come miles from this old version and while I don’t currently use this CGM I know that DexCom has changed the life of many for the better.)

It was not until two years ago, when I switched to my current pump, that I gave a CGM another try.  My Medtronic 670g operates in what is called a “closed loop” system, which means that my CGM wirelessly talks to my pump and injects a basal rate based on the reading it receives every five minutes.  This means that my doctor no longer has to determine my daily basal insulin needs, which honestly can change on a daily basis.  Instead, my pump bases my basal insulin on the current needs of the moment.  Game changer.

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This is my CGM inserted in my upper thigh.  The thin wire under the skin detects my blood sugars every five minutes and transmits the data to my pump.

Just A Few Of The Many Benefits

Truth be told life with this pump has been a journey.  Transitioning from a regular pump to a “closed-loop” pump is a longer story for another post.  After two years I am happy to say that thanks to my Medtronic 670g, my blood sugars are now in range over 75% of the time and my A1c has gone under 7 for the first time since I had my twins.

In addition to the luxury of staying in range the majority of the time,  the absolute priceless feature of this pump is the safety factor.  Thanks to my CGM reading my blood sugars every five minutes it catches my low blood sugars long before I enter the danger zone.  Prior to my CGM I would routinely wake up in the middle of the night sweating and dizzy and scrambling for juice and glucose tablets.  Thankfully I still felt the lows coming on but I greatly prefer being woken up by a beeping alarm and vibration…or my husband smacking me because he heard it before I did.  Now I wake up and catch my lows long before any symptoms set in and this has drastically improved my peace of mind.

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In this pic my CGM has detected a blood sugar of 104 and it is trending downward triggering an alarm of an approaching low blood sugar.

Is life with the pump perfect?  No.  Diabetes does not allow for anything to be perfect.  Too many moving targets, factors, and unknowns, but life on a pump has allowed me to put my diabetes further into the background and allowed me to focus on the things that I really love.

How Far I’ve Come:  Wisconsin State Fair 2019

This year at the fair I got an alarm of an oncoming low while my kids were on the Tilt-O-Whirl so I snagged a pack of fruit snacks while my pump automatically suspended delivery.  We made it to the Sprecher Root Beer stand and I “treated” my low. with a few wonderful swigs of root beer.

We went on to get a baked potato and I entered the amount of carbs while my pump calculated my dose based how much insulin I still had in my system and my current blood sugar level.  I hit “ok” and went back to my potato and my family.

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Later that night I set my pump to deliver a lower basal insulin rate to avoid a low caused by all the walking we were doing and by the end of the night despite enjoying a cream puff with my daughter I remained in range.

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After a night at the fair it is a victory to see my blood sugars (blue line) stay in range (green bar)

Life with an insulin pump has brought its own set of challenges but the benefits have greatly outweighed all the struggles.  I had to learn where to put my pump when I wear dresses and adjust to sleeping, running, and swimming with it always on my hip.  It is still fun to watch the looks and stares when we go to the beach (Check out “If You Take An Insulin Pump To The Beach…”) but I have learned to wear my pump with pride.  It is as much a part of me as my arms and legs and I am so grateful to the technology and science that has made this possible.

It is a delicate dance, one that only comes after living this life day after day, but this is true of so many things in life.  I didn’t know how to raise twin babies the first day they came home any more than I knew how to plant my first vegetable garden.  Life requires practice.  Life with Type 1 Diabetes requires lots and lots of practice…and snacks.

Diabetic Mama of Twins fueled by my family, working out, eating, dog walking, getting lost in the woods and insulin. Writing to share the journey this Type 1 diagnosis has taken me on since 2007.

4 Comments

  • Diane Anderson

    Such an informative post! I know a little about Type 2 diabetes, because of my father as he aged. But, I never knew much about Type 1 diabetes, and how strictly you have to watch every little thing. Not only were you able to get a lot of medical information across to the reader, but this post really shows how this affects everything in your life. When I see how much of a difference the insulin pump made in your life, it reminds me of how far we’ve come in our medical technology!

  • RT

    A trip to Six Flags in St. Louis convinced me to get a pump almost 20 years ago! All the lows from the excitement, the walking and the heat forced me to eat when I didn’t want to. I, too, began pump life after that experience and then started with a CGM this past year. I’m grateful for these medical advancements–and yep, I still long for a cure!

    • Lindsey Kaptur

      We were just at six flags IL last week for the first time since I had been diagnosed. Actually I was diagnosed a week before we went to six flags so the roller coasters were honestly not the scariest thing there. I remember hitting 80 at one point in the day and having a panic attack. It was a good feeling for my husband and I to go back last week with our twin girls and realize how far we have come. And yes a cure please!!!

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