Purple Because Aliens Don’t Wear Hats

If you accidentally bolus 25 units of insulin when only 3.5 units were needed and each unit of insulin will reduce blood sugar by 50 points while every 10 grams of carbs would normally require 1 unit of insulin and your blood sugar was 300, keeping in mind fast acting insulin takes approximately 20 minutes to be active and remains in the body 3-7 hours with a peek between the 2nd and 4th hour, how many carbohydrates should be consumed and over what period of time should said carbohydrates be consumed in order to avoid convulsions, coma and death?

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The facts:

At approximately 10:30 pm PST my daughter checked her blood sugar. The result was 300.

She wears a t:slim insulin pump. She input the data (the blood sugar of 300) into the pump.

The pump completed the required calculations to determine the amount of insulin needed to lower my daughters blood sugar.

My daughter pushed the required buttons (really its a touch screen pump so there are no buttons) to deliver the required amount of insulin.

The t:slim pump delivers insulin very slowly – in (I believe) 0.3 unit increments. They say it is a safety feature – and honestly it would have been had my daughter noticed her nearly deadly mistake early enough.

After approving the suggested bolus on the pump my daughter clipped her pump back to her pajama bottoms and tucked in for a good nights rest.

Minutes later her insulin pump alerted her to a problem. Basically it had delivered 25 of the 30 units of insulin that was required to complete the suggested (and approved) bolus.

I am 100% certain my daughter had a total WTF moment although I wasn’t there to witness it. I just know she came downstairs saying “Mom Mom Mom Mommy Mommy Mom”

Her pump is programmed to never give more than 25 units of insulin at one time (meaning for one bolus). The suggested bolus was 30 units of insulin – thus the pump gave 25 and then asked the user (my daughter) if she wanted to give the remaining 5 units. Clearly we need to reduce the number of units that can be given at one time to perhaps 15 units but that is just one lesson we learned in the small hours of last night. 

What happened? 

Well technically exactly what the endocrinologist at my daughters last appointment said could happen and why she (the endo) refuses to prescribe the Tandem t:slim pump to children (including and possibly especially teens). BTW – my daughter didn’t care for me reminding her of that conversation with that endo. She (my daughter) doesn’t like it when others may have a valid point (I’m not sure where she gets that from).

Basically – my daughter input the 300 blood sugar as carbohydrates rather than as a blood sugar. Her pump is programmed to calculate insulin needs based on blood sugars and total carbs consumed. The amount of insulin needed by my daughter to lower a blood sugar of 300 to 150 is 3.5 units. Had she input the 300 blood sugar as a blood sugar all would have been well. However, she put the 300 in as carbs. Her pump is programmed to bolus (that means inject) 1 unit of insulin for every 10 grams of carbohydrates; which is why her pump wanted to bolus 30 units of insulin.

There are a number of screens on the pump a user has to go through in order to initiate insulin delivery. Each screen provides the user with some information such as how the pump calculated the suggested bolus, confirmation that the calculations appear correct, confirmation that the user wants to deliver the suggested amount of insulin, an opportunity to change the suggested amount, again a confirmation before it will deliver and finally a screen showing what t:slim calls the ‘Bolus Splash’ which also displays the amount of insulin being delivered.

So just as the endo suggested could happen with kids and teens (and likely adults too) – my daughter put in the 300 blood sugar as carbs and then in a matter of less than seconds tapped: ‘DONE’, ‘NEXT’, ‘YES’, ‘DELIVER’ – and voila! the pump initiated the delivery of enough insulin to kill my daughter within just a couple of hours whilst we all slumbered away.

*quick side note for those that may not be familiar with how diabetes can kill a person – people with type 1 diabetes (my kids) must take insulin to stay alive because their pancreases don’t produce it. There must always be a balance between the amount of insulin taken and the amount of carbohydrates consumed (carbohydrates are not just sugar – they are potatoes, rice, bread, fruit, milk, yogurt, pasta, etc). Too much insulin will lower a persons blood sugar and cause hypoglycemia which is typically anytime a blood sugar is below 70. A normal blood sugar is between 70 and 145 for people who do not have diabetes. The lower the blood sugar the more danger a person is in. Most people will lose consciousness, convulse, and possibly die with a blood sugar less than 20 but some people can be symptomatic long before a blood sugar of 20 or less.  If my daughter had not alerted us to the accidental overdose her blood sugar would have dropped to less than 20 within the first hour or so. It would have dropped so quickly based on the amount of insulin she delivered she may not have become aware of the drop in time to take action. 

What did we do?

Well for starters this…

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Banana, Teddy Grams, 2 juice boxes, mini butterfinger, mini 100 grand, full peanut butter and jelly sandwich (she was eating the other half)

The above picture shows approx. 125 grams of carbohydrates. She really needed a minimum of 200 grams but the child could not consume another bite.

She was exhausted. I sent her to bed and told her I would wake her if she needed to consume more. (IF?!?! – of course she would but I didn’t want to alarm her)

I checked her after 30 min. (11:00pm)

She was still in the upper 200s. Insulin isn’t really active until after 20 – 30 min so that was expected. She had eaten a number of fast and long acting carbohydrates (referring to how fast the body absorbs the sugar and/or converts carbohydrates into sugar) so I wasn’t sure what her blood sugar was going to do. I mean I knew it was going to go down but I didn’t know by how much or how fast.

11:30pm – blood sugar 118, woke her and had her drink 30 grams of juice.

It was at this check that I realized I had let slide a very important step in preventing an insulin overdose from ending tragically. I forgot to suspend basal insulin delivery. Basal insulin is insulin that is almost continuously delivered – a small drip basically to mimic what a functioning pancreas does for people without diabetes. Obviously my daughter did not need her basal insulin delivery at that time. Thus, I suspended all basal insulin for the next 4 hours – that should have been done at 10:30pm when my daughter made us aware of the accident. (BTW – this is only valid for people/kids who wear insulin pumps – those that get their basal insulin via an injection have no way of suspending the basal insulin)

dammit.

At 12:00am – blood sugar 124, gave 30 more grams of juice. She did not want to drink the juice this time and I actually had the first of two ‘drink the juice Shelby’ moments. That sucked.

12:30am – blood sugar 131, gave 15 more grams of juice.

1:10am – blood sugar 108, 15 more grams of juice. The second ‘drink the juice Shelby moment’

1:45am – blood sugar 145 – hallelujah she was going up. At this point the majority of the insulin, if not all of it was out of her system. I was still nervous though. It isn’t really an exact science when it comes to how long insulin is active. Each body is different. Thus I grabbed a pillow from the couch and climbed into bed with her. I felt safe enough to close my eyes at that point but I didn’t want to be far off. Prior to that I had watched a number of DVRd shoes afraid to close my eyes even for an instant.

My alarm woke me at 2:30am – blood sugar 162. Fine.

I stayed in her bed until my alarm at 6:00am.

Her blood sugar this morning 274. I think perhaps I could have turned her basal insulin back on at 2:30am but would you have?

She doesn’t remember any of the juices although she saw the juice box carnage on her desk. She woke with a slight stomach ache – well duh she drank 6 juice boxes in the middle of the night.

As a side note – it dawned on me sometime around 1:00am that I could have possibly used small injections of glucagon rather than juice boxes. I have never used the ‘mini-glucagon’ before – never had a reason to. Clearly I need to school myself on mini glucagon doses. (Glucagon is a hormone naturally produced in a persons liver as a last natural defense against hypoglycemia but it has also been synthesized and is typically used in emergency situations when a person experiencing severe hypoglycemia is not conscious. It has also been used in situations similar to ours last night or during periods of illness when carbohydrates can’t be consumed.)

Had it not been for the alert that the pump still had 5 units of the suggested bolus to deliver, or had my daughter ignored the alert this story would not be being told with sarcasm and purple hat wearing alien jokes. This story wouldn’t be being written the morning after while I wait for my youngest to finish getting ready for school. Had the pump not alarmed or had she ignored the alarm when it did alarm, this morning would be a huge black hole that no amount of expletives, sarcasm, tears or cyber hugs would bring me back from.

Diabetes is hard. I know sometimes many of us in the diabetes community make it look easy. We share pictures of bolus worthy food, laugh at the word ‘high’, share random silly moments with diabetes humor, climb mountains, run across Canada, win pageants, Nascar races, Indy races and Ninja Warrior challenges, send our kids off to college and sleepovers, walk, run, and bike. Oh and then there are these folks over at Connected in Motion who are just all kinds of awesome. We do all of these things and often we make it look easy peasy, but diabetes is hard. It is 24/7/52 FOREVER. Yes, I believe there will be a cure and there are always new treatments and tools being developed that make managing diabetes easier. But for right now it is forever, it is frustrating, it is dangerous, and it is damn hard.

I get a lot of kudos from friends, relatives and strangers who stumble on my blog posts. My kids get a lot of kudos too. It’s always nice to hear ‘you are a strong mom’, ‘you are so brave’, ‘your kids are so lucky’, ‘your kids are amazing’, etc. But I have to be honest – last night rocked my world. I was scared – more scared than I’ve ever been. With all my involvement in the diabetes online community, with all the books and blogs I’ve read, with all the conversations with Dfriends  – I forgot some of the basics – suspend the pump, give mini-glucagon. 

I am not sure how I feel about Tandem and t:slim right now. I don’t blame them or the pump but I also don’t blame my daughter. I can understand anyone doing just as she did. It was an easy mistake and even I’ve jumped through the multiple screens when I’ve given my daughter a correction bolus in the middle of the night. The danger is due to the exact reason the pump is so wonderful – ease of use. My daughter loves her t:slim pump and I want her to have the tools she deems best – it’s her diabetes. But honestly this event – it never would have happened with an Animas pump. Animas pumps will do the calculations to determine the proper insulin dose but prior to delivery the user must ‘scroll’ up using arrow keys to match the suggested bolus amount to the amount being input. Thus, the user can’t simply tap buttons without paying attention to the calculations and suggested bolus amounts like they can do with t:slim. I’m not sure about Medtronic or OmniPod pumps. Medtronic pumps don’t require the user to input the suggested bolus like Animas pumps do but the steps needed to get to the point of delivery are longer and more cumbersome than with t:slim. We’ve never used OmniPod or played with one so I have no idea how their system works.

When considering an insulin pump do research, find a way to get your hands on a pump to play with it, don’t just go with what your doctor wants you to go with. I still recommend the Tandem t:slim pump. I believe in it. It is the easiest pump to use, has the smallest profile of any tubbed pumps, has a rechargeable battery which is better for the environment IMHO (although stay tuned for the latest in a serious I think I might call ‘oops she did it again’), and holds 300 units of insulin which is important to many. I do not recommend the t:slim for younger kids. It is sooooooo easy to use and clearly at times too easy that I personally don’t believe it is the best pump choice for kids under 12. AGAIN MY HUMBLE OPINION.

I also fully support and recommend Animas pumps. Currently my boys both use the Animas Pings. Fabulous pump for all ages. There is a rumor the Animas Vibe will make its debut in the USA very very soon – the VIBE combines the Dexcom CGM (continuous glucose monitor) with the Animas pump so that the CGM results can be seen on the pump screen versus carrying a separate receiver. Sadly it means no more ping technology (the ability to program a bolus using the ping meter remote without touching the insulin pump – comes in handy for blood sugar corrections on small children after the witching hours).

Hug your kids. Hug your spouses. Love fiercely. Stock up on juice. Eat chocolate. Laugh as often as you can.

Oh hey also maybe do me a solid and go like the Stick With It Sugar Facebook page.

About Christina

Mom of 3 kids, all 3 have Type 1 diabetes - I blog to share stories. I am not a medical professional and my thoughts are my own. Please do not make changes to your medical care plan based on my stories - always consult your medical team. Hope you find something in my ramblings helpful and or amusing. You can find me on twitter @momof3T1s and on my Facebook page Stick With It Sugar. May all your dreams forever be bolus worthy.
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11 Responses to Purple Because Aliens Don’t Wear Hats

  1. Laura says:

    gulp. tears. hugs.

  2. Colleen says:

    Deep, deep breath.
    I think you did great – really. I don’t think my brain would have worked after seeing the 30 units message.
    I’m glad she’s ok. I hope you both get some sleep tonight.

  3. Laddie says:

    I’m so glad that your daughter noticed what had happened and avoided a massive catastrophe. The fact that her mom lost a night of sleep is just another chapter in the life of a D-parent. I use an Animas now (still waiting for the Vibe) and absolutely hate the scrolling. But you’re right that I would have noticed trying to scroll to 25 or 30 units. Medtronic self-populates, so I think the same error would easily happen with them. Except because she would have had to scroll in 300 grams, maybe she would have noticed???

    Pump manufacturers and the FDA respond to this sort of stuff by inserting more warning questions (Are you sure???), but most of us ignore the warnings and just scroll through them. The more warnings there are, the more we ignore them.

    Good job, Mom. Good job, Daughter. Bad job, Diabetes that makes you have to deal with this crap.

  4. Scott E says:

    First thing: it sucks that this happened, but you both made it through OK!

    Second thing: if it were me, I probably would’ve done the same thing as you (though probably started with the juice because I can’t see how my stomach can handle that volume of goodies). I’m not sure what your daughter’s rates are, but at night my basal is 0.325 u/hr and my sensitivity ratio is 1 u:13 carbs (I had to check; it’s not committed to memory!). So it would take 3 hours to effectively “erase” one unit of bolus — pretty insignificant (especially in light of all the food). I’ve tried to avoid an impending low by suspending basal, but it’s rarely enough.

    Third thing: Glucagon is unpredictable and the dose is imprecise. Remember, it’s not sugar, it’s a hormone that tells the body to release sugar. Does double-the-glucagon mean double-the-sugar? I have no idea. Also, if you did little mini-doses, would it sustain its potency even an hour after mixed? I don’t know. What I do know (from the last time I had glucagon — well over a decade – maybe two- ago), is that it causes nausea which could last well into the next day. If it were me, I would not have taken it unless I absolutely could not get enough food/sugar by mouth.

    Fourth thing: You handled it perfectly. Just because the BG is going up, doesn’t mean it won’t reverse direction and go down, or vice-versa. You’ve got two opposing forces (carbs and insulin), all reaching their peak strength at different times. At any moment, one could pull harder than the other and the BG trend could change direction.

    Fifth thing: Lesson learned, and in the end it’s no-harm-no-foul (except for the sooner-than-expected restocking of insulin and pump cartridges). Please don’t beat yourself up over it, and don’t beat your daughter up either (I know you won’t).

    Sixth thing: You are a strong mom. You are so brave. Your kids are so lucky. Your kids are amazing. Not in spite of this, but BECAUSE of this — and how all of you handled it.

  5. Tim says:

    Glad things were ok. Welch’s grape juice is 51 carbs per 11.5 oz, found that out after buying a can out of the vending machine at work. I guess I’ll stop thinking about switching my girls to the slim. Great post as far as advocacy, but sucks you guys had to go through it.

  6. Joanne says:

    Holy crap… I read this post with my stomach in knots. How scary for you guys. And I am so very thankful it was caught. I’ve heard that before with the tslim and it scares the poop outta me.

    Unless you had totally checked out, you couldn’t do that with OP. I mean, you could, but you would have to arrow up for a very long time to get there. That being said, I’m not even sure you could input that many carbs. Okay, had to check… The highest I could go is 225.

    We have Elise’s set up so it won’t deliver a bolus larger than 5 units. The closest she’s ever come to that is 3.5 units and it scared the ever loving crap out of me. I think she ate close to 150 carbs for that.

    Okay, all that to say… You deserve a big hug. And some chocolate. And a glass, nay, bottle of wine.

  7. katy says:

    I’m glad that worked out so well!

    Once pretty recently while our pump was being exchanged, we went back to Lantus. 12u @bedtime. Of COURSE we (JOE) administered 12u Humalog. That would be (12 x 20g =) 240g CHO the child would have to eat. While he was asleep. In bed.

    That was my first (and only) mini-glucagon experience. It was easy and kind of intuitive. Our endo told me how to do it over the phone. It’s very…”give a little bit, wait half an hour, see what happens. Give a little more if it seems like that wasn’t enough.” I loved it. I wish it weren’t a zillion dollars per kit.

  8. Katie says:

    Oh my goodness, my heart dropped as I read this! Thank God your daughter heard that alert! Diabetes is so dang hard!!! So sorry Y’all went through this!

  9. StephenS says:

    Great post, with super insights that anyone considering a pump should look at. Especially the Diabetes Is Hard part. Glad this is behind you now.

  10. Cassie says:

    Thank God for pump alarms and that your kiddo responded to it!

  11. Need A Nap2 says:

    Wow! That is so scary. Thankfully, our mix-ups to this point have been giving long-acting (Levemir or Lantus) instead of short-acting at a mealtime. Not fun but not as scary. As a mom of t:slim user this is even scarier!! Thanks for sharing so we can all learn and try to remember. I’m so so glad she’s okay. 🙂

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