I don’t remember the actual diagnosis. I remember later, in the hospital, my mom sitting by the bed and crying with a hand over her eyes. I recall a nurse, wearing the bright scrubs of the pediatrics ward—green, pink, blue, with dancing bears or smiling frogs—as she handed me a fat orange, showing me how to stab the needle through the wrinkled skin and push down on the plunger to inject the saline solution. “An orange peel is about as thick as human skin,” she explained.
But I remember better a summer day two years later, when I was fourteen and received my first insulin pump. It was a blue Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm with opaque plastic through which I could make out some of the inner workings. The pump expert—who also wore an insulin pump and dressed like a hip grandma in orange sandals, high-waisted jeans, and clunky jewelry—came to our house and sat with me at our kitchen table to teach me to use my new pump. She showed me how to fill the reservoir and take off the needle head, to screw on the tubing and twist the reservoir into the pump. And she helped me slide the needle into my belly for the first time, which was different than taking an insulin shot. Rather than pushing straight in, the needle went in at a disorienting angle. She taught me to disengage the needle from the Silhouette, leaving behind the tiny tube—the cannula—and to peel off the plastic and stick down the medical tape.
Later, I remember sitting in the backseat of our white Honda and pulling the seatbelt away from my body because I worried it might press against the Silhouette now attached by a tube to the brand-new pump. I remember the tenderness around the tiny cannula, the worry I felt for days that the long, curling tube going from me to the little machine might catch on something and rip the little one out, how carefully I moved in case it hurt. But I felt proud of my fancy little machine, excited by the realization that except for glucose tests, I wouldn’t have to stick a needle into my body for three days. I was relieved to have exchanged three to four insulin shots a day for this convenient, handheld, beeping thing.
I carried this pump with me everywhere, an organ outside of my body. Five years ago I exchanged my Medtronic MiniMed for the sleeker, newer, smaller Tandem t:slim. I tend to this pump the way one tends to a pet, except that when this pet dies, I die too. It goes with me everywhere, always attached, frequently beeping for attention. What others get without a thought from their own bodies, I must give my body manually; what others get for free, I have to pay for. And not just in money, but in time and energy. Every three months, I have to make multiple calls in order to renew my supplies, three months’ worth of boxes of AutoSoft 90 Infusion Sets and 3mL Cartridges, BD PrecisionGlide Needles and their other half, the BD 3mL Syringes with Luer-Lok Tips. Every three days, I have to find time to sit down and change the infusion set, replace the empty cartridge with a filled one. Every time I eat, I have to pull out my pump and put in carbs and blood glucose.
I’m always careful to keep my pump sated and satisfied.
But over the years, our relationship has grown complicated. I can’t live without my pump, of course, and for its convenience and life-giving help I appreciate it. But more and more that feeling of awe and pride has slipped into something more like resentment. I resent that I need its help. I resent its hold on my life.
I am never without my pump, never free from it, never fully independent of it. A pump doesn’t even have an Off button. But knowing I can’t live without it does not make me love it.
Sometimes I like to imagine what it’s like to be the kind of person who backpacks across Europe or bikes across America. What is it like to have that kind of ownership of your body? What is it like never to have to think about anything but whether you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired? To not have to be tied to this thing that requires so much attention, this thing that grabs hold and never lets go, this thing that keeps me alive. I daydream about one day waking up, unhooking the pump and its tubing from my body, taking out the infusion set, and setting it all aside. I imagine picking up my bag and only grabbing something to eat if I’m hungry. And then walking out the door, leaving my pump to beep itself to death in a drawer.
I imagine it would feel like flying. Like shedding the chains and setting myself free.
Written By: Shalynn Ehrenpfort
My name is Shalynn Ehrenpfort and I’m 27 years old. I’ve lived in San Francisco for nine years and I’ve attended CCSF off and on for about three years.
Art title: “Silhouettes”
Artist: Suzanne Notario
My photographic journey started seven years ago when I took my first photography class at CCSF. This course ignited my passion for making pictures. It has become a way of expressing myself while capturing moments in time with my camera.