My first job out of college, barely a year after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, was teaching English in public schools in Japan. I figured this might be a better option, medically speaking, than volunteering in Namibia, so without too much thought, I packed my bags and flew across the ocean. I’d been placed in a town that was close to a major city with a hospital, but my placement agency never mentioned anything to my new employers about my diabetes. So I showed up with a limited supply of insulin cartridges for my Disetronic insulin pump, which I had been using for about eight months.
At first it was difficult to explain that I had diabetes. I’d spent the summer in an intensive language class, and nearly every time I said, “I have diabetes,” that statement was met with blank stares. I suspect people just chalked it up to poor language skills. A few times people laughed in my face as though I’d made a joke, then reminded me that I was neither old nor fat – well, they said, not that fat.
Once I explained to the board of education I was working for that I would need to see a doctor, preferably an endocrinologist, they took me to a hospital where I met with the internist I would see every six weeks for the next two and a half years.
I showed him my insulin pump. He sucked in air, a Japanese sign that something might be a problem but they didn’t want to say what. He made a phone call and soon a pharma rep from Lilly stopped by. I showed him the pre-filled insulin cartridges I had and he also sucked air. They explained to me that they didn’t have these in Japan, nor would they be able to refill and reuse the ones I’d brought with me. I’d gotten quite accustomed to wearing a pump at this point and did not want to return to injections. I made this clear. My doctor left and returned with a triumphant smile on his face – he had a “loaner” insulin pump for me to use while I lived in Japan. It was a rather worn MiniMed 507.
I wore that pump every day for the next two and a half years. But I never once took a photo of it. I never once wrote down anything about it. In fact, the main thing that I remember was thinking it was strange to have a manual plunger arm (when replacing the cartridge, you had to set the arm in place rather than it slowly pushing itself into place like the Disetronic pump or the subsequent Medtronic pumps.
In today’s world of social media and phone cameras, it’s hard for me to understand why I wouldn’t have at least snapped a photo of my pump in Japan, but it simply wasn’t a priority. I had no one to connect with when it came to diabetes, and so I didn’t give it much of a thought. The world has changed in the last 14 years and this is something I’m grateful for.
Oh, and the Disetronic pump? Yeah, those went off the market before I returned to the States, so I never went back to that, either.