How Many Sticks Does It Take

To stick or not to stick, that is the question. However, it’s not really a question when you’re a diabetic—sorry, person with diabetes (a.k.a. “The Brimley”).


The one thing that has remained true in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes is needles. From the discovery of insulin to all the advancements in production and delivery, the one constant is that you’re pretty much going to have to prick yourself a lot. The only thing you can change is how often.

I guess there is a debate between people who use the pump and the “old schoolers” who use needles. I’ve never used a pump, so I can’t comment on its efficiency, or the freedom that it gives you, or the fact that one of my friends who got one immediately gained weight. I have another friend who swears by the pump, and he is close to talking me into trying one. However, my A1C was 4.9 last time I had it checked, so the doctors told me to keep doing what I’m doing.

Well, what I do know is that by checking my blood sugar, taking my morning Lantus shot, and using the FlexPen throughout the day, I stick myself roughly seven times. That’s a lot, now that I really put that in perspective. In the first 30 minutes of my day, I stick myself three times. One for the Lantus, one prick of the finger, and then a unit of NovoLog to cover my oatmeal or whatever else I eat for breakfast.

Needles and sticking myself with a variety of them have become such a part of my life that I’ll use them anywhere, from the back of a cab to a five-star restaurant. One of the first times I realized I was over the fear of needles and the awkwardness of giving shots in public was the first time I got caught shooting up outside of a restaurant bathroom in the East Village in NYC. I had only had diabetes for three or four months and was still not comfortable breaking out the needle anywhere, anytime. I went to the restroom, but the two unisex bathrooms were full. So I just lifted up my shirt and stuck the needle right in my stomach. As soon as I did this, a beautiful girl stepped out of the bathroom and was staring right at me. Not that I looked like an East Village junkie—not really. I looked like a normal guy with a needle in his belly.

So I just kind of stood there and smiled to see if she would ignore it. Thankfully, she smiled back, and ever since then I’ve been breaking out the needle everywhere. It’s a part of my life, and it goes with me everywhere I go. I call it my “pancreas in my pocket.”

The downside of the injections is minor. I have battle wounds from stabbing, pricking, and sticking on my stomach, arms, and fingers. Every now and then I mis-hit with the FlexPen or the Lantus needle and get a small purple bruise on my arm or stomach. It usually goes away in a couple of days and makes me look tough when I take my shirt off (which I do as often as possible). As far as the finger-sticking goes, I find that it’s tough to rotate fingers, as there are only a few fingers I don’t use to play my guitar and banjo. If anyone has ever used a device that really works well when pricking your forearm or another body part, please let me know. The ones I’ve tried are not worth the effort and give inconsistent results. Until then, keep on sticking!

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • Kerri.

    I have been diabetic for 20 years (this month) and I did injections for 17 years. It wasn’t until I was taking up to eleven shots a day of one or two units at a time that I decided to make the switch to a pump. Pump therapy is completely a personal decision. If you’re scoring fantastic A1cs on MDI, then stick with what works.

    … Couldn’t resist sliding that little pun in there.

    — Kerri Morrone
    Six Until Me.

  • Ron

    First off, I just discovered your site…slick.

    Next, I have been a Type 1, or Juvie Diabetic (I don’t mind DIABETIC at all, that’s what I am, and it takes way too many syllables to say, “person with diabetes”) for almost 48 years. I have all functions and none of the feared side affects of the big “D”. So I am a happy camper.

    I also was on injections until about 6 months ago and switched to the Cozmore Pump and it is great. I haven’t gained any weight, as a matter of fact lost a little, mainly because the endo warned me about gaining weight. He said that people new to the pump find that they can eat…like crazy if they choose to.

    So I can only say go for it, it makes life a bit easier; although, it wasn’t that tough before the pump.

  • Florian

    Does anyone think that they might try the inhaled insulin or the insulin delivered by spray to the nose or mouth when it is avaiable. It will save a few sticks but then there is still the Lantus stick and the testing sticks.

    I have been a practicing Type 1 for 39 years and one of the best things I have learned is how to stick the side of my finger with the BD lancet itself without a lancing device. I test 8 to 12 times (workout days) a day with… no bruises, no callouses,no marks, no sores.

  • Christine

    I’ve been T1 for 22 yrs, and I was on the pump for about 14 yrs. A little over a week ago it died in the middle of the night (lucky me). In the morning I called the Dr. to get a script for syringes because the new pump wasn’t going to arrive for another day. She called in some Lantus to hold me over for the day, but when the new pump arrived I just couldn’t put it back on. I basically refused. What I can’t seem to find is some info on going from just Novolog in the pump to going on Lantus and Novolog. I’m not over weight (although I could stand to lose a few modesty lbs.)I am curious about if this is going to make me gain weight . Any feedback would be much appreciated.

  • acampbell

    Hi Christine,
    It’s commonly known that when people switch to a basal/bolus insulin program (via pump or multiple injections), they often gain some weight. But there isn’t much information, other than anecdotal, about going off a pump onto injections. The best advice is for you to start checking 3 hour post-meal blood glucose levels, and even consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor for a while until your insulin doses get regulated. You’ll want to minimize low blood glucose as much as possible, as constant hypoglycemia can lead to weight gain. Make sure you’re carefully counting your carbs, and go easy with high-calorie, high-fat foods. And don’t forget to fit activity into your schedule as many days of the week as you can, as this can help prevent or minimize weight gain, as well. Consider meeting with a dietitian if you need more guidance or if you start to gain weight. Finally, talk to your doctor about switching brands of insulin if weight gain becomes an issue.

  • Christine

    Thanks a lot for the advice. My sugars have been amazing since I started this regimen. When you say that she might switch brands, do you mean Levemir? As far as I know I’m not allergic to anything.

  • acampbell

    Yes, it’s possible that other brands of both rapid-acting and long-acting insulins may work better in terms of weight control. However, I don’t believe there are research studies to support this, so it’s really a matter of working with your physician to find the right type of insulin regimen that works best for you. And, since you mention that your blood glucose levels are under good control, there’s probably no need to consider switching insulins at this time.

  • grazioso

    hi i am guitar player by profession. so i use freestyle tester for about 7-8 years by now.
    the result are about as consistent as any other
    device i had before. it takes very little sample to get it going and works great on forearm. in fact i haven’t pricked my finger for all these years since i started using it.
    what a change from all the other testers it was back then.