29 Sep 2014 4min read

Team Discussion

Multiple authors

In a way it’s kind of interesting that people who wear insulin pumps should call themselves “pumpers”, after all it’s not the person doing the pumping, it’s the device. But “pumpers” is the term people use in the UK, America and Canada.

In reality insulin pumps do a lot to improve the quality of life for most users, but they are not a panacea, nor do they necessarily simplify diabetes management – you may need to test more often, there are new skills to develop and more equipment to manage. There are new risks too, some arise from equipment reliability, some from the new regime you have to adopt, and yet more risks from the way some people respond to one of the benefits of pumping – the increased freedom to eat what you want.

People on pumps will typically be involved and proactive, this is reflected in the criteria used to determine who might be prescribed one (at least in the UK). So it seems to me that this claim of agency, implicit in the term “pumper”, is fair.

It may be that this close involvement or participation in pumping is behind something else I spotted. Earlier this month I was at a symposium thinking about how personal medical devices make people think and feel differently about themselves, and I met a very interesting young woman who was wearing an insulin pump. She mentioned giving her pump a name and suggested this wasn’t unusual for pumps; in my experience it’s unusual for medical devices.


She also showed a couple of slides of decorated OmniPods, and a little digging shows that this is a real phenomenon. There are a couple of commercial sites that offer ways to customise and decorate: PumpPeelz and one created by a 16 year old pump user, Kedz Covers.

What is more interesting, to me at least, is the ‘grassroots’ decoration of the OmniPod in particular. People are taking the OmniPod (maybe because it is the blankest canvas, and seems to invite decoration) and painting it with nail varnish and glitter, and sticking all manner of objects to it. You might need an Instagram account to see these, but a quick search reveals some really lovely enhancements that challenge the idea that the pump has to remain hidden and anonymous. There’s even an Instagram hashtag #pimpmypod for people to celebrate the best in pump art.


Not unrelated to this is the following generated by Miss Idaho 2014, Sierra Sandison, when she made no effort to hide her pump during the swimsuit section of the beauty pageant she entered in July. There is now a well-populated Twitter hashtag #showmeyourpump with people proudly showing their device.

Now I don’t know but suspect very little of all this would be happening if (a) pumps didn’t work or (b) pumps worked but the user didn’t need to engage with them very much. One interpretation of all this might be that people are proud of what they and their pump can achieve. That’s kind of interesting for us as device designers.

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