Extreme Cortisol Pumping: Pumping During Surgery

A few days ago, I had my 10th surgery. This one was different as opposed to the previous nine. For the first time I was permitted to wear my pump during the procedure.


So how did it go?


This was a fairly quick, laparoscopic abdominal surgery. Patients without comorbidities are usually back home in a few hours. Since I have adrenal insufficiency and some signs of pheochromocytoma, they did keep me a little longer as a precaution. 

Speaking of precautions, if you have adrenal insufficiency you MUST speak to your surgeon, endocrinologist and anesthesiologist about your steroid plan for surgery. Everyone needs to be on the same page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard adrenal insufficient patients say, “oh the anesthesiologist knows what to do” DO NOT EVER MAKE THAT ASSUMPTION! They do tend to keep solu-cortef in the operating room, but that doesn’t mean they will dose it correctly. Some anesthesiologists deviate from the standard of care and come up with their own plan using less steroid. They think they’re doing you a favor, when really they are unknowingly endangering your life and hindering your recovery. DO NOT LEAVE THIS UP TO CHANCE! Make sure you’re on the same page!


As soon as surgery was mentioned, I made my concerns clear. I knew there would need to be special precautions because of the risk of adrenal crisis or hypertensive episodes due to pheo. I spoke to my surgeon and endo about this as well as two anesthesiologists. I had to have more tests than the norm in order to be cleared for surgery. I had to have any possible pheo activity blocked by taking blood pressure medication for a couple months. At this hospital they don’t assign an anesthesiologist until the night before the procedure. This makes communication a challenge, but by the time I actually met her, pretty much everyone including the nurses had already heard about my steroid plan and pheo concerns. When I discussed it with her, she had already heard my plan and was thankfully in agreement. I would receive 100mg of solu-cortef before and after the procedure and keep my pump running.

https://www.addisons.org.uk/files/file/4-adshg-surgical-guidelines/


This is where I made a mistake. I planned on running a straight 10mg/hr during the procedure. However I forgot to program that profile into my pump. I programmed it in pre-op and realized my settings only allowed me to go as high as 8mg/hr. I didn’t want to edit my settings at the last minute, so I programmed 8mg/hr. That would have worked just fine except I FORGOT TO SWITCH OVER TO THAT PROFILE. Yes, it is all well and good to program a profile, but you have to actually “run” said profile for it to work. Oops! So during the procedure I was running my normal every day basal program of 30.2mg/daily. 🤦‍♀️


I woke up being wheeled into recovery. My abdomen hurt so bad. They gave me IV pain medication, but the relief began to fade after a couple minutes. They gave me another dose. Then I watched the nurse give me 100mg of solu-cortef. 15 minutes later I was moved to a regular room. That’s when I realized there was a problem. The IV pain meds had worn off already. My pain was uncontrolled. I felt nauseous, but the nurse would not give me any oral pain medication until I ate something. I had a couple spoonfuls of pudding and felt sick. I was given IV zofran with minimal effect. Still sick. Every IV medication I’d been given seemed to metabolize way too fast. This has always been the case for me, and it’s the main reason I had to switch to the cortisol pump to begin with. 
There’s a familiar and unpleasant feeling I get when my cortisol isn’t sufficient. It’s an uneasy, almost panic feeling where I’m keenly aware that something isn’t right and I’m increasingly desperate to find relief or escape. It’s more like a primal instinct, “Something is wrong, help me!” I’ve unfortunately felt this enough times to realize it was cortisol related. I realized then my pump was still set on the measley 30mg profile. I immediately switched it to the 8mg/hr profile that I had programmed in pre-OP. The problem is it takes a while for pump rates to build your blood cortisol level. For whatever reason my body did not keep those 100mg IV solu-cortef boluses in my system very long. So I had to suffer while my rates caught up. Meanwhile the nurse had given me a couple doses of pain pills, and IV phenergan. Phenergan only helped the nausea for 5 minutes or so, but thankfully it made me extremely sleepy. I was able to sleep through the misery and give my pump some time to do its thing. A few hours later the nurse came in to check on me, by then the pain meds were working and my pump was kicking butt. I was still pretty knocked out from the phenergan, but I felt well enough to get dressed and go home. My nausea was gone and my appetite had returned. Yay for proper steroid dosing!


Friends, I can’t tell you enough how much sufficient steroid dosing will make or break a situation. Especially a high stakes situation like a surgery. It’s amazing how fast I went from utter misery in the hospital, to eating a sandwich at home. Steroids ya’ll! They’re a big deal! I stepped down to my 84mg/daily “sick” basal profile and kept it there until late evening. Note: your ability to lower your stress dose will be a case by case situation and depends on what type of surgery you had, how long it was and how invasive it was. Pain control is a major factor. Stay on top of your pain medication schedule. Do not let your meds lapse or try to suffer through it. This will increase your body’s cortisol need, hinder your ability to taper your steroid dose, and potentially prolong your recovery. You need sufficient steroid dosing to get pain under control and you need your pain meds to keep your cortisol need under control. They go hand in hand, don’t skimp on one or the other. 


Quick PSA: When you’re running high rates. YOU WILL need to change your inset more often. Pumping during surgery and recovery sounds pretty convenient compared to stress dosing with pills, and it was, but what I did not mention is all the stress that kind of volume puts on an infusion site. My site was leaking by bed time, which I totally expected to happen. This is EVEN MORE true if you run 2:1 dilution ratio in your pump because you are pumping twice the volume than those on 1:1 ratio. So yes, stress dosing and sick dosing with the pump is easier and more effective than pills, but DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR SITE! Don’t wait for it to start leaking either! When you’re ill/recovering your body needs cortisol the most, this is not the time to wait around for a site failure! I’ve changed my site DAILY while recovering from this procedure.


I’ve had 2 previous surgeries as a pumper, but the medical teams for those procedures were not familiar  with, or keen on the idea of pumping during surgery, and I didn’t push them for it. After my experience pumping during this latest procedure, I am going to push for my pump every time. Infection risk is minimal, it’s less than that of the actual surgery itself. The continuous delivery of the pump is ideal for recovery and superior to IV bolusing dosing only, especially since hospitals seem to think bolusing once every 8-12 hours is going to work fine. Its miserable. Continuous delivery is where it’s at! One day they’ll get with the times I hope.


At the time of writing it’s been nearly 48 hours since my surgery. I’m back on my normal profile plus a 200% increase (double dosing). My energy is good and my pain is well controlled as long as I keep up the pain medication schedule. My biggest problem at the moment is remembering not to over do it. I’m tempted to clean house, go on a walk, etc, and I dont feel like resting like I should. Steroid dosing makes a world of difference, and the pump makes this a much smoother experience. Just don’t neglect your infusion site or your pain meds! Happy healing friends!

❤Michelle

UPDATE: Please check out thecortisolpump.com a comprehensive and research based guide to cortisol pumping!

“Sick Rates” Yes, You Need Them!

What if I told you that you don’t have to feel like utter crap every time you get sick? What if your illnesses and injuries didn’t force you to miss out on life? What if there was a way to feel better faster?

Anyone with Adrenal Insufficiency knows that an illness or injury, anything causing your body an extra amount of stress will require a “stress dose”. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, that is an increase of your steroid dosage in order for your body to cope with physical or even in some cases, emotional stress. A stress dose can be a one time extra dosage (which in pump speak we call a “bolus”), but most often it entails doubling or tripling your total daily dosage of steroid.

But what if there was a better way?

For any patient using a cortisol pump, doubling or tripling your basal rate is NOT the most effective way to combat the stress of an illness. Professor Peter Hindmarsh, the leading expert in cortisol pump therapy, states in his book that doubling basal rate DOES NOT double your cortisol level (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: A Comprehensive Guide p.357). Instead he suggests running a different basal program. Ladies and gentleman, you need to have “sick rates”!

What exactly are “sick rates”?

Sick rates are modified delivery rates part of a basal program better designed to accommodate your body’s cortisol needs when you’re ill, (or injured, or grieving, etc.).

Basically, when a person is sick, the pattern in which the body produces cortisol changes. Rather than the typical high peak in the morning declining throughout the day to a very low cortisol level at midnight, cortisol is needed in a more consistent elevation. Cortisol levels are higher and more “flat” in appearance if you were to draw them on a graph.

This change in distribution is key. You don’t even necessarily need to double or triple the amount of milligrams, having this more consistent delivery pattern when your body needs it makes a world of difference.

So what do sick rates look like? How do I program them?

The main difference you’ll notice in my example is that evening and night rates are much higher than you’d find with typical circadian rhythm. This is on purpose, and its the most crucial part of the program. Don’t cut these evening rates down and expect it to be effective. That’s the whole point of the “sick” profile.

Full disclosure: I did not design this delivery profile. For the sake of privacy, I will not name the person who did, however I will say that this person is a medical provider with many years of first hand experience with adrenal insufficiency, and management of cortisol pump patients.

You might have some questions…

Only 4 time blocks?- Yes. You don’t need a complicated delivery profile for illness. You want it to be elevated, consistent, and “flat”.

Isn’t 84mgs kind of high?- Maybe. It would depend on your normal daily dosage and exactly how sick you are. As a sick day profile, 84mgs is a good amount for someone who takes 30-40mgs on a typical day. Keep in mind this is for when you’re experiencing significant illness or injury. I’ve also used this profile to cope with the emotional stress of the sudden loss of a loved one. This is not a profile for sniffles. The beauty of this basal profile is that you can switch to it and set a temporary basal increase or decrease to suit your level of “sick”. Have a cold? You can set a temp decrease. Recovering from a major illness or surgery? You can set a temp increase.

This can be template for you to explore alternative basal profiles. For example, I have a profile that is a steady 6mg/hr for 24hrs. This is what I used to wean down from IV steroids post surgery. From there I made a profile with 2 time blocks, 6mg/hr for 12hrs and 4mg/hr for 12hrs as a step down toward “sick rates”. My point is, basal profiles should be flexible to suit your body’s needs in a given situation. Just as a non adrenal insufficient person’s cortisol production is not set in stone, neither should our basal rates.

Don’t wait until you’re sick to program a sick basal profile! You won’t be clear minded enough to design a totally new profile. Just plug this into your pump now and save it. When you do need it, you can just switch over…no hassle, no worries!

What if I don’t use a cortisol pump?

If you’re not yet using a cortisol pump, you can still use this principle in your stress dosing strategy. This can be accomplished in one of 2 ways. You can either dose your hydrocortisone MUCH more frequently (which can be difficult if you’re feeling poorly), or you can use a longer acting steroid such a Prednisone or dexamethisone to give that more consistent elevation.

What I hope you take away from this more than any cookie cutter basal profile, is that you begin to look at your body’s cortisol need as an ever changing and fluctuating thing rather than how we typically view set doses of medication. Look at your basal programs and dosing schedules logically and creatively.

A cortisol pump is nothing more than a tool. The more skilled you are at using this tool, the better you will manage your Adrenal Insufficiency.

Happy pumping friends!

❤️ Michelle

For more information about sick dosing please check out thecortisolpump.com a comprehensive and research based guide to cortisol pumping!

Staying Alive: Adrenal Insufficiency Edition

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised with a good day. I have good energy and can accomplish almost as much as anyone else. I took advantage of this occasion and ran some errands. One of the places I went was the hospital. (This was a good visit though.)

THE EMERGENCY PROTOCOL

I finally took the advice I’m always giving to others and gave my local ER a copy of the emergency protocol for adrenal crisis.

This is hands down THE BEST guide I’ve found for emergency managment of Adrenal Insufficiency including stress dosing and adrenal crisis protocol. You should have a copy of this! 😉 Click the link to download the PDF.

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I went right to registration and after their initial confusion, (this is an uncommon practice for patients) they scanned it right in. All of the hospitals in my area have the same computer system, so now all of them will know how to save my life.

This past June, I had the misfortune of visiting the ER for an adrenal crisis, and they did not respond appropriately to the urgency of the situation. I cannot blame them for this, unfortunately it comes with the dubious honor of being so rare. However, my (now former) endocrinologist was unreachable by the ER staff, and this caused a delay in treatment that nearly cost my life. My goal is for that to NEVER happen again.

THE ID

Another necessary step was getting my medical ID updated. In my crisis, I could not speak. I cannot express how frightening it is to be alone, know you are in danger, but unable to speak or advocate for yourself. Do not assume there will be someone to speak for you. Get an ID, make sure it’s up to date.

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This is from RoadID. Use this link and 10% of your purchase goes to Adrenal Insufficiency United and the National Adrenal Diseases Foundation.

This one replaced my stainless steel chain bracelet. Gone is the old doctor’s name, and in with the new. My new doctor gave me her cell and home numbers for my ID. It gives me so much peace of mind to know I have a doctor that cares in my corner.

THE INJECTION

I also added this info to my emergency injection kit, and put a more eye-catching alert on the front.

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I added a QR code that links to THIS instructional video. In my kit I have 250mg Act-o-Vial of Solucortef, syringes (22 or 23 gauge is best,) alcohol swabs, cotton balls, and Band-Aids. Also, I have my emergency contacts, and a print out of injection instructions with pictures. I picked up my case in the tackle section at Walmart, but you can also find it HERE.

Here is the QR code I have in my kit. You are welcome to save and print it.

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With any luck, all of this preparation will keep me alive! Stay safe out there friends!

❤Michelle