By: Daniel Trecroci
Whether or not people with diabetes can test in public places is a nonissue. Every person with diabetes is entitled to his or her respective life, liberty and pursuit of good blood-glucose control—despite the occasional stare of a passerby.
To some people with diabetes, however, these stares cause distress, forcing them to retreat to the nearest restroom. Others simply say, “Tough luck, Charlie!” and test whenever and wherever they like.
A Controversy That Has Been Around for Awhile
In November 1998, syndicated newspaper columnist Ann Landers published a letter from a woman complaining that a relative was always testing blood glucose and injecting insulin at restaurant tables. Landers replied by writing, “A person who would inject himself or herself at the dinner table in the presence of others exhibits gross insensitivity and very poor manners.”
At the time, 140 Diabetes Health readers responded to Landers’s comments. Seventy-five percent disagreed with her position, prompting Diabetes Health editor-in-chief Scott King to write a letter to Landers.
“By testing our blood before each injection and knowing what we are going to eat at a meal, we can gauge the exact amount of insulin we need at the moment,” King explained. “And, since modern insulins begin to work as soon as they are injected, the very best time to take the injection is when the plate is in front of us. Blood tests are. a necessary part of our basic health care.”
Landers later wrote back and apologized.
Some Still Feel a Sense of Discomfort
More than three years later, however, there still is a sense of discomfort when it comes to people testing in public.
Carol Roland of Menlo Park, California, says she almost never tests in public because she feels many people can’t deal with the sight of human blood.
“It upsets them, makes them nauseated, and it can prompt unwanted questions,” says Roland. “If I’m out, I typically go to a restroom. In my office, I close the door. At home, I go to my bedroom.”
Scott Mullin of Atlanta, Georgia—like many people surveyed for this story—prefers testing his blood glucose at home. However, he believes that a person with diabetes should feel no reservation about testing his or her blood glucose in public.
“I am vehement regarding the need for people with diabetes to manage their disease with as much attention and effort as it requires, whether in private or in public,” asserts Mullin. “Ultimately no social etiquette or self-consciousness is more important than doing what’s necessary for proper blood-glucose control. We breathe in public. That’s as much a requirement of our lives as glucose testing and injections.”
Lisa Berry, on the other hand, is more comfortable keeping testing to herself.
“By testing in private, you don’t need to worry about offending anyone when they see some blood,” says the native of Mechanic Falls, Maine. “I’m always aware of ‘broadcasting’ the fact that I’m a person with diabetes, so I try to always test discreetly in public.”
Marion Pavan admits that testing in public does tend to raise eyebrows.
“However, I’ve watched mothers breastfeeding their babies in public, men urinating by the roadside and couples engaged in oral sex on public transit. So they shouldn’t complain.”
Bill Knopf, from Des Moines, Iowa, says that although he frequently tests in public when he is with his family, he refrains while at business meals with clients and colleagues.
“I don’t want diabetes to be the focus of the conversation under those circumstances,” says Knopf. “I have an ‘agenda’ and am very focused on accomplishing it. On my own time with my family, I test and dose at the table since it is more convenient.”
Others feel that testing in public is no more significant than taking an aspirin in public. Sharon M. Southard tries to test in private if possible. But “if faced with the choice between a clean table in a public restaurant and a dirty restroom,” she chooses the more visible table every time.
Heather Nielsen tests eight to 10 times a day and is not shy about testing in public—despite being fairly discreet about it.
“If people are subtle, and not flinging blood in others’ faces, I think we should test anywhere and everywhere we need to,” she says. “I’ve tested in line for the airport security, in the bathroom, in countless restaurants, in the back of a movie theater, during intermission at the ‘Messiah’, on the beach and at work all the time.”
Maureen Finnegan of Hazlet, New Jersey, is the mother of a boy with type 1 diabetes. Comparing blood tests to breastfeeding in public, she believes that testing BGs is “no big deal” and can be done “quite discreetly.”
“I feel testing can and should be done anywhere, anyplace, anytime,” says Finnegan. “It is a medical necessity. I feel the same about insulin injections. Would you tell someone who is having an allergic reaction to use the [emergency epinephrine pen] in the bathroom? I think not!”
An Opportunity to Educate
Some take the stares from others as an opportunity to educate. Chuck Oslund of Oak Park, Michigan, is one person who feels this way.
“I carry my testing equipment, insulin and food with me at all times,” he explains. “Sometimes testing or injecting insulin in public sparks a conversation, and I will answer any questions.”
Shannon Brow echoes this sentiment.
“If I happen to encounter someone who doesn’t know that I have diabetes, and they notice me testing, it is a great teaching opportunity.”