By: Patrick Totty
All of us who live with diabetes carry around a quiet dread, one that most of us keep way in the back of our minds: Suffering a hypoglycemic episode or being involved in an accident where we cannot communicate our diabetic status to rescuers or passerby.
More ominously, we’ve all read accounts of where police manhandled people with diabetes who had slipped into hypoglycemia, mistaking them for unresponsive, uncooperative drunks. The fact that hypoglycemia can make a person uncommunicative can goad some law enforcement people into overreacting because they perceive a threat or insult to their authority.
Ours is a terrible fear, but it has a fairly simple solution: Carry some form of easily seen identification that alerts other people to our condition and helps them know what to do.
Medical IDs, as they are popularly called, come in four major forms;
• Bracelets and Necklaces
• Other Information Sources
• Smartphone Apps
Bracelets and Necklaces:
These are the most common forms of medical ID and what rescuers look for first. They range from simple and inexpensive, stamped with the basic information–“I Have Diabetes, Please test my blood before treating me”–to more expensive versions that can even be equipped with flash drives that carry your detailed medical records.
They don’t have to cost a lot. A basic bracelet starts at about $20 and can go up from there, depending on materials and finishes, to more than $100. Medical ID jewelry comes in plastic, stainless steel, sterling silver, titanium, and gold plate, as well as a large range of styles. It’s an established product category that artists have had years in which to create an great array of designs and decorative elements.
Plastic kids’ bracelets that simply announce, “I have diabetes,” are even cheaper, starting under $10. That terse statement will alert medical responders to test a child for his blood sugar level before proceeding with any emergency treatment.
It’s a good idea to buy a second necklace or bracelet as a backup, in case you lose or damage the first. Children’s bracelets and necklaces are cheap enough that you can buy several and rest assured that you’re prepared for the inevitable, “I left it at Fred’s house” or “I lost it at soccer.”
• If you wear an insulin pump, make sure your ID necklace or bracelet clearly says so.
• Also carry a card in your wallet or purse with a medical alert logo that has: your name, address, and phone number; your doctor’s name and contact information; the drugs you are currently taking and their doses; contact information for somebody close to you who should be contacted in an emergency.
Flash Drives and USB Ports
Some medical ID wearers are now sporting bracelets and necklaces that have small flash drives built into the design. In a emergency, a responder or doctor can plug the drive into a computer and access a patient’s complete medical history.
Another approach is to store data in the jewelry that can accessed via a built-in USB port.
Where to look:
• Check your local pharmacy for medical ID options
• Your doctor or endocrinologist may offer medical ID bracelets and necklaces as a sideline
• Go online and search via Google or Bing: “Diabetes Medical ID.” This will not only bring up links to many medical ID suppliers, it will also offer links to useful information about medical IDs in general.
Other Information Sources
Refrigerator Vials and Magnetic Cards
You may have an emergency at home where you’re not wearing a medical ID bracelet or necklace. Many people with diabetes prepare for that eventuality by attaching a magnetic medical information card to their refrigerator, or placing a clearly marked vial inside the appliance that contains a printed medical history
You can also buy cheap medical alert stickers that you can plaster all around the house–bathroom mirrors, bedposts, foyer, closet doors, medicine cabinet. Google or Bing “medical alert stickers” to see what’s out there.
Obviously, if you’re in a hypoglycemic state and only semi-conscious, you don’t need a smartphone app to tell you what’s happening to you or what to do about it. But if you’ve equipped your smartphone with a medical icon on the apps menu, your friends or first responders can touch the icon to access your medical information and emergency contact information. Some apps will even make automatic calls to a pre-designated list of emergency contacts.
Ask your cell phone service provider for information on how to set up a medical icon on your screen.
Tattoos are a somewhat controversial approach to medical identification. Their main advantage is that they are indelible. Unless there’s a direct abrasion or injury to the patch of skin where a tattoo is located, its information cannot be altered. In contrast, bracelets or necklaces can be scratched, bent, or broken.
Also, unlike bracelets or necklaces, you can’t misplace a tattoo.
Tattoos are now so commonplace that emergency medical technicians know to look for ones that serve as medical ID. However, they have certain drawbacks that can lessen their effectiveness:
• If a medical ID tattoo is one among many tattoos, rescuers or bystanders may not see them right away or understand that they are informational, not decorative. In cases where quick treatment is crucial, EMTs may lack the time to look over a heavily tattooed person’s body for vital information.
• They can be obscured by blood or dirt.
• They are hard to update if you want to add a new condition or amend one that your tattoo currently lists.
Another caution about tattoos: Don’t get fancy. The best tattoos are located where you’d wear a bracelet or necklace, and should carry the universal symbol, the star of life (the six-pointed star with a caduceus running down the vertical axis). The tattoo’s script should be clear and concise–save the curlicues and Gothic lettering for less serious body art.
Here’s a good discussion of diabetic tattoos, pro and con: http://kelleyward.hubpages.com/hub/Diabetic-Medical-Alert-Tattoos