Diabetes Shouldn’t Be Top Secret

Many people with diabetes admit to keeping their diabetes a secret.  Less than two years ago, I was one of them.  I hated the way people treated me when they found out about my diabetes.  I hated being told that I wasn’t allowed to eat things by people who didn’t have a clue about diabetes.  I hated the horror stories people told about their acquaintances with diabetes.  I hated people asking me if I had the “bad” kind of diabetes.

We’ve all heard the “If only they had eaten more healthily, exercised more, and slept properly, they wouldn’t have diabetes” comments.  Such remarks are not only largely untrue, but also offensive.  Afraid of such judgment and gossip, many people with diabetes decide to keep it to themselves.  But diabetes can be dangerous when kept a secret.  Sometimes, as much as we try to avoid it, we require outside help.    

As a security officer years ago, I was called to check out a man who was acting strangely outside the building I worked in.  My partner and I went outside and found Arthur, one of the men from the receiving dock, propped up against the side of the building.  We called his name as we approached and received no response.  Suddenly he toppled over, landing hard on the concrete.  Immediately I radioed our base operator to call 911.  Within a short time, the paramedics arrived and loaded Arthur into the ambulance.  

Arthur had diabetes and was insulin-dependent.  He hadn’t eaten lunch and had decided to go for a walk alone.  His blood sugar went dangerously low, and we, his co-workers, were unprepared to help.  Arthur didn’t speak of his diabetes.  Thankfully, he was fine a short time later.  As a person with type 1 diabetes, however, I really wish I could have helped him avoid this incident.  

A volunteer with diabetes at my current job was assisting customers when her fellow volunteers noticed her acting different.  Because she was outspoken about her diabetes, the volunteers notified me. My co-workers and I brought her into our backroom, where we gave her a bottle of juice that I had stored in the mini-fridge for my own blood sugar emergencies.  She was conscious but confused and didn’t seem to recognize us.  As we attempted to have her test her blood sugar after she drank some juice, she was unable to manage getting the blood drop on the test strip.  We helped her test her blood and had her drink more juice, and soon she recognized us again.  She didn’t know how she had ended up in the backroom and was a little embarrassed, but grateful for the care we gave her.  

It could have been me in either of the above situations.  Mistakes in carbohydrate counts, delayed meals, and activity variances can happen to any one of us.  Advising co-workers and friends of your diabetes is important. Not only can you insure that you have people ready to help you if you need it, but you can also educate people and dispel myths about diabetes.  

Hurtful comments could perhaps be avoided if more people living with diabetes spoke up.  Members of the “diabetes police” need to be reminded that it is not appropriate to scold, embarrass, or judge people with diabetes. If we don’t educate them, who will?


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