By: Jonathan Thorn
I am always willing to discuss diabetes with anyone who is interested. And since I openly perform my blood glucose tests and administer insulin shots in public, it is fair to say that many people around me do become interested.
There is an epidemic of diabetes in this country, and there is also an epidemic of ignorance when it comes to diabetes. Being the kind and informative soul that I am, I am always happy to enlighten people when they pose their interesting little questions during my BG tests, insulin shots and eating routines. Sometimes, I even have a little fun.
You’re Not Allowed to Eat That, Are You?
Oftentimes, the existence of my “diabetic-ness” comes to light during a meal. While everyone else is unfolding their napkins, I’m pulling out a hypodermic needle, and there are only so many possibilities that could be drawn from this.
Once the onlookers’ evaluation has been verified (or their concerns put to rest, depending on what conclusion they arrived at), they usually have a few questions pertaining to my eating habits. I happily answer them—sometimes even truthfully.
The question and answer session usually goes something like this:
Inquiring Onlooker: Umm . . . you’re not allowed to eat that, are you?
Me: Yesh [it’s difficult to talk around a mouthful of doughnut].
Inquiring Onlooker: What about this? Are you allowed to eat this?
Me: Here, let me see—[I eat the food]—Yesh!
Inquiring Onlooker: What can’t you eat?
Me: If it doesn’t bite back, it’s fair game. Hey, are you gonna eat that?
Naturally, diabetes is much easier to control with a strict diet, but, as always, knowledge is key. With the proper preparation, anything and everything can be consumed (not that I would know). I have to admit to the occasional “creative” answer:
Inquiring Onlooker: Umm . . . you’re not allowed to eat that, are you?
I would like to add that it is usually best if you know the person you are talking to before getting too creative with your answers. Occasionally, if you should meet up with a very nervous or panicky onlooker, you might have to be fast on your feet if you’re going to stop him or her from completing the call to 911.
Doesn’t That Hurt?
In addition to dietary concerns, blood glucose tests often hold a certain fascination for onlookers. One instance in particular stands out in my memory:
Fascinated Observer: Are you going to do a blood glucose test? Can I watch?
The blood glucose monitor is prepared and calmly awaits its blood offering. I stab myself with a lancet.
Fascinated Observer: Ooh! Doesn’t that hurt?
Me: It feels like stabbing a small needle into your flesh.
The monitor accepts the offering and begins a countdown.
Fascinated Observer: Jon! Jon! Your blood glucose is dropping!—Is that OK?
Me: Gaah! Quick! Run to the nearest grocery store and buy me a sandwich to supplement my lunch! Get milk and cookies, also!
This might have worked better if I’d acted more like I was in trouble instead of rolling on the floor laughing. Regrettably, my observer caught on, and I never got my sandwich. It might amuse you to learn that this was not the only time I had this conversation. It happened again the next day—with the same person. Evidently, I was not working with a genius in the making.
Taking a Shot, Huh?
The ultimate, most gripping, attention-riveting event in the diabetic repertoire is definitely The Shot. It ranks above The Blood Glucose Test on the Gruesome Scale, and it generally commands more fascination from onlookers than any other aspect of diabetes.
The Shot usually provokes one of these four reactions:
1. Many onlookers will have at most a passing curiosity.
Passive Observer: Taking a shot, huh? How much do you have to take?
Me: Oh, it varies, depending on how much I’m going to eat. Will you be eating that?
2. The second kind of observer has a morbid fascination with the shot. He is grossed out by the idea, he is scared or nervous at the thought of getting shots himself, he isn’t entirely sure that he really wants to watch, but he can’t stop himself. Sometimes I’ll get a little creative with these people to develop a more interesting scenario, but for the most part, their enthusiasm makes their curiosity fun to indulge. Sometimes their enthusiasm is perhaps a little . . . excessive.
Nervous Observer: Are you going to take a shot? Can I watch? Will it hurt? How big is the needle?
Me: Yes. Certainly. Sometimes. Not enough to brag about.
3. The third kind of individual, whom I’ll call the Unstable Observer, is utterly terrified of needles and all things needle-related. Be careful with these folks. If you’re like me and you don’t think twice about taking a shot in public, you might encounter them frequently:
Me: Ooh! I get a sandwich for lunch today! I’d better take a shot.
Unstable Observer: If you take that shot here, I swear I’m going to throw up all over you!
Me: On second thought, I can wait. Truthfully, it looks like a pretty crummy sandwich.
Unstable Observer: I can’t stand shots. Just the thought of them makes me all queasy.
Me: I’m not taking a shot. See? I’ve put it all away. No shots. Please don’t barf!
4. The fourth person, whom I shall call the “Informed Individual,” is very commonly encountered. Informed Individuals indicate by the style of their questions that they are extremely knowledgeable on the subject of diabetes and could most likely teach you the proper technique for delivering your injection. They have acquired their knowledge from a relative or close friend with diabetes. This becomes evident within their first few sentences. Sometimes this relative or close friend will have imparted so much knowledge to the Informed Individual that he or she will offer to be of service should you ever have trouble administering your own injection—just in case you should happen to freeze up after a lifetime of giving yourself shots:
Informed Individual: Taking a shot, huh? So you’re a diabetic?
Me: Why, yes, I am.
Informed Individual: Oh, I know all about diabetes. Our dog got diabetes, and we had to give him shots and everything. So if you ever need a hand, I’d be glad to help out.
Me: Umm . . . thanks. I’ll be sure to let you know.
I truly appreciate that this person wants to be helpful. If for some reason I needed a shot and was unable to deliver it to myself (have you seen the movie “Con Air”?), I would be grateful if there was someone on hand who had actually given an injection before. Even if they gave it to Fido.
My roommates also learn about the kind of diabetic emergency most people never hear about. This has to do with administering a glucagon injection.
Whereas the insulin shot might not inspire awe due to its diminutive size, the glucagon shot steps things up a notch. Especially for the morbidly fascinated enthusiastic person. A few of my roommates were perhaps a little too excited at the thought of giving me a shot. This might not have been so worrisome had they expressed a little more knowledge of basic human anatomy:
Me: So, if I’m ever in real trouble, you need to prepare this syringe and inject it into a muscle.
Enthusiastic but Clueless Roommate: Cool! Like into your heart or something?
Me: NO! Not into my heart. Not in my skull or my shinbone, either. Inject it into the upper arm, a thigh or a fleshy buttock or something. Sheesh!
This is why there is now a sign taped to the wall next to my glucagon supplies that says: If I Can Fight Back, I Don’t Need This!
Keep Everybody Informed
Eventually, after enough questions, people start to catch on. And it has been well worth it to keep everyone around me informed about my diabetes. I have friends who will offer me their food to fight lows, who tell me the carbohydrate content of prepared meals, and I even had one friend who knew when my blood glucose was low before I could detect it— which was both astonishing and extremely convenient.
All the stories and my friends’ help have certainly been worth the effort.