Diabetes Forecast

Educating Others About Diabetes

By David Marrero, PhD, Associate Editor ,

The other day I was in a restaurant and had just ordered lunch. I took out my insulin and Symlin pens, opened my shirt, and proceeded to give myself injections in my stomach. "Just what do you think you're doing!" shrieked an older woman at the next table. Her face showed a combination of shock and disgust. She was clearly upset that I was giving myself an injection at the table.

Even though I have experienced strong reactions to my diabetes from strangers before, I was surprised by this outburst and annoyed by her reaction. Let's face it: Diabetes is tough enough without having to get grief from strangers. I realized, however, that there were several ways I could respond, ranging from ignoring her to making an angry, biting reply. I admit that I fought the desire to answer her question by saying, "Minding my own business; how about you?" Instead, I decided to address what I believe is the real issue in such situations: her ignorance about diabetes and how it has to be treated. So I said to her, "Oh, I am sorry if I startled you. I have insulin-dependent diabetes, which requires that I take an injection of insulin before I can eat. If I don't take this injection, my blood sugar can get dangerously high and cause me serious problems."

This surprised her, but before she could respond, I pressed on. "In fact, did you know that uncontrolled diabetes kills more people every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined? That poorly controlled diabetes is the leading cause of nontraumatic amputations and a leading cause of blindness and kidney failure?" Her eyes were getting big, so I continued. "I really don't want to have those types of problems, so I am pretty careful to make sure I do all I can to keep in good control. That means taking my insulin before I eat. I do my injections at the table because I find that many bathrooms just aren't as clean as I would like for this type of procedure."

She was speechless and, I could tell, a little bit embarrassed. She smiled at me and said, "I'm sorry—thanks for explaining it to me. I didn't know." "That's OK," I told her. "A lot of people aren't aware of diabetes, even though 1 in 9 adults in this country has it." At this point, my food came and I returned my attention to eating.

We don't often get an opportunity to educate people about diabetes. Doing so is essential if we are going to increase awareness of this rapidly growing condition and help focus public attention on the need to deal with it. I could have gotten angry at the woman's insensitivity, but instead I used the moment to try to educate her. I hope she will be a bit more understanding and tolerant now if she sees one of my clan dealing with diabetes in public. And who knows: Perhaps she might be inspired to participate in a diabetes walk in her community, and help contribute to research funding.



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