A medical student becomes a diabetic and finds public disapproval

Recently, our whole class was asked to “become” a diabetic to try and really understand what it is we’re diagnosing people with.  Fantastic idea.  Fantastic opportunity.

Not so fantastic to carry out.  I opted for the insulin-dependent, type I option, which meant I had to keep a diary of what I ate (including counting carbohydrates), regularly check my glucose level, and inject myself before meals. (We didn’t actually inject insulin or saline, it was just so we get the feel for it.)

The meals were usually a cinch.  For those who know me, you’ll recall I’m a creature of habit.  I make one dinner for 4 days and generally have the same sorts of things for breakfast and lunch.  Easy to count carbs that way.  However, spreading out carbs and snacks through the day is a real pain, especially when you’re in school and they don’t generally allow food or drinks in the cadaver lab.  All that ghrelin does give you the munchies, though.

Oh, and those meter checks.  For those who’ve never used a diabetic lancet (especially the cheap, plastic ones we were given to practice with), they hurt. Imagine stabbing the end of your finger with a dull clothes pin.  Now imagine doing that at least twice a day, trying to rotate fingers so you can still manage to type.  Several days later, my fingers are still bruised.  I can imagine my diabetic readers nodding sagely right about now.  “Been doin’ it for years, sweet cakes.”

The interesting part of the experience was the injections.  What a ridiculous idea.  Inject myself?  With a real needle?  Into my gut(Insert more sage nodding here.)

But they don’t hurt.  Seriously.  Not at all.  Unless you get a bad needle with a barb in it, you can hardly feel them, the guage is so teeny.  You can even inject with your shirt on.  Hell, I injected through my dress at a fundraiser.

Don’t misunderstand, that’s not the interesting part.  The real doozy was the perception of other people.  Now usually I was injecting and stabbing and whatnot amongst my fellow med kiddies.  And they were doing it, too.  No big deal.  But at one point, I wanted to experiment with injecting in public.  See how people reacted.

They didn’t disappoint.

I went to brunch with a relative at a hotel in town on the weekend and we had a fabulous time talking business and economics.  The restaurant was nice enough to have a specifically labelled diabetic option so I didn’t have to guess what I was eating.  I got my injecting supplies out just before our waitress came around to drop off my pancakes.  I got my needle ready.  I even set the injection pen to 15 units.

Then she came back.  She set down my plate and noticed the pen in my hand, needle all ready to go.  I smiled, thanked her, and busied myself with trying to find the right spot to pinch for the injection.  I looked up quickly to see her face, and what I saw was nothing but thinly veiled disapproval.  It was written all over her face, from her eyes that narrowed ever so slightly, to the corners of her mouth that were stretched just a bit too tight.  I could almost see the thought bubble floating above her head: “Good grief, is that a needle? Oh.  Right, diabetic meal.  Well.  What a perfectly inappropriate place to use that … thing.  This is a public eating place, for heaven’s sake.  Is that even sanitary?”

I felt surprisingly affronted.  I’d ordered the diabetic option.  What did she think I was going to do with that needle?  I’m sorry, would you like me to go hyperglycemic somewhere else?  Or can I enjoy my dry pancakes and corn syrup in peace? (Oh yes, they’d run out of the sugar-free syrup.  So corn syrup it was.)

Maybe I’m reading into things a bit.  Maybe she was just a bit confused by the pen injector.  Lots of people have a regular syringe still, maybe she’d never seen this style.

But still.

At the very least, I can say I’ve had a small peek into the day-to-day trudge of the diabetic lifestyle.  The endless finger pokes, the frustrating guesswork of eating out.

And now I know.  When it comes to diagnoses like this, it’s certainly better to give than to receive.

“Atalanta” is a medical student who blogs at Atalanta’s Antics.

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