Each side of the needle

I typically perform my diabetes tasks in public as necessary, like taking an injection at the table in a restaurant, no big deal, no fanfare. I’m so smooth in fact, taking out vial and syringe, putting the syringe in the vial, drawing up my dose, checking for air bubbles, pulling a tuck of shirt out and injecting that generally no one notices until I put the stuff back in my bag. So I was utterly surprised and truthfully thrown when, while seated at Orlando airport having just stuck the needle in my stomach, a woman and her young son were standing directly in front of me staring in what looked like horror. I quickly thought this is something she doesn’t want her young son to see, she thinks I’m a junkie……. So I apologized profusely, partly for what she was viewing, and then realizing I was in her seat. 

I moved a few rows away with the shadow of ‘evil’ hanging over me. I felt I had done something wrong. According to my diabetes etiquette book, I shouldn’t ‘shoot up’ without first checking that no one will see. Well at least not from the vantage point of standing right on top of me. A few moments later when clarity of mind returned I had a different thought.

I wished I had told her, “Don’t worry, I have diabetes. I’m taking insulin, and yes, I’m moving out of your seat as soon as I get this needle out of my stomach, sorry.” My overriding feeling was this stranger now branded me irresponsible, and that is so far from the truth it disturbed me. My underriding feeling was what must it have looked like to her? It’s so out of the ordinary to see people with diabetes injecting (that’s a whole ‘nother issue isn’t it?) kind of like women breast feeding, that I couldn’t blame her for her dismay and I wondered what it felt like to be on her side of the needle. 

Then I recalled two instances when I was on ‘the other side of the needle’ so to speak. The first was while interviewing a young woman I’d met at a support group. During our interview sitting on her couch in her apartment she took out her meter and pricked her finger. When she pressed to get a fair sized drop of blood, I felt queasy. “Huh?” you say. You’ll say it again when I tell you that I check my own blood sugar between four and seven times a day. But looking from the outside in, it was a little nauseating. 

My second experience was interviewing a type 1 woman over the phone whom I’d never met. I called her as we’d arranged and she wasn’t home. I called again fifteen minutes later and she told me something about losing her cell phone. Already I’m thinking maybe a little irresponsible? Yes, apparently responsibility is a big one for me. As we began to talk her verbal responses were delayed, her speech slurred. I thought she was intoxicated. It went on for five long minutes until I realized she was having a hypoglycemic episode and then I immediately asked her if I should call 911 or if she had someone there? She told me her boyfriend was there and I heard him approach. I hung up and said we’d reschedule.

Phone down, my heart was racing. I’ve had low blood sugar episodes, many, the ones just like hers where you’re not making much sense. Yet I didn’t recognize it in her and when I did it rattled me. I have never experienced someone else going through it, as my husband has witnessing me go through it so many times, and I realized how frightening it can be. So why do I tell you all this? Why do I risk sounding so utterly thick and insensitive?

We know how poorly informed the general public is about diabetes, what it is and what it is to live with. We know how many people think we’re just supposed to not eat candy or that we have no willpower or why are we complaining, it’s “just a little sugar.” But here I am, the informed, experienced, living with diabetes person, and looking from the outside in rather than the inside out, I had a whole different experience. What I saw, sensed and heard shook me a little. Then it shocked me that it shook me. 

Interesting isn’t it? When you choose to look from the other side you can see what others are seeing. So maybe we can do more educating as the opportunity arises rather than reacting. I would go back now and tell that woman in the Orlando airport what I thought to tell her minutes later. I could always try of course, air travel being what it is she may still be there. Or maybe I’ll look for the next opportunity. It’s hard to know what it looks like, feels like, seems like from the other side when you’re always inside. Maybe that’s all I mean to say. 

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