Diabetes Etiquette

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One of my friends’ fathers, who is diabetic, will uncap a syringe before every meal so that his whole family can see the needle glint. He then holds it up to the light while slowly drawing up his insulin. As he finally inserts the needle into his stomach, he cries: “Ow, ow! Oh, it hurts!”

Few people would ham up the routine of taking insulin this much. Still, after chuckling over this description, it raised a question for me. What is “diabetes etiquette”? Are there rules of politeness we should observe when giving ourselves injections of insulin?

It is my guess that most people who have diabetes feel comfortable openly giving themselves insulin injections at home. Our families get used to it. By the time I was diagnosed with diabetes, my brother had already known he’d had it for nine years, and my parents were fairly inured to seeing him give himself shots. Now there’s rarely a pause in conversation when he or I start to draw up our insulin. (We both do try to be unobtrusive about it, though, so it’s as painless as possible for our parents!)

When you’re out in public, the situation gets trickier. First of all, whipping out a syringe and vial is tantamount to admitting to everyone present that you have diabetes, or at least some medical condition. I’m not intent on keeping my diabetes secret from other people, but I’m not exactly eager to shout it from the rooftops, either. When you’re in a public space, you also have to consider the feelings of the people around you. Many people are truly bothered by the sight of a syringe, and you don’t want to unknowingly make someone feel ill.

I do often give myself insulin injections in public despite my conflicting feelings about it. Sometimes this is just a matter of logistics, or my own laziness. (If you’re eating by yourself, how can you get up to give yourself a shot in the bathroom if your food or coffee is already on the table?  And you don’t want to give yourself a shot before you order, because you don’t know how long the food will take, or even necessarily what you want to eat…) But I also find that in busy places, people don’t pay much attention to me when I give myself a shot–or at least, they don’t seem to–as long as I’m discreet about it. Giving yourself a shot in front of friends or acquaintances poses other problems. When I’m with people I don’t know very well, I’m reluctant to give myself a shot simply because I don’t want diabetes to be the first thing they associate with me. Most of my good friends say that seeing me give myself a shot doesn’t bother them at all. But then, they could just be following their own rules of etiquette.

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Deb
Deb

My “problem” is with a man at work who comes into the lunch room (very tiny room) everyday and gives himself an injection when I am in the middle of my meal.  When he is finished he goes back to work.  He does not eat at this time.  He just started doing this and he knows that I am uncomfortable when he does it.  This is something he has just started doing this and he says “Its too bad if it grosses you guys out”.  I don’t know where he did his shots before.  He has been diabetic for years… Read more »

David
David

I wish I had your problems!  Can’t take the sight of needles?  Look away!

jennifer
jennifer

this is very interesting. it reminds me a bit of the breast-feeding in public debate, although someone would have to be a total jerk to begrudge another person’s insulin injecting in public. i say inject away wherever you want!

Rebecca
Rebecca

I am not diabetic, but many friends are.  I never think it is rude for them to inject, but it def takes getting used to.

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An Emily Post For Diabetics (No Pun Intended)

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Mich
Mich

Those of us who have been dealing with insulin for a long time–well, we have our “ways” to get things done.  I guarantee I can give myself insulin with no one at the table noticing. It’s the under the table, under the loose shirt quickie, or the slight of hand special.  In an airplanem my traveling companion holds his or her newspaper just so. I think the idea of etiquette goes both ways. Sometimes it’s annoying to have the Diabetes Police on your case, questioning what you are about to eat or peeking over your shoulder at your meter numbers.  … Read more »

Dawn

Although I’m fortunate to not have diabetes I do have many friends and relatives who are insulin dependent. My cousin Mike used to be notorious for whipping out his syringe in restaurants and doing his insulin (pre-pump) it didn’t bother me much but the other diners were very distressed. Another friend uses the bathroom to inject when out in public or does it in his car.  I understand not wanting to use a public bathroom but I personally don’t think it is appropriate to “hit up” in public

Becca
Becca

I don’t have to do injections (have a pump for that) but I do test in public and sometimes wonder if it’s rude…but feel like it’s cleaner than going into the restroom.  I will occasionally remember before I get out of my car to go into a restaurant or someone’s home, but not always.  If I knew someone I was with didn’t like blood I would be considerate of that, I suppose.

Jessica Apple

Mike has no problem injecting in public.  I have gone into restaurant bathrooms to take insulin, and you know what… injecting in a public bathroom (especially when it’s not the cleanest) is pretty gross.

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