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.