Why Are You Wearing That Bracelet?


Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post–it was very interesting and enlightening to read about the challenges that diabetics face in every type of job. On another work-related note, I thought I’d write about an interaction with a customer that I had recently.

A woman bought a book and asked me to gift-wrap it. I moved the book to a side counter and had begun to cover it with wrapping paper when she suddenly asked: “What are you allergic to?”

I was too startled to respond with a polite Sorry? or Excuse me?

“What?” I asked.

“What are you allergic to?”

I was still trying to figure out what she meant when she sighed and rolled her eyes. “You know, what’s that bracelet for?”

I glanced down at my wrist. “Oh…my MedicAlert bracelet! It’s just because I have diabetes. I’m not allergic to anything.”

“So why do you have to wear a bracelet?”

“Well, in case anything happened to me, and I needed to be taken to the hospital, the doctors would know what to do.”

I assumed that now, with her mistake corrected, the customer would fall silent. Instead, she asked: “So what could happen to you?”

“If my blood sugar was low enough, I could faint.”

“What would the doctors do?”

I was reluctant to explain the intricacies of injecting glucagon to a stranger in a crowded store. “Uh, they would give me something with sugar in it.”

“And what would they do for a normal person?”

“I don’t really know, ma’am. It would depend. Someone could become unconscious for a lot of different reasons.”

Meanwhile, I had been cutting wrapping paper and slapping on tape as quickly as possible. But my last answer apparently satisfied the customer. She didn’t say anything more as she grabbed her beribboned package and headed out the door.

During this conversation, all I could think was: when will it be over? The customer’s inquisitiveness struck me as all the more annoying because I felt that, as a sales person, I couldn’t refuse to answer her questions without seeming impolite (not that I would have refused anyway–it was just the principle that bothered me).

Afterwards, though, I realized that I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to end the conversation. Even if the customer seemed to be motivated by curiosity rather than genuine concern, she still wanted to know something about diabetes. Instead of feeling imposed upon, I could have viewed this conversation as a chance to educate someone about diabetes who probably would not have ordinarily been interested. Rather than trying to fob the customer off with vague replies, I could have seized the chance to engage her in a helpful dialogue. Although her life seemed untouched by diabetes as of yet, it’s possible that one of her friends, relatives, or she herself might be diagnosed in the future. If I had been articulate and engaging enough, she might have even developed a philanthropic interest in diabetes. And at the very least, if she ever was in the position to help an unconscious diabetic, I would definitely want her to know what to do after seeing a MedicAlert bracelet.

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12 years ago

I can close my eyes and envision that whole conversation. Don’t beat yourself up for not making it a teachable moment, but you are right, a lot of people wouldn’t know what to do.  Until this minute, I totally forgot that I did indeed have a diabetic customer start to go into shock one time, but he had a friend with him and I think the friend went to get him some OJ.  Would I have known what to do if he was on his own? – vaguely. Maybe your co-workers need some info, if you felt like sharing with… Read more »

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