Diabetes Etiquette: Finding the Right Thing To Say
By Kerri Morrone Sparling
People who don't live with diabetes every day may not understand the efforts and emotions behind our management plan. They see us testing our blood sugar, taking our medication, and monitoring our food intake, but they don't have a true grasp on what diabetes is really like unless they themselves are diabetic. They do what they can to help us from the sidelines.
Only sometimes what they're doing isn't very helpful.
Since my diagnosis, I have heard just about every possible comment from people. "Aren't you too young for diabetes?" "My grandmother had diabetes and she died without any legs." "What's your number? Oh, isn't that too high?" "You wear a pump, right? Your diabetes must be really bad."
I know it's hard for people without diabetes to know the right thing to say. Having good diabetes etiquette is a tricky skill to master because every person with diabetes has different opinions. For example, I am a diabetic. I have been type 1 since second grade and for the last two decades, I have comfortably called myself "diabetic." I do not feel this term describes me entirely and it doesn't define who I am. Call me diabetic – that's fine with me.
However, not everyone feels this way. Some people feel that the term "diabetic" is too much of a pigeon-hole label, making them entirely defined by their disease. They prefer to be called a "person with diabetes." And they have every right to their opinion.
So what's a person without diabetes to do? How do they know "what's right" to say and what could be offensive?
Non-PWDs, listen in and listen closely: We appreciate your help. We appreciate your concern. And having your support is appreciated beyond ways we can properly express. You make diabetes easier to handle just by being our friends and caring about us. But what we don't appreciate are stories about your grandmother's diabetes, or the chocolate shake you heard about that "cures diabetes," or the suggestion to "exercise more, and maybe you can stop using the pump?"
Instead, maybe you could ask us about our diabetes so you can learn what our dLife is really like? Ask us about our medications, or offer to come to our doctor's appointments. Ask about how a glucose meter works, or what kind of meal plan we prefer. Even try testing your own blood sugar to see what it feels like. Understand that our diabetes management may be different from that you have heard about on TV and in movies. And realize that our decisions may not always be based on diabetes, because sometimes we want to just live our lives - even if it means bending the rules a bit. Work with us to establish a protocol for how diabetes will be handled, making sure both your concerns and our preferences are addressed.
We know you mean to help, and we also know that while you aren't living with diabetes, diabetes is a part of your life, too. Through open communication, honesty, and patience, we can learn from one another and make a difference in how diabetes touches all of us.
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