Inked For Diabetes
Our fearless advocate Travis gets a permanent medical alert in the form of a diabetes tattoo.
By Travis Grubbs
September 2009 — "You Must Be 18 to Enter!" warned the sign posted on the door. I looked in my rear view mirror and smiled. My face, with the grey beard and crow's feet, smiled back at me. It assured me that would not have a problem meeting the age requirement. As I entered store the young man standing behind the counter asked "Can I help you?" "Is he even 18?" I asked myself (on the inside). I replied (while pulling a piece of paper from my shirt pocket) "Yeah, I want to get a tattoo. A diabetes tattoo."
For years I had been teasing my wife, Tanya, who doesn't care for "body art", about getting a tattoo. "You know, something romantic like your name on my butt" I would exclaim to her. She wasn't persuaded. I never had a strong desire to get a tattoo; I just like pushing my wife's "buttons."
When type 2 diabetes laid claim to my body, the subject of a diabetes tattoo changed in its perspective. Tanya is a very big fan of me wearing some kind of identification of my medical condition. This became something of a challenge since I am of the persuasion that does not like things wrapped around my wrists or neck. I don't even wear a watch, but use my cell phone to keep up with the time. I finally agreed to wear a diabetes medical alert tag on the belt loop near my wallet, with the theory that anyone checking me for I.D. would find the medical alert tag.
This worked well until this summer when my medical alert tag came off while I was coming out from under a house. I then got to thinking that I needed something more permanent. "But what is available that can be worn on one's body, and never comes off?" my innocent mind wondered. After much thought, I decided to have a diabetes alert tattoo on my left forearm. I then told my wife about my decision. At first she was not sure of the idea. My doctor, Dr. R, was opposed to it. I can still remember him forcefully saying "NO!" with his eyes bulging out of his head. He went on to remind me that diabetics tend to heal slowly, and that I was at risk for a skin infection.
While I wanted the support from my diabetes care team, I am also at that point in my life where I am tired of having to concede everything to my chronic condition. I watch my weight and carbs. I routinely check my blood sugar. I take my meds. As for getting a tattoo, so what if I heal slowly? So what if I get a skin infection? I will do what I always do, and deal with it! This was one time when my diabetes could get off my back, take a hike, or just kiss my … you get the idea.
Tanya eventually accepted my idea of a diabetes tattoo, and she even helped me design it. I like the simplicity of the wording, T2 DIABETES. I am already thinking of expanding or adding to it.
Having it etched into my skin was a lot less traumatic than I had expected. While the needle did sting, it was not too uncomfortable. Near the end of the procedure, I inquired as to how many times the needle went into my arm per minute. For those that are interested in getting a tattoo, the answer is 500 times per minute.
My tattoo artist gave me written after care instructions (I even had to sign a copy for his records). I followed them to the letter so that I could properly heal. All went well and Dr. R. did not have a stroke when he saw it. I think he now approves of it, especially since it serves a practical and worthy purpose. A couple of his nurses stopped me so that they could check it out. I have also found that it is a great conversation starter. Strangers come up to me and ask, "Are these replacing ID bracelets?" "Yes, they are" I reply. Hey, a trend has to start somewhere.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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