Category Archives: Diabetes and work

Issues at the workplace and tips for handling them

Fear of How We’re Perceived


I once worked for the “call before you dig” company in my state of Virginia.  I was one of two or three people that would answer calls in Spanish and write up a “ticket” for those who needed to dig somewhere, be it for gardening or a new commercial building.  We realized over time that the laws about digging safely in Virginia were not being effectively communicated to the Spanish speaking community.  This was noted as a major problem because of the large number of construction/landscaping work that is done by Spanish speakers in Virginia.  Employers would risk going out of business as of a result of large fines and people would get hurt as a result of unsafe excavation.  So I was invited by the State Corporate Commission to travel to Northern Virginia and give an educational talk to about 100 Spanish speaking contractors.  We hoped these men would get the info they needed and spread the knowledge to their employees. 

At first, my big worry was my stage fright and the fact that I have never spoken much Spanish.  It’s generally embarrassing to have been born in South America and not have a solid grasp of my first language.  Anyway, once I translated the power point presentation, It suddenly hit me.  I’d have to manage my diabetes in a room full of Hispanic men while dealing with major nerves!  Honestly, it was quite intimidating.  I love speaking in front of a crowd but I get terribly nervous.  Sick to my stomach and dizzy and sweating nervous.  This always affects my blood sugars, too. 

I prepared the best I could and luckily, wasn’t going alone.  A friend and coworker whom I had been teaching Spanish to, managed to pick up a lot very quickly and would be going with me to help out.  The night before the presentation however, my boss and my coworker friend and I went out for ice cream.  Conveniently so, my insulin pump, which I was on at the time, decided to start beeping and reported back: “no delivery”.  I wasn’t getting any insulin and had already ate half of my enormous ice cream.  We headed back to the hotel and I ran up to my room to change my site and give insulin.  My blood sugar rose over the next 3 hours.  Eventually, I gave an insulin shot and took out my infusion site once again.  The second bent cannula of the night.  Great.  My blood sugar was around 400 and I worried I wouldn’t be good to go in the morning.  I had also just used my last infusion set so there was that worry.  Luckily, around midnight my blood sugar started stabilizing and I was able to go to sleep by 1:30am. 

The next morning my blood sugar was fine but I felt dehydrated and tired from the night before.  I had only slept five hours.  I was moody.  All I could think of was, “As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’m nervous talking in front of others and lack ease in using technical excavation terms in Spanish, I have to worry about my blood sugars, too!”  I took a few deep breathes and decided to have breakfast.  I was already shaky from being nervous, I didn’t want to be trembling from hunger, as well.  I didn’t eat much but what I did eat was carbohydrate loaded.  Right before the presentation was to start, I stood in a room full of contractors, many of whom were looking at their watches.  They wanted it over with, they had work to get to.  And what was I doing?  Going over what I was going to say?  No, I was sipping a juice box to fix a low.  Why did this bother me?  Because ever since I was 6 years old, when the teacher asked for a strong young man to help her carry books, I raised my hand really high in defiance because “Girls are strong, too!”.  I don’t know why but I’ve spent my whole life making it a point to prove that women are as capable as men.  So I just didn’t want to come off as precious or vulnerable, drinking juice from a juice box, speaking Spanish in an English accent to a crowd that intimidated me.  I wanted them to take what I had to say seriously, because it was serious.  I had just got done translating for some contractors who got in trouble (meaning they paid HUGE fines) for not abiding excavation laws and they made “little women” jokes in front of me.  While I was translating for them.  I suppose that experience kind of traumatized me and I was not going to have that happen again.

So I finished my juice, threw it in the trash, got out my meter and tested in front of everyone.  I wasn’t planning to but, I needed to tell myself to be confident and this was a way to force that upon myself.  By one simple and blatant act.  One man saw me and said to the man next to him, (and I’m translating) “Whoa, did you see that?  She pricked her finger and then licked the blood!”  I put my meter away and waited for the introduction.  Then, instead of my polite and gentle script, I veered off a little.  I mentioned that obviously, I didn’t have a clue how hard they’re jobs were.  I wasn’t aware of the challenges they faced day in and day out.  All I knew was some of them had been losing jobs, losing companies, losing money, and an unfortunate few had lost their lives.  So I asked they listen to what we had to say to them, bear with our Spanish, and just know that in the end, we weren’t giving them the information for our benefit, it was all about them.  A couple men got kind of wide eyed and nodded, respectfully.  The presentation went well. 

Luckily, a lot of men had questions-a great sign they were paying attention.  Some expressed gratitude for us presenting them with the information in Spanish.  One man said, “I was nervous today!  I felt like my business wasn’t going to last because I couldn’t understand the legal stuff and I’ve been feeling so left out.” 

I thought about how a big part of my nervousness that day had to do with dealing with my diabetes and how it made me feel different in a public, exposed way and how It was going to possibly cause my work not to go well.  I realized the people I was presenting to were feeling much the same way.  I wish I had known that before biting all my nails the night before.

Either way I now know confidence, true or faked, is very useful.  Sometimes, one of the biggest barriers between us and our health is how we fear we may be publicly perceived.  It’s happened to me quite a lot, especially when I was a teenager. 

To the non-diabetic bystander, testing blood sugar in front of a crowd doesn’t seem like a big deal.  Yet, you know what I’m talking about.  We’ve all been there.  Maybe during a first date, you didn’t feel comfortable whipping out your meter on the table with food or perhaps you prefer to deal with your diabetes related issues in the restroom at work so no one sees what you’re doing and think you’re not capable of your job.  The thing is, as valid as our feelings are, our health isn’t subjective.  It’s going to respond to what we do, when we do it.  So hopefully we are able to do whatever we must for our health.  It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it-we’re worth it. 

And just as I realized the day of the presentation, my fears of being the different one, the one left out, were not just my own.

Diabetes catch 22: Working just for insurance

      Having diabetes can often be the same as being pushed into a corner with no good way out. 

It can be harder for a diabetic to work because of health complications and challenges and yet if you don’t work, you don’t have insurance.

I cried and cried over this years ago because the reality of it caught me off guard.  I graduated high school and in a sickly state, began college.  As a result I didn’t do well during my first 2 years at college and next thing I knew I was dropped from my parents insurance policy.  All I knew to do was find a job in order to have insurance.  After a year I found I couldn’t work full time and do school (still sick at this point) so my college opportunity was postponed. 

Next thing I knew I couldn’t follow my dream career path because I was busy working a job that made me even more sick (because I hated it) and therefore was unable to leave it since I relied on it’s insurance for safety. 

This cycle is extremely frustrating.  Currently I’m under my husband’s insurance and I work from home (while taking care of twin babies).  Now that my health has been regained, I am busy writing a book to keep me out of the danger zone.  What if my husband were to lose his job? 

So the message here is don’t settle or waste time in despair.  Work on your health and work on your passions.  You need your health and you need to not sit on your laurels just wishing life would be easier for us, diabetics.  Make your situation better for yourself. 

Begin today.  And if its tomorrow and you didn’t begin yesterday, begin today!

Diabetes and your job; keep it a secret?

Personally, I´ve never agreed with doing this. I understand the fear one might have about the employer or coworker knowing this fact. Perhaps you worry that your boss will think you are weaker because of your condition. Or maybe you don’t want coworkers to start “he or she is too sick to take on that responsibility” type of rumors.

I believe thes risks are not as great as the risks you will be taking by NOT being open about your diabetes. First of all, there is a risk you won’t take care of your diabetes well enough if you are hiding it. Sure, you can give your insulin shots in the restroom. But, what if you drop a syringe one day and a coworker sees it? It would be much worse to have THAT rumor going around. If you have an insulin pump, you have just given yourself the daily headache of properly hiding the pump and its tubing. I guess you would also turn off the beeping feature (which I always found helpful).

Also, consider the unfortunate event in which something happens to you? What if you pass out from a low or high blood sugar? In any case, coworkers would call 911, but if they don’t know you are a diabetic, precious time will be lost with the medics as they, (hopefully) check for a medic alert of some sort (assuming you wear one) or do all the routine testing to find out what is wrong with you. In the case of a low blood sugar, you may not have much time.

Now you may be thinking, “I’ve never been unconscious and plan to keep it that way”. Alright, well your goal is not just to “never end up in the ER” but, to maintain the best blood sugar control possible. If you can’t check your blood sugar at your desk or work space, freely and when needed, then you will be cheating yourself from the great control YOU DESERVE.

Remember, you must put yourself FIRST. You can’t help anyone very well anyway if you are feeling sick because your glucose is too high or low.

I have always revealed my condition to employers. I let them know (typically AFTER hire) that I am a type 1 diabetic, that I usually maintain very good control, rarely need assistance from others, and work harder than most because having diabetes has taught me hard work, diligence, and perseverance. Don’t tell them it is an awful disease which is the bane of your existence (even though it may be). Instead, be positive, smile, and let them have no doubts about you.

If the case for you is that you do not maintain good control and sometimes do need assistance from others, then say what I say anyway and begin a new slate for yourself, striving each day to do better and better. Saying you will do something to someone gives you more pressure to do so. (As long as your work is not the type where people’s lives are in your hands)

After a few months at a job, working hard and proving yourself worthy of the work you do, people will come to admire you for the two jobs they see you handle so well.