Should I tell people I have diabetes? Why is it important to know if someone has diabetes?

In general, definitely yes. You should tell everyone you have any kind of everyday contact with your hairdresser or barber, your colleagues at work, your teachers, your coaches, your friends, even rather casual ones, and especially those with whom you play sports.

You should make it a special point to tell anyone with whom you have any kind of medical or semi medical dealings, such as your dentist or podiatrist or oculist, because that may influence their treatment of you.

There are several good reasons for letting people know you have diabetes, especially if you are insulin dependent. In the first place, should you have an insulin reaction, a person in the know can help you out or at least will realize that whatever is happening to you may be related to your diabetes and will get you to someone who can help.

You are also much less likely to inadvertently offend people if they know you have diabetes. For example, if you get low blood sugar and suddenly turn into a grouch or hellion, they may realize it's because of your diabetes, not because of a mean streak that's part of your nature. Then, too, if you're eating at a friend's house and turn down a sugar shot confection, the cook will know that you're not insulting his or her talents but just behaving yourself and following your diabetic diet.

Another reason for informing on your diabetes is that you can help out other diabetics by educating nondiabetics as to what diabetes is. What diabetics need is an each one teach one program in order to spread diabetes facts and wipe out some of those weird fictions that are floating around in the public mind, such as "Diabetics can't eat sugar, but they can eat all the honey they want because honey is natural."

If you do tell others about your diabetes, you're also likely to gain a lot of diabetic friends. That is to say, a number of people you already know will come out of the closet and declare themselves when you confess your "guilty secret."

When June was first diagnosed, she was such a babe inthe woods that she didn't know that a lot of people hid their diabetes, as if it were a social disease rather than a metabolic one. She just blurted it out to everyone. To her amazement, it turned out that she knew five diabetics when she thought she didn't know any.

Later, June went through a period of diabetic self consciousness and started covering up. That didn't last long. Barbara was always on the job spreading the news loud and clear. Every time we flew in an airplane, for example, Barbara informed the flight attendant of June's condition and announced to the person occupying the third seat in our row, "My friend here has diabetes. Before lunch is served, I'm going to be giving her an insulin shot. I hope it won't bother you, but if it does, you can look the other way."

That used to make June cringe, but now in thinking back on it, she admits it was a good idea. After all, who knows what our seatmate might have thought was going on with that needle? And ifJune should need a quick snack, the flight attendant would be alerted and would supply it fast and without question. Also, it helped her accept the fact that she has diabetes and not develop any psychological hang ups about it.

As part of your diabetes announcement program, you should certainly wear some sort of identification bracelet or medallion. This is a safeguard in case you are ever in an accident or have some sort of diabetic problem when you're away from those who know you. A particularly good identification is a Medic Alert bracelet. (This is available from Medic Alert Foundation, P. O. Box 1009, Turlock, California 95380, phone 209-632-2371.) Medic Alert is well known now, and ambulance attendants and members of the ski patrol and doctors and nurses in emergency hospitals are on the lookout for their insignia. June wears her Medic Alert bracelet always, even when she's asleep.

Now, after advocating this policy of extreme honesty, we'll hedge a bit. You don't have to be obsessed with your diabetes and immediately tell everyone you meet, "Hello there I'm John Smith and I'm a diabetic pleased to meet you," any more than you'd announce to a new acquaintance that you have gallstones or are color blind or wear a pacemaker. As you get to know people better, your diabetes will emerge appropriately and naturally as a subject for conversation.

As for telling prospective employers and insurance agents, it's a yes and no situation that we'll discuss in those sections.


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