While I’m not in school during the summer and winter, I spend a lot of time working at a discount department store near my house. I started last summer, and was thrilled to have a job with steady hours to keep me busy. Managing diabetes while working upwards of 30 hours a week some weeks, however, is a challenge all its own. Being on my feet for several hours at a time and walking around the store carrying large piles of clothes definitely causes my blood sugar to drop. I do my best to prevent this by having a snack before my shift, or adjusting my insulin rates…but we all know how unpredictable diabetes can be. Sometimes it works, sometimes my blood sugar goes up to 250, and sometimes I’m stuck trying to make change while my hands shake and my blood sugar is 60. Because my hours vary every week, it’s difficult to establish a routine, and I usually keep a very close eye on my CGM to catch any impending lows or highs.
When I was hired, I informed each of my managers and direct supervisors that I had diabetes, and had approval to carry around my supplies in a fanny pack (I keep it with me, but try to avoid wearing it as much as possible- it’s not really my style), but didn’t make a big deal out of it unless someone asked. I did my best to avoid checking my blood sugar while I was working, in order to avoid awkward questions, and because I was afraid someone would reprimand me for not doing my job. This definitely resulted in some less-than-stellar blood sugar readings, but I was just too anxious to put myself first.
When I returned to work this past Christmas, I was forced to acknowledge my diabetes during my shifts. I had gone off the pump and was taking Lantus, and needed to ask my supervisor for a quick break to deliver my injection. She was very understanding, and I was immensely relieved. This incident left me feeling a lot more comfortable dealing with my diabetes at work, and I even started checking my blood sugar when I felt that I needed to, instead of waiting for my break.
I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with my coworkers and diabetes since then, and most of them stem from times when I’ve run into problems with my blood sugar at work. My first day starting back on the pump this past May, I dealt with very high, and then rapidly dropping blood sugars after accidentally giving myself too much insulin. My coworkers were very concerned, offering to get me granola bars to treat my low, and asking if I would be okay to drive myself home. My first supervisor informed me that she was hypoglycemic, and had spare glucose tabs in her locker. Many people have shown an interest in my CGM, and I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how it works, and what I have to do every day to keep myself healthy. Recently, my pump gave me an error alarm that required me to change my cartridge and tubing immediately, and my supervisor let me go right away, telling me to take as much time as I needed. I even had a great conversation with a customer one day after she told me “I like your insulin pump!”
That’s not to say everyone has handled the knowledge of my diabetes as I’d hoped. Many of the people I work with are older, and I’ve heard many stories about spouses, parents and friends with type 2 diabetes. I do appreciate these people trying to understand how I manage my disease, but type 1 and type 2 are so different that their expectations of what I eat and how I take my insulin don’t really match up to what I actually do. I’ve heard plenty of less-than-polite comments- “Why can’t she help out? She’s not doing anything!” (I had a low blood sugar) “Oh…but you’re not fat!” (It still amazes me that people will actually say that- rude!), “Do you have bad diabetes?” (last I checked, all the types are bad), and a rather hostile conversation with someone who discovered my fanny pack and told me that “associates aren’t allowed to have ANYTHING with them on the sales floor, don’t you have a locker?” That last one had me scared to go back to work for a week.
And of course, there have been some standout moments, like when I was told that fanny packs are coming back in style (maybe I SHOULD look for a more stylish one?), and when someone told me “I thought diabetics couldn’t eat fruit?” (but…fruit is good for you? I’m still confused on this one.)
I have to take this space to give a HUGE thank you to my sometimes-supervisor, coworker, and friend Correnna. A few weeks after I started my job last summer, she recognized my pump asked if I had diabetes, revealing that she has another close friend with type 1. Since then, she has been my ally in explaining what happens when my blood sugar is low or high, convincing people that I can eat candy, and defending me when people make rude or misinformed comments. When my blood sugar is low, all I have to do is let her know, and I’m free to immediately sit down and have a juice box. She even convinced management to give a fan to the cashiers because my blood sugar spikes when it gets too warm. (The other cashiers are grateful for this too.)
We spent a whole shift ranting about CrossFit’s ignorance back in June when their insulting tweet about diabetes and Coca Cola went public. That was a fun day. Diabetes brought us together, but we’ve bonded over so many other things too. I’m lucky to work with her, and I hope everyone with diabetes finds a coworker or friend like Correnna who understands what we live with so well.
I’ll have a temporary reprieve from my job now that I’m returning to school for the semester- but Christmas is just around the corner!