Let me start off by saying that you should never have to justify anything about your diabetes to anyone.
Except if that person is a college professor, whose exam you’re trying not to get kicked out of.
I started on my CGM last March, and because most of my classes did not have exams last semester, I wasn’t too concerned about the receiver going off at a time when it shouldn’t. My first exam of the fall semester however, took place yesterday, in a class with a professor who is VERY strict about cell phone noise during exams. If your phone goes off, you are kicked out of the exam with a zero. And did I mention how all belongings have to stay at the front of the auditorium where the exam is being held? Panic time! I have no problem with shutting my phone off before the exam, but as a diabetic, I’m equipped with two devices that look, and can make noise, like cell phones. And they can’t leave my side. Literally. One is stuck on my skin, and the other is connected by a 20-inch tube that ends inside my body.
So I did what any proactive person would do, and sought out my professor after class to explain my situation. She was very understanding, and, long story short, if my CGM goes off, or I need a juice box during the exam, I won’t be kicked out. I was TREMENDOUSLY relieved; it’s always a toss-up when you have to explain diabetes to others, whether they will be accommodating or inflexible. We shouldn’t have to justify what we need to do to STAY ALIVE to anyone (because by law, we’re allowed to), but sometimes it’s unfortunately necessary.
This situation, along with leading my first College Diabetes Network chapter meeting of the year, and a conversation with a friend, really got me thinking about the subject of diabetes as a disability. We all experience diabetes very differently, and anyone who identifies it as a disability is totally right. Diabetes makes it really difficult to do things, like going out to eat, exercising, or even getting on a plane, that pose no issues for people with functioning pancreases.
I, personally, do not identify as having a disability. I see diabetes simply as an extra set of challenges for myself. It doesn’t prevent me from doing anything; I just have a few more hoops to jump through to get where I want to be. I’ve balked at the idea of registering with Disability Services on campus for this reason, even though I know that they can provide valuable support if there is ever a problem.
Even when diabetes has the potential to get in the way of my daily routine, I do everything in my power not to let it. Last summer, my pump site failed and my blood sugar went up to 590 (note to self: never change a site before a froyo run). I was up until 3 in the morning bringing it down (shout out to the on-call endo at my practice who calmly helped me out as I did my best to not be a sobbing 20 year old diabetes-veteran). I was dehydrated and exhausted, and had to be at work for 8 am the next morning. I toyed with the idea of calling out- but at that point in my life, I was starting to feel like diabetes was consuming a lot of my energy. So I got a few hours of sleep, loaded up on water, and showed up on time for work the next morning.
And crashed when I came home- but who wouldn’t, after working on 4 hours of sleep?
Diabetes is just something that makes me, me. Without it, I wouldn’t be a leader, I probably wouldn’t be as responsible or healthy, and I certainly wouldn’t be on the path to becoming a nurse. I’ve let it define me in the best way possible. I’ve embraced the lifestyle changes I make because of it, and taken advantage of the opportunities it’s presented me with. To me, diabetes has enabled me more than disabled me.
Explaining your juice boxes, or insulin pump, or CGM is just the unfortunate reality of living with diabetes- but explaining your devices should never prevent you from doing something you want or need to do. When I spoke to my professor about my pump and CGM, I chose to say “I’ve got these medical devices that might make noise during the exam, would you rather me sit up front?” rather than ask whether it was okay for me to have my devices. Because it is totally okay for me to have my devices. They were not preventing me from taking the exam the way everyone else takes it. They just had the potential to noisily inform me of my blood sugar levels, instead of incoming calls or texts.
I’m happy to report that my exam went off without a hitch; I think I scored very well, and there were no alarms from my CGM or pump. I did hit my high blood sugar alert level (200 mg/dL) before the exam started, and stayed over 200 for the duration of the test- but better high than low, right?