Diabetes sucks! There, I said it. Want to know what sucks even more? Having some sort of “Diabetic episode” with no one knowing what the hell is going on, then doing more harm than good. This is the potential scenario someone with Type-1 Diabetes can face in the workplace if they choose to keep their condition to themselves. This is a sensitive topic; most people aren’t jazzed about the idea of revealing medical information about themselves to anybody. Least of all co-workers and employers, where it could be potentially held against them or used against them.
Think it doesn’t happen? Think again! According to an article posted by The National Benefits Authority, “The Canadian Government recognizes both type-1 and Type-2 Diabetes as disabilities, due to its impact on lifestyle, the constant monitoring of blood sugar levels, and the potential risks associated with the condition.” At least in Canada, Diabetes CAN be considered a disability but it isn’t always SO. In most cases, the affected individual has to declare and claim in order to reap some of the tax benefits and some of the other “perks” associated with declaring your condition as a disability.
Screw that noise! I don’t consider my condition as a disability. If anything, my Diabetes has helped forge me into the individual I am today. But when it comes to the work place, I’ve always been a firm believer in the concept that forewarned is forearmed. I’ve had some instances in my life where I’ve suffered low blood sugar so severe that I lost fine motor skill and couldn’t really speak. This can be disconcerting to someone who may not be aware that you have Diabetes.
Even if you wear a MedicAlert bracelet, an unknowing co-worker trying to be helpful and lend aid during a tough situation could potentially make things worse. Some medical professionals as well as paramedics and EMT’s abide by the policy of administering fast-acting glucose. If the blood sugars are too low, the glucose will help correct it. If the blood sugars are too high, the damage is already done by the existing high and they can’t treat on site anyway. So it gets dealt with at the hospital. This is small comfort to someone who may have climbed to 20.0 mmol/L or higher, only to be dragged up into the 30’s by someone’s fast-acting glucose. No, thank you!
Although most people feel inclined to keep their medical conditions private, my practice has always been full disclosure. This helps to avoid complicated situations and helps to ensure that anyone on scene won’t do something stupid, like trying to feed orange juice to someone who’s only semi-conscious. Believe it or not, I’ve seen that happen. By providing some cursory information and education, I can ensure that my coworkers know exactly what to do in the event of a “Diabetic episode” on the job.
The simple truth is this: unless any of your coworkers are trained, medical professionals, there’s very little they can actually do to help. Besides calling 911 on your behalf, of course. But my instructions have always been quite simple: If I’m conscious and speaking, I’ll tell you what I need. If I’m unconscious, don’t try to feed me anything or administer anything. Just call an ambulance and let them take care of me. Maybe have my glucometer ready for testing, in the event they don’t have one. If I’m conscious, speaking and can move on my own, maybe help guide me to where I need to go but let me administer my own self-care. Simple.
That little bit of education can mean the difference between avoiding an unnecessary hospital trip and being able to treat myself and get back to work. It doesn’t mean that I need to divulge my entire medical history and all the gross details. But that little bit of voluntary disclosure can be extremely helpful and save your life. In a previous life, I avoided wearing a MedicAlert bracelet as it could snag and pose a hazard on the job. Maybe now that I no longer face that obstacle, I could start wearing one on the reg. That would definitely be a step in the right direction.
Privacy and labour laws in Canada prohibit an employer from asking about such things and can also prohibit discrimination based on such aspects of a person’s respective condition. But when it comes to your health and well-being, a little disclosure can go a long way. Some food for thought when you’re thinking of keeping the fact you have Diabetes to yourself. ☯