COVID-19, Chronic Conditions, and…Telecommuting?

First, let me apologize for adding to what seems like a never-ending cycle of news and media about COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. But I wanted to write this post because a friend of mine works for a company that sent out a communication about it that I found…interesting, to say the least.

The email in question was about the company’s current coronavirus protocol. The following is an excerpt from the email, provided by my friend:

If you have or live with someone who has a medical condition that the WHO has highlighted as being at higher risk for complications from the virus (elderly, immunocompromised state, chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease), you are strongly urged to work from home if possible with your job function. If you cannot work from home, please consult with your manager.

So…the wording of this email struck me as a little odd for a few reasons. If I worked for this company, I’d wonder: 1) Just because I have one of the named chronic conditions, does this mean I must seriously reconsider my present working environment even though nobody in my office travels internationally? 2) What exactly does “strongly urged” mean, anyways? and 3) What is a manager expected to do if someone cannot work from home, for whatever reason? Make up their own set of rules? Force someone to come in or not come in? And if the latter is the case…would a paycheck have to be forfeited?

hugging the cactus - a t1d blog
I’m absolutely amazed that I managed to find a stock image that wasn’t terrifying for this particular blog post and topic…

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I also started to think that there was a chance I was overreacting to the wording of the email. So I asked other friends how they felt about it and they reacted the same way I did. Everyone was generally confused by the message that this was saying (or not saying) about people living with chronic conditions and how they should handle a situation like this.

Plus, I can’t shake the feeling that emails like this just add to all the hype/panic that we’re already being inundated with, and if I were to receive something like this, it certainly wouldn’t do anything to ease my normally-anxious mind. It’s getting more and more challenging to tune it all out…

…but on the bright side, at least I know how to properly wash my hands and sneeze/cough into my elbow. So I’ll continue those common-sense practices every day, and when I’m doing my own work, I’ll be glad it’s from the comfort of my own cubicle.

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home When You Have Diabetes

You might not have realized that I have a unique working arrangement when it comes to my “real” job at a financial services company: I work from my apartment in Virginia about 75% of the time. The other 25% of my time is spent working from my company’s office in Massachusetts.

It took me a long time to adjust to this part-time commuter, part-time teleworker situation. To be honest, I still need a day or two to get reacquainted with the office (or my work-from-home setup) when I come and go between the two states. It can be weird to go from being surrounded by my coworkers one day to being by myself in my home office.

However, I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to use this workplace benefit. I know it won’t last forever; in any case, I’ve made a number of observations that have highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of working from home as it pertains to my diabetes:

the pros and cons of working from home with diabetes
Yes…my fridge is THAT close to my desk…literally within arm’s reach. Dangerous.

Pro: Access to ALL of my diabetes supplies at all times. This is hugely helpful whenever I’m having an “off” diabetes day. If I’m not sure my pod is working properly, I have all the tools at my disposal to monitor and correct the situation. It’s much easier than bringing everything I could possibly need with me into the office when I’m there.

Con: Being alone. thrive when I’m surrounded by my coworkers. I’m able to bounce ideas off them more easily and stay connected to in-office activities. But there’s also a level of safety that I feel when I’m around my coworkers. They all know about my diabetes and are more than capable of helping me should I need it, and well, when I’m working from the apartment…the only person I can depend on is myself for 40+ hours a week. And that reality can be a little anxiety-provoking.

Pro: Ability to treat low and high blood sugars without worrying how it might impact my coworkers. The following scenario has happened to me a number of times: Blood sugar is low, I start shoving food into my face just as a coworker decides to “pop by” with a question (and vice versa when my blood sugar is high and I’m trying to correct it). When I’m dealing with these diabetes situations in the office, I worry far too much about how it impacts my coworkers when I really should just focus on myself and treating whatever it may be. It’s slightly warped thinking on my part, but that’s just one of the trickier aspects of handling diabetes in the workplace.

Con: Being much, much, MUCH more sedentary. My diabetes hates when I take “rest days” from working out. But it loves when I move as much as possible throughout the day. This is pretty easy to do when I’m working in the office: I can park my car semi-far away, I can take the stairs to navigate around the building, and I can stretch my legs during the day with a couple laps around the office. But when I’m in the apartment? I move much less because I don’t really have any place to go. I definitely stay glued to my chair more than I’d like.

Pro: Easier to call for supplies, make doctor’s appointments, etc. (all the administrative tasks associated of life with diabetes). I never want to be “that person” in the office who takes just one too many personal phone calls during the workday. I also like to maintain privacy when discussing issues sensitive to my diabetes because it’s my business. So I feel a lot better when I can handle the “administrative tasks” of diabetes from the privacy of my home, with the knowledge that I’m not disrupting my coworkers with my phone calls.

Con: My gadgets tend to be much more disruptive via webcam versus in-person. My coworkers are used to my pump and CGM making sounds in-person, but when I dial into meetings and they start beeping and hollering in the background, it’s WAY more obnoxious because I can’t always tend to them right away, and the sounds are just more alarming. Since I use a webcam for most of my meetings, I can’t just get up and silence my devices…so it’s a little tougher to navigate than when I’m in-person.

Pro: Being able to make my lunch from scratch each day. So I won’t pretend that I’m cooking gourmet lunches on a daily basis, but I am able to prepare fresher meals than I do when I go to the office. Plus, the temptation to buy food from fast-food joints is pretty much eliminated when I work from home – why bother venturing out to spend money on lunch when I already have food at the apartment?

Con: The kitchen is mere steps away and it’s stocked with all my favorites. This goes hand-in-hand with the above pro…it’s all too easy to reach into a cabinet and grab a handful of this or a spoonful of that, and I admit that I don’t always bolus for these mini snacks I grab. This, combined with my more sedentary nature, means that my blood sugars tend to be higher when I work from home.

Pro and con: No refrigerator stocked with my favorite diet sodas. All of this kitchen talk makes me think of something that could be considered a pro and con of working remotely…I can’t grab a can of diet root beer or diet ginger ale whenever I feel like it! My work fridge generously stocks a nice variety of diet sodas, so I drink a lot more of them when I’m in the office. But I don’t buy diet soda to keep in my apartment refrigerator, because I’m trying to kick the habit…though I do miss snagging sodas in the afternoons as a pick-me-up when I’m working from the apartment!

 

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace

It’s November 8th which means that it’s Day 8 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and the workplace. Here are my top three tips on how to handle diabetes in a professional environment…

Diabetes can be the most annoying coworker in the world. It can interrupt the flow of my workday, breaking my concentration with a low or a high blood sugar that needs correcting. It can trigger alerts and alarms of all sorts that catch the attention of my other coworkers, prompting questions and confusion. And it can be a very tricky subject to bring up to management/bosses. I want them to know that for the most part, I peacefully coexist with my diabetes, but they should expect some (infrequent) occasions in which it will take my attention away from work temporarily so that I can address whatever situation I might be experiencing.

It can be really hard to walk that fine line between letting coworkers and bosses know that diabetes isn’t something they should worry about most of the time, but that it is kind of a big deal because it’s not going away any time soon.

Since joining the workforce ten years ago, I’ve had to navigate just about every situation you could possibly imagine when it comes to dealing with diabetes at work. I’ve made mistakes and learned lessons that helped me come up with the following three tips on how to navigate diabetes and work:

1) Tell at least one other person at work about diabetes as soon as possible. Through conversation with other T1Ds, I realize that the whole “I-have-diabetes-and-it’s-not-a-super-big-deal-but-I-do-have-some-special-needs-that-I-can-almost-totally-promise-won’t-interfere-with-my-work-performance” talk can be daunting, especially when it feels like your career is on the line. But I can’t emphasize enough how much it’s helped me by approaching the topic immediately before or after starting a new job.

Granted, I’ve only had two jobs – the one I worked when I was in high school at the local movie theater, and my current job as an editor – but I made sure that my diabetes was known from the outset. I got the job at the movie theater thanks to a cousin who also worked there (yay Caitlin), and while I struggle to remember details, she may have mentioned it to the general manager before my interview. It didn’t affect the hiring process whatsoever, seeing as I think my work ethic mattered more to the GM than anything else. Regardless, I can still remember talking to the assistant GM (who I’d be dealing with almost every shift I worked there) and letting her know the basics. I reassured her that I would be able to keep up with everyone else, and I figured I’d just have to prove it over time. And I sure did – I quickly garnered a reputation as an “A.P.P.” (all-purpose person) who could sell concessions, rip tickets, sweep up theaters, and swap out movie posters and times with just as much speed, if not more, than anyone else who worked there.

And with my current job, my diabetes actually came up during the interview. That’s because my resume highlighted my experience writing for an online diabetes magazine. I was asked how that came about and I remember launching into an explanation. Neither of my interviewers seemed fazed; on the contrary, they were fascinated by my obvious knowledge on it and pleased that I’d had some level of professional writing experience. Clearly, I made an impression on them…because what started out as a summer internship evolved into a full-time job at the company and I’m still there today!

So I guess I’d sum up the whole diabetes conversation by saying that it’s as big of a deal as you make it. If you approach it nonchalantly, then others will probably treat it similarly. By contrast, if you’re sweating bullets and can’t really describe what your diabetes means to your prospective employer, then they might start to doubt you when you say that it won’t hinder your work performance. Keep calm and keep all lines of communication open on the diabetes front and I bet that the odds are in your favor.

3 Tips for Handling Diabetes in the Workplace
IMHO, diabetes only really interferes with my job when I allow it to – so you can bet that I don’t let it!

2) Keep a diabetes supply stash somewhere – anywhere – and make sure that at least one other person knows how to find it. cannot emphasize enough how first-hand experience with this taught me that it’s crucial that others know how they can help you when hypoglycemia comes a calling. Without getting into too much detail to maintain a semblance of anonymity, a coworker from one of my gigs also has T1D. This fellow T1D experienced a severe low blood sugar one day, and the people around the T1D didn’t know how to react. Luckily, someone thought to reach out to me, and after my colleague described the T1D’s symptoms, it dawned on me that we were dealing with something pretty serious. I was able to get to them in time, but when I searched around for the other T1D’s glucometer, I realized I didn’t know how to use this particular model – and what was worse was that I couldn’t find the fingerstick device. I remember running back to grab my supplies, using a fresh lancet to check the other T1D’s blood sugar, and gasping when a 26 appeared on the screen. Things happened very quickly after that: Someone called 911, a few people came over to help me try to pour regular soda down the incoherent T1D’s throat, and I tried not to panic.

I’m happy to say that all ended well; the T1D recovered in full and thanked me profusely for my help the next day. And then it became a policy to have an emergency stash and make others aware of its location and how to use the various things in it. It went quietly unsaid that if we had known where the T1D’s supplies were kept in the first place, then perhaps we never would’ve needed the ambulance to show up, but the bottom line is preparation is key. Just get some supplies together and keep them wherever they’ll be safe. Label them with things like “do not touch – emergency T1D supplies” so nobody is tempted to lay a grubby paw on any sugary sweets that might be in there.

3) Turn innocuous comments into teachable moments. Oooh, I can’t even begin to comprehend how many straight-up stupid comments people have made over the years in regards to my diabetes…here’s a sampling of ones I can think of off the top of my head, followed by the somewhat less-than-calm responses that I gave:

Molly’s diabetes is the reason why she’s so cold around the office all the time.

Um, no, it has to do with the fact that my desk is directly under a vent that blows ice-cold air on me all day long.

Molly, you can’t eat that popcorn or drink from the soda fountain – there’s sugar in there!

ACTUALLY, I can and I will eat that popcorn. It has carbs, but I can take insulin for them. And when I’m drinking regular soda from the fountain, that probably means that my blood sugar is low, in which case I desperately need fast-acting carbs.

Molly, you have diabetes and you’re always baking sweets! You can’t eat those!

OMG *palm, meet face* I really enjoy baking just as you might enjoy watching a particular TV show or gardening. It’s a hobby of mine. And guess what? Just because I have diabetes doesn’t mean I can’t indulge on the treats I make! I just have to rely on portion control and taking the right amount of insulin.

Molly, you’re beeping again – does that mean you’re going to explode?! LOLOLOLOL.

NO DAMMIT I’M NOT GOING TO EXPLODE AND I’M SICK OF THAT JOKE. *Ahem* Very funny, but those beeps and alarms are nothing to worry about. It’s just a reminder that my insulin pump will need to be changed in a few hours, or that my blood sugar is creeping above/below my target thresholds.

Okay, I think that’s enough of a sampling – you get the idea. Basically, my advice is to treat any ignorant comments with a smile and the truth. I think that one of the best ways to fight against diabetes stigma is to take the time to explain things to people who just don’t get it or who aren’t familiar with it. More often than not, what starts out as a ridiculous comment turns into a genuine conversation in which I can help someone learn about diabetes, and then it turns into a win-win.

Diabetes in the workplace is one of those subjects that I could go on and on about (clearly). I guess the most important thing is to be honest and open to conversation about it. When people doubt your ability to do your job well with diabetes, prove ’em wrong by showing that it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything – it just means you’ve got an extra thing to consider when making everyday decisions. NBD, right?

Disclosing Diabetes in the Workplace

Almost two years ago, my friends from the College Diabetes Network asked me to discuss diabetes in the workplace at their annual student retreat. The prospect of bringing diabetes into a new career and encountering new sets of challenges can seem daunting, so I was happy to talk about my positive experiences thus far as a young adult who has already made the transition from college to “the real world”.

Diabetes in the workplace – how do I navigate it? Here’s a little snippet in which I explain how I’ve decided to disclose my diabetes with my coworkers: