A woman enrolled in the self-defense class that I took this month approached me, remarking on our shared condition, with a knowing look on her face. She glanced down at my pod, which I had marked with red duct tape to signal to others that this area of my body couldn’t engage in some of the movements that we’d be asked to do.
I smiled widely at her and we launched into a brief, but friendly and supportive conversation about diabetes in which we covered everything from devices to years lived with diabetes. We spoke for a few minutes before we wished one another well and parted ways.
Diabetes in the wild encounters are always interesting because they either spark instant camaraderie or, on the complete flipside, a flurry of ignorant questions/comments that prove to me just how much diabetes stigma is still alive.
Encounters like this one, fortunately, fall in the former category.
It’s just nice to know sometimes that I’m not alone, even in the most random of circumstances. That I don’t have to explain myself, or the nature of my fragile pod, to a person who actually understands why it needed to be protected. That I have someone who totally gets why I was in a panic the week before when I didn’t have a functioning CGM or my meter as a back-up when my blood sugar went low.
It’s a form of support that might not last more than 5 minutes or so, but still has a meaningful impact on me and my diabetes.
Diabetes in the wild moments happen when they’re least expected.
I mean…I never go out anywhere in public assuming that I’ll run into another person with diabetes, or a person who will recognize my Dexcom sensors or OmniPods as diabetes devices. It just happens organically and it’s always a unique encounter. But given that my other most recent diabetes in the wild experience left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to having another one any time soon.
But on my vacation, I did indeed have one that I’m pleased to share was much more pleasant than the last.
I was waiting in line for go-karts – as one does on vacation – when the woman in front of me spotted my Dexcom and asked me if I was type 1, to which I replied that I am.
This launched a short conversation about diabetes technology in general. She expressed knowledge of the OmniPod and I told her that I was wearing one, and she nodded eagerly and said how much easier it makes her life in the summertime, when she’s frequently swimming and doesn’t have to worry about disconnecting her tubing before going for a dip (a comment which I wholeheartedly agreed with). We exchanged a few more words about our diabetes devices, and before she turned her attention back to her group, she thanked me for taking the time to chat with her.
I couldn’t help but smile after the whole interaction. After all, it was kind of nice knowing that another person who just “gets” diabetes was standing inches away from me and looking forward to a carefree go-kart race, too.
“Diabetes in the wild” is a phrase I first learned about several years ago from, of course, the diabetes online community.
The phrase refers to those moments when you’re out in public and suddenly, randomly, you happen to spy another person with diabetes. Perhaps their pump site gives them away, or maybe they’re doing a fingerstick check. The person could have a diabetes tattoo, or they might be doing an injection. Whatever the scenario may be, these moments can be kind of exciting because they often trigger me to think, hey, there’s someone just like me right over there – it’s like that instant knowing that this person knows better than anyone else what daily life with diabetes is like that results in an inexplicable comfort, that feeling of realizing you’re never alone. And it’s truly a powerful feeling.
More often than not, these diabetes in the wild moments also come with some level of interaction with the other person. Maybe I’ll toss a compliment their way (nice Omnipod!) or the other person might ask me a question about my diabetes devices, because they’re curious about them and considering whether or not they should try it. These interactions are almost always super polite and the awkwardness is minimal…
…but naturally, there are times when diabetes in the wild moments are not so nice and just plain weird.
Here’s the story behind my most recent, bizarre, and mildly uncomfortable diabetes in the wild experience.
I was at the grocery store on my lunch break, taking great care to somewhat hustle up and down the aisles because I had a short window of time in which to complete my shopping. The store was pretty empty and for the most part, I was able to go from aisle to aisle without bumping into other people.
Until John and Jane (not their real names, I actually have no clue what their names are) appeared.
John and Jane were what I like to call…spatially unaware. They had zero regard for my personal space and apparently, no manners, which I deduced from the fact that I had to move my cart and my body so close to the shelves of one aisle that I was practically touching the shelves in order to make way for them as they trod down the aisle in a wide berth as opposed to walking down single-file (like I would’ve done had I been with another person).
I was mildly annoyed, but it definitely wasn’t a big deal. I continued shopping and was dimly aware of the fact that John and Jane were going down a haphazard path, ignoring the arrows on the floors of the grocery store that indicated how to navigate up and down the aisles.
As I made my way to the next aisle, I realized that they were approaching me again, and even though we were the only three people in the aisle, they got extremely close. This time I was absolutely annoyed. I couldn’t understand why they felt the need to encroach on my personal bubble like that, but it got worse when I heard Jane say to John, directly behind my back, “Look, that’s a Dexcom like Stevie wears.”
I could feel my cheeks redden as two pairs of eyes ogled at the Dexcom sensor that I was wearing on my arm. I froze, wondering if I should acknowledge the comment, but before I could do so they were both wandering away.
The incident left me confused and a little angry. I couldn’t understand why they felt the need to discuss my Dexcom right within earshot of me – really, they literally talked behind my back. They could’ve waited until they were further away from me to talk about it if they wanted to, when I couldn’t overhear them and feel uncomfortable by the whole exchange, which left me feeling like I was a caged animal at the zoo. I can’t remember a time when people had so openly stared at my Dexcom like that, and it’s a weird feeling…and it’s one thing to stare, and a whole separate issue to comment on it without addressing me directly.
I don’t know, maybe I was being overly sensitive about the whole thing, but I can’t help how it made me feel. It would’ve been a much different story had they maybe talked to me about it – I can imagine spending a couple minutes talking with them about their little Stevie and ending the exchange by telling them to take care or sharing some other pleasantry. Who knows how it could’ve been different. But one thing it taught me is that diabetes in the wild moments, as fun as they can be for me, they can also be not so great for others. I’d hate to think that I ever made anyone else feel awkward or strange about their diabetes because I called them out on it.
I think that context is key when it comes to experiencing diabetes in the wild…sometimes it’ll be totally appropriate to talk about it in public, other times not so much. We all just have to be a little more careful about determining the right contexts.
I always get kind of excited when I’m out and about and notice another T1D. There are some pretty obvious signs that clue me into their similarly useless pancreases: spotting insulin pump tubing, witnessing a finger stick check, and spying a syringe injection are chief among them. Even though I know what to look for and what it means, though, I still can’t help but feel a little thrill when I know I’m in the presence of another person with diabetes.
I know, I know…that makes me sorta weird/creepy, depending on your perspective. But whatever, it is what it is!
Anyways, I experienced another edition of “diabetes in the wild” when I was stuck, in all places, in an investment seminar. I (willingly) signed up for it as part of ongoing educational training for work and didn’t really know what to expect from it. All I knew going into it was that it was expected to last THREE FRIGGEN’ HOURS.
That’s a long-ass time to spend talking about stocks, bonds, and ETFs.
To make matters slightly worse, upon seeing the other students enrolled in the class, I figured I had basically nothing in common with them. The other seven people were around my parents’ age and up, with a couple of them looking like they were retirees. It was also a predominantly male group, with the seminar being conducted by a male financial professional…so yeah, didn’t seem like there would be much for me to talk about with everyone else.
No big deal. I settled in for what was bound to be a long evening. Just when the seminar instructor started diving into a very-not-fascinating slide on poor diversification within individual investment portfolios, I heard a high-pitched beep from across the room.
My attention immediately drifted from the front of the room to where I thought the sound had come from. My eyes landed on a man (who looked like the oldest of the bunch) who was reaching into his pocket for something…aha! A glucometer!
One of me, one of me…I started chanting. In my head. Because I’m not THAT weird.
I wondered what kind of meter it was – I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head that beeped. But then I saw the man reach back into his pocket to grab…oh, so that’s where the beeping noise was coming from – his pump. It wasn’t an OmniPod; rather, I saw the trail of tubing peeping out from his jeans.
For the next half hour or so, I noticed the man fiddle with his glucometer and pump a few times. I felt badly for him and hoped that he wasn’t experiencing any blood sugar issues or technical difficulties. Plus, I’m sure he must’ve felt a little self-conscious about his devices being out in the open – the instructor did glance at him a few times, as if he was thinking that the man should stop playing with his electronics and focus on the presentation. Given that was the correct interpretation of the situation, I felt defensive for the man. I wanted to tell the instructor to give him a break, that he was doing what needed to be done for his health.
At the seminar’s conclusion, I had every intention of going up to the man, introducing myself, and having a conversation about diabetes. But then…I stopped myself. I’m trying to get better about remembering that many people with diabetes are not as comfortable as I am when it comes to talking about it to perfect strangers. Maybe it would’ve embarrassed him further or made him angry. So I walked out of the classroom, quietly, albeit with a slight smile on my face…because diabetes isn’t always an illness of isolation. It can be the common denominator between you and someone else you don’t think you could possibly share anything with. And sometimes, you can find it in the most random, unexpected places and suddenly feel a bit less lonely.
I’d just settled into my beach chair, ready to crack open a book, when I spotted her.
She was walking as quickly as she could through the sand to help her friend carry a cooler, but not fast enough for me to miss the CGM on her upper arm. I sat up in my chair and wondered whether I should say something to her – after all, not all T1Ds are excited to encounter one another in the wild.
She caught up with her friend and grabbed the other end of the cooler. As they passed me, I saw she was wearing an OmniPod on her opposite arm. Not just any OmniPod, though: This one was decorated with some sort of emerald green design. I took that as a sign, a literal green light, that she probably wouldn’t mind if I said something.
“Nice OmniPod!” I called out.
She looked around, trying to locate my voice. My mother, who’d been reading the whole time and was unaware of a fellow T1D in our midst, shot a bemused look in my direction as the woman finally made eye contact with me.
“I have one too,” I said, pointing to my arm.
“Nice! I like your decoration. Do you have a Dex, too?” She asked, smiling at me.
“Yup – I’m wearing mine on my abdomen. I saw you had both and couldn’t resist saying something.”
“Well, we’ve got two OmniPodders over here,” She pointed to where she’d set up camp for the day.
Beaming, I told her that we had two in our group, as well. My mom offered her arm up to show her pod. I think that Mom was half entertained, half embarrassed over the whole exchange, so it made me happy to see her join in at the end.
The woman returned to her spot and we wished her well. Mom and I soaked up the sun for a few hours before deciding to pack up for the day. As we were getting our belongings together, a young woman approached us.
“Excuse me, may I ask what is on your arms? I’ve seen numerous people wearing that sort of thing today and I can’t figure out what it is, for the life of me!”
I was going to answer for the both of us, but my mom beat me to the punch. She explained that it was an insulin pump, though other people may wear different medical devices that look similar to it. The girl, seemingly appreciating the response, remarked that it was cool and that she was surprised to see so many people wearing them on the beach. She wondered out loud if she was missing out on some sort of trend.
“Yeah, all the cool kids have them,” Mom said, and we all laughed.
I don’t know how many people on the beach that day were wearing OmniPods – or any other insulin pump, for that matter – but I do know for certain that my mom is right: All the cool kids have them, and they’re much cooler for wearing them with pride in full view of the world.
Diabetes in the wild refers to a random encounter with another T1D when out and about. My favorite recent occurrence of this happened when I was in Disney World with my mom (also a T1D). We had just entered Animal Kingdom. I was sporting my pod on the back of my upper arm.
“Hey, Podder!” I heard someone yell. For a split second, I thought someone was saying, “hey, Potter,” you know, like the Harry Potter kind of Potter.
I looked around and saw a girl a few years younger than me waving her arms in my direction. When we made eye contact, she smiled and pointed at her pod. I gave her a thumbs up and the moment was over as quickly as it happened.
But it puts a smile on my face when I think about it, because it goes to show how awesome these chance meetings are – they serve as little reminders that even when I may feel like the odd duck in a crowd due to my pod, I’m not as alone as I think I am when it comes to diabetes.