I am currently working as a legal intern with the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) in Manhattan, and in my past few summers, I have worked as a camp counselor for 4-to-5-year-olds at a local day camp. While both employments are very different and come with separate challenges, the way in which diabetes is managed in the workplace definitely has many parallels no matter what field you are in.
Something I struggled with in the past was trying to find an appropriate time to explain to your boss or supervisor that you have diabetes and why you might need to have food out, go to the bathroom frequently, etc. I personally think that when your boss is aware that you have diabetes, you are much safer, and honestly, why not just get it out of the way? On the first day of my internship, I went to speak to my supervisor and simply explained that I had diabetes and an insulin pump, and while it is well controlled, sometimes I might need a minute to test and normalize my blood sugar. He was completely understanding, and basically said whatever you need, please do! No questions asked.
Once you show them you are comfortable and responsible with the condition, they will probably have even more respect for you as an employee. I have a great relationship with my boss and have never had an issue with him or any co-workers. Even if you test your blood sugar on your desk where other people can see, no one cares! Everyone has their own work to do and the less time they spend asking you questions and staring at your meter or pump, the sooner they get to go home.
I have found it to be slightly awkward when I have to silence my pump at meetings or in small group situations. It is pretty obvious when you are looking at your pump in a 4-5 person meeting. But if anyone has a pump on vibrate, we all know that after a few times of not addressing the vibrating alarm, the dreaded beeps start sounding and then you’ll really draw attention to yourself. Better to shut it off and also see why it is buzzing, too! Also, you will probably (and hopefully) want to know what it says.
The only time I have felt uncomfortable or frustrated with my diabetes in the workplace was my first summer as a camp counselor. The camp had a strict no cell-phone policy. We were instructed to put our phones in the camp director’s office, or else we would have our pay docked for that day. At the time, I was using Dexcom and used my phone for the receiver so this no-phone policy obviously was going to be a problem.
As soon as I had the chance, I went to the camp director and explained that I had type 1 diabetes and my phone was extremely necessary to have on my person because of the app that showed me what my blood sugar was. Her response was, “Is there any way you don’t need your phone? I really don’t want any counselors having their phones because they’re distractions from watching the children.” Up until that point in my life, I had never experienced anyone not understanding the importance of my medical devices and supplies (except maybe TSA- but that’s a story for another blog post). I felt myself getting upset and continued to explain and defend my reasoning for why I needed to have my phone. My Dexcom was incredibly important for my safety and while the camp director may have thought of it as a distraction, I thought of it as a lifeline.
After a few minutes, I finally got her to understand the importance of the Dexcom and she allowed me to carry my phone in my backpack during the camp day. It was truly a lack of understanding as to why the Dexcom was so important for my safety. This scenario shows that while most employers will go out of their way to accommodate diabetes in any way possible, there are some people who might simply not understand. Being an advocate for yourself is definitely worth it because you will be safer in the work environment and more comfortable as well.
Managing diabetes in the workplace will become easier as you learn to be more comfortable in your work environment. Most people will know to give you a few minutes once you say you are having a high or low blood sugar, even if you never told them directly that you had diabetes. While it may seem awkward to be so upfront with having diabetes within the first few days, similarly to telling your professors on the first day of classes, it will save you rushed and less professional explanations in the future. Taking care of yourself is just as important as the work you are assigned to in any job, and being confident with diabetes while at work shows your maturity and diligence to everyone in your work environment.
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