Not The Rose Tattoo
I recently got together with a new friend named Chris Newman. Chris is the product manager at Disetronic, a maker of insulin pumps. We met on an airplane coming home from a diabetes conference. I had been there representing this magazine, and he was there representing Disetronic. Like me, he has type 1 diabetes and is the father of young children. We compared notes on how we manage our diabetes.
I asked Chris if he wore any type of medical ID. Personally, I don't wear my ID necklace because it got to be a hassle putting it on and taking it off everyday. Besides, I haven't ever needed it in 25 years. Save your breath, I know that I should. We are all told to wear medical ID, yet less than half of us do.
Chris replied to my question by pulling his shirt down from the collar to reveal his medical ID-a tattoo! Inked on his chest, where you would put your hand to say the pledge of allegiance, was the Staff of Aesculapius. This is the standard medical symbol of a snake curling up a winged staff (see below). The word "Diabetes" was inscribed underneath it, permanently.
I was a little flabbergasted and didn't know what to think when I first saw it. Then, I realized how cool it was and I told him so.
Chris told me how he got it. Being very active, he mountain bikes a lot. He also refuses to wear any medical jewelry. Whenever he came home late, his wife would worry. What if he had a hypo? Would anybody know what to do? They decided that he should get this tattoo to alert anybody about his diabetes.
After speaking with emergency workers, he chose a location that would not be missed.
Chris cares greatly about his well-being and that of his loved ones. He got this tattoo for safety reasons. Also, this tattoo is a symbol of how accepting he is of his disease and himself.
"That's who I am," he told me.
I asked him what the reaction of others has been. He recalled going to a camp for kids with diabetes last summer to show them the pump. He was asked to stay and play a game of volleyball. After taking his shirt off to play in the hot sun, the campers started to notice his tattoo. The kids thought his tattoo was really neat. The reaction from the parents was not as positive.
Many people with diabetes don't want to be reminded that diabetes is permanent. Many with diabetes are worried about what people will think, and may face real discrimination. They don't want to wear a symbol, be it a tattoo or ID bracelet, that makes an announcement to the world that they have a disease.
Wearing that tattoo just seems natural to Chris. He says most people who see it say that it is appropriate and serves a purpose.
The American Diabetes Association and American Medical Association recommend that medical ID be a piece of body-worn ID, something that is readily visible. Some people carry around ID in their wallet, but emergency workers may not find this if your wallet is separated from you during an accident.
I would be interested to hear from health care workers and other readers on the topic of medical ID.
After meeting Chris, I talked to my wife about getting a tattoo. She didn't think it was such a good idea.
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There are many types of ID for people with diabetes: bracelets, watch tags, lockets, iron-on laces and tags for shoelaces, to name a few.
Here is a listing of suppliers of medical ID jewelry:
Apothecary Products, Inc.
Goldware Medical ID Jewelry
MediCheck International Foundation, Inc.
SOS America, Inc.