Not The Rose Tattoo

| Dec 1, 1999

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.

Also, remember to call our toll free number to subscribe to DIABETES HEALTH or to get a free sample issue. Call 800-488-8468.

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.
(800) 328-2742

ID Technology
(410) 602-1911

Goldware Medical ID Jewelry
(800) 669-7311

MediCheck International Foundation, Inc.
(847) 299-0620

(800) 432-5378

Scorpio Concepts
(906) 297-6506

SOS America, Inc.
(516) 795-3960

Click Here To View Or Post Comments

Categories: Columns, Diabetes, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Medical ID Jewelry, My Own Injection

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Posted by Anonymous on 27 November 2007

Love the idea! I can't find anything I would like to wear. Everybody wants a fortune for gold. I already have tattoo's so this would be a perfect thing for me. Wish I would have thought about it earlier.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 January 2008


Posted by Anonymous on 11 February 2008

I am also very active and tatt'd on the chest to indicate that I am Type I. It only took me a couple months after diagnosis, and confirmation with some EMS folks, to have it done which was mainly wait time for the tatt. Hard to forget your medical ID at home when it's stuck to you. Plus it looks great...if your into that sort of thing. :) Like the article says, I am who I am and that means I'm diabetic so the tatt works for me.

"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."

That's a good point...and also indicates that if the whole world knows a medical professional in a bad situation will too!


Posted by Anonymous on 7 March 2008

ich habe diabetis mellitus 2,und möchte gerne wissen ,ob es unbedenklich oder gefählich für mic ist?

Posted by Anonymous on 14 May 2008

What a great idea. I am the mother of a 7 yr old Type 1 Diabetic. My 5 yr old son has Autism and my hubby and I got tattoos for Autim Awarness. We love for people to ask so that we can inform and educate. We have been looking for a tattoo for our daughters Diabetes. So I must say shame on those parents at that camp that want to keep Diabetes a secret. It is a disability, not a transferable disease. Stand tall, be proud of who you are (all of you), and do what you can to spread the word!

Posted by Anonymous on 20 July 2008

Diabetes is absolutely not a disability, and I would hope you wouldn't teach your child that it is. With very few exceptions, mostly legally mandated, diabetics are able to do everything non-diabetics are able to do. I may not be able to SCUBA dive, but diabetes is not a disability.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 July 2008

Many people with diabetes do not consider diabetes a disability although many do. Even so as a chronic medical condition it is covered under the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act. (in the UK).

Posted by Anonymous on 3 May 2009

i sketched up and got my own version of the med id on my chest a few months after being diagnosed. didn't think much about who else might have done the same but the more the merrier as medics will start checking more if it becomes more common. i wear plenty of jewelry. however, i don't want to wear it when i'm being active and also had forgotten it a few times when going running, etc. a tat makes it hard to forget and is cool if your into that kinda thing. as the article said you are who you are. if we are lucky enough to be alive if/when a cure for diabetes is found it wouldn't change this significant part of who anyone's life who had diabetes is.

+1 for the med alert tat.

Posted by Anonymous on 26 April 2012

I have a sixteen year old daughter who is getting a diabetic tattoo on her inside right wrist where a cop can spot it if she is pulled over. We are in a small town and do not want her mistaken for intoxication if having a reaction. Her tat is the diaetic symbol surrounded by a lavender heart with lillies and vines.
Her BF is a sixteen year old male who is also Type one, he had his tattoo done in the same spot, but is a tribal dragon behind the diabetic symbol.
Now days tattoos are so common I don't believe anyone thinks of them as 'biker-ish' any more. And if it saves my daughters life where she is immediately noticed as type one and not being thrown in jail for drunk driving and dying from low blood suger then I believe every diabetic should get one.
I plan to run an article in the local paper so that law informent is aware of the diabetic kids in town gettin this tat and to look for it.

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