Diabetes in Public

The Etiquette of Self-Care

| Nov 1, 2005

Dear Ann Landers,
With all due respect—you blew it!

Several years ago, a well-known advice columnist, responded to an interesting question. A woman asked how to politely tell a relative that he offended everyone each time he injected himself with insulin. “He makes quite a production of it, tests his sugar, prepares the injection, and injects himself at the table. . . .The site of blood and injections ruins the enjoyment of the meal for those with queasy stomachs.”

Instead of emphasizing the need for understanding, Ann agreed with the writer and responded that a person who injects himself in the presence of others “exhibits gross insensitivity and very poor manners.”

It is true that some people are less courteous about healthcare behaviors, but with today’s advances in diabetes-care technology, discretion is now easier than ever.


Blood glucose meters used to be large, they required a hefty drop of blood and they took a long time to complete their task. If your blood sample didn’t cover the test strip exactly as required, you would have to repeat the test until it did. If you tested in front of fellow diners in a restaurant, they could find the process lengthy, messy and disconcerting, especially if they had an aversion to blood. Today’s meters are small, easy to hide beneath a tented magazine or in your lap, require only a tiny droplet of blood and provide a response in moments. They are convenient and enable a person to test rapidly and easily in public.


The sight of a long, shiny needle causes many people to feel faint. Fortunately, injecting insulin has also been refined and is now a quick and easy process. Gone are the days of clumsy needles and glass vials. Welcome to the world of the insulin pen. About the size of a marker, a pen contains a cartridge of insulin and uses a tiny needle. The dose is measured with a simple turn of a dial. It is discreet, and you can safely inject through most items of clothing.

Insulin pumps

If you prefer to keep your insulin needs under cover, consider an insulin pump. Worn under clothing or attached to a belt, the pump resembles a pager or cell phone. A push of a button instructs the pump to send a dose of insulin directly to the body through a slender and flexible tube.

Of course, it’s important always to be considerate of those around you, and new attitudes toward diabetes make that task even easier. The general public is now more aware of the needs of diabetics, as 21 million Americans now have diabetes and the rest probably know someone who does. Magazines like Diabetes Health provide education that can help turn shocked stares into generous smiles of support.

Even Ann Landers would be pleased.

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Posted by Anonymous on 15 January 2008

I deal with this quite often. In fact, today I had a fellow teacher tell me that it offends her that I check my blood sugar and give myself a shot of insullin at the table. I'm a new diabetic and wasn't quite sure how to respond to her besides telling her that she could have been nicer about it. What is the etiquette for this? I shouldn't have to go and hide in a closet just because I'm diabetic but I also don't want to offend those with a weak stomache??? Help... any advice?

Posted by Anonymous on 27 January 2008

I am a diabetic for many years and I have started to use the pen. I have never received a complaint about injecting myself at the table. Most people are very interested in the pen and also the glucometer. I also ask other people that I am sitting with permission to test my sugar in inject myself. I have not received any complaints so far

Posted by nurse2 on 27 January 2008

I am a diabetic who uses the insulin pen and the one touch glucometer. Before testing myself and/or injecting with insulin at the table, I asked the people at my table permission to do so. Nobody ever complained about it but had deep interest about the pen and how the glucometer works. I inject myself through my clothes so nobody objects

Posted by Anonymous on 20 February 2008

I am having a problem with this issue at work currently. I must test and inject twice while at work. In order to save time on my breaks and lunch, I tested and discretely injected at the lunch/break table. No one ever complained or commented to me directly.

Unfortunately, recently someone complained to a supervisor and I was told I could no longer do this. I was told I MUST use a room that takes me at least 3 to 4 minutes to get to/from from my work area, and do so on MY time. Somehow, this doesn't seem fair.

This "policy" is nowhere to be found in writing, and I would like to know if anyone else has experienced anything like this in their workplace.

Posted by Anonymous on 21 February 2008

Having you and your medical problem taken to another room is work place discrimination. Take it to HR and see what happens. Are people in wheel chairs eating someplace else? It's the same thing, they have to provide for you! My work place does and it also encourages me to make sure I take extra tme if needed for lunch or dinner to make sure injections and reading are correct.

Posted by Anonymous on 27 March 2008

just go in the restroom! how hard is that? I'm a diabetic and I never test at the table or my work desk...yuck!

Posted by Anonymous on 11 August 2008

I just check my blood sugar under the table if I am out or at work. There is so little blood involved, less than if I even were to get a paper cut. I definately don't go to any gross public restroom to do it. This is especially the case if I am feeling low and weak.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 August 2008

I've had diabetes for 49 years. I test openly at work and/or out in public and in my case, use an insulin pump, to give myself insulin. If I were aware of someone being grossed out about my testing and/or injecting, I would tell them before I did it and then ask if THEY had to leave the table. I feel I am taking care of my health, the proper way, without being self conscious. If it comes down to them or me leaving the table, I guess it will be them. If work told me I had to go to a specific room to test and/or do insulin, I'd ask that the room be big enough and with tables and chairs so my friends could join me.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 August 2008

If the person who feels faint, has a problem with blood glucose testing and/or insulin injecting he/she should leave the table and return after testing/injection is completed. They obviously have a "health" problem and this would be their way of adjusting to their own problem. If everyone at the table has this same sort of problem, then the diabetic should find some conveninet place to test and/or take insulin, but when it's one person who objects, then the diabetic should also be able to object to being "singled" out.

The teacher was rude to the student above and didn't set a very good example. The teacher should be encouraging her to do whatever is necessary to take the proper care of herself, no matter what it takes and where she has to do it.

People are not educated on how a person is suppose to take care of their diabetes and many of them would hide from the world, if they had diabetes. That's why so many with diabetes do not take care of themselves, for fear of rejection.

I have diabetes and if they don't like it, tough. If they don't exercise more, lose weight and eat less, they will develop diabetes also. Then they can treat their diabetes any way they want to. I'm open about my diabetes and people like me for myself and my diabetes.

Posted by Anonymous on 3 May 2009

I think this link pretty much explains the rationale for managing your diabetes wherever and whenever you need to. http://www.isletsofhope.com/pdf/faq-public-testing.pdf It is "a reasonable accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act.

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