The Badge of Courage

Katherine Marple

| Feb 1, 2012

Two years ago, I was a different woman. I was just beginning to come out of my diabetes shell, assessing my confidence with strangers by testing in public and telling friends about my disease. I can still feel the panic rising in my throat as I told people that I have diabetes and need to take injections multiple times per day. I was afraid of rejection, afraid that they would treat me like a sick person. But after eleven years of fighting for my life with type 1 diabetes, I was tired of being afraid. The more people I told, the easier it got.

It took some time to take the next step: crafting a tattoo. I spent about a month sketching designs that declared boldly, yet tastefully, that I have diabetes. I wanted the tattoo to represent all of the hardships, both mental and physical, that I have gone through with this disease. I wanted it to portray the sleepless nights of basal adjustments, the victorious days of A1C breakthroughs, the haunting knowledge that my sight is going, the anxiety-filled days of watching my medicine dwindle long before my insurance will cover a refill, and the joyous two-hour postprandial readings of 103. I wanted this tattoo to drag me from my diabetes hideout.

My tattoo consists of a one-inch by two-inch medic alert symbol with the words "USE ONCE & DESTROY: INSULIN ONLY: TYPE 1 DIABETES" (much like the declaration on syringes), followed by my diagnosis date. I chose those words because they describe how I believe the medical industry sees us: as expendable. With no cure in sight, we constantly come up against outrageous insurance premiums or flat-out denials and medication band-aid after band-aid. Every ten years, we are asked to wait another ten. Getting this message inked onto my arm reminds me that I am vulnerable, but it gives me the motivation to keep fighting until I can be cured.

The design is placed on my left forearm, where it can be seen by EMTs should I be alone when an insulin shock takes hold. Because I am right-handed, however, it is not noticeable when I shake hands in formal office situations.

In January 2010, I liberated my diabetes self and took the plunge. I remember that day clearly. I wasn't nervous about being under the needle because I had three tattoos already. I was nervous about the fact that, after keeping quiet for ten years, I would no longer be able to hide my diabetes. I remember pacing while waiting for the tattoo artist to clean his instruments, wondering if I would be comfortable wearing this brand on my body for the rest of my life.

What I concluded was this: While diabetes doesn't define me as a human being, it is an enormous part of who I am. I am Katherine: an author, a singer, a violinist. Being "Katherine With Diabetes" doesn't mean that I am weak. In fact, it's the opposite. I am the bravest person that I know. I have survived over ten insulin shock comas, three pump failures that led to ketoacidosis, layer upon layer of scar tissue, thousands of dollars in medical supply debt, and eight insulin brands that led to sleepless nights of medication adjustment. Diabetes helped bring out that strength and fight in me. When I realized that, it was easy to sit down for 45 minutes to have my badge of courage, my medal of honor, inked onto my skin.

I got my tattoo hoping that it would force me out of diabetic hiding. Two years later, I've published a personal poetry collection on living with a chronic illness, released a fictional love story with a diabetic narrator, and written several articles about my experience with type 1 diabetes. I am definitely out of hiding, and I boldly declare that I'm a diabetes survivor. Having this emblem on my arm gives me courage. It reminds me that I am strong, that I've been through a lot, and that I can keep going. As my mantra, a quote from Winston Churchill, says: "Never give up. Never, never, never give up."

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Categories: A1C, Badge of Courage, Basal Adjustments, Crafting a Tattoo, Diabetes, Diabetes, Emblem on My Arm, EMTs, Injections Multiple Times Per Day, Insulin Shock, Ketoacidosis, Medal of Honor, Postprandial Readings, Tattoo, Type 1 Diabetes, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 1 February 2012

Your so right you are very brave. Diabetes isn't easy to live with and it is something that is always in the forefront of life. I have two children with diabetes 10 and 8 years old. I do hope for a cure but like you I am not sure it will be in there lifetime. Thanks for your article, and never, never give up.

Posted by Anonymous on 1 February 2012

Can we ser a picture of the tattoo?

Posted by Anonymous on 1 February 2012

I can only imagine the struggles and frustration with our current medical system and foundations like JDRF that continuously collect money and essentially do nothing for those who suffer with your condition. Perservere, things will get better, and keep inspiring those who struggle and sometimes even lose hope. I glad that you can stand up and not feel ashamed of something that was forced on you and not something you did to yourself. Winston Churchill has the right idea, and I think, do you.

Posted by Anonymous on 1 February 2012

You are incredibly brave. My daughter was diagnosed 3 years ago at aged 23 and I see the same strengths in her that you describe. I am mostly optimistic that there will be more progress on a cure soon, but other days I think it might be like wishing I would win lotto!

Posted by Anonymous on 2 February 2012

I have had Type 1 diabetes for nearly 12 years. I am in my early 50s. I've gone into debt having to purchase my diabetes supplies. I believe there is a cure out there, but the companies who make insulin, test strips, etc. are paying off somebody out there. There are people who tell me I'm crazy, yet there are people who believe what I do. I also believe this about cancer, not just diabetes. There are days I just want to give up. I don't because I have two kids, a husband and a dog who love me.

Posted by Anonymous on 2 February 2012

Would love to see the tattoo. Is there a link somewhere? You are brave... we all are. You are also

Posted by Anonymous on 3 February 2012

You are certainly a very brave young woman. Most people don't realize what people with type 1 have to live with everyday. My daughter who is 24 has had it for 18 years so we have lived through these same kinds of ups and downs. She got a tattoo also when she turned 18. It is the Chinese symbol for courage because she has had to have alot of it to live with this disease!

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