Maybe you’ve seen that Department of Homeland Security campaign “If You See Something, Say Something.” It was very visible when I lived in New York City, and I hear it’s a nationwide thing.
Well, I’m here to tell you about a different kind of see something, say something.
On Saturday, Erik and I were on a little day trip around southeastern Minnesota, just stopping at various small towns to have a look around. Our first stop was Red Wing, home of the Red Wing Shoes. You could say the most interesting thing we saw was the enormous built-to-scale boot inside the Red Wing Shoe store. But I would say the most meaningful thing I saw was on a much smaller package.
As we walked around the river front area, I happened to notice a young girl with a Quickset stuck on the back of her arm. Now, like most people, I didn’t immediately recognize it. There was a little bit of “Hey that looks like… Wait is that…”
And then I saw the little girl testing her blood sugar while her parents got a picnic lunch read. Then I realized that yes, Virginia, this was a girl with diabetes!
And I immediately had the inclination to say something. But what? I was wearing a dress so I couldn’t exactly flash my Omnipod without, well, flashing quite a bit!
“Me too!” I called out. It was the only thing I could think of that didn’t seem intrusive.
“Really?” the father replied.
“Yep, twenty years.”
I wasn’t expecting a conversation to develop, but the father shared that they were on their way back from a local ADA diabetes camp. We started talking about camp (I went to a diabetes camp out in Oregon for several years), as well as blogging and some of the helpful tips you can learn from other people with diabetes. The girl had learned about putting a pump set on her arm from other kids at camp. I told her about my blog (hello there!) and about all the different life hacks you can learn from the diabetes community that healthcare professionals sometimes just aren’t clued in on.
We only talked for a few minutes, but as I walked away, it dawned on me that this was something that rarely happens to me anymore. When I first moved to New York City, it seemed that I was always running into people with type 1 diabetes. Honestly, it bordered on a little bizarre how frequently these “in the wild” occurrences actually happened. But overtime it has slowed down, likely because I’m not meeting nearly as many new people as I used to.
I also thought about how I nearly walked by this girl and her parents, and I remembered reading a few recent blog posts about others in our community who sometimes spot PWDs but aren’t sure if they should say something. What if they don’t want to be recognized? What if it’s too intrusive? Or rude? I mean, I know I would love for someone to come up to me if they had diabetes, but I know not everyone feels the same way as me!
I remember one time I was on a bus in NYC and I saw a man with a Medtronic insulin pump. I had no clue what to do, so I tried to be all suave and smooth about declaring my diabetesness by testing my blood sugar in plain sight of everyone, right there on my lap. The guy got off the bus at the next stop without so much as eye contact. Burn.
Finding PWDs in the wild is so incredibly cool, and yet I feel like for most of us, it’s also incredibly awkward. I mean, contrary to popular belief, we do not have a special handshake or catchphrase. Although maybe we should… Somebody needs to get on that.
The best I could think of was to say “Me too.” It wasn’t a question and I didn’t even say specifically what I was “me too”-ing, although in this case, it was a little obvious since she was testing her blood sugar. All I really wanted them to know was, yep, there’s another one out there.
Diabetes has always been labeled an invisible illness, and maybe for some people it is. But I think if you look closely enough, you might realize that it’s more around than you think. It’s easy to be stealth with diabetes. But that’s one of the reasons why I like to test my blood sugar, and why I wore my pump rather visibly until I got the Omnipod (yes, I realize I can wear it on my arm, but I’ve tried it and I found it uncomfortable — had nothing to do with its visibility).
You never know who is going to see something you’re doing. You never know who is going to say something. You never know who is going to make you feel just a little less alone in all this.