Quick, look at your wrist.
Is there a medical alert bracelet there? If not, do you wear one when you travel? Ever wear one, fellow PWDs (people with diabetes)? Or maybe not a bracelet but a dog tag or other kind of alert?
If you're anything like I've been for most of my three decades with diabetes, the answers to those questions is a resounding "No."
Here's a news flash from my end of the medical alert ID-wearing spectrum:
I've never been a fan, and it's been about 20 years since I have regularly worn one of these IDs.
Yes, it's true. I admit to being a med ID slacker.
Interestingly, I owe it all to one of the country's leading endocrinologists, who made an off-the-cuff comment recently about PWDs who don't wear these and set off a flood of emotions in my head.
During the recent Diabetes Hope Conference on May 21, Dr. Bruce Trippe from Alabama said something that left some of us in the DOC scratching our heads. The medical alert ID issue came up during this multi-panel webinar that included several patient advocates and health care professionals, all talking about diabetes complications and what we can do to help talk more openly and hopeful about these issues.
My memory's fuzzy on how it even came up, but at some point Dr. Trippe opined that he goes all Donald Trump and "fires" any of his patients who don't wear a medical alert ID.
You could see the effect his comment had on those of us PWDs participating in the webinar, as more than one face and several Twitter-streams reflected what was probably going through our heads collectively. We felt our jaws drop and hearts skip a beat in frustration when he blurted this out, and a few of us griped both openly and privately about this.
At first, I was mad at Dr. Trippe. Frustration and annoyance quickly followed.
How dare he make assumptions for all PWDs under his care! If we choose to wear an ID or not, that is our personal decision.
Yes, it's important to have IDs on us. I get that, and know the risks of not wearing something indicating my illness. I'm not even opposed to doctors suggesting, or adamantly advising, patients to wear them. But our docs shouldn't be in the habit of taking these bold, hard-line actions that judge us and cut off care regardless of how we're managing our diabetes.
My opinion formed: Dr. Trippe is a well-respected endo and it's notable that he treats more insulin-pumping patients than anyone in the country. He's brilliant and has done wonders for the Diabetes Community in the decades he's been practicing. But I just wouldn't want to ever see him in that doctor-patient capacity because of this hard-line approach he seems to have.
Of course, even as I experienced all these emotions, something else struck me: He was right, and I was wrong about not wearing a medical alert ID.
The guilt set in.
So, while he may not be an endo I'd ever want to see, Dr. Trippe persuaded me to change my behavior on wearing a medical alert bracelet.
Recruiting New Patients, 0. Motivating Stranger To Buy & Wear Medical Alert, 1.
A bittersweet win for Dr. Trippe, it seems.
To be fair, I reached out to Dr. Trippe and left a message with his office to give him a chance to explain or expand on his comment, but I never got a call back. Hey, I tried.
Of course, stewing about all this for a week made me think about why I'd stopped wearing an ID in the first place.
Diagnosed at 5, there was a time back in the late 80s and early 90s when I did wear identification. First, it was a pretty simple silver bracelet that had my basic info. But being a kid, wearing that probably wasn't my choice; it was something my parents felt was necessary and so I followed the rules. But when I hit my early teens, the importance of wearing this ID fell victim to my teenage desire to rebel and just not openly wear diabetes on my sleeve... er, wrist.
So, someone bought me a gold chain (much more popular in the early and mid-90s!) and along with it came an engraved gold charm to hang on it, complete with my pertinent details on the backside. Of course, I still wasn't thrilled about it and didn't want to event display it that much beneath my shirt. So, within a few years, I even stopped wearing that -- it helped that I swam all four years in high school and spent a good chunk of time in the pool without the possibility of jewelry. By the time of graduation, I had grown out of gold chain fashion and really didn't wear anything from that point on.
About a decade ago, I did briefly have a little ID that wrapped around my watch band. But that was near the end of my watch-wearing days and even then it wasn't a regular display. I figured my insulin pump was probably proof enough of my type 1 for those who might be looking for signs.
After a very scary low-while-driving incident a few years ago, I did mark my vehicle with "Driving With Diabetes" alert stickers for any emergency situations behind the wheel. But was still against wearing any kind of alert item on my person.
The thought did crossed my mind many times during the past 10 years and a few times I almost took the plunge to buy a new bracelet. Either the cost, style or look just wasn't enough to convince me -- even during the past several years when I became much more open in talking about my diabetes and sharing my story online. It just never happened.
Not until Dr. Trippe made his comment during the D-Hope Conference. He also liked to throw around the words "compliant" and "non-complaint" as many docs do, and that just annoyed me even more.
Joking about it with a fellow D-peep online, I made the comment that I should order a medical alert bracelet that says, "NON-COMPLIANT TYPE 1 - DEAL WITH IT." (!)
Then I would wear it to the ADA Scientific Sessions in a couple of weeks, where I would track down Dr. Trippe just to see his face when I showed him the bracelet.
Later I decided that might be in bad taste. But it motivated me enough to actually seek out and order a not-so-expensive bracelet, saying "Non-Compliant Type 1" on it. They're customizable, you know, so I got to pick the wording.
Sure, I get that it might be seen as me making light of the importance of: 1) Wearing medical alert bracelets with the necessary info, and 2) managing your diabetes well enough to not fall into the "non-compliant" category in the first place.
Know that I don't take these points lightly, but I do firmly believe that many in the medical community -- like Dr. Trippe -- fail to grasp the psychosocial aspects of what these issues mean to us. They make us feel judged, guilty, and overall like we're doing something wrong -- which in turn motivates us to turn away from the D-Care they offer.
That leads to poorer D-Management, people. Can't you understand that?
This smart-ass bracelet isn't my "real one." It's basically talking an inside joke, but ironically for the outside world it does the job of alerting people that I'm living with diabetes. That is why I also ordered a straight up regular med ID bracelet, made of stainless steel and including all my pertinent data on the backside.Both bracelets came from Florida-based Sticky Jewelry, which had what I felt was the best-looking guy's bracelets for me personally. Along with the bracelets, I now also have in my wallet a medical alert card containing emergency contact and medical information. The same is in my smartphone, in case of emergency.
So now, for the first time ever, I feel prepared.
When I travel or am out on my own exercising, I will wear this one. But when I am going to D-meetups and around D-peeps who can appreciate the humor, I'll be sporting the "Non-Compliant" bracelet for fun.
And next time I see my endo or any other doctor talking about "compliance" or talking about "firing" patients for no good reason, I will gladly flash my "Non-Compliance" jewelry to make a point.
How's that for being compliant in wearing a medical alert ID?