I remember the day I bought my first medical alert bracelet. I think we were on our way into Boston for an appointment at the Joslin Diabetes Center. My parents and I stopped at a pharmaceutical supply store that had previously been a pet shop during my early childhood. I would have given just about anything to have been browsing for a fish or hamster rather than something I had to wear that would signify just how different I really was.
My parents were the ones to insist that I wear some form of medical identification — especially since I was constantly traveling to away games for high school athletics and was just about to get my driver’s license. Plus, the diabetes educator had suggested it and back then we really tried to follow all the rules. To my surprise, it actually didn’t bother me so much once I put the bracelet on my wrist. Even though the store didn’t seem like it would have much of a selection, I ended up finding one I really liked. The bracelet I chose was pretty, but still looked like a medical alert ID – the perfect combination of style and function.
Eventually, years later during my days of diabetes burnout, depression, and diabulimia, I chose to no longer wear the bracelet. It was an awkward reminder of the thing I didn’t want to acknowledge. I refused to identify with my disease as I chose to ignore the consequences of what would happen should I ever find myself in an emergency situation, unconscious or unable to speak.
When I was 22, after a year in bed battling Lyme Disease and receiving a long-awaited gastroparesis diagnosis, I chose to get a medical alert tattoo. It was about a year after I had committed to recovery from diabulimia so this was one of the ways I chose to celebrate the acceptance I had found with my life as a T1D. My brother Evan and I went to a local tattoo shop where I requested the word “diabetic” in script on the inside of my left wrist.
I love how it came out, yet initially I wondered if something so simple and discreet would be seen during an emergency. Then only a few short months later, the diabetic alert tattoo came in handy when I was alone in an unfamiliar place and needed assistance. That particular experience solidified my belief at how important medical alert IDs – whether tattoos or jewelry – can be for those of us living with diabetes and other serious medical conditions or allergies.
Living with Type 1 diabetes, brains do so much extra work to keep us happy, healthy, and alive. Monitoring blood sugars, calculating insulin doses, estimating carbohydrate counts, not to mention the general stress and anxiety that can come from living with a chronic illness, can be a lot to take on and manage. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived with the disease, it can still be pretty tough at times!
For years I chose to rely only on my tattoo – especially since it had already proved itself useful. Recently I entered a giveaway and won 2 medical alert bracelets. I had them both engraved with my full name and Type 1 Diabetes. I’m grateful that my perspective has shifted over time, and I certainly encourage other women with diabetes to explore the many options for medical alert IDs that exist. Wearing medical alert identification is one easy solution to keep ourselves safe and others informed if we ever have an emergency situation where we can’t communicate about our condition(s).