Tattoos for Life

Part of me has always regretted not getting a tattoo during the years we lived in Amsterdam (which part of me I need not share). But I definitely tingled when I recently ran into this post: “I have a friend who had ‘diabetes mellitus’ tattooed on one arm and a syringe tattooed on the other when he was a teenager. Looks kind of cool. He didn’t have any problems with having it done, but if you are considering it I’d sure check with my doctor and make sure a very reputable artist did the work and used clean needles! I’d be a little leary of it myself.”

Now there’s a wTattoohole new set of thoughts for me, as a relative newbie: Forget wearing medical ID jewelry. I could get a tattoo! But put it somewhere where emergency personnel would find it straight away. Oh no, where would that be?! And of course: being a diabetic constantly using needles, I am SCARED of infection.

So as usual, I did a little homework. First of all, LA Raider Dustin Rykert made headlines with his diabetes tattoo a few years ago. In his case, medical alert tags wouldn’t stand up to the roughhousing of football, so he had a medical alert symbol tattooed on his chest, along with his name and the fact he has type 1 diabetes. The articles all warn that achieving good blood glucose control first is essential to proper healing and preventing infection. In other words, if you’re not a professional athlete with a full health-monitoring staff, beware.

I found a doctor’s advice column that says: “I have some patients who have gotten tattoos. My recommendation is that your hemoglobin A1c be below 8% before considering it and that you check out the reputation and sanitation of the tattoo parlor you are planning to use. Also, remember that this tattoo will be with you the rest of your life. What is it going to look like when you are 60, 70, 80? Are you still going to want it at that age?” Um, OK, less interested now.

And further: “If you are not in good control, you will have problems with healing. Your blood glucose levels can go up during the tattoo process itself due to the stress from the pain level, but your levels should come back down the next day.”

Proceed with caution, yes, but wouldn’t tattoos be just the perfect solution for diabetic kids or teens who resist wearing the all-important medical alert gear? As discussed in Diabetes Health a while back, parents who normally wouldn’t sanction a tattoo on their child for any reason (over my ….!) do realize that a medic-alert tattoo might well mean survival for a person with a life-threatening disease.

Luckily, some clever souls came up with the idea of marketing temporary tattoos for this purpose. Wouldn’t it be nice to be free of clunky Medic Alert jewelry while swimming and sunbathing this summer?!

Duly noted: there have been increasing incidences of allergic reactions to temporary tattoos, but as Dermatology Online Journal points out, this is most likely due to the use of artificial materials instead of the natural henna that humans have been painting themselves with for thousands of years. So you’ll want to be careful where you order yours from.

The T.H.O.R. Foundation for Children with Diabetes sells FDA-approved Temporary Medical ID Tattoos (pictured above) that last about 3-5 days and won’t irritate the skin, they claim. I’m thinking of ordering some myself, just to see where I might decide to put them!


11 Responses

  1. Nick
    Nick August 14, 2005 at 12:41 pm | | Reply

    That is the most disgusting thing I have heard of today.

  2. AmyT
    AmyT August 14, 2005 at 5:32 pm | | Reply

    Ha, ha, Nick, got your attention! What was it that bothered you, though? The very idea of a tattoo, or the idea that it could cause reaction/infection?

  3. Nick
    Nick August 14, 2005 at 7:15 pm | | Reply

    Just the idea!

  4. Laura the LIVabetes Glucose Goddess!

    Hey there Amy!

    I kind of like the idea of a medical tattoo for type I diabetics except what happens when we are cured? We would have to have it surgically removed.

    So Maybe a temporary would be better for this reason?

    Besides, I already have another tattoo in an undisclosed location that says,

    You Rock Amy!
    With Love and Chocolate,
    Laura the Don’t Diabetes…LIVabetes Glucose Goddess!

  5. Jan
    Jan August 16, 2005 at 9:53 pm | | Reply

    For teens – especially boys for some reason – I think this is a great idea. I’ve read of several who have done this on the chest. One article I read said that the mom had checked with an ambulance team and they recommended that site as one they couldn’t possibly miss. The temporary one also seems a good idea. And I’m a 50-something who abhors the idea of a tattoo! (Well, I’ve gotten used to my son-in-law’s USMC one.)

  6. Patty
    Patty August 19, 2005 at 2:38 am | | Reply

    The few times I’ve been examined by a paramedic, it did not include him or her removing any of my clothes, so where exactly would a medic alert tattoo go in order for it to be visible to them? On your forehead? I think I’ll stick to my bracelet.

  7. AmyT
    AmyT August 19, 2005 at 3:48 pm | | Reply

    You do have a point :)

    But I still think the temporary tattoos are great for summer fun, water sports, and the like. And obviously they work well for serious athletes who can’t keep bracelets on.

  8. Jenn Hansen
    Jenn Hansen September 10, 2005 at 10:18 am | | Reply

    I really want a tattoo, I am a type 1 diabetic.My question is how safe is it to get one on the lower part of your leg.

  9. JamieZ
    JamieZ November 18, 2005 at 12:07 pm | | Reply

    About 90% of EMTs check the wrist and neck for medical identification. I don’t think I’d want to go through the pain of getting a tattoo on my wrist, especially when it might not be seen! I got a really nice ID for my 7 year old son from American Medical. It’s sporty and trendy…he doesn’t mind wearing it.

  10. Nicolas Webb
    Nicolas Webb February 6, 2007 at 1:52 pm | | Reply

    I have a tattoo across my back (not diabetic related at all). I’m a 24 year old, Type 1 diabetic. Getting the tattoo wasn’t a big deal – just keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and be ready to react accordingly.

    I do think the idea of a medical ID tattoo is good. I had the hardest time keeping up with my medic-alert necklace/bracelets through most of my school years. The chest is a bit strange, in my opinion – I think an upper arm might be better.

  11. Joshua
    Joshua May 25, 2007 at 10:49 pm | | Reply

    I’m planning on getting a medic alert tattoo very soon. I’ve had very brittle type 1 diabetes for 20 years and have many tattoos. I have noticed that they don’t heal as well on my lower legs. I plan to get mine on my wrist so most emt’s should see it if they check my pulse. Jewelery is impractable in my occupation, so for me this is the best solution.

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