Thou Shalt Not Mess with Me

This is the 11th Commandment, is it not? Especially when you have diabetes and are dropping below 50 fast and just spent your last dime but need something sugary RIGHT NOW. Know what I mean?

Hand_stop2 On my way home from the ADA Conference last week, I had my first-ever experience of being diabetically unprepared and forced to “rely on the kindness of strangers” — which was not forthcoming. I was so humiliated I swore I’d never recount the incident. But I’m over that now. Now I’m just mad. Or more disillusioned, to be precise.

Here’s how it happened:
I linger just a little too long in the Convention Center, run out for a taxi and find the cab line snaking around the corner. I get overheated and annoyed and start moving “extraneous stuff” out of my backpack into my luggage (including several snack items that were just getting crushed, anyway). Jump in the cab with less than an hour to go, fidget through traffic and the protracted commute, prepare to spring out of said cab, but discover that the meter reads $54 and I’ve only got $44.25 to my name. Ransack my purse for the last few pennies to throw at the fuming cabbie. Run inside only to find what appears to be the entire population of New Jersey standing in line. And that’s just for check-in. Fidget uncontrollably. Finally reach check-in counter so late that my luggage is rejected for this flight and relegated to the next. Fidget uncontrollably again through security, and am eventually sent off running to Gate C, which happens to be about 3/4 mile plus an 8-minute shuttle ride away. Start thinking that it might be serendipity to catch the next flight (I can get some work done here in the airport). Reach gate only to be shoved (yes, shoved) through boarding door which was already closed, but alright-quickly-now-through-here…

Phew! Get comfy in my seat and read distractedly for a short while. Until cabin starts smelling like food. Glorious food! Head spin!! Realize that I have no money (not a single cent!) and no snacks (other than a few crumbled glucose tabs, which won’t last long), and golly-I’m-feeling-a-bit-funny. Fumble with meter. Confirm that golly-I’m-feeling-a-bit-funny. Motion to stewardess and explain as politely as possible that I am diabetic (yes, I know, I don’t look sick), but I’m in a bit of a jam and I need to eat. Soon.

Stewardess is one of those tight-bunned (hair, that is), thickly made up, haughty types, who insists that the Purser must sign off for anything so unusual, and Ms. Purser is very busy and won’t be available for, oh… at least 40 minutes or so. I try to sit tight, but find myself asking again and again if Ms. P can’t please make her way over here, it’s getting urgent. Dry mouth. Hot. Sweaty. Food aromas causing excessive salivation. Get up out of seat. No. Sit down. Up again (I think). Stoop to begging Haughty Stewardess for food, which is not well-received. She grimaces and walks away.

Finally get noticed by young male steward (by this time I’m pacing like an expectant father). Mumble a quick explanation, and Whala!, kind steward produces food. But with these words:

“You need to take better care of yourself! If I weren’t wearing this uniform and I saw you pass out, I’d probably just walk on by. You know, nobody wants to get involved.”

Oh how the truth hurts.

Later, once I’ve regained my senses, I remark to Haughty Stewardess how nice it is that her colleague was a little more humane than she, to which she snaps: “Well, you know you have diabetes! It’s your responsibility!”

“Yes,” I retort, “twenty-four-seven for the rest of my life. Everybody makes mistakes. And if someone’s in a jam, and it’s a medical issue, then the human thing to do is help them out.” (especially if you’re an airline stewardess and the issue is a $5 box of crappy snacks, I think)

Looking back on it now, Haughty Stewardess isn’t necessarily the individual (**explative**) I was secretly calling her at the time. She’s simply the product of a society that doesn’t want to get involved. A place where the one Commandment of human behavior held in highest esteem is: THOU SHALT NOT MESS WITH ME. Which is fine, I suppose, as long as you never get a disease that puts you at the mercy of the (elusive) kindness of strangers.

*** UPDATE 7/9/06 ***

United Airlines customer service responded to my complaint today with a $100 travel certificate and these words:

Your comments are important to us and will allow the appropriate management to provide feedback directly to the employee.”

The certificate is a nice gesture, but I certainly hope they actually follow up with that crew, too.

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24 Responses

  1. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk June 23, 2006 at 8:03 am | | Reply

    Yes! You put into words something I didn’t — people do not want to become involved. I was doing a bit of consulting work this week around people I don’t know, and one saw my glucose meter and asked what it was (as I was trying to hide and test). His unintelligent reaction to my diabetes made me sick; he thought it was due to my lack of caring for myself, and thought that needles are “disgusting.” He even avoided me after learning that I have diabetes (type 1, mind you).

    Out of curiosity, what happens when a person doesn’t have the full amount to pay a cab driver? I hope to never be in that situation, but just wonder what they do when you’re $10 short — do you mail them the money later? Leave them an IOU?

  2. Scott Mark
    Scott Mark June 23, 2006 at 8:06 am | | Reply

    Sorry to hear about your experience and of course glad that things worked out well in the end.

    But you are letting those 2 off the hook way too easily – they are not “products of society” in this story. They are people who (1) lack sufficient compassion as individuals in their own right and (2) are inadequate employees who probably forgot something they learned in training about reacting to a medical situation and providing first aid! For however bureaucratic they are, I have to believe airlines would support doling out some of the flotsam they call food for a medical need, without doing paperwork first.

  3. Pat
    Pat June 23, 2006 at 8:26 am | | Reply

    I would report the incident to the airline. Discourtesy is one thing (and is always inexcusable to me, though I try to understand the other person). However, ignoring someone’s medical condition and plea for help is unexceptable and I am sure the airline would agree. If nothing else, maybe they will think about it when they consider their next training for flight attendants.

  4. art-sweet
    art-sweet June 23, 2006 at 10:10 am | | Reply

    I’m with Pat on this one. Complain to the airline and get their butts reprimanded.

    Yeah, you should have had snacks with you. What, the flight attendants never forget anything? Ever?

    Feeding you a free snack in no way compares to the PITA factor of making an emergency landing after you go into hypoglycemic shock or paging a doctor on board who will say, well, you shoulda just given her some food.

    Tushie-holes, that’s what those folks are.

  5. Kerri.
    Kerri. June 23, 2006 at 10:17 am | | Reply

    I love the fact that the people from the Showcase Cinemas in Seekonk, MA are now stewarding planes. (a la my post “Scene.”)

    Fantastic.

    Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers like the Male Steward. And I’m glad you’re okay!

  6. Lyrehca
    Lyrehca June 23, 2006 at 10:43 am | | Reply

    Is it me or does anyone else think the male steward gave you a hard time as well, with his comments?

    You are on a flight that you have paid for. It will inconvenience the entire flight if you have a medical emergency while on the plane. It is in everyone’s best interest to give you medical help in an emergency as soon as possible.

    How would these, frankly, fucktards respond if someone else on the plane had a heart attack while the plane was aloft? They would react ASAP and call for help. I agree with someone (Pat?) above: send a letter to the head of the airlines, mention the flight number and time so the offenders can be identified, and see what happens.

    I mean, really, I hope those two flight attendents, who again, are trained to work with the public, for God’s sake, never have a heart attack or some other medical problem happen to them in public.

    I’ve tripped while walking in public, both in my suburban town and on the New York City subway system, and I’ve ALWAYS been helped up by complete strangers. It’s not true that everyone will just walk on by.

  7. Jane
    Jane June 23, 2006 at 12:14 pm | | Reply

    Flight attendants are there to provide passenger safety. They should absolutely have ensured your safety by giving you what you needed to prevent a serious hypoglycaemic episode. They should also do so courteously and without passing judgement.
    File a complaint – not just for yourself but for all those people, diabetic or not, who may need help on an airline in the future.

  8. Judy
    Judy June 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm | | Reply

    I agree that the incident should be reported to the airlines. As has been said before, diabetics do leave home—sometimes on an airplane—and the airlines should have some idea of what to do in case of emergency with one of us!! Next time—heaven forbid a next time—stand up and shout to the rest of the passengers—-”any diabetics on board?”!! Odds are there was someone else who would have know exactly what you needed and would have helped!! I have given my extra snack to others before—carry extra for just such an occasion!

  9. wil
    wil June 23, 2006 at 2:26 pm | | Reply

    The basic human instinct is to look out for #1. Just what about the young steward’s statement is incongruent with basic instinct, Lyrehca? He was merely making an observation that I, for one, agree with … people WILL walk on by. That you have been so fortunate to have a bystanding observer to your mishap react in a supportive manner in no way invalidates the generality.

    There’s nothing wrong with writing the airline, complaining about one flight attendant’s behavior while applauding the help of the other. And, for faster, personal attention, cite the URL for this entry. Trust me, they hate negative publicity. Sad thing is you fail to identify the carrier so the rest of us are unable to attempt to avoid them in future…

  10. Florian
    Florian June 23, 2006 at 2:50 pm | | Reply

    About 10 years ago I boarded a plane for Chicago on my way to Seattle for a Scientific Meeting. I had been working around the yard all day at home and was tired so after I settled down in my seat I put my head back to rest for a few minutes. The next thing I remember is my name being called and asking if I knew where I was. They told me that I was in the ER at a hospital in Detroit. The Flight Attendant couldn’t wake me up for dinner after we took off, noticed my bracelet,and informed the pilot that there was a medical emergency. The plane landed in Detroit where I was transported to the hospital ER.I was hooked up with an IV and given some glucose. After I woke up and recovered I was released and stayed in a nearby motel overnight. The next day the Airline allowed me to continue to Chicago and made all the new arrangements for my flight to Seattle. I have nothing but good things to say about the Airline and the Crew in the way that they handled this emergency and getting me to my final destination. P.S. in my fanny pack that I always carry with me was my testing supplies, insulin and syringes, a couple of granola bars, glucose tablets, and a 4 oz container of apple juice. The take home lesson here is that feeling tired could mean low blood sugar Don’t REST, TEST

  11. Elizabeth Zabell
    Elizabeth Zabell June 23, 2006 at 8:08 pm | | Reply

    I think that you hit the nail right on the head. People just don’t want to get involved. I am sorry that this happened to you. Flight attendants should be more informed.

  12. Allison
    Allison June 23, 2006 at 11:15 pm | | Reply

    Hey Amy– Totally agree that you should write the airline so they can remind the stewardess that her job is essentially CUSTOMER FREAKING SERVICE. I mean, hello?

    However, not to sound like the Devil’s Advocate, but why were you asking for food and not just juice? I can understand you being hungry, but if you were low and out of cash, really all you need is orange juice or a sugary soda, and airlines provide free beverages (at least, they did last September… though they seem to be charging for the oxygen they provide, so who knows?). I’ve gone low on an airplane before too, and not had anything, but all I’ve said to the stewardess was that I needed something before they were ready to serve it, and if I could just get a can of Pepsi. She just handed it to me and all was good. So… that was really my only question. But if the stewardess had said no to that, I think maybe they would have to arrest me for disorderly conduct on an airplane!! Sheesh! What on earth is the world coming to?

  13. Jana
    Jana June 24, 2006 at 8:16 am | | Reply

    Lyrehca mentioned having been helped on the New York City subway system…and that reminds me of some wonderful help I had two weeks ago in NYC. This city, despite what people who haven’t lived here think, is absolutely full of wonderful, helpful people (just don’t budge in front of them while trying to get to the turnstiles in a subway station or trying to get into a subway car).

    Two weeks ago I was asked by my boss to go work a Scholastic book fair in a hospital in Brooklyn. I had to be there at 7:30, which necessitated getting up at 5 because it was a long train ride for me to get there. On the first day that I had to go, I had just recovered from two days of stomach flu, so I was coming off of a period of needing more insulin because of being sick. I didn’t take any Lantus that morning before I left (I usually take my Lantus at 8 a.m., so I brought it with me). I ate my usual breakfast with my usual dose of Novolog, but by the time I got to the train I was feeling “a bit funny.”

    I tested and came up with 52. So I ate 4 glucose tabs. Ten minutes later on the train I’m still feeling awful (and getting the sweats) so I test again: 46. 4 more glucose tabs. Another 15 minutes later, I’m still not feeling well: 51. By this time I’ve only got two glucose tabs left. I eat them, soon afterwards my stop comes and I get off the train. I know I need to find something more, and for some reason I’m fixated on glucose tabs (I blame my not thinking clearly on the low BS). Rather than buying a bottle of juice at one of the four delis (I counted them later, on the way home) on the intersection, I ask someone where the nearest pharmacy is. I find the Rite Aid, but as it is still only 6:45 a.m. it is not open (duh!). However, there were people getting ready to open the store…one of them noticed my panicked staring at the closed store and came out to ask me if something was wrong. I explained (almost in tears now) my situation and he got me a tube of glucose tabs in exchange for $2 and offered me a chair to sit on for a few minutes while I recovered.

    My take home lessons from this incident are: I don’t think very logically when my blood sugar is low, and I need to carry more than one tube of glucose tabs with me at all times.

    Oh, and I completely agree with everyone else who has been telling you to write a letter or call the airline. It is completely inexcusable for flight attendants to ignore a customer’s medical needs. Too bad you didn’t pass out or something, or I think you could have sued the airline’s ass big time.

  14. AmyT
    AmyT June 24, 2006 at 8:58 am | | Reply

    Right Jana, I’m with you: it didn’t even occur to me to ask for juice. Brain cramps? Plus I never think of that because we don’t keep juice in our house. It’s always glucose tabs.

    And I get it: you all think I need to ping the airline on this one, right?

  15. Colleen
    Colleen June 24, 2006 at 6:25 pm | | Reply

    Yup, write the airline! It’s inexcusable, really.

  16. kristin
    kristin June 24, 2006 at 11:05 pm | | Reply

    I can see the point on asking for juice first and foremost but I’d say write to the airline. They should provide for emergencies. The first attendant was not taking it seriously and the purpose of the job is to look out for the safety of the passengers vs. serving food anyway!

    Any invisible disease really does lend itself to scrutiny none of us deserve. Employers by far are the worst, though sounds like the airline was not much better.

  17. kSC
    kSC June 26, 2006 at 8:49 am | | Reply

    What a terrible experience. After having the disease for 20 years, I’ve had a few similar experiences, and you have every right to feel angry. I can’t help feeling humiliated when I’m not ready for a reaction, but I can’t be ready every single time – if you are busy person with a “life” this is bound to happen. In between getting glucose tablets and on your way to the drug store even! Writing the airline is a good idea. What if you told them you were pregnantly faint and needed a glass of orange juice? The disease scared them off, and this isn’t good customer care.

  18. Jo's Cafe
    Jo's Cafe June 27, 2006 at 4:04 am | | Reply

    Diabetes in the News

  19. Jo's Cafe
    Jo's Cafe June 27, 2006 at 4:04 am | | Reply

    Diabetes in the News

  20. Jo's Cafe
    Jo's Cafe June 27, 2006 at 4:04 am | | Reply

    Diabetes in the News

  21. rob
    rob June 28, 2006 at 9:53 am | | Reply

    just saw your thread, the response is pretty surprising. i would add one thing in commenting to the airline – this behavior was incredibly incompetent if nothing else. should you pass out on board, they are required to land so that you can be treated if airborne. if not airborne, they have to delay and probably miss their assigned taxi/takeoff/landing slots. in either event, it would cost the airline a VERY large sum of money.

  22. type1steve
    type1steve July 4, 2006 at 11:21 am | | Reply

    Very realistic thread of the real world for us type 1′s. Lesson learned: always be prepared, and test a lot! FWIW I always carry 2 tubes of glucose tablets with me.

  23. Scott
    Scott July 7, 2006 at 5:55 am | | Reply

    God, I can’t stand the holier-than-though attitude associated with comments “you should take better care of yourself”. This is what you get for actually doing that, because if you appeared to be fine, you may as well have had blood glucose levels of 400 mg/dL and everything would seem to be fine … then, 30 years from now when you’re suffering from complications, people would comment “she should have taken better care of herself”! Gimme a break, we get those comments no matter what we do!

  24. drumgurl
    drumgurl July 9, 2006 at 10:30 pm | | Reply

    I also think too many people just don’t understand diabetes. They don’t realize what a big deal it is when someone gets too low. Some people even think it’s your own fault for having it (it only happens to people who eat too much junk food, right?)…!

    My fiance has had type 1 diabetes since he was a toddler. I too have had to rely on the kindness of strangers. People have been kind enough to let me budge ahead of them in line at the supermarket with bottles of juice and candy bars. He doesn’t even *have* glucose tabs! He should, but he’s rather stubborn.

    I once heard Newt Gingrich say, “Shame on you for not taking care of your diabetes.” Easy for him to say. It takes money to do that, but I guess he was never a poor college student. I’m not saying it’s the government’s job to provide healthcare, but gee whiz, stop with the judging already. Shame on you, Newt, for being so ignorant.

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