Holy @#$! Amazing Stories, Vol. 11: Even Health Employers Don’t “Get It”

It’s really crazy how ignorant some otherwise-intelligent people can act around chronic illness. Even people working in supposedly progressive health institutions. Here’s a note I got lately from a woman in Germany (with an English mum), who lost her job in a medical lab over her diabetes. Yes, she did have some issues with hypoglycemia. But she feels her employers knee-jerk reacted, never giving her a chance. Her story:

I am 37
years old and diabetes hit me when I was five, so 32 years makes me quite an
expert! To top this, I studied medicine and recently I was working as an intern
at a big lab.

On the occasion of the events, which
occurred at work, I wanted to use the chance to communicate that an equal treatment of people with diabetes is unfortunately not given everywhere. I am an
intern in a large laboratory in Ingelheim, Germany, or better said, I was. On the
15 of September, my contract ended and although personnel requirements exist, a
new doctor was hired for October, and they didn’t offer me an extended

In contrast, my two colleagues, who began the professional training
approximately at the same time, were hired on. That is, both were hired after they
terminated their professional training and took their holidays, which they had
saved up. They were then financially secured up to the board
certification as a specialist in laboratory medicine, and afterwards they were
transferred to a “safe unlimited employer-employee relationship.” Both of them were
paid as specialists even
before passing their exams.

In contrast, my contract ended on the
15 of September, and I am now unemployed (disadvantaged)
without prospect of finding employment before
my board certification, currently job searching and preparing for my exam. Three not-insignificant loads together.

Surely they never told me directly into the
face that I am not further-employed due to diabetes. That would have had
consequences pertaining to labour law. At a time, in which I had frequent
hypoglycemias during work, I was told in an eye-to-eye conversation with my
boss, that one would have to think about a continued employment,
“if this condition does not change.”

I eliminated
frequency of hypoglycemia with the help of my endo and a change of my insulin.
Also, I was not
otherwise more frequently ill than others, never received a
dissuasion, and my certification was above average. Additionally, being a “half”
native speaker, I worked for our international marketing, advising doctors from
Saudi Arabia.

Why does one have so many problems with
chronically ill persons in a company in which almost exclusively medically trained humans
work, and daily many samples of diabetes are examined? Is it the fear to have
to bear later cost and down-times? Or it is simply the thought of
having to “work” with such persons (possible treatment of hypoglycemia,

Particularly sad is that the brother of
the medical director of the laboratory is the director of a diabetes hospital,
so that at least a knowledge about what a person with diabetes can accomplish
should exist.

Luckily, the work situation for medical doctors in
Germany is very relaxed at the moment. I did find a new job in a very short time and I am now
preparing for my exams.

Thank you again for you fantastic web site,
you are a great inspiration.

– Kerstin W.,
Wiesbaden, Germany

Thank you for sharing, Kerstin. It boggles the mind how (medical) employers can be so short-sighted, all over the world, apparently.


10 Responses

  1. Albert
    Albert October 12, 2007 at 11:50 am | | Reply

    It’s unfortunate this is still going on even in medical environments, but I’ll do my part and share this story where I can.

    Maybe if the U.S. could take a stronger stance on things, the world will also follow with more action.

  2. Rosalind
    Rosalind October 12, 2007 at 1:11 pm | | Reply

    I’ll have a lot more gray hairs than I already do waiting for the U.S. to take a stronger stance. Since the writer of the post got some foreshadowing of her boss’s concerns and addressed them, I’d be curious what she would have been told if she asked why she didn’t get an appointment. There’s no doubt that people respond negatively to chronic illness in the workplace. But we (the chronically health challenged) have to get employers to give us sufficient information about our performance – pushing an employer to do this can make them show their “hand” and also gives us as full a picture as we’re going to get. In the end, given how this supervisor responded to the hypoglycemia, it sounds like she’s better off finding a more supportive supervisor.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah October 12, 2007 at 9:15 pm | | Reply

    I think that people who know more about diabetes are just as likely to want to fire them. Think about what we see in the news:

    -Diabetes (even if well controlled) increases the risk for heart attacks, strokes, amputations, kidney failire, seizures (Type 1), depression, the list goes on and on.

    -Some type 1 diabetics are prone to low blood sugars, and most Type 1 diabetics have a hard time managing their blood sugars in a hectic work environment where there is just no time to manage yourself well enough to get the job done.

    Sometimes it’s go, go, go. In the medical field, you are there to help others, every second of your shift. There may be no time for a critical mistake or time to help yourself.

    -News reports of diabetics who have killed people while driving hypoglycemic, a cop who shot an innocent person while having a low blood sugar, and other such stories don’t exactly make a case for this woman. Fact is, most people would rather not have a diabetic in a position where they could do harm. And frankly, I can’t blame them. I have yet to meet a Type 1 diabetic who has NEVER had an unexpected low blood sugar. It’s a real risk.

    As much as I am all for “diabetic rights” the fact is we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t say that diabetes is a horrible life changing disease (particularily Type 1) that needs a cure, and then turn around and say that we as diabetics can do “anything”.

    Diabetes affects us period. So maybe we should admit that.

    P.S. I am talking about primarily Type 1 diabetes. Perhaps a little public education would help here. If Type 1 diabetics had disability status, then perhaps this person would be able to be gievn an alternative position with equal pay. Or, a second chance with restirctions, like testing her blood sugar each hour on the job and/or keeping it a little higher than normal while at work.

  4. joanna
    joanna October 13, 2007 at 6:27 am | | Reply

    The other day a co worker came up to me a started to harrasses me about my type 1 diabetes. I told her to back of and she wouldnt. Of course she has more rights that I do. And yes I work in the healthcare field ! Im so fustrated I have been thinking about suing my employer yes i know that I would lose my job but right now physical this job is getting to me whats a person to do ?!

  5. CrazyACpumper
    CrazyACpumper October 13, 2007 at 2:48 pm | | Reply

    It’s tough out there. After 7 years trying to “make it” in the corporate world, I gave up. I can only control me and change my life and views….

    Not once was I looked down upon due to my work performance. Not once. It was always missed days, doctor appointments, tardiness, sickness etc etc.

    It was really bringing me down. While I will advocate for the rest of my time here for diabetics, for now, I am comfortable (and ecstatic) working from home, no one looking over my shoulder wondering why I am on my 4th trip to the bathroom in the last hour….

    Ignorance and laziness (lack of opening up your mind to anything outside of your own world) exists everywhere. All we can do is advocate for ourselves so we can help others….hang in there all…someday, someday, it will get better. ;-)

  6. Joanna
    Joanna October 14, 2007 at 10:18 am | | Reply

    Last week a co worker got in my face about my type 1 diabetes. She was harrassing me about it. Im ready to go talk to a attorney !

  7. Vicki
    Vicki October 15, 2007 at 8:17 pm | | Reply

    I guess I’m lucky. I’ve been working for a hospital system (multiple hospitals) for 20+ years as a medical transcriptionist. When I was diagnosed with LADA 10 years ago there were 2 others in my office with diabetes – one of whom was my supervisor, a type 2. The other diabetic was a longtime type 1 who helped and encouraged me with my first (scary) insulin shots.

    I’ve never lost work time because of my diabetes and I’ve maintained excellent A1Cs over the years – largely through help I found on the internet.

    Unfortunately, my 2 co-workers haven’t done as well. The type 1 is now on dialysis and had an amputation. My former supevisor has since retired but I recently heard she’s having heart and kidney problems.

  8. Israel
    Israel October 15, 2007 at 8:41 pm | | Reply

    i cant believe this is happening. things need to change, and now.

  9. wil
    wil October 18, 2007 at 6:38 pm | | Reply

    I wonder if it was because she’s a woman? Stranger things have been known to happen, but a basic investigative technique I use is K.I.S.S. …

  10. Doreen
    Doreen June 24, 2008 at 4:38 pm | | Reply

    I just wanted to share a success story.

    I was suffering from diabetes since 1987 at the age of 41 and ever since then, diabetic medication is my daily dose. It deprives me of certain foods which I have the urge to consume but advised by doctors to refrain, possibly for life and which I have to live with. At some point in time in early February 2007 my doctor suggested putting me on insulin as my blood sugar had gone way up above average. On learning this, I became paranoid and decided against it.

    My good friend and colleague, Ms Lucy Goh at the Subordinate courts, Singapore kindly brought bottles of biodisc energized water (check http://www.biodisc.com.au for explanation on what is Biodisc) daily for me to drink for the next 3 months. At my next appointment on 15th May 2007, my doctor noticed that my blood sugar had gone down and decided to put on hold the insulin intake.

    In late June 2007, both my feet swelled up to almost 70% of its normal size. Filled with skepticism of what may come next, I was overcome with sadness and depression at the condition of the skin on both my feet, which now appeared dark-brown with my right foot showing a 2 cm deep wound filled with pus. My friend advised me to seek the opinion of Dr Wong at the Polyclinic on Saturday, 30th June 2007. Dr Wong told me that my feet were in a very bad condition, especially my right foot which was infected with pus. Dr Wong also cautioned that he would need to refer my diabetic case to a Specialist at Singapore General Hospital on Monday morning, 2nd July 2007 for medical assessment, and if necessary, to be prepared for amputation if the feet were found to be infected with gangrene.

    It was the saddest day of my life, but my friend gave me hope, and compassion for my well being, she invited me to her home and used the Bio Disc, a very special piece of glass which appeared to me like an alien object BUT with remarkable healing powers. This, I now consider is the most precious gift to mankind.

    The Bio Disc was used to energize my feet using a torchlight to shine through the disc onto my feet in an anti-clockwise rotation for between 15-20 mins on each foot. The same process was continued on Sunday, 1st July and Monday, 2nd July 2007.

    The result was amazing! My swollen feet was almost back in normal condition, but the thought of amputation was ringing in my head and still fearing the doctor would send me to SGH, I deliberately visited the Polyclinic only at 2 pm on 2nd July 2007 and was reprimanded for being late. However when the Polyclinic doctor examined my feet, he was surprised to notice the amazing recovery such that there was no necessity to be referred to SGH. I was only prescribed some ointment and antibiotics and sent home instead of the SGH and advised to continue with the medication.

    It was the turning point in my life and I was the happiest person! Grateful thanks to my friend and particularly the gift of time (the Bio Disc) to mankind and wellness to one and all.


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