I guess that when I was younger, I had a nagging feeling that people were using my illness in an exploitative way and that I couldn’t trust anyone around me. Like, say that someone did something wrong, and the police came. They would say that I did it and say that I had low blood sugar. The police would always believe them, instead of me.
People found so many novel and unexpected ways to do this that it was really causing me to doubt my own judgement and view of reality. It was causing me to develop a lot of self doubt and feelings that I was never safe.
Sometimes people would make really intentional efforts to do me harm, but sometimes it seemed less intentional and was more of an afterthought or result of habit. Sometimes, it was just an effort to get themselves out of trouble. Sometimes it was an effort to distract from whatever was wrong with them, or what was wrong with what they were doing (common and sneaky tactic). Then, there were times when I really, genuinely needed help, stated that directly, and the same people just walked away, leaving me in vulnerable situations that I wasn’t sure I could physically overcome.
In an effort to sort this all out (around age 25), I re-connected with the community of volunteer Emergency Medical Services. I knew that I had had found a tribe of people who were motivated to understand and identify medical emergencies. They were motivated to understand how to subtly differentiate between an emergency and a not-emergency. They were well intention-ed people who wanted to help others - their motives were very pure. I studied them and they studied me. It made all of us better.
For example, I played games with them to help them identify diabetic lows and highs. Every time I checked my sugar, we played Diabetic Price is Right. Whoever got closest to the number, without going over, got a candy bar. EMTs, like diabetics, are very food motivated. This helped them see that sometimes they could identify low BG and sometimes they couldn’t. It also taught me that sometimes trained professionals could tell and sometimes they couldn’t. Sometimes I won the game and sometimes they won. I still play this game with people who I spend time with because it helps me understand their innate capability to identify trouble. Some people are better at this than others. People who are good at it, I call ‘street medics’ because they have an innate gift for identifying signs and symptoms. These tend to be people with high levels of empathy that are always reading cues from the people around them. When I tell them that they have a skill and give them a prestigious nickname, they tend to feel good about themselves and try even harder.
I used to work with ONE woman who could genuinely identify a high by how I smelled. Her father was a candle maker and she had a very keen sense of smell. Most people can’t do this, especially because I smoke cigarettes. We figured this out because once she asked me if I had been drinking at work. I paused for a moment and then checked my BG. She had identified acetone breath and knew I was high even though I didn’t. I couldn’t taste it, but she could smell it. It was valuable for me to know that the occasional, special people with a keen sense of smell, might assume that I had been drinking at work if my BG was high.
Today, I have no problem knowing who I can trust and who I can’t. I have been exposed to every possible situation where someone can behave exploitative-ly towards someone who is physically/medically vulnerable. I understand the motivations that lead to that behavior. I can tell the difference between someone who is intentionally doing harm to someone else, and someone who is un-intentionally doing harm.
I can see into your soul, so you better behave in a reasonable manner, Humans. When I see intentional harm being done to patients, I have the confidence to trust my gut and call that behavior out. It helps me advocate for myself and others. I was desperate for this experience. It was foundational for my survival and general well being.