Are Our Work Environments Helping?

July 17, 2009
Anita Ramsetty

At the time of my writing this blog, Sonya Sotomayor is being questioned (still) as part of her hearing prior to possibly being confirmed as a US supreme court Justice.

At the time of my writing this blog, Sonya Sotomayor is being questioned (still) as part of her hearing prior to possibly being confirmed as a US supreme court Justice. For those of you who are sick and tired of hearing about this, I apologize and be assured that my goal is not to bring politicizing to the hormone zone.

Sotomayor has diabetes, and from what I have read, type 1 diabetes for many years. I do not know what she uses for control, but I assume that she most likely uses an insulin pump. Yesterday I was struck by a somewhat offhanded comment on the newsreel stating that the hearings were being stopped every two hours to allow Sotomayor to check her blood sugars and administer insulin if needed. Then the article simply went on to discuss the intricacies of the hearing itself. It would be me, the endocrinologist reading it, to seize upon that one off handed comment about Sotomayor’s monitoring of her diabetes…

The congressional hearings are certainly not your typical workplace, and these are not “everyday” people in some senses. Therefore the fact that there were planned breaks every two hours worked into the schedule for Sotomayor’s glucose checking may be seen as either amazing or routine. In the everyday workplace this is not the norm and we are very aware of this fact. This may be a two-fold issue. I have many patients tell me that they are embarrassed to check their blood sugars or administer insulin at work, and thus just do not (on the flip side I have many patients who find a way to do both privately or just in the open, so some of this is certainly a function of personal preference and comfort in the workplace).

In some cases it is admittedly more challenging. One of my patients interested in starting pump therapy (he wasn’t quite ready but that is another story) is a police officer. In addition to not wanting to admit to his peers that he had diabetes, he had concerns about having to remove himself from serious situations and/or remove protective clothing in order to administer insulin. Again, I know there are many police officers with diabetes who manage just fine, but I agreed his concerns had some merit especially at the very start of his insulin therapy when, for the sake of safety, he needed to do frequent glucose monitoring.

Are our workplaces flexible enough to have some built in time for patients to take care of themselves? Not only for people with diabetes but those who need to take medications during the day? It is not as far off as some may think. Recall: it was only a few years ago that the idea of women pumping breast milk during work hours was thought to be ridiculous, but now it is quite commonplace and some workplaces have dedicated lactation suites.

The Disability Act makes it a crime to discriminate based on any disability, but medical illness in and of itself is not a disability. Unsupportive employers can (and do) complain that taking 5 minutes every 2 hours is too much time away from work for checking blood sugars or administering medication of some type, etc. In this current job market I can picture many folks bearing down under the pressure and forfeiting time needed for their own self care while on the job.

But somewhere over the rainbow the workplace would not be that way at all. People will be productive, bosses will be understanding and knowledgeable, and there will be some time during the day to take care of oneself, out in the open or privately as you desire. Maybe not now, but someday, for most workplaces this is a distinct possibility, and we should work towards that pot of gold.