Medical Waste

A woman with T1D reflects on the symbolism of T1D refuse.

The following is an excerpt from Susan Baumgartner’s upcoming book, Diabetes Warriors, a guided journal for people with Type 1 diabetes. The author is looking for illustrators for this book. See her call for art here.

Red hazard plastic jugs.

I never thought I’d have a deep relationship with these items. When I have a container to drop off at the pharmacy for disposal, it makes me feel I’m marked like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. Diabetic Warriors’ letters are molded into containers emblazoned with far more letters than Hester’s; they warn of the dire consequences of messing with the items within.

I get it. However, it digs into me. Products that I never asked for, products that keep me alive, that touch me intimately, are anathema. Needles, tubes, lancets – I hate them, but I need them.

We carry these items wherever we go. We produce this refuse every single day of our lives. We stash. We cover. We handle it.

I remember in my early days of being scolded by a friend for not prepping my testing and injection sites with rubbing alcohol swabs. She predicted I’d get a bad infection someday. So far, 20-some years in, so good. I estimate I have used around 75,000 swabs by now. That’s a lot of garbage.

Diabetic Warriors have a near-invisible condition. We try to be brave and proud. We wear our pumps and monitors openly. Meanwhile, the garbage piles up. The caps and covers keep coming. The responsibility never goes away.

Red hazard plastic jugs announce it to the world.

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Susan Baumgartner was diagnosed with T1D in 1994 and moved to Wisconsin 4 years later with her husband and 3 cats. She is the author of a guided journal for teachers, Dear Teachers, available on her blog, and on Amazon. She is currently working on a similar book for those with diabetes.