Growing Up with Diabetes: Getting My Driver’s License

Posted by shannon on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 13:47 in

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Shannon Smith is a sophomore at Rowan University. Over the next few weeks, Shannon will share with Podder Talk how diabetes has played a role in coming of age events such as getting a driver’s license, going to prom, dating and starting a job. Come along for the journey!

Growing up is not always the easiest adventure, especially when you are growing up with type 1 diabetes. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun adventure as well! Like most adolescents, there are monumental moments of growing up that I look back on fondly and there are others that are looked back at as a bit more challenging.

When I was a sophomore in high school I couldn’t wait to get my license. Having a car and being able to drive to school or the mall seemed like the ultimate step to freedom when I was 16. I remember my visit with my endocrinologist before I was to start my driver’s educational classes. She stressed the importance of checking my blood glucose levels before I would drive, that I should always keep extra diabetes supplies in the car, and most importantly, that I should never hesitate to pull over if I wasn’t feeling well. This didn’t seem too much of a problem to me - most of these reminders seemed like common sense. So I passed the written part of my test and then began hitting the road with my permit.

With a permit I always had to have a parent or the driving instructor from which I was taking lessons from in the car with me. I felt confident that nothing bad would happen to me with a parent or instructor sitting next to me. I wasn’t shy in pulling my diabetes kit out and testing myself in front of anyone. Everything was going great.

Perceptions of Driving with Diabetes

I never thought that other people’s perceptions of having diabetes and driving would be so extreme until I went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles when it was time for my test. I was nervous as any normal 16-year-old taking the test would be. When the man who was giving me the test came out and saw me testing my blood glucose he shook his head and said he thought my “handicap” qualified me as an “unsafe driver.” I felt so hurt and confused. How was doing the right thing—testing my glucose to be safe—making me an unsafe driver?

I didn’t let his attitude stop me from getting my license but it did make me feel less confident in myself as a driver. I began to wonder if my parents or friends would think I was an “unsafe” driver if I pulled over because I didn’t feel well enough to drive. It was an emotional fear of mine that admitting my “faults” would make others not trust me driving and I didn’t want that because I loved driving.

Staying Safe on the Road with Diabetes

The first time I felt my blood glucose was low while I was driving, I pulled over and ended up waiting about a half hour until I felt fine enough to drive again. I remember my parents were upset because they worried about me—not because they thought I was an unsafe driver. They told me, it doesn’t matter how late it is or where I am, if I don’t feel well enough they’ll come out and pick me up so I don’t have to drive alone. I was thankful to hear them say that to me and started feeling more confident in myself as a safe driver.

I began to see that this one man’s opinion that people with diabetes were unsafe drivers was false. I wasn’t a bad driver. I’ve never been pulled over or been in an accident, but I am thankful for all my preparation from my team at Joslin Diabetes Center and my parents. Not only am I prepared with lifesavers or juice in the car as low blood glucose treatments, but I also have a medical ID on my car key chain and extra diabetes supplies in my glove box.

The journey of getting my license and feeling like a safe driver was a little bumpy at first with diabetes, but the ride definitely got smoother the more confident I became in myself.

Come back next week to read more about Shannon’s experiences growing up with diabetes.