Sunday, August 21, 2011

Professionalism and Drugs

I learned last week that it’s difficult to simultaneously be professional and take a bunch of drugs. Perhaps that’s been common knowledge for decades when it comes to illegal drugs, but I’m talking about the plethora of prescription meds I take every day.

When I’m physically at my workplace, it’s easier for me to maintain my regimen. Almost all of my coworkers know my story and expect to see me popping pills at any given time. Many even know to stay away from my cubicle when my back is directly to its opening, since that usually means I’m injecting insulin into my exposed gut. This makes it pretty easy to conduct my business throughout a day of conducting business.

However, travel and off-site meetings are a bit of a different story. I went down to my business school alma mater – wahoowah! – last week. It was a great trip and I was able to visit with some old (in more ways than one!) professors and interact with the students. The best part of the trip by far was meeting a very senior executive at my company (“Elizabeth”) and seeing her speak to the students. After the speech, a few colleagues and I were invited to lunch with Elizabeth and a handful of Darden professors and senior staff, including the Dean. It was a pretty impressive group in a pretty fancy private room during a pretty formal meeting – as in, one did not get up and go to the bathroom in the middle.

This could present a problem for a few different types of people. Those with incontinence (or bladder weakness, as I recently learned it’s called) might have trouble in this situation. People with Crohn’s Disease could find themselves in some deep…well, you know. And it's a challenging situation for an insulin-dependent diabetic that also takes oral medications SIX (yep, it has gone up) times a day.

Going into the lunch, I knew the plan was to discuss topics one and two, then eat, then discuss topic three. If the plan had been to eat first, I could have injected beforehand, but I didn’t want to risk dropping on the floor during the first two discussions (though that would have been one way to ensure that Elizabeth remembered me!). So in I went for the pasta salad and other glucose-elevators typically found in these catered situations and willed my pancreas to step up to the plate just this once. When it came time to take my next set of pills, I quietly reached into my bag, pulled out my pouch and was just emptying that timeslot’s meds into my hand (fortunately, it’s more socially acceptable to use Purell in public) when the conversation moved to the Dean, who was seated right next to me at the head of the table. So there I was, with a handful of pills in one hand, my pill organizer in the other and my pouch of goodies spilling into my lap, when the whole table of highly credentialed people turned to face the Dean – and me.

I’m sure no one noticed the pharmacy in my lap; that’s not the point. The point is that it’s difficult to do what I need to do sometimes. I guess it really boils down to something I never fully appreciated until recently: it’s hard to be different. And it’s a pain in the butt to take a handful of pills at six regularly scheduled times, to inject myself with each meal and to prick my finger four times a day.

But, as I frequently remind myself, it’s not as big of a pain as the alternative. So I’ll take it. And one day when I’m not the most junior person in every meeting, maybe I’ll get more comfortable in my drug-dependent body.


  1. Delightful! Be proud that you are most junior..terrific experience.

  2. The cartoon here is awesome. :)

    I totally feel you on the awkward factor. Around people I know I just joke about it, but around people who don't know about my heart shenanigans- well, I feel like there is a big spotlight on whatever I'm doing (or not doing).

    It may be taking the elevator when everyone else is walking up two flights of stairs, or when I'm the only one drinking water at a wine tasting event because alcohol sometimes makes my heart race. It's all weird and uncomfortable.

    But in the spirit of obnoxiously giving sage advice, odds are no one noticed a thing. At all. Everyone is so paranoid about not embarrassing themselves in front of the big wigs that they have little time to pay attention to you. :)

    PS- Youngest person in the room = you are a badass.