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« Helping Children with Diabetes Gain Independence Part 3 | Main | Helping Children with Diabetes Gain Independence Part 2 »

Fifteen-Year-Old type I told, "We are not a hospital or charity"

Many years ago when I was in high school my best friend was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Mike took shots, carried insulin and needed to eat when he said that he needed to eat. Aside from those considerations, he never really spoke about having diabetes. We hung out together constantly, had meals, went on double dates; saw movies and the rest of what you would expect friends to do together. I was around Mike and his diabetes almost all of the time. 

Yet I didn’t know much about it.

Mike had so many diabetes related decisions to make and even though we were often together when he made them, I was lost when Arden was diagnosed. As the days after her diagnosis slowly turned into months, I never found myself thinking, “no problem, I remember this from Mike...”.  Nothing that I ever saw, heard or experienced with my friend prepared me to thrive or even merely exist with type I diabetes and I was as lost as the next person when it came to really understanding any of the intricacies of type I. It’s my experience with Mike that taught me to be patient with people who don’t understand diabetes. Sure, I still get annoyed and I certainly wish that the average person knew what Arden may one day need them to know in an emergency, but it’s just not reasonable to expect people who don’t live with type I second by second to understand it in a meaningful way.

Yesterday morning I saw a FaceBook post that Mike ‘liked’, it told the story of a fifteen-year-old boy with diabetes who was turned away at his local 7-Eleven when he asked the cashier to help him. I was instantly struck by the story and reached out to the boy’s mother, Katie Franklin. I asked Katie to share her families experience in the hopes that it would promote advocacy and awareness.

Tommy was riding his bike Monday after school when he experienced low blood glucose and because he was without money or supplies, he smartly went into a nearby 7-Eleven to ask for help. Katie tells me that Tommy asked the cashier for a fountain soda or candy because he has type I diabetes, his blood glucose was low and he feared that he was going to pass out. Katie says that Tommy doesn’t normally get so low that he feels this way so he knew that he was in a dire situation. The clerk, who was at a disadvantage because of a language barrier, declined by saying, “No”. The boy persisted and even showed the cashier his Medtronic insulin pump as proof of his need but the reveal of the pump didn’t change the clerk’s mind. Tommy left the store, rode his bike about a block and then called his mother at work; she rushed to him and found Tommy lying on the ground next to his bike. Tommy ate and felt better in time.

Katie drove directly to the 7-Eleven and asked to speak with the manager. Katie said that the manager told her that “we are not a hospital or charity” and when she tried to tell him that all her son needed was a twenty-five cent piece of candy and that it may have meant his very life, the manager walked her down the candy isle to show her that they don’t have candy that inexpensive. Katie, realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere with the manager, got the number for the corporate office and left the store. She was so incensed that she called the office from the store’s parking lot and spoke to the District Manager who promised to make sure that his stores understood type I better.

Katie was surprised when the owner of the 7-Eleven called her the next day because it wasn’t the DM that informed him of the disaster at his store. The owner found out about the incident the same way that I did, on the Internet. It’s important to be clear that the owner of the 7-Eleven was horrified at how his employees treated Tommy and his mother. Katie tells me that she found his apology to be sincere and that she is comfortable that he will take steps to educate his employees. The owner explained to Katie that he owns a number of 7-Elevens and that he will make certain that they all understand what diabetes is and how he want’s his employees to react when someone shows signs and symptoms. He even agreed when Katie suggested that a donation to the JDRF would go a long way toward making her feel better about what had transpired.

I know that Tommy’s story is horrifying to those of us who live with diabetes. It’s frightening to the parents of children with type I and I can only imagine how infuriating to the adults reading this who live with diabetes - but that’s not why I wanted to tell Tommy’s story.

I want to tell this story for two reasons. First because I know, thanks to my friend Mike, that everyone can’t understand type I diabetes but also because I think that we as a community are helped when we are remind periodically of that fact. I can personally see how the cashier, whose grasp of English and no experience with diabetes may have been confused when Tommy made his plea. I can’t however find a way to excuse the manager’s insensitivity and apparent lack of human kindness. I was heartened to hear from Katie that the storeowner understood what she was saying to him and offered what Katie characterized as an appropriately contrite apology. I say heartened because the owner’s reaction tells me that this story can find people who will be changed by it, that this story can make advocates out of people who previously didn’t understand type I diabetes.

The second reason that I think that Tommy’s story is valuable for us to hear is because of the reaction that some people online felt comfortable thrusting in Katie’s face. Please understand that her story was met with a ton of loving support but there were still some people that took the opportunity to chastise Katie for what they considered to be poor management of her son’s type I. What Katie said to me regarding those harsh comments needs to be heard by the parents of younger children living with type I. People told Katie that her son should never be without glucose and money and that it was a failing of her parenting that he had neither with him on Monday. Not having supplies probably seems foreign to the parents of small children because we tend to always have supplies with us but Katie told me a story that sounded all too possible and I can’t say that it won’t be all of our stories at some point in our lives. Tommy was diagnosed when he was thirteen and he’s only been living with type I for two and a half years. Katie has tried giving him money for emergencies, but he spends it. She’s tried to give him candy to carry, but he eats it... Tommy even likes the taste of glucose tablets so they get consumed as well. Katie is traversing a rocky road with her son and I can’t understand or condone anyone that would harshly judge her efforts. It can not be easy to help a fifteen-year-old boy come to terms with what diabetes demands of him. Shame on anyone who felt pompously that they knew better and then took it upon himself or herself to chastise Katie. 

It’s annoying yet understandable when the world at large doesn’t understand our lives but it’s a totally different feeling of sadness to learn that people can so easily, especially in a community like the one we all share, turn on another.

If we can’t give each another the benefit of the doubt and extend the kindness that we all know our lives need and deserve, how can we possible hope for that kindness and understanding from the populous at large?


I know that this was a long and heavy post so I want to end it with a story about Tommy that I think we can all appreciate and cheer for. Tommy diagnosed himself with diabetes. At thirteen years old he took to the Internet to search for his symptoms. Tommy told his mother that he wasn’t feeling well but before they could get to a doctor and driven by what I can only assume was the discomfort that a BG of 795 brings to a person, diagnosed himself during a school day and then posted on FaceBook that he thought he had type I diabetes. His mother saw her son online when he shouldn’t be, read his post and took him to the hospital where Tommy’s self diagnosis was sadly confirmed. I love the idea of a confident thirteen year old advocating for himself with the tools that he has at his disposal, almost as much as I admire a fifteen-year-old boy having the nerve to walk penniless into a 7-Eleven and ask for help. I think that Tommy has a lot to look forward to in his life, not just as a strong advocate for himself, but I have a feeling that his story will create advocates where there previously were none and renew the passion in those already advocating so hard. Thanks to Tommy and Katie there are a few less people in the world today who don’t understand.

For those around the world that aren't familiar with 7-Eleven, it is a convenience store chain that is mostly franchise owned and operated. Neither I nor the family is advocating any kind of protest involving the store or the company. We are both just trying to spread awareness and this story is a perfect example of why that is so very important. We are all only a few random occurrences away from being Tommy, we are all just a moment away from needed a stranger to be kind and to understand. It's up to us to bring awareness, because no one can or will tell our stories the way that we can.

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Reader Comments (8)

I appreciated you, Tommy, and his mom sharing this story.

It also illustrates, for me, another reminder that society doesn't always work to keep us safe. Personal safety and responsibility is paramount. I applaud the efforts at education and raising awareness on a public level. Still, a severe low happens much more quickly than a shift in awareness. Safety first.

Being prepared, with glucose on one's person at all times, is a prudent safeguard for people using insulin or sulfonylureas and who thus have great risk of hypoglycemia. Have I ever been surprised by a low and not had my glucose tablets handy? Yes. Was this more likely to happen when I was a teen or carefree college student? Yes.

But my family and I also work very hard to make sure that sources of glucose are stashed wherever I may be. Every personally owned vehicle, always on my person, at work, in several rooms of the house. If I rode a bike, I'd have tablets fastened to the bike.

Please, friends, while you're spending time doing the hard work of educating and raising awareness, also keep your dedication to keeping yourself safe at the forefront.

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Rawlings

I was dx at 12 years old and for MANY YEARS never carried fast acting sugar on me. I think as a kid, I always just figured I'd either a) be close to a place w/food or b) be with someone who was carrying it for me. Kids are innocent and assume the best. Tommy was just being a kid and riding home from school. He probably thought he'd always have enough time to make it back to food. I know that's how I felt for a very long time.

It wasn't until I was 19 and a sophomore in college that a low scared me bad enough that I started always carrying something with me. I was in the middle of an English class, I started sweating, was dizzy, etc. Had to sumble out of the room and then make it all the way back to my dorm because I had neither money or food.

We have to remember that many of us are children when diagnosed and too often with diabetes we don't change our strategy until we've been scared shitless a time or two. What happened to Tommy has probably happened to all Type 1s at some point.

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Scott... Thanks for this story, which I hadn't read about until now. And thanks for the reminder. We all know what to do and how to prepare, yet we all have found ourselves unprepared at some point. I'm not ready to chastise the parent. I'm ready to celebrate the fact that Tommy is okay.

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephenS

This is a GREAT Post!! This type of situation has happened to us. It is also possible to miscalculate your insulin especially when eating out and or travelling. You brought supplies but have gone through them. There are days when our daughter just seems to stay low. And it is true....send candy with your child and it gets eaten. Way before the emergency. The only thing that she hates are the little juice boxes that she is sick many of those can you fit in a purse. Besides boys hate to carry anything extra and wont. They don't want to be made fun of.

I am ranting, but this cuts close to my heart! Thank you Scott

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Nelson

Ewww...OK, I followed along with your retelling without much reaction either way (of course the cashier & manager were going to deny the candy, given the language barrier & natural wariness towards teenagers in their store, and of course the owner was/should have apologized), but suggesting a donation to JDRF as a way to make things right? Really??? That leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. Kinda feels like a shakedown.

Otherwise, been meaning to write for quite some time -- your posts on texting at school are really helpful for me in thinking about how to prepare my own child (2nd grade now) for doing the same.

Oh... and how the heck have you been able to get the Opsite Flexifix to last so long??? It always starts peeling for us within days and has to be restuck with SkinTac within a week.

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErik Knowles

Thanks for this story, Scott. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that some people just don't know about diabetes, and we need to understand an accept that. Put a kid in a candy store, and I can understand how the clerk might be suspicous of anyone trying to score free merchandise. We just need to teach more (and yes, be prepare outselves, as best as possible).

I remember a work function several years in Philadelphia that took place at a chain restaurant/entertainment venue. My sugar was getting very low (to the point of profuse sweating and semi-incoherency), I went to the bar to ask for orange juice, but was told the company wasn't paying them to serve juice, only water, iced tea, blah blah blah etc. Even after explicitly saying "something with sugar", I got a whole menu before walking away with a regular Coke. I finally got it, but with more effort than it should have taken.

October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott E

Wow, Scott. This was a powerful piece. Great reminder... Thanks for sharing it.

October 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermatt bortmess

I wanted to thank everyone for all of your very thoughtful comments in this post!


Erik - I'm thrilled to hear that our school plan is something that you're considering - let me know what you decide. Not sure how the flexifix hangs on, lucky maybe!? :)

October 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterScott Benner

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