The Medical ID Bracelet That Doesn’t Look Like One


In times of uncertainty, people turn to many places for peace of mind: cooking, exercising, reading the news, multiperson video chats and other virtual gatherings, fresh air. When that uncertainty stems from a global pandemic, the actions we take to protect our bodies and minds may also include washing our hands, social distancing and working from home.

Those of us with pre-existing medical conditions can take an additional step to ease our anxiety and ensure our safety: wearing a medical ID.

When I learned that I had an autoimmune disease and would need to take blood thinners, I resisted wearing an ID bracelet. There are plenty of them available online, but the ones I found didn’t appeal to me. Their chain-linked silver straps and loud red medical symbols sent a clear message: “Look at me! I’m different!”

About a year and a half after I got sick — and after a close call with a delivery truck — I doubled down on my search for a bracelet I would be proud to wear. I came across Return to Sender, a one-woman operation run by Allison Roberts, an artist and photographer in Brooklyn Heights. The bracelets were unlike any I had seen before: beautiful and sleek, without a chain in sight.

The designs are inspired by vintage jewelry, Ms. Roberts, 36, said, and come in a variety of styles. Like the standard medical ID bracelets, each has an engraved six-pointed star with caduceus — the medical symbol inspired by the Greek god Hermes — at its center. Purchasers can have their name and relevant medical information engraved on the inside of the bracelet.

“The second you slap a medical ID on your wrist it becomes: ‘I am sick,’” Ms. Roberts said. “And by having something that’s beautiful, something that’s a piece of jewelry — a real piece of jewelry that’s not a constant reminder — is just so important. It allows you to maintain your identity.”

Ms. Roberts would know. Like many of her customers, she has an autoimmune disease. Sometime in August 2015, she fainted as she was stepping off the subway at the Borough Hall subway stop in Brooklyn.

It took three years of medical appointments for Ms. Roberts to learn she has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a disorder that often increases a person’s heart rate and sometimes decreases their blood pressure when standing up, often causing the person to faint.

A few weeks after her first incident, Ms. Roberts decided she needed a bracelet, but she couldn’t find one she liked. So she designed her own and started calling it her “return to sender” bracelet. If anything happened to her, she said, someone could “make sure I get back to my dad.”

After receiving compliments and requests from friends and strangers, she decided to start a business. Each bracelet is custom-made to meet the wants and needs of the client; they range from $100 to $500.

“This isn’t a normal purchase,” Ms. Roberts said. “It’s a really loaded, emotional purchase.”

A medical ID bracelet not only provides an extra layer of day-to-day protection for its wearer, but also helps emergency medical professionals ensure proper care, should the wearer end up in the hospital.

Dr. Robert Femia, the chair of emergency medicine at N.Y.U. Langone Health, said he and his colleagues rely on medical bracelets every day in emergency room.

“Especially for patients who come in with alternate levels of consciousness or coma, the ID bracelets help quite a bit,” Dr. Femia said. “Plus it provides patients with a level of comfort too, that they know that in case they’ve got a situation where they can’t communicate with us well.”

And as hospitals across the country are being overrun with cases of the new coronavirus, any situation that can speed up treatment is beneficial to patients, doctors and nurses.

“I know when it’s not this time, my bracelet allows me to feel security out in the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Ms. Roberts said. “And right now with what is going on, it’s just an increased security. And I think that’s really positive.”


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