When I was growing up, our family GP was a crotchety, tiny man who seemed old to me when I was a kid. Given that he is still working today, he can’t have been much older than I am now (eeek!). The main things I remember about him is that he prescribed antibiotics at pretty much every visit, wore lifts in his clunky shoes to make himself taller and chain smoked during appointments.
As soon as I was old enough to choose my own doctor, I found a GP who I was comfortable with. She was the doctor I saw that April in 1998 when I told her my symptoms and asked to be tested for diabetes. She was the doctor I saw the day after Easter to get my blood test results. And she was the doctor who diagnosed me with type 1 diabetes with the words ‘Fuck. You’ve got diabetes.’ She was a good GP, but had an unhealthy interest in anti-ageing medicine and plastic surgery. I let her go after a consultation where she had to kneel on a seat for the entire visit because she’d just had liposuction and couldn’t sit down. Dealing with my own body image issues, I wasn’t sure that having a GP who was so focused on improving her body using surgery was sending me the right message.
After that, I spent some time drifting from clinic to clinic, rarely seeing the same doctor. It wasn’t ideal, but it did the trick.
A couple of years after I got married and a couple of years into my diabetes journey (the never-ever-ever-ending journey of diabetes) I was living across town and thought it time to find a local GP. Dr H had been recommended by a few people, so struck down with a virus that wouldn’t quit, I called to make an appointment.
‘Dr H is not taking new patients at the moment,’ said his incredibly officious gatekeeper. ‘We’re one doctor down for the next month. He won’t be seeing new patients until then.’
‘Great! I’ll take his first free appointment he has next month,’ I said.
‘And what will you be seeing Dr H about?’
‘Well, probably nothing then. But I want to get my name on the books. Plus, I have an exciting (i.e. senseless and convoluted) medical history. I’ll need some time to explain it to him’.
The next month, with absolutely nothing wrong with me, I sat in the waiting room avoiding the sniffling, coughing masses as I waited to see him.
I was pleasantly surprised to meet a doctor who understood that his role in my diabetes was not to manage it in any way. After providing satisfactory answers to his questions about the HCPs I worked with to help me with my diabetes, he explained that he saw himself as the traffic cop of my general health who could direct me in the right direction if I needed to see someone other than him.
I showed him my insulin pump – it was the first time he’d seen one. (This was 13 years ago now and pumps were still quite uncommon.) He asked me lots of questions about it and my other medical things and I left feeling that I now had a GP who would understand what I needed.
About eight months later, I made an appointment to see him. He called me in and followed me into the waiting room. Before I’d even had a chance to sit down he said ‘Where’s your insulin pump? Don’t you wear it anymore?’ The first time I’d seen him, it was strapped to the belt of my jeans. Since then, I’d started wearing it down my top, hidden from view. ‘Oh, good! I have a lot more questions,’ he said. ‘I’ve done some reading up and I was wondering if you could explain a few things to me.’ At that point, I realised he was a keeper!
I see Dr H only a couple of times a year. He always asks general questions about any correspondence he’s received from my endo or other HCPs. I am sure next time I see him, he will ask me about my recent cataract surgeries. But he knows that in my case, diabetes is not his concern – I have that taken care of.
I frequently hear stories of GPs who simply don’t understand diabetes. I hear of misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis and, quite frighteningly, of GPs who have such minimal understand of type 1 diabetes that it puts their patients in danger. Dr H has enough understanding of type 1 diabetes to know that it’s not his place to manage it. He says he always refers people with type 1 to an endocrinologist as they, along with the PWD, are the ‘content experts’. He doesn’t ‘blame’ diabetes for every medical complaint I present with. As I said, he’s a keeper. If only it wasn’t so bloody hard to get an appointment with him!