I was recently sent an article from Medscape that was written by Svetlana Katsnelson MD, endocrinology fellow at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York.

The gist of the piece is that for a week as part of her endocrine fellowship training, Dr Katsnelson wore an insulin pump and checked her BGLs, and now believes she knows about living with diabetes. She also considers herself non-compliant because she didn’t bolus for an apple.

This may be oversimplifying the article a little and I honestly do believe that the intention here is good. But a little perspective is needed, I think. It was this comment that really upset me:

‘The experience provided me with a better understanding of how to use the devices that many of our patients use every day, but it gave me much more than that. I truly began to understand how difficult it is to live with diabetes.’

No, Dr Katsnelson, no. You do not truly understand how difficult it is to live with diabetes.

What you have is an idea of what it is like to walk around with a device delivering non-life saving saline into your system. You also have an idea of how it sometimes hurts when a sharp object pierces the skin on your finger. You probably could have deduced that anyway because, you know, sharp object, skin, nerve endings etc. You know how the buttons of these devices feel under your fingers and the weight of the devices in your hands.

You may have an idea of how tricky it can be to accommodate a pager-like device if you are wearing a pretty, flowing dress to work (if that is your want). You may now understand how annoying it is to have to stop what you are doing because it’s time to do a BGL check.

But what you don’t understand is that diabetes is about so very much more than that.

Here is what you don’t have any idea about.

You don’t understand the feeling of ‘this is forever’ or ‘I never get a holiday from this crap’. I know that this was acknowledged in the article, but really, you don’t know how it feels to never be able to escape diabetes.

You have no concept of the boredom of living with a chronic health condition, or the monotony of doing the same tasks each and every day over and over and over again!

You don’t understand the fear that overtakes your whole being as you imagine all the terrible complications that have been threatened and promised as result of diabetes.

You have no notion of the frustration of living with a condition that doesn’t have a rule book – and in fact changes the rules all the time!

You haven’t any perception of the fear I sometimes feel that I’ve passed my faulty genetic matter onto my beautiful daughter; or that I am a burden to my family and friends.

You will never feel the judgement from healthcare professionals because numbers are too high or too low – or that there are not enough of them.

You will never be called non-compliant by a doctor or made to feel guilty because you are eating a cupcake – all because your beta cells decided to go AWOL.

While I really do commend the notion of HCPs trying the ‘day in the life’ (or ‘week in the life’) idea, I think that being realistic about what this experience provides is important. It does not give any insight into the emotional aspects of living with a chronic health condition. It doesn’t explain the dark place we sometimes go when we are feeling particularly vulnerable or ‘over it’.

I have to say that all in all, this article left a sour taste in my mouth and I don’t like to feel that way because it sounds like I am being Grouchy McGrouch. I’m not. And as I said, I think that the intention here is good.

I just don’t want Dr Katsnelson to think that she now knows what is going on in my head when I wake up at 4am and every terrible scenario plays out leaves me feeling a pressure on my chest and a blackness in my mind that threatens to overtake me.

But I also want Dr Katsnelson to know that I really don’t expect healthcare professionals to know and understand all of these things. I expect them to treat me with respect and dignity. If this exercise has helped that, then great, but please, call it for what it is.

The article discussed in this post (Svetlana Katsnelson. Becoming the Patient: Not as Easy as It Looks. Medscape. May 12, 2014.) can be accessed here by first creating a free login.

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