‘Okay, so I’ll deal with the diabetic who’s just been brought in. She’s been in here four times in the last couple of months. Completely non-compliant.’
I was walking through the rabbit-warren-like corridors of the Epworth Hospital and passed a nurses’ station at the exact moment those words were spoken, stopping me dead in my tracks. If I was in a Warner Bros cartoon, there would have been a dust and smoke cloud around me as I screeched to a halt.
‘Move on, Renz,’ said the first voice in my head.
‘Not freaking likely,’ said the louder voice.
I turned to the nurses who hadn’t noticed me yet.
‘Hi,’ I said. I was trying for sweet and polite, but could already hear the patronising tone in my voice.
They turned and looked at me.
‘Um. I just wanted to say a couple of things. Calling someone a ‘diabetic’ isn’t helpful for anyone. It labels them as their condition and I’m pretty sure that the person you are referring to is a lot more than her insulin problems. Secondly, non-compliant is a really nasty term. I’m guessing that you’ve no idea what else is going on in her life – I have no idea either – but I am pretty sure that there is a reason that she is not managing her diabetes as well as she’d probably be hoping to. Non-compliant suggests that it is a deliberate ploy to make herself unwell – which it may be and if that is the case, then that is something that needs to be addressed.’
At this point, the nurses were just looking at me with a mix of surprise, suspicion, annoyance and interest.
‘Also, to be compliant means following a defined set of rules or guidelines. Diabetes has a funny way of mocking such an idea. The rules keep changing – without notice.
‘Now, I am hoping that you wouldn’t use this language around the person you’ve been referring to when you are actually in the same room as them, but here’s the thing. You’re saying those words now, and that means that somewhere deep inside (or, probably just on the surface) that’s how you really feel.
‘No one wants to have diabetes. No one wants to be in hospital. No one wants to be so overwhelmed by diabetes that they don’t – for whatever reason – manage their condition the best way possible. But sometimes, it gets like that. The never-ending relentlessness of diabetes can be so debilitating that all self-care stops. And then, sometimes, you wind up in hospital. Four times in a month, sometimes.
‘I have diabetes. I’ve been that person you are speaking about. But I wasn’t being non-compliant. I just couldn’t cope. And I felt really bad and guilty that I couldn’t cope. So on top of feeling crap about my diabetes, I also felt crap about not looking after my diabetes.
‘So. Maybe think about what else is going on in her life. She is more than diabetes (that’s why calling her a ‘diabetic’ isn’t a great idea) and I bet she is going to respond a lot better to some kindness and concern and perhaps a suggestion she see a psychologist if she’s not already doing so. Because the judgement and judgemental language is not helping at all.’
I looked at both nurses. I was still using a really calm, level voice, but I could tell that they were a little annoyed. And more than a little stunned. I smiled at them.
‘Okay then. Bye.’ I started to walk off, but stopped and turned back around. ‘Oh – can you tell me how to get to room 18A please?’
Right-oh. Next up on the holiday playlist is James Taylor. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.