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I’m still getting my head around the #HealtheVoicesAU conference – there was so much that happened over the event that it’s taking time to write about it all and really nut out what I took away from each session. (Previous posts here and here.)
When I looked at the program, I was probably most excited to hear from Nick Bowditch. I knew nothing about Nick other than what the program told us: He is the only person in Asia Pacific to have worked at Facebook and Twitter; he’s an entrepreneur who helps small businesses here and across the globe shape their online presence. And his personal health story is that Nick is a mental health advocate as someone who has lived with depression for many years.
I knew Nick’s talk would have lots to offer, and title of his talk that had me excited: ‘The Art of Storytelling’.
I’ve written before about why I love story tellers and story-telling. And telling my own story. It’s reading and hearing the stories of others with diabetes that helps put in context my own experiences. Others’ perspectives shape my own and I learn so much from how others deal with the clusterfuck that diabetes can be.
The first slide Nick showed us was of the wonderful Jamaa el-Fna in Marrakech. He told us how he spent an evening captivated in the square. There amongst the snake charmers and the men walking around with monkeys on leads and the little girls selling tissues and the vendors hawking fresh orange juice, were story tellers. And although he couldn’t understand a word they were saying, he was enthralled as they animatedly told their stories.
That’s the beauty and magic of a good story teller – you don’t necessarily need to understand the detail; just getting the gist of the tale is enough.
And then, Nick gave us the snapshot of his story. In a nutshell, he told us this:
It’s easy to make assumptions and think that you know what Nick might be living with if you see that list. But you’d probably be wrong. I know I certainly was. My initial ideas of what life must be like for Nick were turned on their heads as he put into context what each of the above aspects of his life actually means to him:
By turning our assumptions on their head and reframing how he lives with mental health conditions shows us that Nick is not ‘just coping’, he’s living. His words were: ‘These are not my defects. These are my superpowers.’ And it challenges us to reconsider our preconceived ideas. I know that those of us who speak about diabetes often challenge what others think.
The image of T1D being all about kids and needles and blood is not really what it’s about for me. And the far-too-easy idea that T2D is all about older, overweight, inactive people is wrong too.
When we tell our stories – and reframe the narrative – the truth comes out.
Possibly the most powerful thing Nick said was this: ‘Telling the truth is not brave. It’s easy. The hard thing is not being authentic.’ We’d come full circle back to the first speaker of the day who implored us to find authenticity in what we were saying. And it reminded me of why I have always been an advocate of having people with diabetes sharing their stories in any forum where people are talking diabetes: the legitimacy of lived experience cannot be found in any other way than actually having someone tell their story.
I see first-hand the power that having a person with a health condition stand alongside a healthcare professional and put into context the theory and research that they have just presented.
There is an art to storytelling. We do it every day that we tell our story. We do it every time we put words on a page for a blog post, or in a diary or in a letter, ot when we stand up and tell it like it is. Some do it far more elegantly and eloquently, but the things is; it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re authentic.
Thanks to Janssen (the pharma arm of Johnson and Johnson) for covering my travel and accommodation costs to attend the #HealtheVoicesAU conference. There was no expectation by Janssen that I would write about the event and everything expressed here (and on Twitter Facebook and other social feeds) is mine and mine-alone! To read more, check out the conference hashtag, #HealtheVoicesAU, on the socials.
Last week, my Timehop app reminded me of this snapshot in time.
This photo was taken at the 2013 International Diabetes Federation’s World Diabetes Congress in Melbourne, and that look on my face is of pure anger. I was listening to a speaker – a doctor – referring to ‘non-compliant diabetics’ as he was telling of the ‘poor outcomes’ of ‘patients’ in his practise.
The old language chestnut came up again on the second day of the #MayoInOZ conference during the innovation showcase was held. In this session, nine speakers were each given five minutes to present how they are using social and digital tools to improve healthcare. (This is where Kim spoke about #OzDOC and how healthcare professionals use the hourly tweetchat as an opportunity to engage and learn from people with diabetes.)
The final speaker in the innovation sessions was a late addition and it was great to see diabetes again being represented. I know I am biased, but I do always get excited when I see diabetes on the program!
Andy Benson from Coffs Endocrine and Diabetes Centre presented on the project she has been working on: telling the story of diabetes in a series of documentaries to be screened on the BBC.
So, first things first. I love this idea. I am a huge fan of having diabetes out in the ‘public’ space, pulling it out from diabetes groups and diabetes-specific forums, because in most of these cases, we’re preaching to the converted. It’s one of the reasons I love writing for Mamamia Women’s Network where I know that most of the readers probably don’t already have a connection to diabetes.
If these documentaries are screened on the BBC, imagine the audience! It is so refreshing to see people thinking outside the box and looking for ways to present to a new audience – and to tell stories, real stories of real people who actually live each day with diabetes.
Andy showed two short video clips from the still-in-development documentaries. As healthcare professionals on screen spoke about diabetes, I automatically prickled, my language and stigma sensors being alerted straight away.
I wasn’t the only one. In a room with two other diabetes advocates – Kim, Melinda Seed (Once Diabetes), as well as several very vocal health advocates and activists, there was a sense of discomfort at what we were seeing.
I inhaled – maybe ‘gasped’ is a better word – when one of the HCPs used the words ‘diabetes plague’ in his introductory words. There was an undeniable sense of blaming the person with diabetes in the words being used and the sentiments being expressed.
The Twitter conversation from both people in the room and those following along was honest and candid. And, quite frankly, it was uncomfortable too. Andy had disclosed that she has type 1 diabetes, and I didn’t want to be actively criticising the work of a fellow PWD.
However, I could not keep quiet either. When Andy came over to chat after her talk, we had a very open discussion. I was probably quite blunt in my comments.
It is not okay to use language that is stigmatising. The format of the information being presented (i.e. unscripted interviews) doesn’t preclude anyone from being courteous and respectful, and I don’t believe that PWD were being treated either courteously or respectfully in the way about which we were being spoken.
I understand that there is a desire for authenticity and genuineness when interviewing documentary ‘talent’, however it is possible to be clear from the outset that language needs to be respectful at all times. Not sure where to begin with this? How about the Diabetes Australia Language Position Statement which actually provides suggestions for inclusive, non-stigmatising language?
I think it is really important to acknowledge that the road to satisfaction in the way we use language that is inclusive and non-stigmatising is a very, very long one. Also, I genuinely don’t believe that there was any malice intended on the part of the film makers or the interviewees.
We also need to acknowledge that the language used in what has been (and many would argue continues to be) a patriarchal health system is entrenched in the thinking of many – it was part of their training and is a habit that will take time to break. But by acknowledging it, we are not saying it is okay.
As I said, I love the idea that diabetes is a topic for a documentary that is being made for a non-diabetes-specific audience. However, if those people walk away thinking that my healthcare condition is a burden to society (and therefore I am too!) or that they believe it is okay to continue to use words that stigmatise, then there is the potential for this work to do more harm than good.
And finally, a call to not only the coordinators and owners of this work, but to all who are developing any sort of health information using any sort of platform: talk to people with the condition. Lots of them. It is not okay to have one token consumer representative; there should be many – as many as (if not more than) any other expert being consulted.
It’s Drop the Jargon Day. Here’s one I prepared earlier about this very topic.
So today, I am taking extra care about the words I use and the things I say and write when talking diabetes.
I know I am guilty of being very lingo-istic at times. I read through this blog and see the jargon sprinkled through posts, abbreviations and slang terms littered everywhere. (Huge thanks to someone who commented on one of my posts last week about how I need to not use anagrams so much!)
I catch myself in meetings using shorthand that makes sense to me, and correct myself by explaining terms may be like a second language to those of us required to speak it fluently, but a foreign language to those who don’t.
So today, I am going to use pictures to illustrate this issue. Because a picture tells a thousand words. And a cartoonist is far more amusing that I could ever hope to be! (Click on images for source.)
Today, I just want to follow up a little about one of the points I wrote about yesterday in my post about the event I attended on Tuesday evening about diabetes-related foot complications, specifically this point made my A/Prof Ramon Varcoe:
He explored how we make people with diabetes know this technique for saving limbs is available, and said that it is really, really important to inform PWD about it so that they can ASK for it and not just accept a diagnosis of requiring an amputation. He said that this was the group that could really drive change here, by demanding that they have the best treatment possible.
This had me thinking long and hard. I agree with A/Prof Varcoe here, but that is not really a surprise. I am so much about consumer-led healthcare, that I dream about it (sad, but true).
Mostly, I thought about it in context of my own diabetes care and how it has happened that I am such a DTech nerd. I decided after about two years of living with diabetes that I wanted to use an insulin pump. I really just could not get the hang of the MDI situation I had been put on at diagnosis and was the living embodiment of why Protophane was referred to as Protopain.
I went to an information session and heard a women speaking about how much she loved using an insulin pump and what a difference it had made for her quality of life. Afterwards, I spoke with her and by the end of our chat, was convinced. I wanted one of those! (Impressionable little thing, aren’t I? #MarketersDream) This woman would become my pump trainer and the only diabetes educator I have ever seen.
At my next endo appointment, I marched in with the research I had done, the questions I needed answered and an expectation that by the end of the consultation, I would leave with details of how and when and where I would be getting my pump. Ha, the naivety!
My endo was absolutely not keen for me to take the pump road, ‘You’ve not had diabetes long enough,’ he told me, which confused me no end, because it already felt like a lifetime. ‘I think we should talk about this again after you’ve had diabetes for about 5 years. Yes?’
Well, no. That was the last time I saw him. I spent the next six months endo shopping until I found one that (I was promised) would agree to helping me on a way to a pump. I walked in and made it very clear why I was there and he nodded straight away. ‘Yep – we can do that,’ and picked up the phone. And about three months later, I was a pumper. This particular endo and I parted ways not long after because I needed someone who was far more expert in the diabetes and pregnancy track I wanted to embark, but I have always been grateful that I found him and his open attitude to diabetes technology.
When CGM was launched into Australia, I spoke to my diabetes educator and asked her to fill in the required paperwork to get me sensing. She sent the form off the day we spoke.
And the same has happened when I have wanted to change or upgrade diabetes devices.
What I am trying to say is that this has all been led by me. So when A/Prof Varcoe spoke about the importance and value of connecting with PWD and telling them about these new vascular procedures to save limbs and prevent major amputations, it made perfect sense. He urged that we needed PWD to be the ones who, if told they needed to have an amputation, spoke up and asked for a second or third opinion, specifically asking about the very procedure he had just discussed.
This ground swell of action is what causes change, but we need to know exactly what to ask for. It’s far more effective to ask the question ‘Can my artery be revascularised? I understand there is surgery than can do that and may prevent the need for a major amputation.’ rather than just ‘Is there nothing more than can be done?’
So many of the people with diabetes I know are using particular drugs or devices because they have asked for them – not because they were recommended or suggested by their HCP. And this is why PWD need to have all the information. This is why device companies should be going straight to the consumer to share information, not expecting it to happen through HCPs. (I know that there has been discomfort from some HCPs at Abbott’s direct to consumer promotion of Libre – and the fact that PWD can order themselves without needing to see a HCP, but why would that be the case?)
But it is more than just making sure the information is there for PWD to know and see. It is a complete and utter reshaping of a system that a lot of times actually isn’t about empowerment. There are still too many ‘old school’, patriarchal attitudes that dictate care choices to the PWD instead of accepting and encouraging us to lead the way for our own care. I think things are changing, but I also think they are changing far too slowly.
Apparently, I went to Munich. I was away for 6 days, and 60 hours of those days were spent in transit. I believe that, (as I deal with jet lag, hypoglycaemia, and mainlining caffeine), it is fair and accurate to say that I am too old for this shit.
I am also incapable of forming paragraphs. But dot points are fun! Here are some observations and a few silly thoughts from last week. (I’ll write some sensible things when my brain is back in the same country as the rest of me.)
- I am told by people Munich is a lovely city. I will have to take these people’s word for it, ‘cause I saw very little of the city.
- I did not buy a dirndl and for this, I will be eternally sorry. As will my husband.
- The EASD conference itself was, as predicted, very rats and mice-y. I sat in a number of sessions and wished I was a mouse (while wishing my diabetes away). Alas, I am not a mouse. And I still have diabetes. Damn.
- I did not get sick of laughing at the fact that one of the halls at ICM Messe München is called Langerhan Hall. Also, I did not get sick of saying ‘I wonder if my islet cells are in there’ – to everyone within earshot. Even if I didn’t know them.
- Obviously, Grumps was not as amused by this as me.
- As was the case at ADA, my arm is more recognisable and famous than me. A barista at one of the exhibition hall stands said, as making me a decent coffee, ‘Oh – I know you. I saw your arm the other day near the station.’ I am a walking billboard for Rockadex! (I am not sponsored by Rockadex and purchase my own patches.)
- Dr Kevin Lee from Queensland is a tweeting machine! In fact, I think the thing I was proudest of at EASD was seeing him tweet! (Actually, probably should say that Professor Mark Cooper’s giving the Claude Bernard Lecture was also a moment of national pride, but Kevin’s tweeting was on another level!)
- One of my favourite talks was about diabetes, cardiac health and exercise (go on, laugh….), but that was mostly because presenter Dr Nikolaus Marx, finished up with a discussion about passive exercise and cardiovascular events during the World Cup. If you were in the room, it was me who cheered when he mentioned the increase of cardiac events after Italy beat Germany. (#VivaItalia!). For clarification, I was cheering at Gli Azzuri’s victory, not the number of Germans having heart attacks. (By the way, this was a real study. Published here.)
- A HUGE shout out to these three women. AADE presidents elect, past and present, Nancy D’Hondt, Deb Greenwood and Hope Warsaw are absolute advocates for and champions of people with daibetes, and peer support. This is them at the docday blogger and advocate event. This level of commitment by HCPs to consumer engagement is enlightening, and a lot could be learnt from their example here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
- It was wonderful to see quite a lot of discussion about AP. Anytime someone wants to actually get these into market and into the hands of people with diabetes, that would be just great! Thank you.
- I may have screamed a little when I wandered through the Association Village to the excellent historical display of diabetes by the German diabetes Association. Terrifying might be the word for these needles. I said a little prayer of thanks to the diabetes angels for modern day tech, and for being diagnosed in 1998.
- I need to take a break from twitter. This was the state of play when I said good bye to the conference.
And finally, a word about language, because I am unable to attend a conference and not talk and write about it. (I think it’s actually become a law somewhere.) This probably deserves a post of its own and that may happen, but here we go anyway.
This is the fifth EASD conference I have attended, and going in, I know that it is going to be challenging, language-wise. There often appears to be very little consideration that there could be PWD in the room listening in to how HCPs are speaking of us. In the opening ceremony, I tweeted this at EASD president, Professor Juleen Zierath:
I was a little disappointed at Professor Mark Cooper’s constant use of ‘diabetic’, but it was by no means any more than most of the other speakers. I suppose I just hold Australian speakers to higher account given the work we have been doing here around language and diabetes.
This tweet generated quite a lot of discussion, and came about after I was exhausted and annoyed and mostly frustrated by the way speakers were referring to people with diabetes.
Perhaps the best response was from Nick Oliver:
Here’s the thing – and it is something I spoke about during my talk at the DOCDAY event. Language DOES matter. We all know that. It’s completely and utterly disingenuous to say it doesn’t. For some people, it doesn’t bother them and that’s terrific. For others, though, it really does. So why would anyone do something that may offend when it is so easy to avoid that?
DISCLOSE DISCLOSE DISCLOSE
My (economy fare) flights and accommodation expenses were covered by AMSL and J&J. I was attending the EASD conference mainly to attend the J&J DOC exchange meeting which I was involved in preparing and presenting. No one ever expects me to write anything. These are my words and observations only. (And seriously, have you seen what I have just written? No one wants to be associated with that!)
This photo* sums up why I do what I do, and why many people think I sound like a broken record, with a vocabulary of a mere seven words. Specifically, these seven words: ‘Have you spoken to people with diabetes?’
Because so often, the answer is ‘No’. Or ‘No – we’ll be doing that after we have had some meetings.‘ Or ‘Yes – we spoke to you‘ at which point I remind them that I pointed out when they did indeed speak to me that they should find other people with diabetes to speak with. Because I am but one person and speak for no one other than me. (Or, perhaps, another woman in her 40s who loves Nutella, boots, coffee, lives in inner-Melbourne, waves her hands around madly while speaking reallyreallyreallyreally fast, can recite Marx Bros movies from start to end, has what some would call an irrational fear of birds (and butterflies), can sing (badly) pretty much any song from the 1980s, has over 25 striped t-shirts in her cupboard and is battling an eleven year old daughter who has decided that she too loves stripes and wants to borrow all her mother’s clothes.)
Most people are not like that. (Fortunately.)
Anyway, this picture also demonstrates that those who have the privilege of designing services, activities, programs, settings for people with diabetes often miss the point – perhaps not by much, but nonetheless, they miss it. It’s usually because they forgot to ask us, or asked as too late, or didn’t keep coming back and asking and checking in. And then, when we don’t use what they design, we are branded ‘non-compliant’ or ‘disengaged‘ or ‘not interested in our health’, when the truth of the matter is that their design (without our input) just doesn’t fit our needs.
I have given so many talks and written so many pieces about this. But perhaps all I need is this on a t-shirt, tattooed to my arm (forehead?) and on the back of my business cards. Don’t design before speaking to the user. It’s actually really easy!
(*I don’t know the source of this photo, but if anyone does, please let me know so I can credit appropriately.)
There is a dance I do with diabetes each and every day. I praise, celebrate and highlight the good; I avoid, shut out and ignore the bad. The things that scare me are pushed away – as deep as they can go. When they threaten to rise to the surface, I do the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and start chanting ‘la, la, la’ so they recede to where they belong. Out of sight. Out of mind.
I’ve done this for as long as I’ve had diabetes. From day one, I pushed away the ugly and scary images of diabetes complications. I conveniently ignored the warnings and threats. Obviously. Because no one wants to be scared or warned or threatened the day they find out they have a life-long chronic health condition. Or ever.
I am scared. Diabetes scares me a lot. It always has, but for some reason, it is more at the moment. I don’t know why. Nothing has changed. There has not been a frightening experience or a noticeable change in anything. But as days and weeks and months and years as a person with diabetes gets crossed off some imaginary calendar, I am suddenly feeling that it is a countdown to where the really difficult things start.
I worry about what each passing hour is doing to my body and to my mind. If I’m being particularly forgetful, I wonder if it is because my head is so full of diabetes considerations that there is no room for a synonym for fear (dread, anxiety, terror, dismay alarm….) or recalling what day my kid has library each week.
But thinking about it more, I think the fear comes from the lies we are sold about our diabetes. I was promised the day I was diagnosed by a lovely, but most likely completely out of touch doctor, that diabetes is a matter of maths and that if you do the equations properly, it can be easily controlled.
Diabetes can’t be controlled, and with each moment of failure – and there are many and they are constant – I have feared the consequences. And I fear diabetes. With each missed calculation or out-of-range number or confusion about how the hell this thing really works, I see failure. And fear.
Diabetes is not a matter of maths, and the idea that I can control it results in a constant state of high alert as I pretend to be a body part that, when working, is pretty damn perfect. I am not perfect. In any way. And neither is the way I manage my diabetes. It’s messed up. And I’m messed up about it.
And now, as always, there are the fears. And they seem bigger and bolder all the time. I fear diabetes-related complications – long- and short-term. I fear losing the ability to take care of myself and care for others. I fear diabetes becoming so intrusive that I am unable to do anything else. And I fear diabetes becoming the first, last and only thing others think about when they see me. Perhaps most of all, I fear diabetes becoming the first, last and only thing I think about when I see me…
I wonder just how differently I would feel about diabetes – the known and unknown – if I was told at diagnosis that I would get this wrong more times than I got it right. And that was perfectly okay, understandable and acceptable. I wonder how much less significant the feelings of failure would be. And how much more in check my fears would be.