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Firstly, let me start this piece by saying #NotAllHealthProfessionals. There: I got it out there upfront because I know that what follows is likely to garner response from a shedload of healthcare professionals that they would never do the sort of crap I am about to write about.

Sure – I know that there are lots of great ones out there. I get that there are champions for our cause; HCPs who genuinely walk alongside us and truly listen to what we say and what we need.

But here’s the thing. It takes more than that; more than just doing the right thing in your own little world. It takes guts and leadership to take a stand, and it takes standing up to colleagues who are not getting it right. And sadly, even the good ones don’t do that enough.

Last week, I shared a pathetic image from a Facebook page that is, allegedly, a satire site. It seems to be administered by HCPs and most of the comments appear to be from HCPs. (You can see it here if you are on FB. I don’t want to share the image on my blog.)

I shared the image with these words: ‘This isn’t funny. it’s not smart. It’s not clever. Even less funny is that it appears this is a page for and by healthcare professionals. The comments are disgraceful. HCPs are not our allies when they do this sort of shit. Instead, they’re contributing to the distress and shame that many PWD feel.’

The thing that upset me most wasn’t the pitiful attempt at humour. Let’s be honest – there was nothing in there we had not seen before. A million times over. This sort of ‘humour’ is in the DNA of every stigmatising diabetes ‘joke’.

What upset me were the comments that followed. At last count, there were about 1,000 of them, most of them applauding the image. Here’s just a selection from the first few:

‘Brilliant – but no one ever heeds this advice.’ (From a nurse who claims 30 years of nursing experience.)

‘This is how I label things.’ (Pharmacist.)

‘Should be on every diabetes med.’ (Exercise physiologist.)

‘The things you wish you could say to patients without losing your job.’ (Nurse.)

‘Love that!’ (Med student.)

‘Hahahah!’ (Podiatrist.)

‘Legit needs to be on boxes.’ (Nurse.)

‘Sorry…I can’t read that small print on account of my sugary eyes.’ (Doctor.)

‘Hahahah. Great quality labelling.’ (Pharmacy student.)

‘Accurate.’ (Physiotherapist.)

‘I love this so much.’ (Doctor.)

‘Damn, should’ve mentioned patient’s McDonalds intake as consideration for Contrave (a weight loss drug).’ (Doctor.)

‘If only we could write that!’ (Nurse.)

‘Control your diabetes or you’ll lose your feeties.’ (Doctor.)

There were more… a lot more. Predictably, the very few of us who questioned just how this was meant to be amusing were told that we needed to lighten up/see the funny side in it/understand it was satire. Or people doubled down to tell us that we were wrong and then went on to school us with further myths about diabetes. Seriously, these people need to get just a touch of originality and try to come up with a stigmatising meme we’ve not seen several million times already, and then come back at us with inventive comments.

I am willing to bet that pretty much every single one of those HCPs will claim to be all about ‘patient-centred care’. I am sure that they believe that they are truly there for what their ‘patients’ need. If pressed, they would probably say that they would never, ever say something like this in front of a patient – because they care about us so much.

That’s bullshit.

A healthcare professional who is truly there to champion PWD would have called that meme out for every shade of stigma that it is. They would not have shared it amongst their colleagues or wanted to print it out for the tea room (as a couple of people said they had done). They wouldn’t have found it funny; they would have found it offensive, stigmatising and downright wrong. And they would have said that, trying to put a stop to hundreds and hundreds of comments.

And those HCPs who realised that it was a load of bullshit and said nothing? They need to look at themselves too. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. When you say nothing, you’re implicitly saying that it is okay.

It is not okay.

Who remembers the outrage from HCPs last year when #DoctorsAreDickheads was trending on Twitter? (Here you go: I wrote about it here.) Doctors were outraged, offended and irrate, and urged patients to counter the horror stories that people were sharing with positive stories of their own doctor experiences. And what happened? People – patients – did that. Even I defended my HCP team when I wrote my blog post. And I even prefaced this post with a disclaimer, because I know that some HCPs will read this and be all indignant. If that is your response to this… respectfully, get over yourself!

Because, where are those HCPs now? Where are the doctors getting angry and outraged every.single.time we have to endure another stigmatising, cruel, demoralising and downright wrong ‘joke’ or comment? Where are the HCPs standing up at conferences when a presenter makes some comment about how PWD ‘fake’ our BGL results or ‘forget our meters’ for download or whatever other behaviour gets us a non-compliant mark against our name?

So, here is what I want to say to HCPs – every single one of you.

Please, please be an ally. Stand up for us. Listen to us. Don’t talk over us. Don’t tell us that our experience is wrong or doesn’t matter. Don’t walk by when your colleagues do this sort of crap. Don’t minimise or delegitimise us by saying that it’s ‘just a joke’ or promising us that you wouldn’t do this. Because enough of your colleagues do. (Also, don’t @ me and tell me how much better you are because you are a leader and don’t do this kind of shit or do call it out. That’s great. And thank you. This isn’t about you. But you still can do something.)

We need you to do this for us. Or rather, along with us. Because when we do it alone (and most of the time, it is us doing it alone), we are dismissed as being too emotional or not being able to understand the humour. As much as I wish it was enough for our comments to resonate, it isn’t. So, we need allies. We need you.

It takes courage and leadership. But if you truly, truly want to be there for us for what we need, then you need to step up. Please be an ally. Please.

P.S. There were a couple of HCPs who commented on the FB page that obviously, this meme was about type 2 diabetes and not type 1 diabetes. If you are one of those HCPs who insists on doing things like that, ask yourself just how much you are contributing to the misinformation and stigma about type 2 diabetes. We know that T1D is autoimmune/not preventable, but when you use a broad brush to correct comments about diabetes with ‘You mean T2D‘ you are not really helping. In fact, you’re just adding to the misinformation by suggesting that all T2D is preventable and that is not true. You know that. Do better.

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‘I’m bored with diabetes. So, so bored.’That was how I opened last week’s appointment with my endocrinologist.

She nodded at me. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time someone had commented on the boring nature of diabetes. It’s programmed into the DNA of the health condition we live with. She waited for me to go on (she really is the master of not filling silences).

‘What can I do to shake things up? What should I be doing?’

It was a repeat performance of my last appointment back in February. I walked in with this need to shake things up; do more; be more proactive; add stuff to my routine.

My endocrinologist, thoughtful as ever, waited some more for me to finish my brain dump. So, off I went…

‘I am doing so little to manage my diabetes these days. I’m not burnt out – that’s not what I am saying at all. I’m not doing that thing where I pretend I don’t have diabetes. I am doing everything I need to do, except these days, it seems I don’t really do much. Loop keeps Looping and I really feel that my only input is making sure there is insulin in my pump and a working cannula and sensor in place. I bolus as required.

‘But it doesn’t seem enough. There was time each day that I had set aside for diabetes that I don’t need anymore because managing rollercoaster glucose levels, or responding to countless alarms, or managing those hypos that resulted in multiple lost hours…these things just don’t happen anymore. Or if they do, they take so little time to address that it almost seems insignificant. 

‘I feel like I am not doing enough. So…what can I do?’ 

When she knew I had finished sharing my stream of consciousness, she looked straight at me and said: ‘You do exactly what you are doing. There is nothing more that I would suggest or recommend that you do. You asked last time about adding some different therapies to your current management, but there is nothing that would suggest any benefit to that. 

‘If you were not looping and doing what you used to have to do and all that entailed and telling me what you are telling me: that you are feeling well, you feel your diabetes is in a good place, you are not feeling burnt out and that you are happy with how and where your diabetes was tracking right now…and if that was accompanied by the A1c you are running, I don’t think we would be having this conversation. I doubt that you would be asking what more you could do. You would know that you are meeting all the targets you want to and are feeling overall great about your diabetes.’

Of course, she was right. That was my situation two years ago: I was feeling fine about my diabetes (or as fine as I ever was going to) and was thrilled with my A1c (which wasn’t as low as it is now). And I certainly wasn’t thinking that I needed to do more. I accepted that I was putting in the effort and for once was seeing the outcomes I liked. The idea of adding more tasks to my diabetes life would never have entered my mind!

‘I know you are right,’ I said to her and then mentioned the talk I’d heard at #DData last year when fellow DIY-er, Justin Walker, said that since using OpenAPS he saved himself about an hour a day. ‘An hour a day. That’s a lot of extra time I didn’t have before. I don’t know what to do with it,’ I paused. ‘Maybe I should take up knitting.’

‘You could learn a language in that time,’ she suggested, helpfully.

It has me wondering if this is a thing for others who have embraced the DIYAPS way of life. Have you all just embraced this renewed freedom and extra time and run with it, or are you too wondering what to do with your hands?

Nineteen years of constantly focusing on the minutiae of diabetes, and second guessing myself and having to DO SO MUCH diabetes is a really hard thing for me to unlearn. The last two years have been really, really different. Who knew that my response to finally getting that break that I so desperately wanted would be to not know what to do with myself and want to do more?!

Since Looping, diabetes has taken a back seat in my life because the daily demands are far fewer. Sure, the emotional toll is still somewhat there – especially when it comes to the fears I have about the future. But the daily frustrations and intrusions are not there. And that means that as well as having to physically do less, I think about it less. I had no idea just how much that all took until I stopped doing it.

I get that this is coming from a position of extraordinary privilege, and feel free to file it away under not only first world, but also first-class problems. And ignore me. (Seriously, I thought of myself as insufferable when I was having conversation last week.)

Or send me knitting patterns. In the meantime, I’ll be over in the corner conjugating irregular verbs.

Sometimes, something happens at a diabetes conference that I need to sit on for a while before I can write or talk about it. At ADA this year (almost six weeks ago now), there was a moment that has stuck with me and I think it’s time to talk about it.

I was sitting in the front row of the language session – because, of course I was – eager to hear from the all-star panel that was going to be looking at the language issues from the perspective of the PWD and HCP, as well as look at the role HCPs play in addressing diabetes stigma and how they can improve communication. I loved the well-rounded approach the session was taking, and settled in for a couple of hours of discussion.

The line-up was a veritable A-list of the best voices in the space. We had ‘Jane squaredhttps://diabetogenic.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/greetings-from-san-francisco-and-ada2019/, with Dickinson and Speight book-ending the program, Joe Solowiejczyk giving the consumer side and Kevin Joiner providing strategies for dismantling stigma.

Jane Dickinson has been an absolute champion of the diabetes #LanguageMatters movement in the US. And it was in her introductory session that the moment of today’s post happened. Jane was speaking about how HCPs see diabetes and people living with the condition. And she showed this slide:

I can’t remember if Jane read out the quotes. But I do remember how I felt as I read them and took in what they meant. I felt beaten.

As people living with diabetes, so many of us have firsthand experience of hearing these sorts of comments directed to us. Or we have had friends with diabetes tell us their tales. Or we have heard passing comments from HCPs expressing similar sentiments. The idea that we don’t care, have brought it all on ourselves, deserve what we have coming – and conversely, don’t deserve care – us pervasive through the diabetes landscape.

This is how diabetes and those of us are living with it are perceived. And it is heartbreaking.

There is no consistency as to who is making these comments – healthcare professionals from all different disciplines, at different stages of their careers, with different experiences. Some work in tax-funded settings, others in private settings. They are considered the best in their field, they are held up as examples of excellent care. Other HCPs refer PWD to them.

Often, I hear people say that these attitudes are really only ever the thoughts of ’old school’ HCPs who have been around for a long time; it’s a throwback to the patriarchal attitudes of healthcare – to days when doctor or nurse knows best and ‘patient’ does what they are told, and if they don’t, they get told off, while being written off as not caring for themselves.

But that assessment is actually not true at all. Some of the most sensitive and tuned-in HCPs I know have been working in diabetes for many, many years.

And some are yet to have even started their career. In exactly the same way that diabetes doesn’t discriminate, it seems that these horrid attitudes and stigmatising comments can come from people at every stage of their career.

Here is the whole slide.

That’s right. These comments came from future nurses. They hadn’t even set foot on the wards yet as qualified HCPs. But somehow, their perceptions of people with diabetes were already negative, and so full of bias. Already, they have a seed planted that is going to grow into a huge tree of blaming and shaming. And the people they are trusted to help will be made to feel at fault and as though they deserve whatever comes their way.

This – THIS – is why I am not stopping banging on about language and diabetes. THIS is why I get frustrated when someone responds to – and reduces – a discussion about this issue with ‘But I/my kid is happy to be called (a) diabetic’. THIS is why I constantly highlight when people or organisations or people in the media are using stigmatising or negative language.

The words we use shape the attitudes we have, and the attitudes held by many about diabetes are disgraceful. Imagine if instead of mindsets like this, HCPs came out of their training with the idea that people with diabetes need support, education, information, compassion and skills to best manage a condition that no one, but no one, ever asked for Just think about how different – and better – that could be.

The ADA session ended perfectly – with Jane Speight (my personal diabetes #LanguageMatters hero) playing the Mytonomy ‘Changing the Conversation’ video. So, here’s that video again. Watch it. Share it.

 

Diabetes is a big deal. Most people living with diabetes can talk to that. But are there ways that we can reduce its impact in small ways that may just add up to something meaningful?

I was thinking about this when I saw Dana Lewis tweet an update from her most recent travels. She does this often – a photo and a comment as she has breezed through security, and I love that she does. Dispelling myths that travel with diabetes has to be a logistical nightmare involving routine strip searches and confiscation of devices is only a good thing, and hopefully will show that diabetes shouldn’t be a reason to delay a trip somewhere.

I’ve made it no big deal by never declaring that I have diabetes or that I am carrying diabetes kit, because why the hell draw attention to something unless necessary? If, for any reason, an alarm sounds, or I get asked about what I’m wearing or carrying, I have a clear, polite, stock standard response that usually does the trick.

That doesn’t mean that travel is never going to involve diabetes-related questions, but there are certainly ways that can minimise just how much of an issue it all is – or even stop it starting to begin with! Dozens and dozens of flights, more security check points than I care to think about … and the times there was an issue can be counted on one hand. No big deal.

The longer you live with diabetes, the better you are at finding shortcuts to make life easier. And reducing just how big a deal every day occurrences are is one way to do just that.

For example, being weighed at diabetes consultations (in fact, most consultations) is a no-no for me. I’ve made it clear to my endo why I don’t want to be, the circumstances under which I will agree to it, and why I find it difficult.

By the way – I know that being weighed is actually a big deal for a lot of people, me included. There’s a lot tied up in stepping on scales. I’m certainly not trying to minimise the minefield that is weight and being weighed. I am just trying to explain how I have been able to remove a lot of the angst just by doing something simple and being clear about my wishes.

Apart from a few times where I have had to repeat my position more than once, it’s never been a problem. It’s actually interesting how HCPs respond when you ask why they need to do something. ‘We need it for our records,’ is never a good enough reason for anything as far as I’m concerned – certainly not how much I weigh.

I get the position of privilege I am coming from here, by the way. I know that I am assertive enough to state what I want and expect, back it up if necessary, and having that confidence means I find it easier to navigate the often treacherous waters of diabetes and getting what I want. I am comfortable saying no and holding my ground, and I can’t remember the last time that wasn’t the case.

Diabetes is a huge deal, so working out ways to make things a little less big makes sense to me. I don’t have the time, inclination or energy to waste on things that really can be minimised. What is important and a big deal (or what isn’t) for me, will be different for others, but I do wonder if sometimes we make more out of things that we really don’t need to. Because, really, sometimes it’s good to shrug our shoulders and just think ‘no big deal’.

#TravelWithDiabetes – no big deal

More musings from ADA, this time following yesterday’s diabetes-related complications session.

DISCLOSURES

I am attending ADA as part of my role at Diabetes Australia. My economy flights and accommodation have been covered by the organisation.

I had my annual eye screening today. If you want to get an idea of how I was feeling in the lead up, you can read this, or this, or this. Because it’s always the same.

The orthoptist called me from the waiting room, and as I followed her in, she said ‘We’ve been seeing you for eighteen years now.’

‘That’s right,’I said. ‘Obviously, we were both twelve years old when I first started coming here.’

She laughed and agreed with that assessment.

‘You know there’s a reason for that, right?’I asked her. ‘You and Prof Ophthalmologist know how I feel about my eye screening. And you have always been so kind and lovely about it. I have never been made to feel foolish. If I have been late with a screening check – as I often was back in those early years – I never felt shamed or told off. You have always been kind to me. Kindness in care is so underestimated.’

We chatted some more about that and then she did the usual checks and delivered the news as she always does. Diabetes-wise everything was exactly as it was last time I was there, and I let out half a sigh of relief. I still had to see the ophthalmologist, so the other half would have to wait a little more.

Finished with me, she escorted me to the second waiting room where I kept myself occupied trying to read things as my vision blurred more and more, and convincing myself that I was not having some sort of heart event, despite my racing heartbeat.

The rest of my visit was as unadventurous as the beginning of it. My ophthalmologist was his usual self – he made some cheeky comments about my aversion to seeing him, asked me how I was, commended me on living with diabetes for 21 years, and then looked at my eyes. After announcing them to be ‘pristine’ (I asked if that as a technical term and he said in this instance, yes), we spoke a bit about how flying seemed to flare up the blepharitis I had been recently diagnosed with. (That’s all for another blog post, but basically, it’s inflammation of the eye lids.) I noted down how to best manage those flares and what I needed to watch for in the future. My heartrate had returned to normal and I was breathing easily again.

As I put on my coat, I mentioned the eighteen years I’ve been attending his clinic. ‘I really don’t like the fact that I have to come and see you. I don’t look forward to it – in fact I pretty much dread it,’ I said. I watched him smile and shake his head slightly. He is more than used to my melodramatic tendencies.

‘But I am eternally grateful for how generous you and your staff have always been. I love that I have never felt anything other than safe here, and that says a lot when the thought of someone so much as looking at my eye makes me want to cry. The fact that you touch my eyeball to check the pressure of my eye – or whatever you do – is just beyond terrifying. But I would never think to miss an eye screening now – never. I know when it is due, and I am completely dialled in to it all. A lot of that has to do with knowing how this whole experience will play out.’

I picked up my bag and he handed me some samples to help my eyes when I am stuck on aeroplanes for days on end. ‘I’ll see you in a year, He said.‘But earlier, of course, if you have any concerns or notice any changes. You are really doing an incredible job living with diabetes, Renza.’

I thanked him and before I walked out the door said, ‘I don’t really have a choice. I live with diabetes. I don’t really have any other choice than to make the best of it. But having kind healthcare professionals like you around makes it infinitely easier. I really hope you know that you make it easy for me to show up.’

Instagram stories keeping me occupied in the second waiting room.

I was reminded of this post from a couple of years ago when I was recently speaking about hypo simulators. I understand that there is some merit in trying to help people not living with diabetes understand some of the day to day issues and challenges we face. The idea is that this can create empathy, and a greater insight into how we feel about living with diabetes.

I also am very critical of these ideas when they are given more weight than they should. When we simulate something to do with diabetes, the focus is in the physical and practical. Wearing a pump (as described in this piece) or CGM will provide experience of feeling the device on one’s body, and learning how to drive it. It gives little more. 

When I first published this piece, a GP friend who lives with type 1, said that he likened this experiment to him shoving a pillow up his jumper and walking around for a few days and then claiming to know what it is like to be a pregnant woman. Another friend said that sitting in a wheelchair for a few days may give her an idea about how hard it can be to manouever a wheelchair around, she would have no understanding of what her friend who lives with quadriplegia deal with day in, day out, our how she truly feels. 

I am interested to know how others feel. I did receive some criticism when I first wrote this. When I shared in on Facebook, a friend said that I should at least credit the doctor for trying. Perhaps I was too critical – it wouldn’t have been the first time.

When we reduce diabetes to being about nothing more than the daily tasks and devices, we seriously undermine the effort it takes to live with diabetes each and every day.

I would love to know what others think….


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.

I have some illuminating discussions with healthcare professionals. After I’ve had an in-depth conversation, I find myself going over things they have told me and discover that I have always learnt something new about what it means to work in a system that is, in many ways, broken. I learn how their approach to healthcare changes year by year as they try to do their best for the people they see each day. And I realise that I never, ever could do their job.

Other times, I shake my head a little because I wonder how their understanding of the day-to-day challenges of living with a chronic health condition is so far removed from reality. In these cases it’s almost as though we are speaking different languages.

Recently I spoke to a group of HCPs about those differences. I focused on how we manage to fit diabetes into our busy lives in ways that HCPs never can imagine and how the neat text book description of life with diabetes is very different from the mess that we are trying to tame each day. I spoke about how what they say can be read in a multitude of different ways by those of us on the other side of the consultation, and to think about words carefully. And I spoke about how although some education of HCPs about diabetes suggests that there is a one size that somehow fits us all, the truth is that we require our education to take into consideration every size and shape possible and for it to be delivered accordingly.

A doctor came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my talk. ‘Thanks for making me think differently about some things,’ she said. I loved that she said that, and I told her so. ‘Actually, that’s always one thing that I hope to get when I hear someone speak about diabetes – a new perspective or way of thinking about something that I think I have all worked out.’

We chatted a little about what she’d heard that had surprised her and would she would now be thinking about in other ways. I may have high fived her when she said that she would now be taking a lot more care with the language that she uses. ‘I had no idea that what I was saying had such stigma attached. I honestly thought I was saying the right things. I never meant for people to feel blamed, but I can see now how I could have come across that way.’

That’s been one of the challenges of the #LanguageMatters movement in diabetes. As we’ve tried to bring HCPs along for the ride, we’ve had to do it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like we are berating them. I do and will continue to call out language that impacts on PWD negatively because it does matter. Language has the power to make us feel like we can take on diabetes or be defeated by it; it can make us feel like we are doing all we can and that is enough, or that we are failing and will never do enough. Again, for those down the back – language does matter. But I truly have never believed that HCPs use language with any malice or intent of harm. It’s often just because they repeat the words and phrases that have always been used.

I explained this to the doctor and we spoke about how to get the message across in a way that highlights and promotes collaboration. After we’d been speaking for about 10 minutes, she said ‘I have a question for you,’ I nodded, eager to hear what she wanted to ask. ‘What’s the best kept secret in diabetes?’

I was startled. What an interesting – and frankly brilliant – question. I’d never been asked that before and I wanted to think about it a lot. Poor woman – I’m sure that she just wanted some sort of quippy response and to be done with it so we could go home and eat dinner.

‘Wow!’ I started, excitedly. ‘I love this. Are there any secrets to diabetes?’ I started a checklist, going through some ideas.  ‘Is it peer support? For some reason, a lot of people don’t know just how widely available this is. Or maybe it’s how people can drive their own healthcare by setting the agenda. I frequently have people tell me that they just do what their doctor tells them (or rather, say they will) because they didn’t realise that healthcare could be an open and joint dialogue. In diabetes, maybe it’s all the clandestine DIY stuff that is going on which is so apparent to those of us who play on Facebook and Twitter, but maybe not to those who are not online as much. I know it’s NOT cinnamon. Actually – maybe it’s the whole thing about how when living with diabetes, or other chronic condition, our mental health is rarely taken into account, so perhaps understanding that and being referred to relevant services is the secret. It happens to so few of us…’

I stopped, because I could sense that there was so much I wanted to say, but I truly didn’t have an answer. ‘I don’t really know,’ I sighed. ‘I wish I did. I wish there was one…’

We said our good byes and I started to walk away before the doctor called after me: ‘You know what the best kept secret in diabetes is?’

I spun around. ‘What?’ I asked. I admit that I was hoping for a key that was going to unlock the mysteries of diabetes and suddenly make it a lot easier to live with.

‘You,’ she said. ‘And others like you. If only doctors like me took the time to listen to you all we would know a lot more and probably do a much better job.’

I smiled at her. ‘We’re not really a secret,’ I said. ‘We’re actually quite out there. You’re just not looking in the right places. Or asking the right questions.’

I gave her a little wave and left the room.

Recently, I was tagged in a tweet that asked for my thoughts on a discussion that was already in progress, and had started with this tweet from diabetes consultant Pratik Choudhary:

(Click for original tweet and to read discussion)

It’s a long thread (that seems to still be going), but it is worth a read to see some different perspectives and thoughts on the role of psychologists as part of the diabetes multi-disciplinary team.

I think that Pratik’s original tweet is right in that diabetes clinicians have a role to play in acknowledging diabetes-related distress and working with PWD by asking the right questions.

But just asking isn’t enough and rarely actually gets to the root of it all. Because unless we are asked and can understand why we are behaving a certain way, we don’t know how to stop it. Why do we feel guilty? Why do we feel that we need to be perfect in the first place? Why do we base so much of our own worth on numbers (TIR or A1c)?

But in the real world, I don’t think these questions are being asked, and there are myriad reasons that’s the case. Some clinicians wouldn’t have a clue what or how to ask. And then if they did, they’d struggle to know what to do with the answers. Only recently, I heard of a diabetes educator say ‘You just have to do it’ to a PWD who had opened up and said they were really not checking their glucose levels because they felt ‘over’ diabetes and simply unable to manage its significant daily tasks.

I nodded in recognition when I heard this story because that was me for the first three and a half years of living with diabetes.

Also, sometimes PWD feel too ashamed and guilty to admit the distress they’re experiencing to their HCP, instead promising to do better and check more and respond accordingly.  But do nothing of the sort.

That was me, too.

In the limited time we get with our diabetes HCPs, we seem to have a focus on numbers and basal rates and tweaking X and Y to make Z better. We are in diabetes mode because we know those minutes are precious and diabetes is what we are meant to be focusing on – even though diabetes may be so far down our list of concerns we sometimes (try to) forget we even have it.

Yeah. That has been me too.

Even though I have an endocrinologist who asks the right questions, doesn’t fill those silences where I am looking for the right words, is encouraging and supportive and never judgemental, and understands that diabetes-related distress can be paralysing, she was not who I needed to get through those times. I love that she knew that.

She also knew that no matter how many SMART goals we set together, and even if I said that I would be able to do them because I could see they were achievable and completely not unrealistic, until I had a mental health professional work with me there was no way I was going to do them.

One of the first things she did when I started seeing her seventeen and a half years ago was refer me to a psychologist. The guilt that I was feeling about the imperfect numbers – or the lack of imperfect numbers because I was barely checking them, was steeped in a complex and convoluted mess. I needed a mental health professional whose expertise was to help guide me through it all and show me how to get things sorted.

THAT was what I needed at that point in my diabetes life…and numerous other times since then too.

For me, there has always a lot to the cause behind my diabetes-related distress, and speaking with many of my peers, they would say the same thing. I didn’t understand that it was okay for me to grieve my life before diabetes. I could remember it well – the days of not needing to think diabetes, breathe diabetes, sleep diabetes. My life was different post-diagnosis, but the recurring messages I’d heard was that diabetes wouldn’t stop me and I should just get on with life.

Well, I have done that. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t need time to mourn the days where I didn’t do all that. Having someone help me where diabetes now fit in my life was essential to clearing a path for me to actually make diabetes happen. And for the record – I’ve needed counsel with this several times because diabetes’ place does change around depending on other things in my life.

So where does a psychologist fit in the diabetes health professional equation?

For me, it must be as part of any multidisciplinary team.

I’m not sure that the day I was diagnosed would have been the right time for me to have an appointment with a psychologist (but let’s be honest, it would have been no less helpful that the dietitian and her rubber food moulds), but I certainly do wish that I’d know that having someone to talk about my mental health was a sensible thing for when I  needed it, and given clear directions about how to go about getting an appointment. I was told about the eye specialists and podiatrists that would be part of my future team, but no one thought to mention a mental health professional.

It shouldn’t have taken almost four years – four very difficult years in a lot of ways.

Over the years, seeing a psychologist has helped me with my diabetes management enormously. Those times when diabetes has terrified me to the point of paralysis and inactivity, the times where I wanted to blame diabetes for other things going on (because it is there and I generally don’t like it so it’s convenient to point my finger at it!), the times when the uncertainty of diabetes and the fear of what lies ahead, or the times when life overall has felt just too big and scary and diabetes just doesn’t get a look in … I have benefited from having a mental health professional to work with. In fact, I doubt that I would see diabetes is the way I do now without that support.

There is so much more to managing diabetes than simply doing diabetes. And there is more to diabetes distress than just acknowledging that it is there. Having diabetes specialists who understand about distress is valuable. But I really do think that understanding it ourselves, being able to identify warning signs, and developing sustainable strategies to deal with it any time it comes back needs the expertise of a psychologist.

I walked into my endo’s office yesterday, and was greeted by the receptionist with a smile (and by name). ‘You’re next; shouldn’t be too long,’ she said to me.

I was especially grateful for the welcome I received yesterday. Because earlier in the day I’d started the search for a new GP. It hadn’t gone well.

My quite awesome GP who I’d been seeing for almost twenty years decided to move interstate which is incredibly inconvenient. For me. But apparently it was a good opportunity for his family, so off they went and now I am left GP-less. Because, yes, it’s all about me.

So, I’ve been looking and asking friends in the area who they see and if they would recommend them. There is a woman at the same practice as my previous GP who I quite like, and a few people had suggested. I’d seen her a few times when my GP had been on leave, and she knows my convoluted medical history. But when I rang for an appointment the other day, I was told she was booked up until March. M-A-R-C-H. Over a month away. I was told that I could call at 8.20 the next morning as they keep a few on-the-day appointments, but there was no guarantee I could see the GP I wanted.

I sighed and said that I’d call back the following day. And when I did, there were no appointment times with the doctor I wanted. Continuity of care is important to me – I don’t want to have to explain the CGM on my arm, the pump down my bra, the way I manage my diabetes each time I need a quick visit to the GP for a UTI, or sore throat that won’t go away.

I decided that I probably needed to find another doctor, so I called another clinic that had been recommended to me. I didn’t speak to the receptionist. But I did hear the hold message.

Firstly, the calm voice on the recording told me that the doctors at the clinic all had lots of experience and were there to serve the local community, and that the whole clinic operated under a philosophy of patient-centred care. ‘Excellent,’ I thought. ‘That’s a buzz phrase I like. Good start’.

But then came a shopping list of things that callers should know before pressing hash to speak with someone.

  • Appointments can only be made before midday. If you call outside those hours, you will be asked to call back the following day
  • Same day appointments can only be made between 8.30am and 9.30am, although most will be taken by 8.45am
  • Doctors generally will not take or return calls from patients unless this has been agreed upon during an appointment
  • No results given over the phone by doctors (or anyone else); you need to a follow up appointment
  • No bulk billing is offered (even for people on a HCC)
  • If you are late, you will miss your appointment
  • You will not be contacted if the GP is running late
  • But you should call to see if the GP is on time
  • Missed appointments (by the patient) incur a no-show fee
  • If you want a referral (even to an existing specialist) you must make an appointment to see the doctor
  • Ongoing referrals will not be provided
  • If you want a prescription (even for an existing medication) you must make an appointment to see the doctor.

After listening to the message three times – just to make sure that I had everything correct – I hung up. There was literally not a single thing on that list that could be considered to be patient-centred.

Before I go on, I want to say that I know that GPs are overworked. I know that they are underpaid. I know that there are too many people trying to get into see them, and their time is precious. I can’t even imagine what it takes to run a GP clinic – or a clinic for any discipline really. I assume that there will be some using the service who have unreasonable expectations and demand that a doctor be available to them at all times of the day and night. So, rules are needed to deal with those sorts of people.

I am not one of those people. I am, however, a person who lives with type 1 diabetes and sometimes, I need a prescription for insulin because I thought I had another repeat left, or my current prescription has expired, or I lost the last one, or the littlest dog ate it (hasn’t happened, but wouldn’t put it past her). Or I need a referral to one of the other specialists I get to see semi-regularly (such as my dermatologist for psoriasis, rheumatologist for psoriatic arthritis, OB/GYN for gynae stuff etc.). And I definitely appreciate an ongoing referral, because, you know, diabetes doesn’t go away and I will need to see my endo forever (or until she retires, at which point I’ve decided I’ll give up this diabetes palaver too).

I don’t think these are unreasonable requests to have of a GP clinic. I don’t expect to be bulk billed. I am not asking for a diagnosis over the phone; or a phone consultation. But surely, it’s a waste of time (mine and the doctor’s) for me to need an appointment for a prescription for a drug that I will need to take FOREVER, and dose myself. Or for an annual referral to a doctor I’ve been seeing for over seventeen years for a health condition that I’ve had for almost twenty-one years. Or to be told that my A1c (or whatever else is being checked) is in range.

I wrote last week about how we get burnt out with needing to be advocates for ourselves. I felt a wave of that hit me as I listened to the list of rules from the GP clinic I will not be going to. I don’t want to start by giving a medical history … and then needing to beg for a little flexibility in their rules.

Does this make me sound like a princess? Maybe. Does it make me sound unreasonable? Perhaps it does.

But healthcare settings cannot have it both ways. They cannot promise that they are patient-centred if they are actively setting rules that make it more difficult – and exhausting – for us to live with a chronic health condition.

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