As most people who know me already know, I’m a type 1 diabetic. For the uninitiated, that’s the insulin-dependent one. The one with shots. What’s really peculiar is that I developed it spontaneously in my early 20s. But the title of this post wasn’t “The worst thing about getting diabetes” so we’re not going to get into that.
Ok, screw it – the worst thing about getting diabetes was losing 40 pounds inexplicably, then being handed some insulin vials and needles and putting all that weight back. I’m not a particularly vain person, but losing 40 pounds was awesome. And the only trade off was a blood glucose level in the low 700s! For the uneducated, a “normal” blood glucose level is supposed to be between 75 and 125. Ah well.
Anyway, the worst thing about being a diabetic isn’t the fact you can’t eat what you want to. It’s not the fact that eating something that has lots of fat in it – like pizza – just throws your sugars all out of whack for the next several hours. It’s not even the fact that with the current state of medical advancements, it will take a number of years off the end of my life (although that part does kinda sorta suck). No, it’s the fact that generally, you are more educated than the healthcare folks that you’ll go to see. Doubly so if you’re a veteran.
With the exception of Jill Vollbrecht – the endocrinologist that saw me when I was hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis (story forthcoming) – I have had to educate each and every nurse and doctor about some aspect of my disease. I had a doctor lecture me for an hour, telling me that I needed to work on my exercise and diet and I’d be just fine, despite the fact I told him 4 times that I was a type 1. For those that don’t know, type 2 diabetes is the one that can be controlled with diet and exercise, while type 1 diabetics need insulin – period. It’s not gonna get better because I eat right and exercise. Yes, diet and exercise helps out everyone, but not in the way this guy was pushing. And when a nurse finally came in, looked at my chart, and said “Doctor, he’s a type 1, not a type 2″ he just looks at me and says, “Yes…I know…but exercise is still good”. Nice save. Ass.
And here’s one that no one told me for years, and most doctors still don’t know (apparently): eating fatty foods can affect insulin absorption. And not in a good way. When you eat a lot of fat, it slows the rate of absorption of insulin drastically. So let’s say that my numbers are good and in control all morning, but for lunch I go out and have some pizza. I can take the requisite amount of insulin, and my numbers will steadily increase for the next 4 – 5 hours because all the fat in the pizza will prevent all the insulin I took from getting to the carbohydrates. For years, I had no idea this was the case until a diabetic nurse in Orlando told me this – wish I could remember her name. Any other doctors I’ve seen, I’ve had to explain this to them. Doctors. Medical professionals. People that went to school for way longer than I did, and yet I’m educating them on something that is a relatively important thing with regards to this disease.
And this is the worst one – the one that really gets me angry: many medical professionals will use my diabetes as an excuse to not do any goddam work. As a matter of fact, the phrase used most commonly to preface the fact that they’re not going to do anything whatsoever is, “Well, you do have diabetes…” A friend of mine who also has type 1 diabetes once said, “You can go into a doctor’s office with a freaking knife sticking out of your head, and the doctor will still say, ‘Well, you do have diabetes…’” and while I didn’t notice it beforehand, she was absolutely right.
The problem with this line of thinking is twofold:
- The minute they start thinking like that is the minute they’ve already decided that whatever you’re coming to them about must have something to do with diabetes, even though there’s nothing to indicate that. At all.
- At this point, critical thinking stops. Everything is tinged with the diagnosis of “diabetes”, so other things can go completely overlooked.
And it’s usually said with such an air of authority, that when you casually point out that maybe you have a stinging pain in your side because of what the police report lists as “a horrific javelin accident” rather than the generic diagnosis of “it’s your diabetes”, they look at you like you’re the crazy one. Which is why when I find medical professionals that a) don’t do that and b) freely admit that they don’t know things rather than try to blow smoke, those are the ones that I tend to stick with. For example, my current GP – Lara Madigan – rocks. Sure, we’ve had disagreements, and on a few occasions she’s called me out on what turned out to be bullshit, and she’s all sorts of insistent that I get a flu shot, but she’s never flat out lied to me or tried to pass off ignorance as authority.
Hopefully, once stem cell research takes off and there’s a cure for diabetes – stem cell transplantation has already cured diabetes in mice! – we won’t have to deal with this crap anymore. If you’re interested in new and emerging diabetic studies and products, Diabetes Mine is an great blog that consolidates a lot of information in one location.