Gmail Folders

In a half-hearted attempt to organize the chaos that is life, my Gmail is full of color-coded folders.

Diabetes is red, like blood and rage and sunsets all in one.

Grad School is blue, and there is a whole rainbow of colors designating each course in the sub-folders category.

Finance is green, and it is often ignored until it can no longer be ignored.

Quotes folder is pink.  Because “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” a la Mean Girls.

Speaking of quotes, C.S. Lewis and Mary Karr (The Liars’ Club) are my go-tos.

“I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“For me, everything’s too much and nothing’s enough.”  -Mary Karr

And one more for good measure because it reminds me of all of the bloggers/tweeters who I’ve come to love:

“She spoke with unhesitant authority, as though we had just picked up a long-running conversation in which her opinion mattered greatly. However frail the rest of her was, all her strength was in her voice.”

-Gail Caldwell

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Sticks and Stones and Words

Many thanks to Douglas @salguodmai for being a supportive member of the #doc during the initial stages of writing this. And have I mentioned that he runs more miles in one weekend than I probably have in my lifetime?!  Inspirational!  Also, here’s a big shout out to Scott @Scott_InTheD for his Quotes that stick blog post, the concept of which I am borrowing here (with a somber spin on it- you’ve been warned!) with his permission.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Maybe on Opposite Day?

Diabetes scares the people who love us on occasion. In moments of weakness or misunderstanding, they may say things that hurt us, often unintentionally. This blog post has been batting around in my head for a few weeks now, and my inner English major keeps reminding me to let it out.

Words from others are only words. They do not have to define us, but they may explain things like the subliminal pain masked by epic Twitter rants or the irrational self-blame that we impose on ourselves when the CGM graphs look like Mount Everest.  It’s sometimes there in the background, that internal voice that says you’re not good enough. The truth is that you are doing your best despite a rather difficult job as a substitute pancreas. Choice of words perhaps clouds this idea.

To quote Jay-Z, “Allow me to reintroduce myself.” Or at least to explain where I’m coming from on the bad days.

*****

“You’re a straight-A student, but you still can’t get it through your head!”

You’re right. I should have bolused more and eaten fewer carbs. But guess what? I’m going to be diabetic for a long, long time, and there’s always tomorrow. I messed up at a disease where you can give 110% and still not see the results that you want to see. I could do without the lecture.

^ That’s what I should have said. In reality, I probably walked away, did my homework to maintain those A’s, and hid my tears. And for the record, I’m still a straight-A student in grad school, and I still can’t get it through my head. But I know now that trying counts for a whole lot.

 

“If you didn’t eat _____, your blood sugar wouldn’t be 400.”

Because everyone loves a blood sugar value of 400…

 

“It IS your fault!”

No, it’s really not. My diabetic relative was simply trying to maneuver through a social setting, forgot about this pain-in-the-ass illness for a few minutes, and didn’t bolus until after the meal. You try doing this job and see how you like it.

 

“If this was Survival of the Fittest, you’d be long-gone by now.”

At the time, I laughed with the rest of the group. We were naïve high schoolers and the joke was not as tasteless as it looks on paper now. But there is that element of survivor’s guilt that still lingers. What if I had been born in another place or another time? He’s right; I wouldn’t have survived. But am I not ‘fit’ to survive as one of the ‘fittest’ now?

The consolation is that it isn’t another time, nor another place. It is here and now. I’m here. You’re here. Right now. We have survived as type one diabetics. It’s not a question of Why? but a question of What are we going to do with this life? We’re all doing a decent job in my book.

 

“Tons of people use the insulin pump. You’re the only one who had the problem, so it must be you.”

Look, diabetes is a blame game in society. We all experience this to some degree. What hurts is when people you love, who you’ve explained this to a million times before, take the cop-out option here. It’s easy to shrug pump problems or whatever it may be off on the user, the person with diabetes. None of us should ever have to defend actions we take to preserve our health, however unconventional they may be.

What I really want to say to you is that we both love each other. I do not want to keep rehashing the difficult stuff. You should inherently respect the decisions that I make regarding my own health. I may never know exactly why my pump problems happened, but they did. And every doctor and nurse involved came to the same conclusion: the issue was not caused by me, but by the product. I don’t want to have to prove it to you over and over again.  I have moved forward, and I would like you to move along with me.

 

“I’ve learned a lot from watching you handle your degenerative disease.”

Who said it’s degenerative? Not me.

Sure, there’s the term “complications” which none of us like to hear. But the good news with diabetes is that it doesn’t always have to be “degenerative.” We have a lot of tools in our toolboxes at this stage of the game. These tools enable us to potentially live better than those with diabetes in the past may have lived.

Diabetes will never be a walk in the park, for me at least, but I refuse to go down without a fight. And I also know that if it does become “degenerative,” it is not my fault. It will hurt, yes, but it is not my fault. There are too many outside factors that affect diabetes to hold myself solely accountable. For starters, I’m snitching on faulty islet cells, stress, hormones, inaccurate carb counts, exercise, not enough exercise, and many more variables which are all guilty as charged. But heck, there’s nothing “degenerative” about a heart and soul that refuses to stop fighting the good fight- whether we are speaking about diabetes or any other challenge. Keep doing your thing, #doc.

 

“If I were managing someone else’s diabetes and could take insulin freely with no personal repercussions [hypos and hypers] experienced, I’d be a good diabetic.” -Me

“Are you aware of your language?” –My doctor

What? I didn’t swear, did I?

“Good diabetic” and “bad diabetic” don’t exist. There is the diabetic, or the person with diabetes, or whatever you choose to call yourself. There is the human being, who is more than diabetes. But let’s lose the self-destructive adjectives. There is only the doing-the-best-I-can-diabetic.

 

“Camping. Soccer in Montreal. St. Patrick’s Day Parade. There are so many things that I still want to do with you.”

My former college roommate said this genuinely and nonchalantly. We were planning future trips with friends and daydreaming of warm summer weather. What resonated with me was how much I wanted these things, too, and how far away they had seemed a few short months ago when it felt like diabetes had the upper hand. There are so many things that I still want to do with my friend, and with others, too. Thankfully, I’m going to be around to do them now, whether diabetes likes it or not.

 

“You’re not saying you can’t do something. You’re asking for help. We all do it. It’s life.” -My boss

Wait, I’m not weak if I ask for help? (Sarcasm)

Also, you are a really cool boss. (Not sarcasm. That was a significant learning moment for me.)

*****

My doctor and I are working on this thing that we call The Wall. Sometimes I let her remove a brick from the wall with a tiny chisel. Other times I try to deflect attention away to something of lesser pain value.  I email her when I take a big bolus, a number that would have frozen me in fear in the past.  A few bricks tumble down.  We cheer via email and smiley face emoticons.  Slowly but surely, our masonry skills are improving.

The Wall impacts how I feel about and handle my diabetes management at times. It’s a learning curve, and there are days when I am not proud of my behavior or my attitude. There are disheartened tweets which I later feel guilty about. Curse words may be said to people who I care deeply for. Feeling sick is no excuse, but sometimes feeling sick negatively affects my emotional inhibitions.

I joined the #doc with the promise of being transparent, so I’m confessing my stumbling blocks here and giving my written word that I want to work on this. I hope to one day sledgehammer the stumbling blocks- rather, the bricks- into smithereens.

If this post rings all-too-familiar to you, I want you to know that you can be a straight-A student and still not get it.  Please know that it is okay.  You are smart, not dumb.  You are a fighter, not a failure.

Maybe diabetes is not yet meant to be fully understood? Just show up every day and work on it. That’s all anyone should ever ask of you.

 

Speak Your Mind

I’m doing some research for one of my grad classes with a focus on how the Affordable Care Act impacts quality of care.  While there are objective measures of quality such as hospital reimbursement rates, I believe the patient perspective is invaluable as well.  Quality, then, must be addressed and defined from the various view points of those in the health care system.

I would like to gather some patient responses prior to my presentation.  Personally identifiable information will not be included, rather, the aggregate of the information provided to me will be summarized for my class.

So, if you have an opinion on how quality affects your health care, please comment here or feel free to contact me over the next few weeks.

What would you like to see change in terms of quality of care?

Do you think that the way your health care providers measure quality is an adequate representation of the type of care you receive?

Have you noticed changes- good or bad- in your quality of care since the passage of the Affordable Care Act?

Is your health care delivery environment upfront about how they plan to improve the quality of your care?

These are just starting points, but any and all information provided will be useful and is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your help!

Weird.

Today was weird.

It started off with getting called to the front of a 200-person meeting to participate in Dance Dance Revolution.  My coworker won the dance-off, but now the whole office knows who the real #LeftShark from Katy Perry’s SuperBowl halftime show was.  (That would be yours truly).

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Later I discovered a 300+ blood glucose reading at lunch and a blood test confirmed some ketones.  Yikes, considering we had another meeting on the way.  No more Dance Dance Revolution for this girl, though!  I felt like this lizard that I encountered on a recent trip to Florida, as in Leave me the heck alone, intruders! [in this case, ketones].

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I bolused quite a bit and played the “wait it out and let the insulin do its job” game, otherwise known as “patience is a virtue, but it’s really freakin’ difficult when you don’t feel well!”

Trusting in insulin after all of my insulin pump drama in the past has been a challenge for me.  I’m still getting accustomed to the idea that when I bolus, insulin generally does something.  Before, it was not always the case.  Today, it did its thing, although I’m still running too high.

Tomorrow we shall try again.  Bring it on.

The Real Patient Portals

For privacy purposes of those discussed here, some of the details of this blog post have been altered/omitted. The heart of the story remains the same.

 

To avoid the throbbing headache that is commuting from Providence to Boston during morning traffic, I stayed over in Massachusetts prior to my Joslin appointments this week.

I hoped to catch the end of the Providence-Villanova game at the hotel bar, but the thrashing PC was receiving was so embarrassing that the bartender instead flipped between The Voice and the Bruins. I asked a patron if the seat next to her at the crowded bar was available, and she nodded. The restaurant was busy and it seemed like it would be a while before my dinner was delivered, so I took a big gulp of my classy Bud Light and vowed to make friends while I waited.

“Are you here for business?” I asked the professionally-dressed woman.

“Actually, my child is being treated at Children’s Hospital.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. But your child is in phenomenal hands.”

“Yes, we have been here for a long time, but soon we will travel home with a stronger, healthier child. We have been very blessed.”

And so we talked for almost an hour. We discussed her home many miles away from here, admired the nurses who followed their professional callings to ease the suffering of their patients, educated one another on our respective areas of patient or caregiver knowledge, and, to be quite honest, took solace in finding a bar buddy who understood the stress and anxiety of Boston medical appointments. Sure, I seek out care in Boston because it is the best, and this lady does, too. But that doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching every time the appointment days arrive.

We eventually wished each other well and parted ways. I want to give SuperMom an anonymous shout out here, though, because of the example of strength that she provided that evening. I have so much respect for the parents of any child who faces illness- whether that be type one diabetes or something else. Being the patient for most of my life, I have mainly been preoccupied with my own suffering- something I know that I can and will handle.

Watching others suffer, though, makes me nauseous, anxious, and somewhat frozen in “What do I do?!!” mode. SuperMoms and SuperDads don’t have the option of “What do I do?!!” mode. They activate “Do” mode because their child is hurting and they want the pain to stop. They remain calm when the world is shaken up around them. Yes, they have days of sadness and tears, but they try their best to provide their children with the greatest lives possible, to comfort them on the rough days, and to keep on going.

So, to SuperMom at the bar, cheers to health and happiness for you and your family.

The next morning, I hastily checked out of the hotel and made my way to Joslin Diabetes Center, where I had one thing on my mind: very light, no sugar coffee, and even better if you can hook me up to an IV drip of it.

I generally enjoy my Joslin experience because it is one of the only places on earth where I feel completely safe from a diabetes standpoint. If I go low or high, there are plenty of people who know how to help. But this time, I was nervous and emotional, as it was my last appointment with Current Endo before her departure; additionally, these days are quite frankly long and exhausting no matter what the outcome is.

I fumbled my way to the coffee stand through a haze of anxiety.

“What’s ah matter, my darling?” the coffee stand employee cooed, her brow furrowed.

“Oh, nothing. I just need some coffee to wake up,” I said, shrugging it off.

“I asked how your morning was and you didn’t reply,” she sounded off, much to my surprise and admiration. (I like a person who tells it like it is!)

“My apologies. I must not have heard you.” My level of distractedness due to nerves was obvious now.

Without skipping a beat, she looked me straight in the eye and stated, “You will be okay. You are so strong.”

This kind woman had never met me before. She had no prior knowledge as to whether I was in the hospital district of Boston as a patient, a caregiver, a sales rep, an employee, or so on. But she knew, without hesitation, that I was hurting simply from the look in my eyes. She seemed to recognize that I was the patient, and that I was trying to keep it all together. Her confidence that I could do this was the gentle nudge I needed to go check in at Joslin, ready to take on the day and whatever it would bring.

Blinking back tears, I thanked her for her reassurance and sauntered off with coffee warming my hands and coffee shop lady’s words warming my soul.

After my appointments, I needed more coffee before racing back to work. I stopped at the same coffee kiosk, and the same employee was still there. I filled my cup and went to pay.

“You were right. Everything was okay. I wanted to thank you for what you said earlier. You made me feel better.”

“God will take care of everything,” she replied.

“Yes. And there should be more people in the world like you. Your joy is contagious.”

And we both fought back tears, nodded our heads in agreement, and vowed to pray for one another.

Bars and coffee shops are the real patient portals. These are the watering holes for the warriors- the patients and the caregivers- to assemble and collect their emotions. Here, the pep talks happen. The fears and aspirations are relayed. The hugs are handed out a little more freely. The tears are dried if necessary. God is there, as these women proved to me this week.

Lucky for me, I’m always thirsty. Something tells me I’ll be back soon.

To SuperMom and SuperCoffeeShopEmployee, this blog post goes out to you. You are both inspirations. Thank you…