Coffee Date #2: Elizabeth Rowley and T1International

Elizabeth Rowley, Founder and Director of T1International, joins Very Light, No Sugar for the second interview in the Coffee Dates series. I encourage readers to visit the links included by Elizabeth and to help the #Insulin4All movement however you can.

 

A:  What led you to develop T1International?

E:  In short, I recognized how privileged I was to grow up in a place with access to good medical care and the supplies I needed to live a healthy life. I could not – and I still cannot – understand why health is not treated like a human right for everyone around the world.

As I learned more about what people with type 1 diabetes face in all parts of the globe, I wanted to address the problems by working with people most affected. I could not find any other groups tackling the issues through advocacy, so I thought T1International could bring the diabetes community together to ensure that no one dies because they cannot access or afford something as basic as insulin or test strips.

 

A:  T1International’s current campaign of #Insulin4All has been making lots of good noise on social media. What is one simple, immediate way for individuals to help out the cause?

E:  Sign our Access Charter and spread the word. It takes two minutes to sign and shout about this on social media. Signing will not only show that you support five basic rights for all people with diabetes, but it will also add to the growing list of individuals and organisations who support these rights worldwide.

Advocates around the world will use this charter and the signatures as evidence for the growing global support behind the #insulin4all movement. It will allow advocates for type 1 diabetes to prove to the government that there is international support and pressure for sufficient access to insulin, diabetes supplies, care, education and protection for everyone with diabetes.

 

A:  There is a persistent call for transparency in the insulin access and affordability realm. Ideally, what would this transparency look like?

E:  In one sense, transparency would mean that pharmaceutical companies would no longer be allowed to raise or set prices for their products without true justification. The excuse that research and development is the main reason for high prices is not cutting it anymore. Insulin pricing is currently a mystery. Costs vary wildly around the world, and even within a single country. Simply being able to know the cost of production and the true list price that companies set for a drug like insulin would be a huge step forward in transparency.

Transparency is also important when it comes to patient advocacy organisations. It is important for all of us to think about how much potential there is to be influenced or ‘bought’ by industry. A recent USA study found that 67% of a sample of patient advocacy organizations (virtually all of which were not for profit) said that they received funding from for-profit companies. Relationships between patient organisations and industry can influence their actions “in ways that might not align with the interests of the constituencies they represent.” The same article notes evidence that financial relationships can create bias in areas like medical research, so non-profits and patient organisations are subject to the same concerns.  [Susannah L. Rose, PhD; Janelle Highland, MA; Matthew T. Karafa, PhD; et al]

Many diabetes organisations take money from pharmaceutical or device companies specifically. No one wants to compromise their income, but there is concern that orgs taking industry funding are keeping quieter than they would if their funding came from other sources. At the very least, organisations can be more transparent about where their funding comes from by having a clear declarations webpage that is obvious to visitors. We hope groups will consider that continually accepting funding from pharma companies often “creates a routine awareness among sponsored groups that one doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it.”  [Ray Moynihan, PhD; Lisa Bero, PhD]

 

A:  We have discussed the great power of personalizing the insulin story. Give us one brief narrative of how T1International’s work directly influences the life of someone with diabetes.

E:  It is literally the difference between life and death. It is also the difference between feeling alone and knowing you have a community rallying behind you. Salomey and [her] mother in Ghana had to sell most of their belongings to be able to afford Salomey’s insulin – they were running out of options. With support from a local group (Diabetes Youth Care) and T1International, Salomey was able to get the supplies and support she needed. She finished high school in 2015 and she is working to ensure she can purchase the supplies on her own. T1International continues to work with Salomey and other Diabetes Youth Care advocates in Ghana on a larger scale, advocating for #insulin4all so that Salomey’s story will be replicated many times over.

 

A:  Where do you see T1International’s work going in future years?

E:  All of our work moving forward will support our strategic plan, which focuses on four different areas including:

  1. raising awareness of the global lack of access and affordability of diabetes
  2. connecting and collaborating with groups around the world to provide resources and outreach
  3. pushing for better data and resources about global type 1 diabetes
  4. campaigning and advocacy advocating for systemic change

More specifically, in the near future we plan to carry out online advocacy trainings focused on the content from our advocacy toolkit. We would like to hold open sessions for advocates to come together to talk about best practice, share ideas, and talk strategy related to the specific issues they want to tackle locally or globally. Further afield, we would like to do larger, in-person training sessions with groups around the world. In the meantime, we won’t stay quiet about the need for transparency and #insulin4all!

 

A:  Is there a specific geographical area that is high on the priority list for insulin access assistance in 2017?

E:  It is impossible to prioritise one country over another when so many people are still dying from type 1 diabetes in so many countries. We would like to see more data collected, perhaps through establishing diabetes registries, in Africa as a whole. There needs to be more government prioritisation of access to medicines in nearly every country, which is why we are committed to supporting people and communities worldwide.

 

A:  Favorite beverage?

E:  Flat white  🙂

Reese’s Cups and Hamster Wheels

I first fell in love with memoir as a junior in high school during a course aptly titled Rewriting A Life.  There, I was introduced to the work of Mary Karr, and to this day I soak up her words like a sponge absorbs a misplaced glass of cabernet: fully, and scattering droplets where they are most needed (the only clean part of the carpet, for example).

Here’s a droplet:

When you’ve been hurt enough as a kid (maybe at any age), it’s like you have a trick knee.  Most of your life, you can function like an adult, but add in the right portions of sleeplessness and stress and grief, and the hurt, defeated self can bloom into place.

-Mary Karr

That’s sort of how I feel lately.  The perfect storm of life stressors- past, present, and future- has left me questioning my moral successes and failures, my worthiness as an advocate, and where to go from here.  The answer is that there is no black or white response- only more questions, and more places to go.  The best work I can do at the moment is simply to voice this.

I am angry that our fellow people with diabetes are dying because insulin is inaccessible and ludicrously expensive.  I am angry that the people who can afford insulin- myself included- are under the constant pressure of maintaining positive disease outcomes with rusty toolboxes.  I am angry that we do not have a cure.  I am angry that we are so fragmented as a community, that when we voice dissent we are quickly hushed by the status quo of comfortableness and the diabetes industry- luxuries that so many others do not have.  Finally, I am angry that I am angry, that I have scapegoated much of my anger on diabetes, and that I have not always handled life’s difficulties with the grace and dignity that I know dwell within my heart.

However, I am grateful that despite the bad stuff, there are friends and supporters who still believe in the good stuff.  Their love has never wavered, and has inflated into a life raft when needed most.  (Thank you).

Rewriting A Life does not mean you get to copy and paste a Cinderella ending to your story.  You simply get to live it, and to describe the good and the bad in detail that has the potential to resonate with someone else who desperately needs to hear you.  Perhaps you desperately need to be heard, too.

Recently, emotional and physical health have felt like running on the hamster wheel while nursing a sprained ankle and a hangover.

So, I switched things up and adopted a guinea pig.

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This is Reese.  She is colored like a Reese’s cup.  

She is currently petrified of me, but I hope the same thing that I hope for you, or me, or any living creature: that she feels loved nonetheless.  

 

 

 

Feedback to Feed Forward

September will be here before we know it, and I am excited to share that I will be returning to Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) as a junior member of the ePatient advisory panel.  Additionally, I will be presenting in a panel entitled “Ah-Ha! moments in mental health and chronic disease management” alongside wonderful advocates Alan Brewington, Kristin Coppens, Danielle Edges, and Mark Freeman, and moderated by rockstar Charlie Blotner.

Accepted MedX 2016 presentations can be found here.  Our abstract includes the following information, some of which is quoted below:

“Mental health and chronic disease management are often interwoven topics in science. But what about the human side of the story? Whether or not individuals meet the diagnostic criteria for mental diagnoses, we all long for optimal mental and physical health to attain good quality of life.

How do we put a personal face to the feelings that hypoglycemia, or chronic pain, or other physical health struggles invoke in terms of our emotions? What moments have changed the way we think about mental health and chronic disease, and how can we encourage these same poignant healthcare interactions in the lives of others?

This panel will explore just how vital this conversation is in chronic disease and mental health management by featuring multifaceted patient, caregiver, and mental health advocate perspectives. In order to facilitate this conversation for all patients, we must raise the topic from the very source: ePatients themselves. Therefore, this panel is ePatient-centric in its selection of presenters. We will identify crucial learning moments in understanding our own mental health, while promoting a transparent discussion that remains much-needed in humanizing healthcare.

…Ah-Ha! moments relevant to the following topics will be discussed:

  • Why the words we use matter so much
  • Barriers to care
  • Continuum of “before, during, and after” mental health becomes a focus of care management; early intervention in normalizing this conversation
  • Caregiver resources and how to talk to children/teens about difficult health topics
  • Managing multiple diagnoses
  • Curtailing advocacy “burnout””

Source (linked here): MedX 2016 accepted presentations, “Ah-Ha! moments in mental health and chronic disease management.”

In preparation for our upcoming panel, we wanted to reach out to our respective advocacy communities to see if there are pertinent points that you would like us to consider and to possibly discuss in the panel (time-permitting).  I recently wrote about the diabetic online community (#doc) needing to hear more from “The Whole” in diabetes, and this is a good platform by which to reflect upon feedback from multiple sources.  While one presentation cannot represent all affected by health conditions, we can try our best to integrate community viewpoints into what we discuss.

With that said, if you have ideas about mental health and chronic disease of any type, please feel free to contact us.  We would love to listen to your perspectives!  My contact information can be found here, or feel free to comment on this post if you are comfortable sharing your thoughts publicly.

Thanks for your support!  We are so looking forward to MedX!

 

Whole Milk With The Disclaimers

This will not be my most popular blog post ever.

 

You may not agree with me.  That is okay.  In fact, it is a good thing.  If we all nodded our heads along to the beat of the same drum in this world, well, we would be a boring orchestra.  Renza wrote a great piece on this notion recently, which can be found here.

One of the largest issues we face in the United States today is the “battle of the egos.”  We see it play out on our Facebook newsfeeds each morning:

“I’m voting for so-and-so and I must be right because it’s my opinion and I said so and I can scream louder than you!!!”

Yes, we have a right to say such things.  But do we really need to completely write off the other side of the opinion in the process?  If we do, quite frankly, we are only hurting ourselves.  Very rarely in life are issues so cut and dry, 100% right or wrong.  When politics falls into the gray zone, which it so often does, our greatest hope for the best world possible is to hear and consider all opinions, to put aside our personal biases and to think about what truly matters.  We are way too quick to judge.

“He looked like a thug.  He must have done something wrong.  He would have shot first.”

We do not always pause to think of the psychosocial reasons why he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or why we are in the right place at the right time- safe from injury or premature death, judging from afar.

Or, we roll our eyes dismissively, choosing to believe a social media rant from someone who has never seen combat, or public service in a rough neighborhood:

“The cop had more than a split-second to make a life-or-death decision; his life, or the alleged suspect’s?!  He doesn’t go home at night sick to his stomach about taking another’s life, whether or not the the law supports his defense…”

We do not always concede that maybe, just maybe, in this particular case, we are speaking of a human being who perhaps acted in fear, rather than hatred.

At one point or another, we are all guilty of not placing ourselves in the other’s shoes.  It is easier for us to say that one side is 110% wrong, and we are 110% right.  If only morals and ethics were so mathematically easy…

We do not always think about how unique individuals are, how we cannot check them off like bubbles on the SAT, fitting a prescribed correct answer to each situation.  Maybe there is none.  Let’s sit in the scariness of that idea, together.  Let’s be more loving and considerate than we have been as a society in recent weeks.

 

Admittedly, I have been disappointed in the diabetes advocacy world for similar reasons of us not seeing all sides of the equation lately.  There are days where the #doc rallies and we do something that is so obviously good: honoring Kycie Terry this month, for example.

Regularly, we laugh together, cry together, share our lives with diabetes together.  This is what makes us tick, what gives a distinct purpose to this disease in which we are, despite it all, somehow able to rise above.

My concerns, though, echo Tom Goffe’s wonderful post regarding the impending FDA decision on potentially dosing insulin based on Dexcom continuous glucose monitors (CGMs).

***(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional; do NOT consider any of this blog post to be medical advice intended for treatment purposes.)

My personal opinion on diabetes management is more of a Libertarian view, if we want to talk politics.  I am perfectly okay with individual patient-centricity in disease management.  Diabetes falls on a spectrum of manifestations; what works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.  If you want to dose according to Dexcom and you are comfortable doing so, by all means, that is your prerogative, and I truly wish you all the success in the world.

Although I no longer use an insulin pump due to a freaky product defect hullabaloo that I encountered, I am happy for all of those who still have access and great results from insulin pump technology.  That same mindset goes for those who experience phenomenal Dexcom CGM accuracy and ease of dosing insulin accordingly.

Every great innovation in society has come by those who are brave enough to take risks.  Think no further than the Open APS and #wearenotwaiting folks in our own community.  Their courage, creativity, and selflessness are beyond measure.

My #DoseWithCGM worry, though, begins with this being a rushed decision.  CGM technology is not quite there yet in my opinion, and to have a trusted federal agency say that it is- under pressure from one side of the equation, rather than all sides- is a slippery slope.  

Dexcom is- again, in my own opinion- the most innovative diabetes company in the market right now; I am absolutely confident that their technology will only go up from here; but we should not compromise safety and swap out access to other products in the interim.  Generally-speaking, the government can curtail efficiency in health tech, but this is one rare occasion where it serves as a proper check and balance.  As far as CGM dosing, don’t ask, don’t tell; do whatever you want (as an informed, experienced, safety-focused patient), but leave the government out of it.

There are the obvious physical dangers to insulin dosing, at any time and using any product as a baseline judge of BG; diabetes can be a conniving JerkFace.

Sure, I have 25 years of T1D under my belt and have a good sense of the disparities between my CGM’s interstitial fluid reading, and the blood sugar reading of my meter.  But what about a newly-diagnosed family?  What if Mom boluses 7-year-old Jenny based off of the CGM’s 300, when she is really 180?  What if she is advised that this is an appropriate treatment approach by a federal agency set in place to keep her safe?

Sadly, insulin can be as life-taking as it can be life-preserving, and the reality is that it can sway from either extreme quickly and easily- through no fault of the patient’s or caregiver’s.  This disease has a mind of its own, and even technology can never truly replace a fully-functioning pancreas.  Again, #weneedacure.  A real cure.

“I guess if you ate low carb and had a steady line at 100 all day, dosing off of CGM wouldn’t be that bad considering the tiny boluses,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“Actually, I think that could be more dangerous.  There’s less of a BG cushion if something goes wrong,” a doctor replied.

Very true.  That, or what about the T1Ds (myself very much included), who are not always smooth sailing at 100 mg/dL all day.  Sometimes you wake up with a 55, rebound up to 224 when your liver releases sugar as the juice kicks in, correct and go back down to 78, eat lunch and sit at 162 for awhile, and  then somehow see a 340 by dinner because your menstrual cycle begins and unleashes hormonal hell on your body.  How in the heck can we ever expect a machine to keep up with that?!!

While I have seen the argument about meter reliability, I find it a weak one.  Let’s attack the issue at the root cause: meters need to improve.  But, they are still a better, more immediate guide than interstitial fluid ever will be.  Together, the two are a wonderful pair, showing us real-time data, trends, alarms, and so on.  I am not knocking either option, but I want to ensure that I have proper access to both in the long-term.

When I was normal person sick (NPS) last week, my CGM could not keep up.  Neither could I, but I used all of the tools in my toolbox, to include my own diabetes intuition, to get out of the murky waters.  Thankfully, I manually checked my blood sugar before dosing insulin at bedtime:

IMG_5065

I in no way want to stifle innovation by expressing this opinion.  I admire (and consider as friends) many of the advocates who are fully in support of this CGM dosing proposal.  I also respect the major diabetes organizations which are onboard.  Despite not agreeing wholeheartedly with their rationale in this case, I have no doubts that they want to see a better world for all diabetics.  We all do, in our own ways.

My experience in healthcare leads me to believe that this decision will ultimately restrict our access to test strips, as insurance agencies will look to cut costs.  And heck, as business leaders, they should; the ACA rewards and encourages cost reduction, and many consumers supported these measures vocally and at the polls.  Regardless, this is beyond anxiety-provoking for so many of us.  Test strips are ludicrously expensive already, and to imagine that we may be limited to a few checks a day to calibrate an imperfect CGM apparatus is maddening and disheartening, to say the least.  Pass the coffee.

Imagine the current healthcare loop-de-loop.  Imagine the Medtronic/UHC debacle.  Actually, do not imagine- because we are already living it.  And we know how unpleasant it is.  Now pretend that your insurance has restricted your test strip supply, and you do not feel comfortable dosing via CGM.  You have to get a letter from your endocrinologist, or perhaps a mental health care provider, indicating that you need more test strips to manage your chronic, lifelong condition which will never go away until there is a real cure.  Nonetheless, you have to jump through this paperwork hoop every 3 months, missing time from work to argue with suppliers about why you need life-sustaining medical supplies.  And maybe insurance will grant you 7 test strips per day instead of 2 when all is said and done…  While this example is (hopefully) extreme, it is still possible.  And it’s scary as heck for many of us.

“But Medicare won’t cover CGM.  Or how will this affect the Libre?”

Again, I think we are attacking the wrong sources- deflecting one issue onto many others.  By potentially limiting a test-strip-saavy demographic in the name of providing wider access to all is a total cop out.  Instead, hold our government more accountable.  CGM is a reliable tool, illustrated to be life-saving and absolutely quality of life-improving.  For these reasons, Medicare folks (or swap in folks who want Libre access), deserve to have better technology on hand.  But to substitute one option for another is silly, given that both CGMs and blood sugar meters have plenty of room for improvement in the current market.

Online polls and petitions do not represent the whole.  From a science and data standpoint, they illustrate a sample demographic from which we can make some educated-inferences:

1.) Most of these people have computer/smart phone/internet access.

2.) This enlightens us as to their ballpark socioeconomic status.

3.) That gives us some idea of their access to and quality of healthcare.

Convenience samples are fine as long as biases are disclosed.  We must say upfront that this is one side of the very large diabetes equation, and that this sample is not representative of The Whole.  While we cannot all leave our fulltime jobs or school courses to lobby in front of Congress or the FDA, those representing us should be enlightened as to how we all feel, and should act accordingly.

As Erin Gilmer has respectfully pointed out on numerous occasions, there are marginalized demographics who cannot obtain the most basic of diabetes care: dental visits, for example.  Yet we are up in arms over insulin pump collusion.  Or, in this case, CGM dosing.  The marginalized folks are not likely to be invested in this discussion because they do not have access to what is at stake; heck, they do not have access to the bare minimum.  While we raise our voices, we must take caution not to further drown theirs out.

In many of the presentations of the CGM dosing issue on social media, I saw big fish in the diabetes pond introducing the topic as, “Here, this is good, hop aboard and get involved!”.  This mindset is positive, for sure.  But we are not whole if one of us is not heard, if different viewpoints are not given adequate opportunity to be discussed.

What about the school nurse who wrote into the debate on a Facebook status post?  Did we listen when she said she would be uncomfortable dosing a child in her care at school based off of a CGM reading?  Do we care?

On the flip side, if someone has great CGM accuracy and wants to lessen the finger pricks his type 1 toddler endures, am I hearing him out?

 

Que será, será.  Whatever will be, will be.  Ultimately, a decision will be made regarding the FDA and dosing with CGM.  But we should all have a voice in it.

This is a long post and I surely will go to bed and realize I left out a few other big points.  But this is food for thought for now.  Although I am a little fish in the diabetes pond, it is my moral responsibility to use whatever platform I do have to improve life for diabetics.  In my personal judgment, voicing this opinion has merit towards that cause.

I also promise to be upfront about my own diabetes biases.  In the past, I have gotten on my soapbox and pledged up and down the river that we need a cure.  But perhaps I have not listened to the other advocate on the soapbox next to me, who may be more focused on an artificial pancreas and who may feel that it is too painful to believe in a cure after years of disappointment.  I have to respect that voice, too, because that person is part of The Whole.

So, here are my disclaimers:

1.) I can only represent my own opinions, but I hope that I can connect with others and help them by writing authentically and openly- whether we agree or disagree on various points.

2.) I will always hold out hope for a diabetes cure.  Even if it does not benefit me in time, I want future generations to live in a better world.  My blog focuses on this concept often, but please know that I respect everyone who strives for a better world for people with diabetes, however that world may be achieved.

3.) I will do my part to be more inclusive of The Whole.  Firstly, I will feature more about cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) on my blog.  The CF community has so much to offer, and they have a valid seat at our diabetes table given CFRD/the risk of CFRD.  Let’s learn more together.  More to follow.

 

Too much skim or 2% milk leaves out a talented, diverse sample of people with diabetes.  For the time-being, instead of taking my coffee very light (with cream), no sugar, I pledge to focus more on The Whole.  

Thank you

 

 

 

 

 

 

UHC/MDT Debacle Through the Lens of a Bruised Insulin Injector

If I were to fit the stereotype of a self-absorbed Millennial, I shouldn’t give an albino squirrel’s @$$ that UnitedHealthcare will solely cover Medtronic insulin pumps in the near future.

^ Albino squirrel spotted in Washington, DC.  He told me that a laboratory cured him of diabetes!

 

Well, albino squirrels are real, and so is this Millennial.

I do care.

My insurance provider is not UnitedHealthcare.  I walked away from my Medtronic insulin pump over a year ago.  Currently, I manage my type 1 diabetes using Lantus and Humalog insulin pens, the traditionalist method of being certain that insulin is getting into my body.  My stomach bears the bruises to prove it.

Disappointment still lingers when I think about the divorce from my Medtronic insulin pump.  I identified an infusion set defect, and spiked high ketones with every site change.  I pleaded with Medtronic to help, to find an alternative solution, to listen and to trust me.  For awhile, they did.  But then the problems kept happening, and I kept emailing, and they finally chose to stop responding.

They walked away.  If only I could abandon my type 1 diabetes so easily…

I have been vocal about my insulin pump tribulations, but I have always given Medtronic the benefit of the doubt at the end of the day.  My situation was a rarity; most people have good hearts; the manager who did not respond to my emails was told to do so by higher-ups who feared a lawsuit; she went home at night and felt a twinge of guilt, wondering if I was still sick with ketones from my failed pump sites.

At least that’s how I try to imagine it.

When I first saw the headlines about UHC and MDT teaming up, I was frustrated but not surprised.  Finally, people were seeing the light.  Rather, the darkness.

Our healthcare system involves give and take, tug-of-war with patients’ quality of life and companies’ profits at stake.  Although the Affordable Care Act gave us coverage for pre-existing conditions, the ability to stay on our parents’ plans until age 26, and supposedly lower costs, the reality is that in order to receive, we also have to give.  To cut costs in one place, costs have to shift somewhere else.

Medtronic and UnitedHealthcare are not the only companies out there striving to make a profit in a newly-designed medical playing field.  Perhaps their business arrangement was intelligent for their own financial reasons.  Public relations-wise, not so much.  Only time will tell the true breadth of this so-called deal.

As we over-emphasize cost-cutting, we must be careful not to also snip choice and patient autonomy.  Reducing costs sounds great in the short-term, but we cannot disregard the long-term.  If patients’ health is compromised by inadequate access to resources, all the costs that insurance companies may have saved upfront will later be seen in hospital bills and subsequent treatment.

Under my current insurance plan, a preferred provider organization (PPO), I can go out-of-network if I so choose and if I have the capability to pay more for that care.  There are times where I believe wholeheartedly that an out-of-network provider is the absolute best shot at achieving better health.  That is my prerogative, and, understandably, my financial situation to figure out.  While the pricing may not be pleasant, what is most important to me is that I am able to access that care.  If high-quality care means sacrificing my own money for a vacation or a fancy new car, that is my choice.  If my financial situation changes later on, perhaps I will have to reassess and fall back to an in-network provider.  Yet such ability to choose should never be limited by the government or by insurance providers.

Collusion of insulin pump coverage is concerning not only for the diabetes community, but for healthcare at large.  Imagine the ramifications of collusion in multiple disease categories, of various insurers, corporations, and pharmaceutical companies.  Sure, big business is big business, but ethics should be ethics, too.

Notably, in “socialized healthcare” situations all over the globe, we must concede how much give-and-take is occurring.  Patients may have to wait months to be seen by a provider, and that provider may be mediocre.  Such is the sacrifice for limiting the free market.  On the flip side, we have gargantuan healthcare costs here in the U.S. because we roll the dice on access and affordability of treatment in the name of corporate greed.  If the grass is apparently always greener, well, it looks pretty yellow from my point of view, no matter how or where you slice healthcare financing.

Next weekend I will walk at my Commencement ceremony, having completed my Master of Science in Healthcare Administration and Management degree in December of 2015.  The UHC/MDT situation reminds me of a moment in our Public Health course.  As our Professor detailed how “money talks” in medicine, a longtime nurse in the class shook her head, visibly horrified.

“Is that really how this all works?  People don’t simply want to help others who are hurting?” she asked, bewildered.

She was like the little kid learning that Santa is not real, her innocence suddenly dissipating before our eyes.

The reality of healthcare is that money does talk.  Yet, like my classmate, we have to keep the hope alive in our hearts that some of us good eggs are in it for the long haul, for improving lives and fostering genuine human connection in the process.  Medtronic and UHC have called such goodhearted concepts into question, which is why we are now experiencing #AllOfTheFeelings.

Circling back to my personal, weird insulin pump scenario: The things that kept me afloat during such dire straits were my compassionate healthcare team, and the ability to choose.  When my Medtronic pump was no longer a good fit for me, some semblance of hope remained.  I could always sidestep over to a different insulin pump brand, for example.  Or, I could return to multiple daily injections, which I ultimately decided to do.  My doctors and nurses listened to me; they trusted my judgment as an informed, engaged patient; and they lifted me up on the days when it all seemed too heavy a cross to carry on my own.

Not one second of that ordeal was easy.  But we did it, somehow.

My advice to those overwhelmed by anxiety about access to health technology in light of the UHC/MDT deal is that you will survive somehow, too.  It may not be enjoyable.  It royally sucks that such a violation of your trust as a consumer has occurred, and that your freedom of choice has been stripped away.  It is morally reprehensible that this is happening under the guise of expanding innovation; limitation of choice, in fact, stifles creativity at all levels.  You have a right to be angry as hell.  Lean on each other liberally.  Remember that there are people overseas, or even in our own backyards, who do not have access to insulin.  Our voices must lift them up, too.

Hard times boil down to the good eggs and the bad, the people who answer emails filled with desperation and suffering, the companies which accept responsibility and troubleshoot the issues, the patients who never stop advocating no matter how sick they feel, and the medical teams which have their backs.

Healthcare is a complicated equation.  But we are on the right side.

We are the people who care.

Medtronic and UnitedHealthcare, do you care enough to join us?

 

 

 

A 1 c.

My A1c was lower at my recent endo appointment.  Not by any earthshattering amount (and we still have a long way to go), but “lower” is enough for me right now.  In fact, my recent A1c was lower on a shots regimen than it had sometimes been while using an insulin pump.

I thought I’d write some overly-emotional, 2000-word essay on how much the lower A1c means to me being back on shots.  Instead, I’ll take my lack of wordiness as being one step closer to making peace with what happened to me and as a reminder to continue to advocate for others who need insulin.

Frankly, I am still bitter about how much I suffered due to defective insulin pump products.  A few tech glitches per year are understandable, as tech does not equate to properly-functioning islet cells by any means, nor should it pretend to do so.  But to have bi-weekly episodes of near-DKA due to tech issues is inexcusable.  It breaks my heart to think of other people out there who may be going through what I went through, who simply want someone to believe them and to make it all better.

Thankfully, through the support of the #doc and some topnotch doctors and nurses, I am still here, I feel alive again, and I am getting into a better diabetes groove on multiple daily injections.  The bruises are a visible reminder that diabetes does not go away no matter which treatment one pursues, but for me they are a small price to pay for the assurance that insulin gets into my body every day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: do what works for you, whether that be insulin pumping or injecting or artificial pancreas-ing or Afrezza-inhaling.  I just want all of us to feel good every day.  But I also want those who experience tech problems to know that they are not crazy or “bad” diabetics.  We are human beings; technology is technology; and, ultimately, #weneedacure. 

But what about the people who don’t have a plethora of options?  Having spent many days in bed with ketones when my insulin pump malfunctioned, I often find my thoughts traveling to Spare a Rose nowadays.  I will never take insulin for granted again.  When insulin was not getting into my body, I was like a fish out of water, slowly and painfully fading away.  Kids without insulin suffer like that each day.

We must work hard to improve their access to life-sustaining insulin. 

Diabetes is difficult enough to tame with insulin, never mind without it. 

After #MedX: The Big and The Little

A few weeks before attending Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) 2015, I wrote down my thoughts about life in the “Before #MedX” stage.  I knew that this experience would be life-changing, inspiring, and empowering, but if I multiplied those factors by a billion, I still would have underestimated just how powerful the #MedX experience was for those of us who were so blessed to be there.

We talk and tweet a lot about the big moments at #MedX: when Cyrena Gawuga brought the crowd to our feet during her Ignite! talk, which chronicled her personal growth in the face of what previously seemed like a failure; when Abby Norman carried us through the whole spectrum of feelings- from hysterical laughter at her wit and humor to blinking back tears in awe of her journey to get properly-diagnosed with endometriosis and appendicitis; when Julie Flygare illustrated that anything is possible despite narcolepsy; when we marveled at the strength and determination of Emily Kramer-Golinkoff, who is improving the lives of those with cystic fibrosis as they race against time (side note: I was totally “fangirling!”); or when Ben Bahan taught us that he can communicate and listen (and do so with a sense of humor that rivals Amy Schumer’s!) despite being deaf.

MedX stage

All of those moments were just- Wow.  My fingers couldn’t tweet the powerful one-liners fast enough.  Every sentence spoken was just that darn spellbinding.

As much as #MedX completely renews your sense of purpose and advocacy with the big headliner stories, it also reinforces those concepts in the little, behind-the-scenes moments.

I received support from #MedX before I even stepped foot on the Stanford campus.  When a good friend’s child was diagnosed with a serious condition recently, I sought advice on what to say and what not to say (from a 2015 ePatient who I will not name here to respect my friend’s privacy; ePatient, you know who you are- thank you).  The #MedX advisory board and administrative staff made sure that all of the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed to ensure a pleasant experience for conference attendees.  #MedX alums were always available to yield my rookie questions at all hours of the night.  At the ePatient dinner, our hearts overflowed with compassion and respect for one another.  The list of human goodwill goes on and on when it comes to Medicine X.

From a diabetic online community (#doc) standpoint, I enjoyed talking about the highs and the lows with Chris Snider, Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine, Sophie Thacher, Meredith Hurston, and Dana Lewis- who carried her (artificial) pancreas in her purse, which automatically ranks her pretty darn high in my book of praise!  It was refreshing for me to be around people who understood without me having to really say anything, who could swap campfire tales of funny diabetes moments, and who were so passionate about our #doc advocacy endeavors.

The #MedX workshops were particularly informative and interactive.  Dr. Bonnie Feldman enthralled us with her autoimmune disease research, and we pledged to keep in touch and work hard to crack the autoimmune code as a community.  My good friend and fellow ePatient, Danielle Edges, held a workshop on eHealth in pediatrics, which featured her family’s brave story of caring for a daughter with a congenital heart defect called heterotaxy and another daughter who is secondarily impacted by having a sibling with a chronic condition.  It was so uplifting to witness this Mom, who would go to the ends of the earth to help her family, whose humor remained intact in the face of challenging circumstances, and whose loyalty and friendship is beyond measure.

#MedX is renowned for bringing together the various participants in the realm of healthcare.  We hear the term “Big Pharma” thrown around quite often online.  But I can assure you that the pharmaceutical representation at #MedX was laser-focused on getting the little details right and connecting with the patients whom they serve.  I was asked, “What can we do for you?  What message do you want us to hear from your patient perspective?”  I was so humbled by their willingness to listen and their desire to drive innovation.

There were also the little moments at the Sheraton pool, where ePatients and other #MedX attendees dined after the day of conference events concluded.  Nisha Pradhan’s passions for advancing anosmia research and providing an empathetic medical experience were contagious.  Britta Bloomquist taught me about life in northern Minnesota and juggling Lyme disease and ankylosing spondylitis.  Kristin Coppens was an example of grace and determination while managing multiple chronic conditions.

Natalie Abbott and her service dog, Cassius, educated us on Moebius syndrome, a rare disease only diagnosed in 1,000 patients thus far.  Natalie and Cassius were the epitome of a good team; they worked together seamlessly, never complaining.  I gained perspective that I must admit I very much needed by watching Natalie and Cassius together: Moebius syndrome is a passenger along for the ride in Natalie’s very-accomplished life, not the other way around.  We can apply that same lesson to every sort of adversity in life.  Thank you for inspiring me so much, Natalie and Cassius!

There are so many other big and little moments from #MedX which I would love to highlight, but the truth is that I could write a novella about how great each individual who attended is.  I would like those reading this blog to know that #MedX is a phenomenal experience because of the positive, enthusiastic, dare-to-dream-big nature of its attendees.  We are without a doubt going to change healthcare for the better.  Heck, we already have, and we’re just getting started.

The best way to summarize what #MedX means to me is to leave you with a story.  (We really like stories at #MedX!):

I woke up having some concerning diabetes issues on the first day of my #MedX experience, the pre-conference Healthcare Innovation Summit event.  To be honest, I felt quite ill.  My mother convinced me to take the shuttle to the conference location.  There would be plenty of healthcare geniuses around if I needed assistance, she advised.  How very, very true.

As the day went on and I took many insulin injections, my diabetes situation began to improve.  The group disbanded for an afternoon coffee break, and I walked to a bench in the shade of the Stanford campus.  Eventually, a professionally-clad woman sat down on the neighboring bench.

“This shade is so welcome,” she noted.

“Absolutely, and it’s nice and quiet here- a good opportunity to take a breather,” I replied.

And so we chatted.  She was at #MedX representing her healthcare company’s new technological product.  Her excitement for the tech’s potential to improve lives was palpable, and it was clear she loved her work.

“Can you explain to me what an ePatient is?” she asked.

“We’re all here to advocate for our respective causes.  We believe wholeheartedly in improving healthcare, in humanizing the story.”

“Is diabetes… hard?  As in, does it impact you a lot?” she asked tentatively.

“Sometimes…,” I admitted.  “We fight hard for our health every day.  But we believe in a brighter future.  Isn’t that why we’re all here to begin with?”

And with that we walked back towards the conference hall, two people on different sides of the healthcare equation, united by a common ambition to help others.

That’s what #MedX is all about.  It was my greatest honor to attend this year, and I would like to sincerely thank everyone at Medicine X for sharing their perspectives.  Keep doing big (and meaningful little) things.

Disclosure: I attended #MedX on a partial scholarship as an ePatient delegate.  Opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

     Zoe Chu                         MedX sign

^ With the world-famous #MedX mascot, Zoe Chu!                ^ Excited for #MedX!