If Diabetes Were A Cinnamon Cure

 

I’m a big fan of Katy’s wit and attitude in Bigfoot Child Have Diabetes, so I wanted to stay true to her suggestion for today’s food-related theme for DBlog Week.  Alas, I am embarrassed to say that I am on the “grad school diet,” a fad that I do not endorse for full health benefits.  It amounts to guzzling coffee at all hours of the day, eating handfuls of peanuts in the car while driving to and from work/school, and scarfing down frozen dinners at 10:00 pm.  Ahh!!

Therefore, I’m playing the Diabetes Personified wild card today, but I’ll keep it food-related! 

One more disclaimer: As a former college English major, I must admit that my take on this exercise does not 100% meet the definition of personification.  Cinnamon “cures” are not people, but they do affect people’s attitudes.  So, please play along with the diabetes-cinnamon analogy here.  Mostly, I just really freakin’ wanted to write this!

If diabetes were to take the form of a cinnamon “cure” concoction that actually worked in a non-spammer world, would I pour it in my coffee and watch the Dexcom CGM line even out with each sip?

Would it fade that scar on my right lower back?  The one where the needle didn’t quite stick in all the way- so the nurse had to fiddle around with it until she could secure it with medical tape?  When she quietly asked if she was hurting me as I fidgeted under her grasp, would I still mutter “It only hurts a little bit” through clenched teeth?  Would my doctor still look on and pretend to believe me, mostly for the sake of my stubborn pride?

Would all of the needles and sleepless nights get swept away in a sea of cinnamon?

Would we inhale it like Afrezza, or tell Uncle Brad to “Pass the cinnamon, please” at Thanksgiving dinner?

Would we keep calm and bolus on?  Or would we keep calm and cinnamon?

If diabetes were a cinnamon cure, would insurance still want Prior Approval?  Would we be limited to one dab of cinnamon per month instead of the five that we might require to live healthy lives?  Would paperwork swallow us whole?

Would some people not have access to cinnamon?  Would we advocate long and hard for them?

What would the spammers say when the cinnamon cure suddenly worked for diabetes as advertised, its years of falsehood erased by a magic wand in the sky?  Would the spammers tap the Staples “That was easy!” button in unison?  Would they move on to the next groups- the cancer and the cystic fibrosis heroes?  Would they diminish the battles that these human beings face each day by promoting a “cure” so ludicrous that society rationalizes its way out of the burden of easing their pain?

“It’s your fault. You didn’t eat the cinnamon.”  And just like that the moral compass gets readjusted!

Would Wilford Brimley still say diabeetus?  Would he order a very light, extra cinnamon coffee at the drive-thru before breaking out in a dance?  Because of course he still has two functioning legs. He didn’t lose them like your grandma’s best friend’s tabby cat’s brother’s cousin did because he “failed” to “control” an autoimmune disease that doesn’t like to follow orders.  He was cured by cinnamon.  You heard it here first!

Would the #doc become the #coc- the Cinnamon Online Community?  Would we have weekly #CSMA chats?  Cinnamon Social Media Advocacy, it’s what all the cured kids are doing!

What happens to a cinnamon cure deferred?  Does its powdery dust make an audible “poof” as it dissipates?

#IWishPeopleKnewThatCinnamon is silly, mon! (Said in best Jamaican accent)

Cinnamon pleases the taste buds, not the islet cells.  If diabetes were as simple as a cinnamon cure, we wouldn’t enjoy all of the hidden blessings that we have grown to love through the complexity of managing this disease as best we can. It’s just not the same having a Kerri / Cinnamon, a Cinnamon Unconference, a @CinnamonCherise, a #dayofcinnamon Symplur hash tag, or a Cinnamon Hands Foundation- to name a few.  The real life diabetes versions of these people, organizations, and events bring far more goodness to the world than cinnamon ever will. Perhaps our virtual paths would not have crossed if silly cinnamon cures actually worked.  #Coc just doesn’t have the same ring to it as #doc, unless your mind is in the gutter!

Occasionally I sprinkle cinnamon in my coffee mug.  Then I check myself in the mirror.  It doesn’t hurt anymore, but the scar is still there on my back, a reminder of a disease that cannot be remedied by simple measures like cinnamon, a visible testament to the care I receive from others despite the pain, part of what gives us perspective and gratitude for the good days.

The needles are still required.  There will be more tears, more laughter, and more perspective gained along the way.  A sprinkle of cinnamon cannot make up for the other ingredients which have shaped our lives.  Wacky cinnamon cure theories do not do justice to the crosses we have carried.

There are no Nutrition Facts on the packaging that is life with diabetes along for the ride- not the other way around.  When we come together as a community, things are sweet enough to enjoy this #doc life for what it is without the artificial flavoring of ridiculous cure remedies.

For now, I’ll take one large coffee.  Very light, no sugar.  Hold the cinnamon, please.

Diabetes Campfire Stories

“Back in my day, we used pork-sourced insulin when I was diagnosed!” I may one day proclaim to my future grandchildren.

At this point in time, there will be a cure for diabetes and they will laugh off my fireside tales of the struggles of the past, oblivious to the hardships that generations before them have faced. Honestly, that’s how it should be if we aim to improve the world during our brief time here.

So many changes have occurred in diabetes treatments since my diagnosis just before my third birthday in the early 1990s. And I have not endured half of what rockstars like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor have lived through regarding diabetes management processes! Change does not have to be a comparison battle, rather it should grant a clear perspective of just how blessed we are today despite a conniving autoimmune condition.

Almost one year ago I began using the Dexcom CGM (continuous glucose monitor) in the hopes of alleviating anxiety surrounding my diabetes. From the first day, I was absolutely floored by this product. Sure, it is technology and it is not the same as a properly-functioning pancreas. I have to carefully prep my insertion sites to avoid blistering rashes. And I am still waiting on my winning lottery ticket so that I can make my first purchase: a fulltime nurse who will check my blood sugar at night and will perform Dexcom insertions on me so that I do not have to do the one-handed pretzel move to get a sensor in my lower back.

Despite these minor issues, Dexcom is, in my humble opinion, the best quality product on the diabetes market. Due to many diabetes hurdles this year, I cannot boast of an A1C that drastically improved while on Dexcom, but I can say that my mental anguish regarding diabetes has lessened substantially thanks to Dexcom’s accurate readings. That, my friends, is half the battle. I still fear overnight lows, but I am much more confident that I will wake up thanks to Dexcom rattling and alarming from an empty coffee mug on my nightstand. I owe my life to Dexcom, as do many others. In the past, we all had to make do with what we had, and plenty of us survived prior to CGMs. But Dexcom is an added safeguard that makes life less complicated. It is the sort of change that is easy to embrace.

The Dexcom Facebook group was my true introduction to the diabetic online community. For the most part, this group is wonderfully supportive and non-judgmental- a place where we can all feel at home. We are able to share our scary moments and our triumphs with an audience who “gets it.” As I ventured off into the blogosphere, I fostered genuine friendships with others in the community, but I will always have Dexcom to thank for being the springboard to finding some of my largest supporters in fighting diabetes.

In grade school my mother used to drive to the auditorium to check my blood sugar every day at lunch. These were the infamous NPH and R days, and lunchtime was primetime for lows. My mother recalls seeing me file into the cafeteria with the rest of my class looking white as a ghost; she does not know how I had enough energy to even walk on some occasions when my blood sugar hovered in the 30s and 40s. There was no Dexcom back then to alert my teacher to the rapid decline.

On the playground in fourth grade, Michelle spoke the unfiltered truth. “I’m sorry that I didn’t invite you to my sleepover for my birthday. You could come if you weren’t diabetic, but my Mom doesn’t know how to take care of your diabetes so you can’t sleep over.”

In fairness to Michelle’s Mom, after twenty-four years of diabetes, I’m still trying to crack its code. I give her credit for recognizing that this disease is much more serious than an herbal cure remedy. Perhaps she could have coached her child on her delivery of the bad news a little more, but we can’t always have it all.

When I see the parents of children using Dexcom CGM post in the Facebook group about little Joey or Susie attending the first big sleepover of the school year, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Those kids put up with enough pokes and prods, fingersticks and pump site rotations, Dexcom insertions and limited cake consumption that they warrant having some fun with their friends every once in a while. They deserve to stay up all night eating popcorn and watching movies, forgetting that diabetes exists while Mom and Dad rest comfortably at home watching the steady line of the Nightscout Project’s Pebble watch display or the Dexcom Share apps.

Enjoy that good type of change. Remember the freedom that this product affords us, even on the days where the calibrations seem a bit off. After all, we are dealing with type one diabetes; diabetes’ “calibrations” to everyday life are rarely on the mark. Innovative products like Dexcom CGM allow us to live life in the moment, to have an additional security blanket onboard, to do things that diabetics in the past may not have been able to do.

To the parents of the kids going to the sleepovers where Dexcom gets the invite, too: Your kids will thank you for allowing them to just be kids one day when they are old enough to realize the sacrifices that you made for them. One day we will all sit with our respective families around the campfire and talk about that first sleepover as a diabetic, the first time fast-acting insulin was introduced, and so on, until we can finally talk about the first big meal after the cure.

Keep up the good work.

“I never meant to make you cry, but tonight / I’m cleanin’ out my closet.” -Eminem

My apartment could easily get selected for a TLC special entitled Hoarders: The Diabetes Edition. I have mountains of old supplies stocked up just in case the apocalypse ever occurs and I for some reason need a 6-year-old infusion set for an insulin pump that I no longer utilize…  (Note: Proper medical guidance instructs never to use expired supplies.  I am in no way recommending that you do so.)

I have trouble discarding diabetes supplies because they represent my lifeline, even if they are expired.  The thought of running out of supplies freaks me out.  Temporary relief arrives when my mail order pharmacy prescriptions knock at my front door, providing life in predetermined 3-month packages per my insurance provider.  But what if I drop and shatter a vial of insulin accidentally?  I may need my fridge stockpile to get me through until my next order.  Most of us are privileged enough to obtain medication through various means, however much of a longwinded telephone loop-de-loop headache that process may render.  If we lived somewhere else or during some other time, we may not have been able to count these blessings.  My bedroom’s diabetes supply closet is a constant reminder of this privilege.

There are certain items that I can’t bring myself to throw out, but probably should.  I returned to multiple daily injections in December after going through the hardest time of my life- a period in which the only type of infusion set that would work with my body type just so happened to have a product defect in multiple lot numbers.  I spent a majority of my time on the couch chasing ketones and brainstorming with insulin pump company representatives and my medical providers as to how we could correct this problem.  I fought going back on shots tooth and nail, bitter that an infusion set component measuring only a few centimeters long could have such dire effects on my health when it was not functioning properly.

“My quality of life will be ruined on shots!” I exclaimed.

“Can you honestly tell me that you have much quality of life right now?  You’re on the couch with ketones every day fighting for your life,” my wise doctor replied.

And so I finally caved and returned to a Lantus and Humalog regimen.  It was rocky at first, but I am now enjoying my time (mostly) ketone-free.  The blood sugar management still has its ups and downs, an inherent trait of type one diabetes.  There are days when I miss the insulin pump’s fine-tuning aspects wholeheartedly.  I still glance down at my waist to check the time on my pump from time to time, only to discover that what was once such a major part of my life is not there any longer.

When I first transitioned off of the pump, my resentment was palpable. Screw you, pump! I’m moving on! This was a mental game in which I tried to convince myself that this was the right move.  A majority of modern day diabetics use pumps, and I felt crazy that this was not a viable option for me.  Yet time and time again, my infusion set changes proved that this was not working for me personally.

Subsequently, I grieved the pump’s loss under a mask of anger and sarcasm.  During some particularly emotional days, I still think it’s Halloween mask time.

Yet after this struggle, there remains a part of me that cannot bear to throw out the pump supplies.  They have defects, so I cannot donate them to charity for fear of putting someone else through ketone hell.  Instead, they crowd my coat closet by the front door, my bedroom closet from floor to ceiling, the space under my bed, and other spots below stacks of grad school books. I might need these supplies again one day, right? They are a lifeline to another time, another method of managing this jerk of a disease.

Perhaps I will try again.  Not yet.  But perhaps.  The pain is still too raw and we still have too much work to do on the shots before a new decision can be made.

I would be lying if I said that I am not still processing my frustration and disappointment in the entire faulty infusion set situation.  Heck, I’ve certainly blogged about it enough.  But I am more cognizant of the concept of forgiveness and enjoying the present moment now.  I saw firsthand how quickly health can change, what it feels like to watch yourself dwindle away into nothingness.  If it was not for determined doctors and nurses who believed me and did not give up, I may not still be here.  But I am here, so I need to make the most of this life.

Just in case I ever need the insulin pump collecting dust on a shelf, its infusion set and reservoir packages will decorate my room for now.  Whenever I move to a larger residence, I will box them up and put them in a storage closet, packed away neatly with the other memories of my life.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Honestly, though, whether insulin pump enthusiasts or shots supporters, we do not need bigger apartments with huge walk-in closets.

What we really need is a cure.

pump boxes

#NoFilter Coffee?

In my enthusiasm for the start of DBlog Week yesterday, I did not give a proper shout out to Karen Graffeo until the Comments section of my post.  I’d like to rectify that here.  This is my first DBlog Week, and I am absolutely loving the discovery of blogs that I did not know about beforehand, as well as hearing from my usual favorites.  How cool is this community?  Seriously.  It’s bursting with goodness this week.  I am sure that organizing DBlog Week involves tons of hard work on Karen’s part.  Not only that, but every time I go to comment on a post, I see that she has already left her words of wisdom behind!  What a great example of giving back to this powerful community.  Thank you, Karen!

Here’s my take on today’s theme, “Keep It To Yourself”:

Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter already know that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I speak with #nofilter in the heat of the moment.  There are some things that I have been rather coy about, though.

When I first began blogging in September 2014, I vowed to be transparent, and I still uphold that promise.  Sometimes it makes me feel like I need to share everything, though.  Realistically, I can be honest and helpful in the diabetic online community without jeopardizing the privacy of those who have not necessarily signed up to be featured on a diabetes blog.

When I was in high school, I used to hide behind bathroom stall doors when taking insulin injections.  My classmates did not know that I was diabetic until the end of my freshman year. I built up my “diabetes coming out party” so much in my head that I turned it into a much bigger deal than it was in reality. Once I was cool with diabetes, everybody else was, too. For the sake of living my life with more ease and with more safeguards in place in case of an emergency, I eventually disclosed that I was diabetic. A weight was immediately lifted. No more hiding syringes in my coat pocket. No more making excuses about why I had to sit out for a few minutes at soccer practice while my blood sugar came up from a low. The rest is history. Now ya’ll can’t shut me up about diabetes, right?

We all come to terms with diabetes in our own unique ways. Some people may always choose to be private about diabetes. Others might spread the diabetes Gospel loud and proud. We are all individuals, and just because I am outspoken about my life with diabetes does not mean that it is the right path for someone else to follow.

  • I have a type one diabetic relative who I have alluded to at times.  For the sake of my relative’s privacy, I do not mention personally-identifiable details online.  While my relative is not necessarily shy about diabetes, I also do not feel that it is my place to tell my relative’s story. It is not my own story to tell. If/when my relative ever wants to get involved in the #doc, I will always support that choice. But ultimately that choice is up to my relative, not me.
  • I also hint at my employment duties at times, not necessarily because I have some big, fancy, secretive job, but more because in a selfish way the #doc for me represents a little cocoon in which I go to seek comfort and strength. If I mingle my professional life with the #doc, it loses that element of “everybody gets it here” that I have grown to love. This is not to say that diabetes and professional lives do not mix. Heck, there are plenty of #doc success stories to show that one’s passion can become a great job. This is just where I am here and now, and right now I need the unconditional support that I find in the #doc. No strings attached.
  • I have never named my personal doctors and nurses on my blog. They did not sign on the dotted line to become the heroes that I describe in my writing, so I do not give their identities away. They may be humble about what they do, for example. I try to respect those boundaries. This is not to say that I would not disclose that information in the right moments. If someone lived in my geographic area and thought that my personal doctor could help him/her, by all means I would ask my doctor’s permission to pass along contact information. The point is similar to what I noted above with my diabetic relative: I try my best to respect that perhaps others do not want the spotlight on them.
  • My tweets have also been vague regarding the topics of mental health and sexual/physical assault, also out of respect for friends near and dear to me who are some of the strongest people in the world. Just know that I support their advocacy causes wholeheartedly. Society is starting to turn the corner on stigma in these situations, but we still have a heck of a long way to go.

With the final point in mind, I invite you to foster a Coffee Convo with someone who may need it.

It is okay to have #nofilter. But sometimes we do not need to yell things from the rooftops to get the job done. We can respect others’ privacy and still show the world that we care. I kindly ask you and your coffee cup to do so.

“Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots! Everyyyybodyyy!!”

(Thank me later for getting that LMFAO classic stuck in your head.)

May 6 will mark six months since my return to multiple daily injections (MDI), or, as I like to say, “shots.”  Let’s call it like it is, people.  It’s sticking a needle in your arm, butt, back, stomach, leg many times per day to deliver life-sustaining medication.  It is not a cure, but it gives us life each day.

At a recent doctor’s appointment I proclaimed, “This rollercoaster isn’t working.  I need to return to the pump!”

To which my doctor countered, “And you told me the same thing about the pump before you went back on shots, Ally!”

I responded with a stunned face that only a googley-eyed emoticon can convey.  My doctor was right.  Diabetes is not as simple as insulin pump versus shots versus Afrezza versus whatever floats your boat.

If I have learned anything in the past six months, it is just how different everyone’s diabetes is and just how different our treatment methods may be- whether out of personal choice or simply out of necessity.  I’ll give another plug for Spare a Rose here: Most of us in the #doc are blessed to have any access to insulin, never mind the added bonus of having some flexibility in treatment options.

With that said, I know I seem like a broken record about the insulin pump.  I want to set things straight here once and for all, while providing an update about my shots journey for those who may be interested.

Insulin pumps, when functioning optimally, are amazing devices.  Going on the pump in high school opened up a whole new world to me.  My parents breathed a sigh of relief that I could enjoy being a dorky kid with a bit more freedom back then.  There are things that I miss immensely about insulin pumping: fine-tuning insulin doses, temporary basals, basal adjustments in one minute flat, carb-count/correction factor/insulin on board “wizards,” stability in blood sugar values on the good days.

If the pump works for you without many issues, all the more power to you. I want you to use whatever makes you feel healthy and happy- the same goals that I want for myself. In my rare case, going on shots had to serve that immediate interest in order to save my health. Do what works for you.

You can achieve a healthy lifestyle on shots, but it is more of a clunky, awkward sort of dance.  Once that Lantus is injected, it’s there for the day.  On Friday, my pancreas decided to rev up a notch (sarcasm), and for some odd reason I could not get my blood sugar to rise all day despite having taken the same dose of Lantus that I take every single day and hardly bolusing Humalog.  I force-fed myself almost all of the leftover Easter candy to no avail.  Good Lord did I miss the temp basal feature of the pump then! I longed for the personalized touches of modern technology that brick and mortar insulin injections simply do not afford.

I would ultimately like to ease into an “untethered” regimen of background Lantus in case of pump failures coupled with insulin pump usage again. However, this is quite complex, and we are not quite there with the shots yet. More details need to be worked out in terms of my basal and bolus plans. We are not settled into our comfort zone at this time, but we will get there.  For now, we are enjoying the fact that insulin is getting into my body without technological glitches causing ketones each day, a freedom that I will never take for granted again.

Many topnotch brainiac doctors have looked into my pump issues. We know that the product did not work for me personally. But we also know that a pump-centric solution has not yet been provided. Right now, we do not need to add another factor to the equation. We’ll give shots a shot (see what I did there?) for another few months, at least.

I find myself daydreaming about a cure so often now: the party on the tropical island with the entire #doc; the sugary drinks consumed without having to stop and bolus- whether that be via insulin pump or shots; the happy kind of tears.

As a child when that elusive diabetes cure was “ten years away” (cue inside diabetic joke laughter), my father used to tell us about the enormous cure party we would have. There would be a table in the middle of the front yard with a sledgehammer on it. We would smash my blood glucose meter, syringes, and other diabetes supplies into tiny pieces to signify victory over a vindictive disease.

The sentiment was well-intentioned, although today I must admit that I laugh a bit at that particular daydream. If I were cured tomorrow, all of those diabetes supplies would immediately be donated to people who needed them in the interim. The supplies have nobler uses than being crushed by a sledgehammer.

We should be thankful for the supplies that we have keeping us alive right now. If an insulin pump does its job for you, perfect. If Afrezza is your drug of choice, inhale away. If shots suit you better, go for it. However you choose to do so, just fight the good fight until there is a cure.

Please keep those cure daydreams alive by continuing to advocate so well. #weneedacure

Thumbs Up for the New Endo

Transitioning from one endocrinologist to another can be emotional and stressful.  We’ve been over this.

As many people expressed similar anxieties about perhaps having to switch doctors at some point in time when I first blogged about this topic, I wanted to provide a quick update on that front:

Today I met my new endocrinologist, as my former endo relocated far away.  New Endo was kind and understanding.  There were no lectures, which automatically earns her many (sugar-free) brownie points in my book.  We set realistic goals which will help improve quality of life a bit.  (Think along the lines of decreasing basal rates to avoid treating multiple lows in the early morning hours with old Christmas candy stash goodies.  And of course, I renewed my vows to put on my brave face and try to take more insulin each day.)

A lot of this stuff seems so obvious now that I’m writing it down.  But it helps to just speak it out loud to a knowledgeable endo’s ears and to have her input in making adjustments which can have big impacts on my health.

We’re going to get where we want to be in terms of my diabetes management eventually.  It has been a year of SO many big changes, but I am learning that change can be good, especially if you have the right people in your corner helping you to keep on, keepin’ on.

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

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!

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…