I’m currently in my second year of PA school which means I am in month long clinical rotations. I have seen a vast array of diseases, patients, and situations but one thing still bothers me. Seeing a patient unaware of his or her own disease and how to deal with it is very frustrating. A patient who had a broken bone fixed doesn’t have to understand in great detail what happened 2 years ago with the surgery. She knows the bone was broken, the surgeon fixed it, and now she is better. Chronic disease is different and a patient must understand their own disease and how to deal with it on a daily basis. A heart failure patient may not understand why he must avoid excessive salt in his diet but he does so knowing he will feel better.
I have come across a large number of diabetics who do not seem to understand their own disease and how to treat it. One type 2 diabetic didn’t seem to be concerned that she had lost 70 pounds in under a year without any major changes. She was concerned about her belly pain and GI issues but not about her last A1C of 13! I encountered a type 1 diabetic who read the following Gatorade label and took insulin based off a carbohydrate total of 28g per serving.
These are only two examples of poorly informed and wholly unaware patients. The first patient was suffering from gastroparesis as a result of chronically elevated blood sugar. The second patient was confused why he became hypoglycemic following the insulin dosages he calculated. He did not know the “total carbohydrate” value included all values below this heading including “sugars”. Both patients were experiencing complications of diabetes that could be avoided with simple education.
Many diabetics do not see endocrinologists for their disease maintenance and are managed by family medicine or internal medicine practitioners. There is no reason to believe a provider in any of these three areas is incapable of providing adequate care, education, and resources for diabetic patients under their care. Regardless of who patients see, the patient’s understanding and compliance to treatment protocols should be the ultimate priority. If you have a question about care, treatment plans, risk for complications for yourself or a loved one affected by this disease the first place to look is with your provider. Good providers will do their best to answer all of your questions but great providers will also set you up with colleagues. Diabetes educators are a great resource and typically have much more time allotted to explain things and allow for questions.
Shortly after my diagnosis I remember meeting with a diabetic educator nurse for an hour or two. She provided a lot of information but it was a single meeting and I was turned free. I don’t think meeting with a diabetes educator should be a single event following diagnosis. After seeing the lack of knowledge in many diabetics I think it would be best to have follow up visits until the patient is really comfortable with all the material. I have been fortunate to study in the medical field and have learned many things regarding diabetes I would not have known had I not been in this field.
I remember seeing my endocrinologist for the first time after my diagnosis and being given a prescription for a glucagon pen. I knew it was for severe hypoglycemia events but not much else, which is why I took it with me to the grocery store a couple times in the first couple of weeks after the appointment. It never occurred to me I would have to explain how to reconstitute the vial and then explain where to inject it to a stranger all while in the middle of a hypoglycemic event. I lived alone so there was no one who would be able to give me the injection if I really needed it but I didn’t understand this at the time. Thankfully the only time I have ever needed glucagon was 7 years later and my wife knew exactly what to do.
As with many things in life, ultimately we have to be our own best advocates in order to succeed. If you need help don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it! You may be surprised where you end up as a result.