Not too long ago, a friend of mine was telling me about a member of her family. The family member in question was going to the doctor to get some blood tests done, because all he seemed to do was sleep. She went on to tell me that she thought that he might be diabetic, thanks to a friend of the family who had gone through the same thing.
I began to ask my friend if the person in question was thirsty. He was indeed. He was going to the toilet quite often, as well. She went on to tell me that his eating habits weren’t great either, particularly as he had a tendency to snack late at night.
A few days later, the person in question was told he had type 2 diabetes by his GP. I believe he was prescribed some oral medication to take daily. When I politely asked what the GP had said to him, it was exactly what I expected to hear.
“Lose weight, exercise, and cut back on your portions.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard a recount like this one. GP’s don’t know enough about diabetes. To be completely honest, I don’t expect them to. But there are allied healthcare professionals who do specialise in diabetes. Their services are free in public hospitals to people with a Medicare card, and accessible through something as simple as a GP’s referral. Yet the vague, unhelpful and judgemental guidance being given is setting people up to fail.
I tried to explain to my friend the body was producing insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, but was having a little trouble using it properly. I tried to explain that blood glucose levels typically rise after eating, and that they need time to fall back into range again after eating before starting again.
I politely asked if they’d been referred to a diabetes hospital clinic, and went on to explain that there was more customised diabetes support available for free if they needed it. I also asked if they would like one of the spare blood glucose meters I had sitting in my wardrobe at home.
Earlier this week I showed my friend how to use the meter, and laughed as she shuddered at the sight of me applying my own blood to the test strip (with my own lancing device, of course). I explained that a target of between 4 and 8 was ideal, and that mornings were a good indicator of progress as our bodies have typically been fasting overnight. I told her that if they wanted more strips in future, they could see their GP about registering with the National Diabetes Services Scheme. And I told her that I was happy to answer any questions they had.
For someone new to diabetes, I’m sure that this was a lot of information. I have no idea how much of it will stick. Or whether they will use that meter. Or how they will deal with this new diagnosis. But I don’t think that I will ask again.
The way we each deal with our diagnosis is extremely unique. We go through a range of emotions. Sadness, frustration, isolation, shame and even denial. We need time and space. Some of us might not want to know anything about diabetes, while others may feel ready to jump in and immerse themselves into this strange new world. As much as I would like to see people err toward the latter, it has to be on their own terms. Not mine.