Diabetes Blog Week: Illness Imagined

giphyWell, it is day four of Diabetes Blog Week and the topic today is about our experiences with
healthcare. In this post, I shift the focus a bit to an ideological issue I see as pervasive in the medical community. It has to do with imagined hardship.

Last year, while working as a bartender, a woman pointed to the tattoo on my arm that reads “DIABETIC” and asked, “are you diabetic?” I responded, “yes, I have diabetes.”  It was a slow day at the bar, so I entertained her string of run-of-the-mill diabetes questions.

No, diabetes is not as dichotomous as you would think. No, cinnamon does not reverse it, nor is there a cure.  Yes, I do take multiple daily injections and prick my finger many times a day.  And finally, yes, it could be worse.

Then, the woman offered me credit for my medical efforts, “Uh, I cannot imagine,” with the usual doom-and-gloom tone.

To me, her words translated to, “Your life must be awful.” I went home and reconsidered the disease-acceptance I had built up since the last conversation like this, about a month before. Even a little suggestion that the way I live is far from ideal is a reminder that others would not opt for my life circumstances. “No one would want this” is the thought I am left coping with.

There is a researcher named Peter Ubel who, along with colleagues, compared the way non-sick and able-bodied people expect to feel at the onset of a diagnosis, and the way sick and disabled people actually feel post-diagnosis. Ubel’s findings suggest that non-sick and able-bodied people are poor assessors of quality of life given medical complications mainly because they fail to incorporate adaptability into imagined scenarios.

Individuals like the woman I interacted with, can be narrowly focused on the potential pain of shots or the inconvenience of monitoring blood sugar. These individuals might play out one or two scenarios in which the mentioned diagnosis would limit a freedom they value. As Ubel mentions, the notion of adaptability is absent in the snap judgement used to decide the desirability of a particular lifestyle.

When we form an idea of what life would be like given X circumstances, we miss something. Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking says, “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”

In the context of today’s topic, I draw attention to the fact that among the individuals who overestimate the decline in quality of life given a new diagnosis, who underestimate adaptability, who form incomplete explanations based on limited information, are doctors.

Healthcare providers are not immune to faulty expectations. The trouble we face as a result of faulty expectations are the subsequent treatment options provided.

In my own healthcare experience, I’ve been denied CGM coverage because my management wasn’t ‘good enough.’ I have also been denied disability status because my doctor didn’t see diabetes as a disabling disease (put another way, my illness wasn’t ‘bad enough’).

My biggest frustration with our healthcare system is that the person with the least decision-making power is me, the patient.

I believe this stems, in part, from a system that elevates the physician’s, the payer’s, the industry’s perspective over mine. It stems from a system that values my life less because of diabetes.

Source: Ubel, P., Schwarz, N., Loewenstein, G., & Smith, D. (2005). Misimagining the unimaginable: The disability paradox and health care decision making. Health Psychology, 24(4), S57-S62.


Click for the The Healthcare Experience – Thursday 5/19 Link List.
Most people who live with a chronic illness end up with a lot of experience when it comes to dealing with healthcare. How would you improve or change your healthcare experience? What would you like to see happening during medical visits with your healthcare team? How about when dealing with your health insurance companies? What’s your Healthcare Wish List or Biggest Frustration? Today is the day to share it all!

Diabetes Blog Week: Wordful Wednesday

The topic for today asks bloggers to discuss their diabetes language preferences. What does each blogger prefer? “Person with diabetes”, or “diabetic”? I’m thankful to the community member who proposed this topic, because my views on it have somewhat shifted since I wrote about it last. My perspective changed because I’ve learned some disability history!

Below is a visual conception (or formulation) of each way to refer to living with diabetes. I drew it just over a year ago. It not only reflected how I felt about modifiers, but also was a source of pride for me. I had found a way to eloquently express how I experienced subtle language variations.

Screenshot 2016-05-16 23.18.00

However, after delving into disability studies and the critical theory and history that make it up, I have begun to reconsider my formulation.

Did you know that the language we tend to use in the United States is called “person-first language?” It’s a thing! We have a thing! Our community PRACTICES a theoretical (albeit historical) formulation that one can read about in academic texts!

How stinking’ cool is that?

Person-first language is formulated to address the dehumanization that can occur when a person is addressed as a disablement (in this case as diabetes) rather than as a person. Hence, in order to respect an individual’s personhood, “person with diabetes” is suggested. Person-first language isn’t used everywhere, though. This is the part that really hooked my interest as a patient who tends heavily toward person-first language.

An alternative is called identity-first language and it formed, in part, as a rejection of person-first language.

A person who tends toward identity-first language might say:

“I’d prefer you call me diabetic because I recognize that being diabetic does not decrease my personhood. I prefer this because I reject the idea that diabetic is a derogatory word.”

In this formulation, identity-first language actually fights stigma by rejecting the negative association all together! It functions to TAKE BACK the word completely! What’s more, it is used as often in the UK as person-first is here!

WOW! Right? Is this stuff mind-bending or what? Could the words we use be dictated by what region we are diagnosed?

After being exposed to identity-first language, what I can certainly say is that my feeling of righteousness when using person-first language is shaky at best.

Take this discussion as food for thought because there is no right or wrong, there is only what works for you. What we can do is make a choice and stand by that decision as informed patients.

What sits right with you?


Today’s topic: Click for the Language and Diabetes – Wednesday 5/18 Link List.
There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m willing to bet we’ve all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don’t care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let’s explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.

Diabetes Blog Week: Tuesday Take-Away

 

Welcome to Day 2 of Diabetes Blog Week. The topic revolves around the mental and emotional aspects of living with diabetes and what each of us bloggers does to cope with the stresses diabetes brings.  The coping mechanism that suits me best as I move through the trials of diabetes is curiosity. Becoming a researcher in diabetes isn’t a selfless one. When I am working on untangling the intricacies and complexities of diabetes, I am happier. I am steeped in project and connection when I am interviewing, coding, reading, and learning. xt9dpldjhzzktonen6

For example, learning that there ARE researchers who are proposing the application of complexity theory to diabetes clinical practice thrills me! What thrills me more is knowing that I bring some of our perspective to this growing body of research.

All of this researching helps me cope personally, but it also boosts my pride in our community. As we dig deep and write about our experiences, researchers are fumbling to explain it in academic terms. It makes me want to send each and every one of you GIANT virtual hugs all the time for being so wonderfully in tune with your mind, spirit, and body.

If I were to suggest anything to a PWD experiencing burnout, it would be this…

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

As hard as it is to write during burnout, let us try. Because our stories ARE data, our words are future findings. Knowing that the power of our hardships can be collected and explored is extraordinary. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to keep me going.

If you want to look up the complexity theory in diabetes practice, here is a good place to start: Cooper, H. C., & Geyer, R. (2009). What can complexity do for diabetes management? Linking theory to practice. Journal of evaluation in clinical practice, 15(4), 761-765.


Today’s Topic: Click for the The Other Half of Diabetes – Tuesday 5/17 Link List.
We think a lot about the physical component of diabetes, but the mental component is just as significant. How does diabetes affect you or your loved one mentally or emotionally? How have you learned to deal with the mental aspect of the condition? Any tips, positive phrases, mantras, or ideas to share on getting out of a diabetes funk? (If you are a caregiver to a person with diabetes, write about yourself or your loved one or both!)

Diabetes Blog Week: Message Monday

I am beyond thrilled to have started The Chronic Scholar blog in time for the Seventh Annual Diabetes Blog week! Karen over at Bitter-Sweet Diabetes is such a gem in our community and I am so thankful for her work here.

Today’s topic was my suggestion. I wrote this suggestion under the impression that our sense of community may be strengthened by it. Our collective sentiments are representative of our community, and possibly people with diabetes in general. How often do we look at and examine our message though? How often do we analyze the effectiveness, possible results, and second-order consequences of the sentiments we articulate through our stories? I personally wanted to opportunity and space to explore my main diabetes messages, so I am extra thankful to Karen for picking this topic.

I haven’t been the first PWD to admit today that my message has changed over the course of writing a blog. I started it when I was working in the Bay Area at The Diabetes Hands Foundation and am now with DiabetesSisters and a second-year PhD student in Disability Studies in Chicago. I’m thankful for blogging, in retrospect, because it shows my changes over time. I get to read how I was feeling four years ago. What a wonderful opportunity.

With that said, what are the messages I put out into the world via my blog, and what do I hope they accomplish? Well, below are my top two messages. Both stem from personal experience, the latter from my studies in critical theory, and they speak to one another.

Message 1: Diabetes looks like everyone you have ever met, no matter the type, no matter the circumstance.

Can type 1 look like a child? Yes. Can it also look like a grandparent? Yes.  Can type 2 look like a child? Yes. Can it also look like a grandparent? Yes. And everywhere in between. Diabetes does not discriminate, nor does it choose its vessels based on ‘lifestyle.’ The most important message I want to spread by telling personal stories is that diabetes is more complex than the one-dimensional caricature blasted through popular media.

Message 2: When persons with type 1 set themselves apart from type 2 by saying things like “Type 1 means I did nothing to cause this,” we are inevitably strengthening the type 2 stereotype we are attempting to distance ourselves from to begin with.

This is a tricky message to share and to explain. It is complicated and has a couple of moving parts. Moreover, this second message is a reflection of how my messages have changed over time. When I began blogging, I wanted the world to know about type 1. I wanted my friends and family to know that what I endured everyday was more difficult than Wilfred Brimley made it sound. I wanted Ellen to tell the internet and Hollywood to stop confusing my disease with someone else’s.

It was with great humility that I began to witness the second-order consequences of my message and mission to educate. By demanding there is a difference, I reinforce that difference; I authorize it. In this scenario, I, as the educated patient give permission to those being educated to continue believing that type 2 looks they way they think it does, fat and old, bad and sad.

Simply separating myself and my diabetes from THAT type 2 diabetes, I do nothing to fight stigma, but in fact reinforce it.

The message which I stand by now has been my hardest diabetes lesson thus far. As I continue to move through life with this disease, with this plastic pancreas hooked at the side of my jeans, I will be watchful of the impact of my messages. I will allow for humility to guide me, espicially when my righteousness is called into question by doing so.

 


Today’s topic:  Click for the Message Monday – Monday 5/16 Link List.
Lets kick off the week by talking about why we are here, in the diabetes blog space. What is the most important diabetes awareness message to you? Why is that message important for you, and what are you trying to accomplish by sharing it on your blog? (Thank you, Heather Gabel, for this topic suggestion.)

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Volunteers for Class Project

I am currently developing an instrument to measure community participation. I am searching for 10 individuals who might be willing to take the survey, and then provide feedback for what I missed, what works well, and what ought to be changed.

If you would like to volunteer, send me an email at: hgabel3 @ uic . edu

UnitedHealthcare Policy Change: A Systemic Issue

Diabetes Supplies

Earlier this month, UnitedHealthcare announced a policy change that impacts people with diabetes of all types. As established by a new partnership with Medtronic, UnitedHealthcare has dedicated a “preferred Durable Medical Equipment provider” through which to cover.

DiaTribe’s article  explains the impact of this new policy on patients:

“If you are currently on a non-Medtronic pump and have United insurance, this news has no immediate impact. Your pump supplies will be covered as long as your pump is under its four-year warranty and still functioning properly. Once your pump goes out of warranty and/or breaks, however, you will be required to switch to a Medtronic pump.” – Adam Brown and Kelly Close

As a patient, potentially facing coerced changes in my medical delivery regimen, I must FIRST look at who is responsible. Is it Medtronic? It is UnitedHealthcare? Or could it be but a glimpse of something far more harrowing?

Do you remember in April 2014, when the New York Times journalist, Elizabeth Rosenthal published an article entitled, “Even Small Medical Advances Can Mean Big Jumps In Bills.”  Rosenthal’s main argument, that small diabetes tech innovations are little more than planned obsolescence, was heavily contested in the Diabetes Online Community. Just as we are seeing with this UnitedHealthcare’s policy change, advocates are now taking action. Bloggers are sharing their stories and outrage over the loss in autonomy and choice resulting from this venture. One advocate, Mike Hoskins, bravely went a step further by sharing this daring piece which suggests a personal boycott of Medtronic products.

Coverage of advances and innovative technologies and treatments for persons with diabetes is threatened beyond the reach of the media and beyond our storytelling efforts. Perhaps a larger contributor to and influence over cost-benefit analysis performed by insurance companies, are the guidelines set forth by biomedical ethicists. In the dangerous line of declaring right and wrong, bioethicists’ works are subject to misinterpretation. Consider the following discussion of ordinary verses extraordinary treatment.

 

Beauchamp and Childress, authors of the widely-circulated bioethics text, Biomedical Ethics, set for distinctions between what is to be considered an ordinary or extraordinary treatment. Ordinary treatments, or those which cannot be omitted or declined are likened to “obligatory”, “customary”,  “natural”, “noninvasive”, “inexpensive”, or “routine” treatment. In contrast, extraordinary treatments, or those which may be legitimately omitted or declined are likened to “non-obligatory”, “unusual”, “uncustomary”, “complex”, “artificial”, “invasive”, “expensive”, or “heroic” treatment. While the authors draw attention to the danger in such a broad categorization, calling it “morally misleading” and too subjective, they fail to address a most vital question. Who decides?

In the cost-risk-benefit analysis behind every decision about a course of medical treatment, whose expertise is most valued? Who gets the final say? The doctor? The patient? The insurance company? The answer is not the patient, for if it was, every patient would have the medical devices they see fitting for their lifestyle. Nor do the doctors get the final say, for if they did, every patient would have the medical devices recommended to them by their doctors. By process of elimination, then, the answer of who decides whom gets a certain treatment, is the insurance company. By looking to the ethical guidelines on distinctions between ordinary (inexpensive) or extraordinary (expensive), the insurance companies can justifiably (legally) deny a person with diabetes access to an innovate management device. The same continuous glucose monitor a diabetes caregiver and advocate credits for saving her daughter’s life is deemed ‘unnecessary’, “complex”, and ‘expensive’ by her insurers. In the dangerous line of declaring right and wrong, bioethical guidelines, by proxy, threaten access to advancing technologies for people with diabetes.

Why do we need to consider texts like Biomedical Ethics? Because it is a mechanism of a MUCH BIGGER systemic issue, and we cannot ignore it.

However, what’s more, we need to go even one step further. For if the insurance companies CAN BE BOUGHT, if their cost-analysis can be swayed by the manufactures and sellers of specific treatment options, then the above analysis fails. It fails because the maker of  supplies covered is given systematic and legal permission to offer said companies large payouts for partnership. That is, large producers of medical equipment are now the ultimate decision makers.

Our problem is about the allowance for competitive bidding at all. Why do our laws permit the sacrifice of the health and wellness of our people for the greed and capital-growth of a business?

We cannot stop our advocacy efforts at a boycott, although starting there is an excellent idea.   The fact that Medtronic was able to outbid every other pump company (to begin with) simply  is a product of their already pervasive monopoly over the market. Medtronic has industry influence because our laws ALLOW for them to.

We aren’t dealing with one greedy pharmaceutical company and a payer driven solely by their profit-margins. We are dealing with a healthcare system saturated with the values of capitalism, rewarding the diminution of patient-physican autonomy with profits. We are dealing with a systemic issue far greater than this one venture.

All things considered, protesting a systemic issue is a HUGE undertaking.

Many online advocates have already addressed the issue using hashtags like #DiabetesAccessMatters and #PatientsOverProfit. Mike Hoskins of DiabetesMine recognized many advocates and listed many suggestions for patients in the diabetes community on how to begin that process.

One of the suggested actions coming up which DOES ADDRESS A BIGGER ISSUE is the DPAC Tweet-in on May 12th. DPAC_Tweet_In_May-768x768

 “Diabetes is self-managed and everyone’s management is individualized.  Patients and their healthcare teams should define the best path for living well with diabetes. Government bureaucrats and insurance company cost accountants should not veto doctors’ orders.”

 

It is time for us advocates to use this glimpse of a faulty system as motivation to take action against a much larger systemic issue impacting not only everyone with diabetes, but every single patient in the Unites States.

A big job lays ahead of us. Are you ready to take action?