A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a virtual summit with some members of the DOC. When I received the invitation from Scott Johnson to join him and some people involved in Pharma and social media, at first I wasn’t sure I would fit in the group; there was to be a discussion about Diabetic Neuropathy and my reaction was “Well, I don’t have that… What kind of input could I possibly give?” —But I said yes, anyway; the conversation was eye-opening and it left me with a lot of bittersweet feelings.
I was rather grateful to be able to say that I’m free of complications, and then it hit me. Just because I’m complication-free now, it doesn’t mean the future doesn’t hold any challenges. And how well informed am I about these complications? I wouldn’t put myself in the completely ignorant category, but I’m definitely very close to it. What I know is very vague, very superficial, and usually tainted by the sensationalism of the media. Nobody wants to learn about diabetes and what it can do to your body when the first thing you see is a horrendous photo of a sick foot that most probably needs to be amputated. That’s fear-education and I avoid it like the plague. The sad part is that at some point I end up avoiding it ALL.
How many of us can say that, unless we get diagnosed with something, we actively go and look for information on a certain condition, especially a complication from diabetes? I certainly can’t! I go for my eye exam every year and I’m all happy when the doctor tells me my retina is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and I leave it at that. I don’t worry about it for another year because I’m almost convinced that I’m doing all the right things to control my diabetes. After all, no complications means good control. Ummm… No, not really. We all have different bodies and this is what we were talking about last night. Some people can spend years without paying attention to their blood sugars and develop no complications. Some others can pay attention to every single thing they do and still get them.
And that is why we all should be open to:
1) learn about complications
2) talk about complications
3) approach it from an educational point of view
4) discuss it like patients, not like pharma, doctors or the media
How do complications of diabetes make us feel? What would happen if we got one? Are we prepared? Do we know how to recognize symptoms? Let’s put neuropathy as an example. I was one of those people who thought neuropathy = pain. I was wrong. It turns out I could have diabetic neuropathy as of this very moment and be completely unaware of it. Why? Because the symptoms are vague and can be related to many other conditions. Orthostatic hypotension? I have that… and it’s a symptom! Yes, quite shocking. It may not be neuropathy, but at least now I know I should pay more attention to the things my body tells me.
So, the same way we advocate for finding a cure and talk about our rights, we should be working on discussing complications openly to get rid of the stigma created by the media and other misconceptions. Knowledge is power. Shared knowledge is power.