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To the Doctor Who Thought Type 1 Diabetes Has Been 'Basically Cured'

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I was just beginning my long 12-hour shift. As a nurse, I deal with people who have chronic diseases all day long. It’s rare for somebody to come into the hospital without a chronic condition. However, I’m not just an onlooker when it comes to chronic disease. I have type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. I’m right in the midst of things. So, I find some comfort in being an advocate for those struggling with chronic illness. As such, I wear a “Cure Type 1” pin on my hospital badge. I occasionally get some comments on it, so it was no surprise that morning when a doctor made a remark about it.

“Are you a type 1 diabetic?” he inquired with interest.

“Yes I am – for 21 years,” I replied with a smile.

“Isn’t that basically cured now?”

My smile faltered. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did a doctor just ask me that? A doctor. A medical professional. I just looked at him for a few seconds, trying to form a reply that wasn’t you’re kidding me, right?! He went on to further clarify his question: “I mean, they have that closed-loop system, right – the artificial pancreas?”

Um, no. That is another device that can help me cope with and manage my type 1 diabetes. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes. In the first couple years of my nursing career, I have been astounded by the ignorance surrounding diabetes, specifically type 1. It’s a forgotten disease in adults. Children are the focus of juvenile diabetes – which they should be. Most of us are diagnosed when we are very young. I was diagnosed at 2 years old. But it doesn’t go away as you get older; that’s not how it works.

I regularly wake up in the middle of the night with a low blood sugar because the activity from my 12-hour shift finally catches up with me. I feel nauseous and suddenly exhausted when my blood sugar gets too high. Things start swimming in front of my eyes when my blood sugar gets low enough. I feel desperate to fix it and feel better, yet have no energy to even move. And nobody even knows it’s happening.

You’d think, in the medical profession, I wouldn’t have to deal with ignorance about my diseases. That is the hard part about having a chronic illness. People forget about it, yet you have to deal with it day after day with no reprieve. My body is constantly exhausted from my fluctuating blood sugars, not to mention my MS.

Luckily, instead of giving in to the rant that ensued in my head, I calmly and respectfully corrected the doctor and used it as a teaching moment. I try to do that for every person who is misled about chronic illness. I try to use my knowledge as a nurse and experience as a patient to be an effective nurse. The best teachable moments occur when you’re not offended by the world’s ignorance. This doctor’s question took me by surprise, but I’m always grateful for the chance to explain to somebody that it’s not quite that easy.

Thinkstock photo via diego_cervo

Originally published: March 10, 2017
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