When Your Doctor is Diabetes Dumb


When my daughter was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I thought our biggest challenge would be the disease itself. I never imagined we would have to simultaneously combat Type 1 diabetes and public ignorance. Yet during the past six years, a major challenge has been a lack of understanding about the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Very few people fully grasp that they are very different conditions, and too often my daughter is treated as if her diabetes were a “lifestyle choice”.

What’s scary is that this ignorance is not limited to the general public; many medical professionals we’ve encountered lack even basic knowledge of the difference in these two diseases. If some doctors and nurses don’t have even a rudimentary understanding, how can we hope for ordinary people to understand?

Dealing with this kind of ignorance can knock the wind out of us. Once, a nurse who was going through our medical history noticed that diabetes runs in our family. I explained that it was Type 1 diabetes, and she told me that my daughter’s diabetes can be reversed with the right diet and exercise. I had to take a deep breath and inform her that she was speaking about Type 2 diabetes. I then had to tactfully explain to her that my daughter was stuck with her condition. It is bad enough to know this fact for myself, but to have to say it out loud to someone who should know better feels that much worse.

Recently, we moved and had to get a referral from a local doctor to get a new endocrinologist for my daughter. When the doctor entered the examining room, he asked my daughter how she contracted diabetes. We thought he was joking, but after a few awkward moments it sunk in that he was serious. My daughter explained to the doctor how her pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. He still didn’t get it. He insisted that she could reverse this disease with correct diet and exercise. We tried to convince him he was wrong, but ultimately we gave up and got out of there with the referral as quickly as we could.

I know they say that people with diabetes are often experts in their diabetes, but it would be nice if we encountered true diabetes medical experts more often. Those of us who are not medical professionals should not have to educate those we look to for help. This leaves us feeling insecure about treatment and very much alone.

We, as the diabetes community, must find a way to attack this problem by advocating for stricter standards of diabetes education in medical and nursing school programs. Also, we must act as diabetes ambassadors and inform the general public about Type 1 diabetes. Only by raising our voices will we one day be able to walk into a doctor’s office and know we won’t need to be the expert in the room.

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Melissa Lombardo is from upstate New York but has lived all over the U.S. and Germany with her husband, who is in the military. Recently she and her family have put down roots in Wichita, Kansas. She is an elementary teacher and mother of three, the youngest of whom has Type 1 diabetes.

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