Diabetes Checks into “General Hospital”

Soap operas: Many people scoff at them and the heightened drama that defines them. I get it. Betrayals! Infidelity! The mafia! Murder! Secret children! Evil twins! Name a ridiculous plot point, and I can virtually guarantee that it’s been explored on a soap.

But that’s precisely why I love soap operas. They’re the epitome of escapism. They’re so bizarrely over-the-top that it can be comical. And tuning into the absurdity is the perfect way for me to unwind after a long day.

My soap of choice? Why, it’s been the same one for years; in fact, since I was the tender age of nine years old…General Hospital. In the last 17 years, I’ve (mostly) kept up with the citizens of fictional Port Charles, New York. Their wild lives fascinate me. I think I’ve always been especially intrigued by the show because it centers around…well, a hospital. As a result, characters experience a myriad of maladies, everything from infectious diseases to totally invented my-memory-got-stolen-from-me-and-it’s-all-on-a-flash-drive-that-I-can’t-access sort of conditions.

So imagine how my interest piqued when longtime character Barbara Jean “Bobbie” Spencer got diagnosed with diabetes a couple weeks ago by her doctor son, Lucas (who has type 1 diabetes, himself).

The Minimal Lists
Diabetes is on the long list of medical conditions that GH has attempted to tackle over the years.

This plot line was…interesting. And somewhat concerning to me, because by the time the story wrapped, I’m not sure how much it did to raise diabetes awareness. Let me go over the good and the bad.

The good: Bobbie is a very petite woman who was diagnosed with type two diabetes. The character was in utter disbelief over this because she thought she practiced a healthy lifestyle. I can appreciate that the writers chose to diagnose her with type 2 to make viewers aware that obesity is not the only risk factor when it comes to developing it. And speaking of awareness, the writers chose to focus on the fact that people with diabetes are more susceptible to heart conditions. This is something that I like to pretend to not know sometimes, but it really is important to not be ignorant of complications.

The bad: Very little distinction was made between type 1 and type 2 diabetes with this new diagnosis. I can imagine that viewers who are unfamiliar with diabetes might be confused by what the difference is, especially considering that Bobbie was diagnosed by her son who has T1D. I feel like that should have been better explained or clarified. I also didn’t like how the whole plot line made diabetes seem very easy to treat and manage. I’m pretty sure the only things that Lucas told Bobbie to do was get her hemoglobin tested every 3 months and remember to take her medication (no mention of what kind, whether it was an oral drug or something else). Really? Frequent blood sugar checks, doctors appointments, and structuring a new daily routine couldn’t have been mentioned?

It’s just a bit frustrating to me as a person with diabetes. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to live with type 2, but I know all too well about what goes into managing type one. And it’s not something that can be explained in a short story arc on a show like GH. Now I’m just curious as to how long the writers will prolong the diabetes diagnosis – will Bobbie’s condition be mentioned often, or will it only be swept under the rug until it’s a convenient time, story-wise, for it to come up? Time will tell.

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Aim for an A1c of…What?!

All my life, I’ve been told that I should do what I can to keep my A1c levels between 6 and 6.5. This is the “ideal” range, the sort of long-term goal I should bear in mind on a daily basis.

So when my primary care doctor suggested that an A1c of 7 to 8 might be a more realistic, sustainable, and healthy zone, my jaw dropped to the floor.

He explained his reasoning for saying such a thing: Since people with diabetes obviously have different needs when compared to people without diabetes, it’s not entirely logical to expect a person with diabetes to maintain an A1c that they might have with a functioning pancreas. He said that as time goes on, it could affect cognitive abilities.

And then he said that this was the range that would be recommended to a person with type 2 diabetes – there’s no new research that indicates any difference in desirable A1c levels for a person with type 1 diabetes, so, as my doctor said, I should continue to aim for 6 to 6.5.

This was such a WTF moment for me, for a couple of reasons.

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Does anyone else feel super awkward taking selfies in exam rooms? Does anyone else even take selfies in exam rooms?!

One being that I had NO IDEA why he was saying this to me. He built up this whole explanation as to what the “new recommended A1c” is, only to inform me at the very end that it was only safely applicable to people with T2D at this time. Was he confused? Did he forget that I have type one for a minute there?

The other reason I was flabbergasted by this little discussion was that we hardly ever go into detail when it comes into my diabetes. In fact, he didn’t even ask me when my last A1c test was, or any questions regarding my insulin pump/CGM. He just asked the standard “how is your diabetes” question, to which I replied with a super-lengthy, not-at-all vague response: “good”. He did put orders in for the standard array of tests that I take for each annual physical, which would inform him of my blood sugar at that moment in time, as well as my current A1c. But it was nothing that I’d be talking to him about during that appointment because the results wouldn’t be available until late in the day. So yeah, I found the whole thing to be pretty bizarre and mildly misleading.

Coincidentally, I’ll be seeing my endocrinologist in a few weeks, and let’s be real here: She’s the one doctor who can best advise me when it comes to diabetes treatments and protocols. So I’ll be sticking with her recommended A1c range for me, which I have a feeling won’t be any different from what I’ve been told all these years with diabetes.

My Experience Attending the 2017 Weekend for Women DiabetesSisters Conference

It’s always amazing to me how powerful it is to be in a room filled with people with diabetes.

I was lucky enough to experience that wonderful sensation this past weekend as I attended the 2017 Weekend for Women Conference held in Alexandria, Virginia. This conference brought together all sorts of individuals: people with type 1 diabetes (and people with T2D), people who love or care for someone with diabetes, diabetes educators, registered dietitians, certified personal trainers, gifted public speakers, and individuals who came to the conference willing to share with and learn from others. It was also a bit different from standard conferences because it was coordinated by two groups – DiabetesSisters and Diabetes Collective, Inc. (which created the Diabetes UnConference).

The 48 hours that I spent at the conference were an absolute whirlwind, but I’ll do my best to recap it for you here.

Let’s start with Friday evening. Almost immediately after arriving at the Embassy Suites hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, I sat down for my first session of the weekend: The Diabetes Policy Advocacy Coalition (DPAC) boot camp. I learned what exactly diabetes advocacy policy is and how easy it is for me to get involved with it. Now more than ever, it’s extremely important for PWD and those who care for them to push our policymakers into supporting public policy initiatives that improve the health of those with diabetes.

After this energizing session, it was time to mingle with all the other conference attendees. It was really neat to meet people who I previously “knew” from interacting with them online and make that face-to-face connection. I also enjoyed meeting new people and expanding my own personal diabetes network. We rounded off the evening by attending a hilarious forum called Sex, Pods, and Rock n Roll, where a panel of diabetes all-stars answered questions from the audience about the more “taboo” diabetes topics. All you need to know is that this session resulted in a room full of PWD brainstorming a new product idea: edible underwear. It’d be perfect for low blood sugars when you’re in…the heat of the moment, no?

Fast-forward to Saturday, a day with an extremely full agenda. It was hard to choose which workshops to attend, but I wound up going to sessions about mindful eating, the physiology of diabetes and exercise, balancing an active life and diabetes, and making use of the glycemic index. I found myself learning something new in each session, which is really cool. After all, I’ve had diabetes for almost 20 years, but it goes to show that you can always learn something new and useful about your chronic condition by listening to others.

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In between the sessions, we enjoyed an extended lunch break in which I got to meet even more new people. I was particularly excited to meet and interview with Stacey Simms, who hosts the podcast called Diabetes Connections. That means there’s a chance you’ll hear my voice in one of her upcoming podcasts!

The evening ended with a reception hosted by Dexcom, similar to the one the night before. I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but I loved every second of it because I became immersed in a thoughtful conversation with other women with T1D. We talked about healthcare, politics, and what it’s like to be a woman with T1D in this day and age. It was a pleasure listening to what each lady had to say and again, really great to be talking to a like-minded group.

And just like that, it was Sunday morning – the final day of the conference. We only had a half day together, but it was just as awesome as the previous days. One session I went to was about diabetes and pregnancy, and the other was about being the CEO of your own healthcare. Just like the previous days, the speakers presented fantastic information and I found myself feeling sad that it was my last day with this group of people.

I had to duck out of the last group-wide activity a bit early, but I got the gist of the message it was meant to convey: Invest in you. Take time to look at the areas in your life that need attention, and come up with a plan to improve them. Put in the hard work to make your life what you want it to be and you’ll reap the rewards. I thought this was an especially good way to end the conference because it wasn’t necessarily related to our diabetes. It was a reminder that we are MORE than our diabetes and that we, ultimately, have control on how to live our lives happily and fully.

This was the conference, from my perspective, in a nutshell.

A special thank you to Anna Norton from DiabetesSisters and Christel Marchand Aprigliano from DPAC/the Diabetes Collective for their efforts to make this weekend a success. Thank you to each of the speakers for being engaging and putting together magnificent presentations. I wish I could personally thank each and every single attendee for being an active participant and making this conference worthwhile. I’m extra grateful to the people who I got to make more personal connections with, and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with them. Thanks to YOU, if you were at the conference, and are now reading this recap! I’d love to hear from you what your favorite parts were – please feel free to leave a comment about your experience. Here’s to connecting with more members of the incredible diabetes community.