Can Diabetes Education Be Music to Your Ears?

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In the world of body language, leaning forward can be a signal of interest. Sunday night, I took my 15-year-old granddaughter to see "Wicked." One of the popular Broadway musical’s road shows had a one-month run in Louisville, Kentucky, which is about three hours from where we live, and we attended the last performance.

At no time during the 3-hour performance did her own personal back touch the back of her seat. Her eyes never wavered from watching the stage. I’m not even sure she blinked.

She should only be that interested in algebra.

We should only be that interested in learning about diabetes self-management.

She is also firm in her convictions. On the way home Monday, I stopped at a Bass Pro Shop. I love Bass Pro Shop and thought she would enjoy it, too. Rather than dragging my scooter in and out of the van, I asked her to go in and see if she could bring one of the store’s scooters out to me.

Moments later, a trembling teenager returned to the van and said in a voice verging on tears: “I’ll take your scooter out and I’ll put it back in, but I won’t go back into that store. I’ll never go into one of those stores. They have dead, stuffed animals in there!”

Despite my assuring her that the animals aren’t real, but handmade (they really are), she stayed in the van and read while I went in and bought cookie cutters, a cast iron food grater, a candle, and other such items. (I don’t fish or hunt and am not much of an outdoors person, but the store does have other items I find interesting.)

Do we have the same kind of convictions when it comes to taking care of our diabetes?

I think of these things in the context of today’s economy. Huh? What does the economy have to do with education and convictions, you ask? How can you take care of diabetes without knowing how? What will make you keep on taking care of diabetes without the conviction of its importance?

Every day, you hear of more layoffs; more closings. People are losing jobs and, as they lose jobs, they lose health insurance. It’s estimated that for every 1 million jobs lost, 1.1 million people lose health insurance. People aren’t visiting their doctors as often. They’re cutting back on drug expenses by skipping doses of their medications. Locally and, I suspect, nationally, the hospitals are paying a larger percentage of their income on charity care and bad debt. Attendance at the free clinic is growing.

At the same time, even when physicians refer people for diabetes self-management education, many people don’t bother to attend. Do they not believe it’s important to learn about how to care for diabetes? Are they in denial and think if they don’t know about something that it doesn’t exist? Is it because the classes aren’t presented on stage with catchy tunes and special effects?

I don’t know. Neither does the head of the local diabetes education center.

Diabetes can be sneaky if you have Type 2. It may hide silently for years before diagnosis comes. You may not even find out you have it until you experience a heart attack or stroke. While Type 1 makes itself known much more rapidly, the signs of impending complications are just as invisible as they are in Type 2. In both types, knowledge of how factors such as stress, exercise, and food choices can affect you is often lacking.

Education is what brings that understanding. Experimentation (or, as some say, “my body, my science experiment”) and the tools to aid in that experimentation provide the conviction that drives you to keep on taking care of yourself. Not doing so can lead to another definition of conviction: From a strong belief that you need to take care of yourself to the one of being convicted of something and, therefore, sentencing yourself to the imprisonment that comes from one or more of a host of complications.

It used to be believed that diabetes caused complications. It’s why we have trouble getting health insurance. (“She has diabetes, therefore she’s going to eat up a lot of our money paying for her complications.”) But, as a speaker at a meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators a couple of years ago pointed out, it isn’t the diabetes that causes complications, it’s poorly controlled blood glucose.

In most cases (nothing is certain), if blood glucose can be controlled, complications are held at bay. If complications fail to occur, we save money paying to take care of them. But we have to spend some up front to save ourselves from shelling out a lot to take care of more serious problems down the road.

I often joke and say I do all I can to save my insurance company money so I’ll have enough in my account to pay for my heart attack. I don’t want to reach — much less exceed — the lifetime cap on my medical insurance. As far as I’m concerned, however, the insurance company can keep the money it saves from my efforts: I just don’t want to have the heart attack.

The knowledge I continually work to gain and the conviction that I need to apply that knowledge has saved me from many problems. Any problems I do have that are related to diabetes were held off longer than they would have been otherwise.

And, until diabetes education comes complete with catchy tunes and special effects, we’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way — sitting through lectures, attending support group meetings, searching online, reading books and magazines (and blogs), and soaking up as much knowledge as we can in any way we can find.

However, a musical isn’t a bad idea. Hmmm…with thanks to George and apologies to the Beatles (sung to the tune of “When I’m 64”):

While I’m a pumpin’
and my BGs are jumpin’
through the stratosphere…
(ba ba ba ba ba)
And my carbo-countin’ stress is mou-oun-tin’
sure could use a couple-a beers…
When I’m a grown up,
will you get fed up,
and show me to the door?
Or if you can find me,
will you tickle my heinie,
When I’m 64?

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