For diabetics, knowledge is king
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 or care for someone who does, one of the first things you need to realize is that diabetes is completely different from most other diseases or illnesses. In fact, realising that is one of the first steps towards your successful treatment.
The vast majority of the time, when we are ill, we visit a doctor who will prescribe medication. Or, when we have an accident we will be put in plaster, or given crutches. The doctor’s treatment itself is the biggest part of the cure. Yes, we may be asked to do a few other things like bed rest, or drinking plenty of fluids, but the medication or physical treatment is the key remedy. With diabetes, we will often be prescribed medication – be it oral medication or insulin, but here a lot of the similarity with more routine illnesses ends. So much of what happens next with diabetes, is down to the patient. The patient will need to understand and manage many aspects of their own care.
A clear example is blood sugar testing with a meter. Many years ago diabetics did not have the luxury of blood sugar meters. It was only in the 1970s when the pioneering Dr. Berstein (a type 1 diabetic doctor) championed the use of these meters that diabetics could really discover what was happening to their blood sugar. Now we have the perfect way to understand if our blood sugar is in the normal range and the impact of different food on our health. But, the doctor cannot do this for you. This is a great example of how diabetes is as much about self-help, as it is about the doctor diagnosing you and prescribing medication. Whether you have type 1 or type 2, you are responsible for how your disease will develop. Of course you need to take your medication, but that alone will rarely be sufficient. You will also need to consider the food you eat, as well as how much you exercise.
When I was diagnosed, I made sure that I understood how my body reacted to different foods and drinks. I would test my blood sugar before eating and again afterwards. This way I quickly came to understand the list of foods that were ok and those that weren’t. I began eliminating those that weren’t from my diet, or severely restricting them. I made sure I exercised regularly and took up some new activities to keep me motivated.
Most importantly, I believe, I realized the importance of educating myself on all of these aspects and that I couldn’t expect the doctor to do this for me. I know that for some having the disease is stressful and worrying and I completely understand these feelings. The answer though is not to think that a visit to the doctor every few months will be sufficient; diabetes should be a call to action. The patient has to drive his own care with diabetes, so make it a project to become as healthy as you can, and achieve the best results you can. Only a doctor can and should prescribe medication; but diabetics are the ones who live with the disease every day and with the right effort can build up a huge experience of how to manage the disease effectively. It should be a daily consideration, not something you think about only at each doctor’s appointment.
Having diabetes is like running a marathon, not a sprint. For a good outcome you will need perseverance, determination and some good support from others. You will learn some good things along the way, and your efforts will be repaid in good health and longevity. Whilst it may be less worrying to forget about it between check-ups at the doctor, the longer term outcomes will be worse.
It’s never too late to start again and begin with a renewed attitude. It’s even been shown that many diabetic complications can be reversed if blood sugar returns to the normal range. Which brings me to the point of this article (yes there is one). I firmly believe that, just as important as the medication in the treatment of diabetes, is knowledge. Reading and learning will be a huge part of your treatment. This is the reason I set up www.singaporediabeteshealth.com, to try and spread the message about what works.
There is a real issue in Asia with the alarming growth in diabetes and the implications for long term health – so in my view – now is the time to act. Let’s try and make Singapore and other Asian cities places where people know the dangers and know what to do. There is a long way to go.