This is the second of a series of blog posts in which I will recount my adventures at Stanford's Medicine X, Conference: An experience which has changed my life, and I will not soon forget. :-)
Much of my first day at Stanford MedicineX left me feeling like I didn't belong there. I wasn't an innovator, or a CEO of anything (except, perhaps, CEO of my type 2 diabetes), and I wasn't quite sure what my voice was going to be at this conference. I wasn't even close friends with any of the other diabetes advocates who were attending. I felt, well, maybe I was a bit bold in having applied for this conference. But by the time our orientation dinner came around, I became a bit more confident in myself.
|Carb centered food everywhere.|
Things were going to be alright. I could do this, I thought. The twitter voices of the many I had met, now echoed into my reality. The voices of those surviving and thriving with breast cancer, rare diseases, heart conditions, liver transplants, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Crohn's disease, and of course... diabetes, among many others. Stanford's Med X was going to be patient centered, and we were going to take front row seats into a whirlwind of personal stories, and imaginative ways in which silicon valley wants to make an impact.
"The best way to anticipate the future is to fully understand the present ... the best way to design useful tools is to notice and respect what people are already juggling in their lives." -- Susannah Fox, Pew Internet & American Life Project, on the future of self tracking.
|Pretty sure this app's not|
going to help anyone, though.
But what I wasn't aware of... was that the science community was on to us. On to us patients who actually self track for something more meaningful than this. Some of us patients self track because we are our OWN science experiments... because clinicians have stopped paying attention to us, or acknowledging our conditions. Because we need meaningful ways to learn, and track patterns, and self adjust for the daily grind of managing cumbersome chronic health conditions. Because those things are never found in textbooks, and are seldom ever discussed by medical professionals. Yes, some of us self track because we want to live another day, month, year, or decade... and because we want to be heard by our medical team -- and we need a voice, and we need ammunition. We need co-operation. We need acknowledgement. Sometimes, we may even need a diagnosis.
So, meet Allan Bailey. Allan Bailey is one of the self trackers. One of us. There were other self trackers, with very impressive stories to be told... but Allan Bailey has been living with type 2 diabetes for the last 27 years (onset at age 18), so I find myself a bit biased to bring him up. Allan is one who seriously took matters into his own hands... and paid for it big time. Yes, and he paid for it to the tune of around $2K. You see, Allan got pretty tired of being given the runaround as to why his blood sugars were always so all over the place... he was told his control was 'okay' and kept being treated by conventional medical standards, but Allan was not satisfied. Allan was already living with heart complications, and four stents in one vein. So... Allan bought himself a CGMs (a continuous glucose monitoring system), to really help him learn why his blood sugars were all over the place. I'm really not sure how he managed to arm wrestle his clinician into prescribing him this device, but Allan had to pay for it out of pocket, in full. Of course, it didn't take long for him to see who the real culprits in raising his blood glucose were: breads, grains, etc. Carbs. Allan never imagined that his CGM would turn into this instantaneous feedback loop for what he ate, nor that it would turn into a behavior modification device that would lead him to euglycemia, and weight loss. Doctors never care for prescribing CGMs to persons with type 2 diabetes -- usually only to those living with type 1 diabetes, particularly because it has alarm systems to help deal with potentially dangerous low blood sugar levels, and because of how costly it is. (Nevermind that the cost of complications from uncontrolled diabetes far outweighs a $2K device, and it's supplies.) Allan now has an A1c of 5.1%, has greatly improved his health, and reduced his medications.
Now, as wonderful, encouraging, and brave as Allan's story is... it makes me angry. Very angry. Can you imagine why? Wait for it...
WHY THE HELL WOULD A MEDICAL TEAM NOT EXPLAIN TO THEIR PATIENT THAT THE BIGGEST REASON OUR GLUCOSE LEVELS RISE IS BECAUSE OF OUR CARBOHYDRATE CONSUMPTION??????????? WHY DOES SOMEONE NEED TO SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OF THEIR OWN HARD EARNED MONEY TO FIGURE OUT THAT BREAD AND GRAINS, AND PASTA ARE LIKE POTENTIAL KRYPTONITE TO A DIABETIC? WHYYYYYYYYYYYY????????? HADN'T ANYONE EVER HEARD OF COUNTING CARBOHYDRATES, AND MEASURING PRE AND POST PRANDIAL RESPONSE? YOU CAN DO THAT, AND PLOT YOUR OWN BELL CURVE WITHOUT THE NEED OF A FANCY $2K DEVICE!
This, of course... is not Allan's fault in any way. Allan was a creative person, and did what he HAD to do... and is now very healthy for it. All the power to him.
My story could have well been Allan's. Except that I ate food, noted what I ate, tested every 30 minutes, spent a heck of a lot of money on test strips (even discounted ones) as well as relying on the kindness of strangers for them, and quantified this information on a spreadsheet. It didn't take long for me to bring a 10.5% A1c to 5.3%, and it has remained below 6% ever since my diagnosis. But, like Allan, I was given a big runaround for a while... When I was diagnosed, my clinician initially refused to accept I had diabetes of any kind, even though I had such a high A1c and had multiple fasting blood glucose tests well above 200 mg/dL. And when she did concede I had a problem, she merely said "I'll google the ADA website, and tell you what you need to do." HECK, I CAN DO THAT, MYSELF! Why was I wasting my precious time in her office, for that?!?
I'd love to have a CGMs, because who doesn't love to see instant graphs and things... and I am SURE that it helps a lot with compliance (and yes, it probably adds to guilt, too, when we fail.) But it's sad that persons with type 2 diabetes routinely get denied useful, powerful, quantitative technology... and this denial is not limited to the CGMs. Many patients are denied an adequate numbers of testing strips, or even a meter at all! But what good would these tools do a person with type 2 diabetes if what they are denied is the most important thing of all... KNOWLEDGE?
. . .
At the previous dinner, when meeting several of the other "ePatients" attending Medicine X, I had a few, sort of incredulous questions as to the state of type 2 diabetes care... and the adequacy of that care, and education for the patient. What about the ADA, I was asked? Yes... what about it? In the words of Amy Tendrich, "Patient advocacy groups are not really patient advocacy groups."
I really hope that Allan's story was able to bring even a snippet of acknowledgement into our reality as persons with type 2 diabetes, the reality and importance of self tracking, and the need for patient inspired/centered care and technology. I know that I was FLOORED to see a different take on the usual 'just diet and exercise' testimony.