Be Your own Advocate: My Experience with Diabetes in the Hospital

I find it motivating to hear stories like this that inspire and empower those living with diabetes. People with diabetes should stand up for their healthcare. The medical community is doing their best and working together, we can all improve the experience.

For the last year, I have had the privilege of working in one of Arizona’s premier hospitals on a medical-surgical floor. It should be a surprise to no one that diabetes
(mainly type II) is becoming increasingly prevalent and that more and more of
our patient population is made up of these diabetics. What may come as a
surprise, however, is how diabetes is handled in the hospital setting. Most
people who go to the hospital assume that the care they will receive will be
the best possible and will always be what is best for them. Unfortunately, this
is not always the truth. The doctors, nurses, and aides that you encounter in
the hospital DO try to do everything they can to take care of you to the best
of their ability. I have never met a hospital worker who acts out of malice or
indifference toward their diabetic patients. However, there is a often a lack
of the knowledge and urgency necessary to properly treat a diabetic patient,
and this often results in the patient having high blood sugars for their entire
stay in the hospital.

Regarding knowledge, many healthcare providers who are largely responsible for your
day-to-day care do not have in-depth training in diabetes and consequently do
not always understand things like the variability in insulin sensitivity
between patients, how low is too low for each patient, or what is an effective
treatment for low blood sugar that won’t cause you to go to the opposite end of
the spectrum. This lack of knowledge is often manifested in a patient’s blood
sugar—most nurses would rather have their patients running in the 200’s than
risk the possibility of a low blood sugar. On the other hand, lack of urgency
or aggressiveness on the part of the physician often hinders a diabetic’s care
in the hospital. While physicians are called on to care for all aspects of a
patient’s health, they often prioritize the patient’s conditions according to
acuity and treat accordingly. As a result, diabetes is often placed low on the
priority list like an addendum to the patient’s “true” ailments. This is not
because the physician doesn’t care, but because diabetes is seen as presenting
few severe repercussions in the short term even if it does in the long-term.
Regardless of the cause, the result is often the same—high blood sugars for the
entirety of a patient’s stay in the hospital.

So where do we go from here? Should we as diabetics just avoid the hospital?
Should we write off healthcare workers as uncaring and selfishly motivated? The
answer of course is no. We should continue to seek care when needed and we
should always bear in mind that the doctors and nurses who care for us truly
are trying to do their best. Rather, the lesson I hope you take away from this
is a simple one: own your disease. You must be responsible for yourself
regardless of what setting you find yourself in. Just because you’re in the
hospital does not mean you should let down your guard and forfeit all claims to
your own care. Healthcare workers are doing their best to provide excellent
care, but they need your help and your input because nobody knows your body as
well as you do. If you’re in the hospital and your blood sugar is in the 200’s
time after time, challenge your doctor and nurse to treat your disease more
effectively and more aggressively. Be your own advocate and stand up for your
own healthcare. Our healthcare system is not perfect, but with collaboration
between healthcare providers and yourself, you can ensure that the care you
receive truly is the best possible.

Tyler Brown

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