Medical Students and Diabetes Memory

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At noon yesterday my wife Kathryn and I had lunch with second-year University of Michigan medical students Olga and Zishaan. It would be our last of seven or eight one- to two-hour meetings with them over the past two years, because their time in the Family Centered Experience program is drawing to a close. (I’ve written about the FCE before, such as way back here, and more recently, here.)

Throughout our many meals together — because we have always met either at our house for dinner or at a local pub or pizza place — the topics have been diverse. We’ve discussed what it’s like to live life with a chronic illness on a daily basis; we’ve talked about great experiences with doctors and caregivers, as well as less-than-stellar experiences with the same; we’ve let them peek into what it’s like financially to cope with Type 1 diabetes; and we’ve shared stories of family and friends and their reactions to my illness.

Yet what I took away from yesterday, and what I wanted to mention in today’s blog entry, was something that Kathryn said. See, this last meeting was to be a discussion of what Kathryn and I got out of the program, out of our interactions with Olga and Zishaan, as well as to hear what they, as medical students, took away from the time they spent with us.

Kathryn spoke about how she’s surprised that my diabetes diagnosis narrative — our shared narrative — is becoming a memory; and as such, how the details are becoming jumbled, incomplete, and fractured, for both of us.

Those weeks in 2007, prior to my seeking medical attention for my symptoms before I knew I had Type 1 diabetes, as well as the weeks following during which we waited for a diagnosis, are beginning to lose their hold as an easy, at-the-ready narrative to access. The difficulties back then, too, of learning to live with the disease, the weeks and months with insulin, new medications, injections, test strips, and other diabetes this and that: while it was once so present in everything we did or thought, it’s now faded to pretty much just another something, a part of our daily existence.

When we first started with the Family Centered Experience program a little over three years ago, the events of my diagnosis were fresh, raw. The medical students we met with probably found themselves subject to an overdetailed narration of my diagnosis. (I actually tried to capture that in my first three-part entry for this blog, way back when I started writing it.)

As the years have marched on, though — and even as we tell the story to each subsequent set of medical students we’re paired with — we find we’re losing our grasp on what happened when, who was with whom at which doctor’s appointment, who said what or asked which question, and so on. Even as we met with Olga and Zishaan for the first time in 2010, I found that I needed to go back and re-read my first-ever Diabetes Self-Management blog entry to refresh my memory.

Is there a point to this? Am I trying to make some larger statement about a person with diabetes and the narrative of a life? Not really. Maybe, if you’re newly diagnosed and happen across my writing, you might see that, Wow, it’s not always going to be this overwhelming, this immediate. I know that I didn’t fathom, despite my doctor’s insistence that diabetes will become part of my lifestyle so don’t worry about learning everything immediately — to just take it day by day — how true that advice would be.

As much as I thought of myself four years ago as a diabetic — as someone who’s identity for many, many months was first and foremost painted by a diabetes brush — I now think of myself as a person who has diabetes. The good thing is, while I’m aware of the illness all of the time (you can’t not be and be healthy), it is, for the most part, quite simply, there. No longer a burden, no longer something to fret and worry or woe-is-me about.

Because while I am a person with diabetes, I’m also a person who has much, much more. Though I maybe should include here a list of all of the wonderful things I have — you know, lovely wife, great friends, good job, family, and so on, and so on — it would get long and overly detailed.

And I think I’m done with my blog entry this week.

Hope you’re having a good start to your 2011.

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