Think About It

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I’m here today to talk to you about talking. About your illness. And to say that I think you should think more. About your illness.

Why is that? Because of last night.

I mentioned last week that it’s time for Kathryn and me to begin a new two-year stint with a pair of first-year medical students in the University of Michigan Medical School’s Family Centered Experience (FCE) program. Our initial meeting took place last night, at our home, with pizza, soda, some beer (the students declined although they were offered; they’re so professional!), and one heck of a thunderstorm outside.

For two hours we sat around our dining room table and talked about illness, specifically my Type 1 diabetes. I mean, sure, there was some talk of my bout with thyroid cancer in late 2009 and early 2010, but overall, diabetes ruled the night.

The night before, Kathryn and I were discussing this go-around in the FCE program, how we were beginning our fifth year, and how so much has changed with how we think about diabetes, living now with the illness for five years, and the difference time has made versus that first year in the program — me only just six months after diagnosis — and both of us beginning embarking on meetings with med students in which we’d have frank discussions about what it’s like to live with chronic illness: diagnosis story, interactions with doctors, financial concerns, reactions of family, of friends, and what are some of the more difficult aspects of being saddled with the illness, both for myself and for Kathryn.

Really, that’s quite a long sentence. Sorry about that.

Really, though, I mean really, there isn’t anything that’s off limits in these discussions.

Kathryn and I had some apprehension about continuing with the FCE. Not that we didn’t like it; it’s just that we wondered if we needed a break. As our last session with the FCE wound down last spring, we were pretty certain that we’d take a year off.

We didn’t, though (obviously).

We enjoy our evenings with the med students. I hope they get something out of it, too. I’m not so noble as to say, “And really, we’re helping them to become better doctors. That’s why we do this.” Sure, maybe it’s the case they’re gaining valuable insight into what it means to be a more human doctor, one who sees illness from the patient’s perspective and not just a disease to be treated. OK, yes, I’m sure that’s the case; that’s what the program’s about.

But really, it’s more selfish than that.

By spending time with these medical students and talking in-depth about so much that relates to my illness, it helps me better manage my illness. Why? Because by talking to the students and thinking about how to express to them the many aspects of living with diabetes — all of the things I mentioned earlier such as doctor interactions, diagnosis (remembering that fear and anxiety), as well as talking about things that I now take for granted, such as blood glucose checks, or refilling my insulin pump, or what it’s like to have an infusion site on — it illuminates for me those aspects of self-care that, over time, could fall by the wayside. If that makes sense. It helps me to be more aware.

As for who you should sit down and talk about your illness with, I don’t know. But thinking about it a little bit more, especially if you try to put it out of your mind most of the time, may be an interesting experiment. Or not. I’m not prescribing anything, after all.

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