As a diabetes educator, I often visit doctors’ offices to help
physicians and their staff teach people with diabetes about their
disease. Unfortunately, sometimes I hear about “non-compliant”
patients – a way to suggest someone isn’t following a doctor’s advice
but a loaded term fraught with biases.
The time I’m thinking about was when the nurses and doctor needed
help with a patient who needed instruction on how to use his insulin
pen properly. They were also concerned he didn't take his type 2
diabetes seriously – partly because he told them he went to
all-you-can-eat buffets every day, and often laughed through his
doctor visits no matter how serious the situation was. There clearly
was more to this story and we felt determined to understand and help him.
In walked an older gentleman in overalls, with the best sense of
humor and southern charm of anyone I’d ever met. Once we got through
the proper use of the pen, I asked him, "What’s your biggest
challenge in taking care of your diabetes?" He stopped laughing,
and I’ll never forget what he said:
"I care about my diabetes, but I go to the all-you-can-eat
buffet every day because my wife has Alzheimer's. She can no longer
cook, and I don’t know how to cook. If I take her to a sit-down
restaurant and we order from a menu, by the time they bring her dish,
she forgets what she ordered and gets angry and won’t eat. But, when
we go to the buffet, I can walk through the line with her and help fix
her plate and get her started eating, and then fix my own
plate. Before we leave, I can fix a to-go plate and that’s what we
have for dinner. If we didn’t eat there every day, I’m afraid we
wouldn’t eat at all."
With tears in my eyes, I asked him what he ate at the buffet.
"No one has ever told me how to eat as a person with diabetes,”
he said. “I try to avoid sweets, but sometimes I like to have a little
Having heard his whole story, helping him got easier. He left the
office with new educational resources and learned how to manage the
buffet line and his diabetes - so he could continue helping his wife
in his own way. He could even enjoy the peach cobbler from time to time.
Sometimes we just need to ask that one more question that’ll get us
to the root of understanding. The question might not always be
obvious. Too often, we think it’s a question no one wants to ask. But
today, we need to keep asking questions so that everyone of us can
make life a little bit better for each other.