Although I’ve had type 1 diabetes for over 30 years, this story isn’t about me. It’s about a man with type 2 diabetes I met as a Novo Nordisk diabetes educator in Arkansas. I think about his story a lot, and as we’re living through the current health crisis, it’s a good reminder that everyone has a story that explains their current situation or actions. And that what you see on the surface is just that – on the surface. Sometimes, to better understand, we must look deeper.    

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 peach cobbler." 

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.