CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME?
Support for the Diabetic and His Family
As a teenager, Jeanette always felt lousy. Her blood sugar level was usually too high. Whenever she went to the doctor, he would lecture her about the importance of keeping her blood sugar under better control.
Although she had been a diabetic since she was five years old, Jeanette says, “No one ever told me how to control my blood sugar.”
Finally, when she went off to university at the age of 18, someone introduced her to a support group. There she met an endocrinologist who explained to her what diabetes was really all about. It was only then that Jeanette learned about diet and exercise and how they affected her. Only then did she get help with planning her meals.
The past year has been the hardest year of her life, trying to get her life well organized and keep her diabetes in good control. Yet Jeanette is thankful for a support group which has helped her get it all together because now she feels much better. She also takes far less insulin than ever before.
As we saw earlier, diabetics—and their families—may have a variety of negative emotional reactions when they first learn of the diagnosis and then again later if complications develop. Or, as in Jeanette’s case, when they enter a new stage of life or find themselves having difficulty keeping their diabetes under control.
Family and friends are often very supportive and carrying when they first learn that someone dear to them is sick. They may do whatever they can to help until the patient gets well—or until he dies from the illness.
In diabetes, however, the patient doesn’t get well, and most don’t die until many years later. The disease just goes on and on. Once the initial crisis is past, all those who were so concerned and helpful at first slowly seem to forget about the illness. This leaves only the patient himself, and maybe his immediate family members, to cope with the never-ending problems and frustrations his diabetes may bring,
Some people do cope well, apparently never feeling a need of emotional support from anyone more than their immediate family and their doctors and nurses.
Others need the help that a support group can give. But what does a support group do?
It can be helpful to have someone with similar problems listen to you. Getting together with others can also help to relieve the loneliness that many diabetics feel.
But a support group is not just a gathering of people complaining about all their problems. If the meetings were nothing more than complaint sessions, they could be more depressing than helpful!
A good support group does give its members an opportunity to express their problems and frustrations.
Yet it offers much more than that. One person may be struggling with a problem which other group members have found ways of handling, so they share helpful suggestions for coping. They share information or ideas that they have found useful. They can also share encouraging—or humorous—experiences.
Group leaders may, from time to time, invite in doctors, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, or other professionals who can be of real help to the members.
Or the support group may act as somewhat of a referral center, putting members in touch with the professional help they need, just as Jeanette was introduced to an endocrinologist through her newfound support group.
Support groups may be for teens, for parents of diabetic children, for husbands or wives of diabetics, for overweight diabetics, for diabetics with specific complications, and so on. Probably no two support groups are alike, but they all have the same general purpose—to help people cope.
Where can you find a support group? The diabetes association nearest you may know of such a group in your area. Many hospitals also have diabetes education programs and either have or know of support groups in the community.
If there is no group near you, start your own. There are probably other people in your area who have similar problems and would be willing to work with you to organize a support group.
One woman gradually learned about other diabetics in the large office where she worked, and together they decided to form an informal support group. Then they began educating other workers in the office about diabetes. They invited a guest speaker to talk with all of the office supervisors about diabetes in the workplace, including the importance of eating on time and how to deal with diabetic emergencies. Now members of the support group are invited to help plan for the food for office social events so that they can eat and enjoy without having to feel different or left out. Another positive result was the close friendships the group members formed.
So, if you or someone you know has diabetes and needs help, look for a group near you. And if you don’t fine one, start one—it may prove a real blessing to you and to others.
Diabetes Education Classes
Many large hospitals as well as diabetes associations conduct regular classes for diabetics and their families.
Some of the sessions are on a one-on-one basis, with only the diabetic and the instructor; other classes are for larger groups.
Some hospitals or diabetes associations provide the classes as a free public service for their regular patients or members. Other programs may charge a moderate amount for the class. Some charge the diabetic for the class but allow one additional family member to attend free of charge.
Such classes help the diabetic and his family to learn more about the disease and how to live with it. Generally, a diabetic should learn all he can about diabetes. Such classes can teach him how to plan meals and exercise for the best possible control.
Classes teach diabetics and their families how to test the blood sugar level, and how to test the urine for sugar and ketones. For diabetics who need to take insulin or other medications, the classes will teach how and when to take the medicines.
Health care matters—especially good foot care, skin care, and oral hygiene—are also covered in such classes.
The teachers for such classes are usually healthcare professionals such as registered nurses, dietitians, or special diabetes nurse educators. Doctors, psychologists and other health-care personnel may also help with the classes from time to time.
Although Robert was not trained in medical lines, he had lived with his own diabetes for more than 45 years. He wanted to help others learn to manage their diabetes too. So he prepared a series of lectures then ran an advertisement in the local newspaper. Within a few days, Robert had received 75 telephone calls from diabetics and their families, and about 35 people came for the classes.
Today, most modern countries have their diabetes associations or societies to help with diabetes education and diabetes care. These voluntary health organizations do much to educate the public (including patients and their families) as well as doctors, nurses and other health-care workers about diabetes and its care.
Yes, even the health-care professionals need educating about diabetes. As research reveals more and more about the disease and its complications, preventions, treatments, et cetera, the medical profession must be kept-up-to-date.
During mid-1993, I joined about 50 health workers from all over Malaysia for a very worthwhile four-day intensive course on diabetes care. Most of the group were nurses, but there were also one or two doctors, pharmacists, dietitians, and other health professionals. We were all there with one common purpose: to better understand diabetes care so that we would be of great benefit to the diabetics in our own communities.
Doctors are frequently too busy to spend as much time talking with a diabetic and his family as they need in order to understand the disease and how to live with it.
When there is a good diabetes association available, the doctors can confidently send their diabetic patients there for counseling, training, and assistance.
Diabetes societies or associations offer a variety of services, such as:
*Self-care courses, talks and seminars
*A regularly published magazine on diabetes and its care
*Blood glucose and cholesterol testing services
*Assistance with obtaining diabetes supplies (medicines, syringes, testing supplies, et cetera), often at discounted prices
*Community screening programs, to help identify new diabetics in the community
*Diabetes camps and other activities for members
Membership in these diabetes associations and societies is open to all diabetic patients and their family members. It is also open to doctors, nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, pharmaceutical company representatives, and others interested in diabetes care.
The membership fees are general very reasonable. A person may join either on a yearly basis or as a lifetime member.
If you or someone you know has diabetes and would like more information, you may contact the diabetes association or society nearest you. If you live where there is no diabetes program available, you may wish to write to one of the diabetes organizations listed on pages 335-337.