Monday, May 13, 2013

Understanding the Endo


Welcome to the official Diabetes Blog Week at Diaturgy! D-Blog Week, started by Karen at Bitter-Sweet Diabetes four years ago, was instrumental in getting this blog up and going, so I owe her a debt! It's also so much fun to participate in the community every year, all choosing the same topics.  Not content to leave well enough alone, however, I worked in a surprise; I kind of took today's prompt and turned it completely around.

Today's prompt: Often our health care team only sees us for about 15 minutes several times a year, and they might not have a sense of what our lives are really like. Today, let’s pretend our medical team is reading our blogs. What do you wish they could see about your and/or your loved one's daily life with diabetes? On the other hand, what do you hope they don't see?

Dear Endocrinologist:

This week is Diabetes Blog Week, and today’s assignment is for us to write a note to you telling you what we wish you’d understand about us in terms of the toll diabetes takes on our lives. It was perfectly timed, because I saw you today for the first time in six months. I was the first appointment of the day, and for once, I didn’t have to wait for an hour or more.  My numbers were both exciting and disappointing this time. Exciting, because the A1c I did in February was 7.1: a life-with-diabetes record. Disappointing, because thanks to breaking my elbow, pain medication, a stressful semester and no real time to exercise, I’m back up to 7.6. Endocrinologists often seem to go into “airport security” mode; with older data, they try to solve the problem that has already happened and been dealt with rather than the unseen problem ahead; my broken elbow is mostly likely the shoe bomber of incidents; stupid and scary and probably not happening again, but I guess I’ll take off my shoes at the office now.  I do wish you’d appreciate the utter unpredictability of my life and work a little more; I can’t just “take on fewer responsibilities” for my health; I take the schedule I’m given. When the office says, “so, Mondays are good to book six months from now?” That’s two semesters away, so damned if I know my schedule. It’s always going to be a crapshoot.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve already written a “what you should know” post. It’s here. It’s comprehensive. I’m not interested in writing a version of it again.  I don’t want to draw a line in the sand and see you as an enemy, an impediment to my progress.

I feel lucky, in many ways. I feel like you do listen to me. You know I’m planning a wedding, and you asked how it was going, and whether I was stressed about it. You know what I’m up to in life and you seem genuinely concerned about my well-being. So I’m going to deviate from the assignment today, because today I’m going to try to understand you. For the first time, now that I’ve been a professor for two and a half years, I think I really can.

We had all of our difficulties when I was a teen, and into my early twenties. Some of the biggest issues were during my own college years. I felt you didn’t understand me, or my life. You said you couldn’t understand why I “couldn’t just do this,” a twisted rewrite of an awesome diabetes social media slogan. I felt like one of a zillion patients. You didn’t have time for me, to truly understand. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t have diabetes. In a way, I was both happy and resentful when our relationship finally got better, clicked and soared; when I got the pump, when my numbers came down radically, when you felt I finally got serious about my health. Why only like me when I'm a "good" diabetic?

Replace “health” with “class,” though, and I could be one of my own students.

You see, I know what it’s like to have a demanding schedule, and to have 120 people whose progress I’m tasked with following over the course of a semester. I know how hard it is to sit and meet with everyone, to truly track progress; to give more than the most cursory comments about improvements to development, analysis, and grammar, because there’s NO TIME. If I met with each of my students for 15 minutes a week, that would be 30 hours with no breaks, let alone all the teaching and the prepping and the marking.  All of my comments, besides on drafts that nobody has time to write many of, can only deal with old data; how to fix a paper that's already been handed in for marks.

I know it’s loads more fun to work with a serious, passionate, excellent student who gets me and my subject; we talk, we fly and I don’t really have to do that much “work.” I know how much nicer it is to have a student who actually wants to improve. I know that I catch myself thinking, even with students who have English as a second language and horribly stressful home lives and illnesses and who deal with raising young children while being young themselves and are one step from poverty, “I don’t understand why you can’t just do this.” After all, I can do this. Look at all the studying I’ve done. Look at all the other people’s words I’ve learned and analyzed. Look at how good I am. I'm a model student, and I chose this course of study.

But you didn’t, my students. You didn’t choose this. English isn’t a major at my college. It’s a requirement. It’s difficult for many of my students; it’s not natural to their bodies. It’s not a first language, either literally, or metaphorically. Instead, it’s a hurdle they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their working lives. And, for me, in the end, it all comes down to the numbers: did they pass, or fail? I can only give so many marks for trying and working hard; in the end the work has to show, and measure up to an arbitrarily set standard. Many of their systemic language issues are such that I have no chance of fixing them in 15 short weeks, though I drill and drill.

I care about my students. I care deeply. I try my hardest to listen, to understand their lives and to make them easier. I know, however, that I need to be met halfway for true success, while I live in fear of failing someone who is truly in need. I’ve become a counselor for 17-year-olds, 30-year-olds, 60-year-olds whose life experience is beyond mine, whose problems I may never truly understand, but I know one thing, and that’s my subject. I know it as much as anyone. And I try to do my best with what I have and what my students give me. I’m only human, and I might flounder around a bit, but I’m doing my honest best.

In the world of teaching, I am you; I am my endo. But, while I have my students for a semester or two, and keep in touch with a few of them, you have stuck with me, through thick and thin, for the better part of a decade. You have seen me not care, and you have seen me come through the other side. Thank you.

So enough about you needing to understand me. Because, today, I needed to understand you. And I think I finally do.



  1. Oh, friend of mine. You write so cogent and just. It's a pleasure to read.

    1. Thanks! I'm sure you can relate to the feeling, fellow prof. :)

  2. What a magically fascinating twist, Ilana! I love it! It sure does add a completely different perspective to the situation.

    Thank you for writing this.

    1. Thanks so much for this lovely comment, Scott! I'm happy you enjoyed it.