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How Much "Smarter Than a Doctor" Are the Parents of Diabetic Children?
Joan Williams Hoover
May 8, 2008
Joan Hoover is a diabetes health advisory board member and long time advocate for children with diabetes.
"Insulin Quiz: Are You Smarter Than a Doctor" (April-May '08, pp 12-15) was an excellent article, if perhaps a little frightening. I couldn't help but wonder how well the parents of diabetic children would do on the quiz, and where they might have learned their lessons.
Type 1 diabetes is a 24/7 disease, and make no mistake, the primary care giver for children is their parent(s). They need to be experts almost from the day of onset, but their education has some special difficulties:
They are not able to hear the educator's message. For the first few days/weeks all they can hear is, "How can this have happened to my child?" reverberating inside their heads. They appear to be listening, but they're not.
It's very hard to learn all about a complicated disease, especially if you've had no medical training. We need the diabetes educator to remember to say, "low blood sugar level" instead of "hypoglycemia."
Parents of newly diagnosed children are seldom told about complications. The reasons are: a) There is too much to cover to include it with the information needed immediately; b) complications aren't going to happen right away; c) not everyone gets all the complications; and d) it’s no fun to give bad news.
The effect is as successful as not telling children about sex. Questions and misinformation lurk and grow in the shadows. At the very least, parents deserve to know that there are complications in the future, and where to get good information when they are ready to deal with them.
On the other hand (which brings us back to the article), how does the now well-educated parent/primary caregiver prevail in a hospital situation when he/she is more knowledgeable about the patient than the large number of medical staff members cited in your quiz? This is a most common problem, requiring the utmost diplomacy. Nursing staff, interns and residents, especially, are not inclined to presume a competent parent.
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