Comprehensive Diabetes Classes
If you can, if there is a hospital or facility nearby, and if your insurance will cover the cost, or if you can afford to pay for it, enroll in a comprehensive diabetes class.
Whether you can or cannot, this is why you should try AND what to do if you don't have that option.
Before classes was one day, a class that was expected to last until about 3:00 pm, a middle aged gentleman got the attention of one our educators and motioned for her to come over to where he was sitting. As she approached he gestured for her to lean over closer to him as if to indicate that he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was about to say.
“I need to find out how long we are really going to be here today. I know when I registered I was told that the class would go until about three o’clock. We are not really going to be here that long are we?”
The instructor grinned and replied, “Yes sir, class typically runs until about 3:00, sometimes 3:30.” This was an answer the man was not at all expecting and he appeared quite surprised. Thinking their conversation was over, the instructor turned away and went back to what she had been doing.
A moment later she was being summoned again, “Psst, psst, excuse me, Ma’am?”
She again stopped what she was doing and walked over to where the man was sitting. The man motioned with his hand for her to come even closer. She did, and in a much quieter but very obviously frustrated voice the man told her, “Listen, the reason I asked you that is because I own my own business, a rather large lucrative business; I have over 150 employees working for me, and I really cannot afford to sit in this class all day. You know what I’m saying?”
His tone suggested that he expected her to sympathize and agree with him. Not so. That is not the kind of thing you say to a diabetes educator, not one who has seen the life altering effects of poor diabetes control.
This time the instructor, very deliberate in her actions, turned and squared off directly in front of him. Locking her elbows and placing her hands flat on the table, she leaned over close to the man, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “Listen, you need to understand something here, this is diabetes we are talking about. It is unfortunate that you have to miss work to be here today, but whether you have a small company of twenty or a $50 million company, you need to be here so you can learn how to take care of your diabetes. Do you know what I’m saying? She was very stern and not smiling.
Surprised that the educator didn’t see it his way, the man seemed to be searching for what he could say next to bolster his argument. Sensing this, before he had a chance to continue, she said, “Let me put it another way; if you want to stay healthy so you can keep running your business, you need to learn how to take care of your diabetes.”
That comment proved to be the knockout punch. The patient took a deep breath and sighed, “Yes, ma’am.”
Although not what the patient wanted to hear at the time, he has since credited this instructor with turning things around for him. If I remember correctly, I believe this patient refers to this instructor as “the lady that saved my life.”
It has been my observation that a large majority of patients who show up for class have no idea of the severity of their illness. Those that do recognize the seriousness of diabetes usually do so as a result of seeing the devastating effects poorly controlled diabetes has had on their friends or relatives.
One of the first things I do when I walk into a new class of patients is ask how many of them would rather be somewhere else today. Usually at least half of the hands go up. With some there is no hesitation, as if to say, “Heck, no, I don’t want to be here.” Others raise their hands with some hesitation, a little sheepishly. These people are a little embarrassed to admit they would rather be somewhere else.
After acknowledging their responses, I raise my hand; they look surprised. “What, you think diabetes is my only interest?” I respond.
“I’m only here because my wife made me come!” shouts out one man.
“My doctor’s office signed me up for the class and said I better show up or he was going to make me start taking insulin shots,” remarks another lady.
Fortunately, to balance these comments there are those who respond, “No, I wanted to be here; I just got diabetes last month and I don’t know anything about it.”
Many patients who end up in a diabetes class are there, not because they want to be there, but because someone else wanted them to be there. I have found that person is usually the doctor or a spouse. As a result, these patients are not necessarily ready to learn yet and may not get as much out of the class as they could. Fortunately, many of these people change their attitude sometime during the two days of class and leave with a much greater understanding of the disease, along with a willingness to accept and treat it.
Imagine trying to put one of your child’s Christmas presents together without instructions. Last Christmas eve I remember sitting on the floor struggling to assemble a dinosaur community. I constantly referred to the instructions constantly, and even then it took an hour and a half to connect all the pieces together in the right sequence.
In that scenario, if I connected two of the wrong pieces, I could disconnect them and start over with no harm done. But what about with diabetes? What if you make mistakes taking care of it because you don’t really know how? Are these mistakes harmless? Some mistakes may not be serious, but others may be very serious.
Inappropriately treating low blood sugars and not knowing how to take care of your diabetes when sick are just two examples of situations that can be very dangerous.
Just as I needed instructions to put the dinosaur community together, patients with type 2 diabetes need instruction regarding how to care for the disease. You simply can’t take care of your diabetes if you don’t know how.
If someone tries to manage their diabetes with minimal or no instruction, controlling the disease is likely to be so difficult and frustrating that they may just give up and stop trying. The result could be catastrophic.
Everyone with diabetes needs instruction because there is simply so much that needs to be learned. I usually recommend patients attend a formal group class. Those for whom group classes may not be appropriate are patients who may have significant problems hearing, seeing, concentrating, or sitting for extended periods of time. For these patients one on one teaching usually works best.
For everyone else I believe group classes work best for several reasons. One big reason I like a class setting is that you have the opportunity to ask questions. You also benefit from other people’s questions and comments, and the class participants can actually serve as a source of support for one another. It is interesting to see a group of people who were total strangers at the beginning of day one carrying on and exchanging phone numbers at the end of class the second day. These people, who vary widely as to level of education, economic situation and age, find common ground in their diabetes. When they leave to go home after finishing the second day of class some may come to realize that there are a lot of other people faced with the inconvenience of having diabetes and that there are people worse off than themselves. Perhaps the best reason for attending a diabetes class or series of classes is the way patients are shown how everything they have learned about diabetes fits together like a puzzle and that each part of the treatment, or each piece of the puzzle, has its place and is important.
For those of you who don’t have the opportunity to attend a diabetes class, at least you are fortunate to have the opportunity to buy my book, the next best thing to a class, and in some cases, maybe even better. I have tried to write the book the same way I teach class, using the same examples, following the same order and emphasizing the points I believe to be the most important.