This year Diabetes Australia focused on the 4,400 diabetes-related amputations per year, 85% of which are preventable. The campaign was received with mixed results, most likely because it did address an issue that people don't like to think of in relation to themselves or their clients.
I don't think I'm alone in wanting to ignore the more serious side to diabetes - the side where you may develop complications despite your best efforts to train your diabetes to sit and stay on command. I will readily admit that when I first saw that the key messaging was regarding amputations, my instinct to protect my vulnerable diabetes psyche was to ignore diabetes social media for the week. Which I somewhat did. I didn't want those images. Fear of complications is very real, among all people with diabetes, and each person deals with those fears differently. I deal with my fear by trying to maintain good blood glucose control and follow the annual cycle of care to prevent complications.
The problem is, I have to think about complications more than I feel comfortable with, because I follow the annual cycle of care. The current medical system in Australia favors those in the know about their health, and for those with little time or education on how to access various services, it is easy for them to get left behind in their diabetes management and complication prevention. The current onus when it comes to preventative care and measures is on the patient. The patient has to ask to see the podiatrist, they have to remember to see the optometrist, the patients schedules an appointment with the nurse for an updated chronic disease care plan. I don't always remember to include the podiatrist in my ever-rotating list of doctors and I rely on my yearly drivers medical as a reminder to see the optometrist, as just two examples. That's a lot of work that I have to do. A lot of appointments that might fall through the cracks. And a lot of know-how to get the system to work for me.
So I for one am welcoming this years National Diabetes Week messaging around preventable amputations. The campaign worked both to educate health professionals to pursue the annual cycle of care, including regular podiatry checks, and also to educate patients on understanding what sort of checks they should be getting, and when to seek help so that they don't end up with an unnecessary amputation. The messaging this year is as much about starting these conversations with your health professionals so that they can help you to tick off all the boxes relating to complications screening as it is asking you to be aware of your own body. In doing this, it alleviates some of the burdens for me, as a patient.
I have worked so closely with my GP and the practice nurse in regards to my diabetes-related care that they are starting to look through my records without prompting. At appointments they ask to make sure all my checks are up to date - and if they aren't, they then look for someone suitable and schedule an appointment for me so all I have to do is show up and everything else gets looked into. But this was a process, for both of us. I used to have to be the one to follow up and ask, and keep tabs on my out-of-date check ups.
Some of the complaints listed against the amputations campaign this year were in regards to diabetes-related distress linked to fear of amputations and other complications. People are generally afraid of the unknown and amputations and our future with diabetes is often unknown. So what if we try to make the future known? What if we provide patients and doctors alike with the knowledge of what to do in the early stages of the disease, or the early stages of an infection, on what to do to prevent this from ever happening. How much less distressed will people be, knowing that there are things they can do, and do now, to prevent the majority of amputations.
There were complaints that the messaging this year wasn't 'positive enough' and that National Diabetes week should only consistent of 'Girl-Power' style awareness where we show the public that we all have 'D-Power'. I think we're already doing this well enough though. For every diabetic who has ever pushed through a day high, low, yoyoing between both and tired AF, they're showing that we have the D-Power. We've got sportsmen and sportswomen, TV presenters, singers, a prime minister and just everyday people who all show that we with diabetes, we can do anything that we set our mind to. I don't worry about the public perception in regards to this but public perception does need to change where complications are concerned. It's no wonder we get stupid remarks, if we are too afraid to address the issue ourselves.
Why don't we turn a negative complication into a positive message? That won't hurt anyone. Not raising awareness about the risk of amputations and what can be done to prevent them for people who live with diabetes, and their health professionals - that will hurt someone. They might even lose a leg over it.