The Danger of a Single {Medical} Story

Have you guys seen the Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story?

No? Well it’s awesome. Go watch it now.

A few weeks ago I was teaching a diabetes class, the topic was creating reasonable health goals. As an example I mentioned adding a couple pieces of fruit as a snack a day.

A rather outspoken woman looked towards me and said, “And why are you telling diabetics to eat fruit?” Her words were sharp and her eyes concentrated on me, “Diabetics can’t eat fruit.”

This was news to me and my colleague. We’d never heard that diabetics can’t eat fruit.

It turned out as the conversation progressed that when her husband (the diabetic in this case) ate fruit his blood sugars would shoot to 23 (very high for you who don’t know.). This is not the case for everyone. Diabetics can eat fruit. But for this gentleman, fruit might not be a good idea.

But for his wife, after being told fruit was probably not a good idea if his sugars went to 23, she assumed ALL diabetics could not eat fruit.

Assumptions. Stereotypes. Simply reading between the lines of our client’s diagnosis and assuming we then know their life. Yes, the woman in the the diabetes group is a client, but do we as health professionals really behave differently?

After all many health care professionals have personal experience with diseases, chronic or otherwise. Either ourselves, or a close loved one, or even a friend may have been diagnosed with x, y, z and beat it through careful monitoring of this or a lifestyle change of that.

The danger comes because sometimes the patient we’re seeing doesn’t need to change what your aunt changed to get her weight down, or her blood sugars in order. But because the patient fits, in looks, in diagnosis, with your aunt’s story of diabetes, you assume that’s what her problem is.

But all health conditions are made of myriad of factors. No two people live the exact same lives with the exact same results.

So it’s important to ask them the questions, even if you predict the answers correctly, about their life and their lifestyle, because simply basing your answers on your assumptions isn’t going to help them.

And really you might be surprised at how many times their answers surprise you. And getting the full story of their life outside of their diagnosis is the best way for you both to work together to help them get to the healthiest place they can.

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