By: Anna Bougie
Did you know that about 34.2 million Americans—just over 1 in 10—have diabetes? Chances are you know someone with diabetes or have at least heard of the disease. However, how much do we really understand about how diabetes affects the body? During my time studying nutrition as an undergraduate student, I learned about diabetes and how critical nutrition is to diabetes management. I memorized all of the terms, how insulin works within the body and how to treat someone with diabetes by the textbook. I thought I knew everything there was to know about diabetes by earning good grades on assignments and exams. However, it wasn’t until I went to Anne Arundel Medical Center to experience inpatient diabetes care that I realized there was so much more to learn. In this blog I will first share an overview of diabetes and then go into my personal experience.
People with diabetes have trouble processing and using all the energy from the foods they eat. This means the energy from food, which is broken down into sugar, stays in their blood rather than being used by their cells or stored. It can be very dangerous if blood sugar levels rise too high or drop too low. The body’s natural way of regulating blood sugar levels is through the hormone insulin. Insulin is what regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein within the body. This helps promote the absorption of sugar from the blood into the rest of the body.
Now, what is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? When you consume food, your blood sugar levels rise and your pancreas should naturally release insulin, which allows the sugar to enter your body’s cells or your liver to store any extra sugar. Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas produces little or no insulin at all. This means people with type 1 will be insulin dependent throughout their lives. With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but the body’s cells don’t use it as it should. Some people with type 2 diabetes won’t need extra insulin and can manage their diabetes with healthy eating and exercise or with oral medications. Regardless of the type, people with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels in a normal range in order to prevent dangerous complications.
The experience I had in the inpatient setting at Anne Arundel Medical Center with inpatient diabetes care was so fascinating. Through encountering newly diagnosed diabetes patients, I have gained insight on how to best provide patient-centered care. Additionally, I have learned that diabetes is a demanding disease where it is crucial that the patients understand their diagnosis and how their medication or insulin works to regulate their body’s blood sugar. During this rotation, I helped diagnose patients with type 2 diabetes. I know that a new diagnosis can be scary, especially one that involves multiple finger pricks a day and new medication or insulin. It was a great experience to be able to really connect with the patients by listening to their concerns and answering their questions. I also got a chance to show someone how to use an insulin pen and syringe! These are the experiences you cannot get from a textbook.
During my inpatient diabetes experience, I also had a chance to educate patients who have already been diagnosed with diabetes. With these patients, I would educate them on what foods they should have in their daily diet. Their diet should consist of high fiber foods which include beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. I was surprised to see how many people were unaware of how many carbohydrates they could eat each day. My preceptor and I taught the patients that they should have a consistent amount of carbs (around 30-60g) each meal to maintain steady blood sugar levels. It was fun to see their reaction when I explained to them why the body needs carbohydrates and, for some, how they should be eating more!
Lastly, my favorite experience at Anne Arundel Medical Center was being able to wear a Libre for 2 weeks. A Libre is a blood glucose monitoring device which sticks to the back of your arm. It has Bluetooth capability to an app on your phone, where you can scan your phone on the device and it reads your blood sugar level. This is a great alternative to getting blood sugar levels without having to prick your finger! I even got to put the device on myself, so I feel comfortable applying it on patients in the future. I will never forget giving out a free Libre to a patient who had horrible neuropathy in her fingers from pricking her fingers for 20 years. She was so down when she was in the hospital for an amputation procedure. We went to her room to give her a free Libre and she was so thankful to have one less thing to worry about when she left the hospital.
Co Uk, D. (2021). Libre Glucose Monitor. FreeStyle Libre eases burden for people with diabetes and dementia. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.diabetes.co.uk/news/2019/Nov/freestyle-libre-eases-burden-for-people-with-diabetes-and-dementia.html.
Even though my time at inpatient diabetes was only two weeks, I learned more than a textbook could ever supply. My experiences ranged from teaching a newly diagnosed patient on how insulin works, to discussing consistent carbohydrate diets, to wearing a glucose monitoring device myself. I will never forget the connections I made with the patients and I learned from my preceptor. If you’re looking for more information on diabetes, check out the American Diabetes Association to learn more about causes, treatment and care of diabetes.