Us and Them
The endos are all staying at the Sheraton Downtown. I, however, am twenty-two blocks away. At the Motel 6. On the south side of the motel is the railroad track. Every night freight trains rumble through, setting off all the car alarms in the neighborhood. On the east side of the motel is the threshold of runway 08 of the Phoenix Sky Harbor international airport. The deep-throated roar of airplanes is not quite constant, but close to it. That’s OK. I like airplanes. Just to the north of my motel is an abandoned building that used to belong to a physic. She’s now out of business.
Funny. You’d think she would’ve seen it coming.
But this gulf in geography turned out to be the least of the differences between me and the endos. You see, silly me, I always thought that physicians were supposed to love their patients and hate the diseases that plague them, not the other way around. But as I learned this week the endos, as a group, love diabetes and hate us.
That’s the number one take-home message I got covering the 22nd annual scientific and clinical congress of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in Phoenix for Diabetes Mine.
What I saw at the convention, time and time again, was a deep fascination with anything that had to do with any scientific aspect of the disease, accompanied by a very short attention span for anything that had to do with patients.
Some of it you have to expect. Of course they get swept up in the excitement of the mysterious underpinnings of the disease process. One researcher was showing us images of microscope slides taken from the pancreas of a 12-year-old boy who died of DKA. The scientist was thrilled because the pancreas had been removed and frozen right after the boy died, giving a snapshot of raging onset diabetes at its dark nadir. The clinicians were equally enthusiastic.
I was appalled.
No one, not one of them, expressed the slightest thought about—or awareness of—the human tragedy behind this pathology sample. A shattered family. A young life cut short. No word of thanks was spoken to the parents who donated the organ in the face of this great tragedy, no doubt in the hope that their nightmare wouldn’t be repeated for other parents.
From surgeons, I would expect no better. Surgeons are cold fish, almost always. But from endos, who see their patients again and again for years and years, I expected better.
But cold, distant, uncaring docs—or ones swept up in the intellectual excitement of the latest genetic research—I could probably have tolerated. What really disappointed me was the way they talked about us. Frankly, they acted like diabetes educators. They made snide jokes about their patients, complained bitterly about us, blamed us for all their failures, showed no sympathy or understanding for what it’s like to live with this disease, and spent a lot of time basically just dissin’ people with diabetes. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a whole week with such a big group of anti-diabetic whiners in my life.
Towards the end of the conference, I was offered a free ticket to the “gala ball” and dinner. I passed. Company like that I can do without. I drove back across town and spent my evening alone in my dingy little motel room.
With the rumbling of trains and the roaring of planes for company.