Old Enough to Speak for Himself

Next week, I will be returning to the University of New England's Medical School to participate in their Friday seminar on living with chronic illness. It's a thing they do with their first-year students — each Friday, they focus on a different condition and invite patients in (along with an expert in the particular field) to describe what their experience has been dealing with the disease du jour. This is the third year I've gone to tell the collection of eager young med students what it means to have a child with T1D — there are usually a couple of others on the panel, older adults who've dealt with the disease for decades, but typically, I'm the one who talks about the pediatric T1D patient/caregiving point of view.

This year, the eager young med students are in for... something different. Because this year, I'm bringing Eric with me. He's in second grade, just shy of his eighth birthday, and starting to actively take part in his diabetes care — in fact, most often, he's the one who gives himself the insulin dose, although not without supervision yet. And, from what the nurse has told me about the way he assists her in teaching the various nursing students who shadow her from time to time, he understands what's going on with his diabetes care well enough to explain it to someone with a great deal of classroom learning but without much hands-on experience. And my thinking, when I was invited to come back this year, was: I may be his primary caregiver, but since he started doing his own fingersticks and his own insulin delivery, since he started learning how his pump works and how to explain it to other people, I am surely not the only person these doctors-in-training should hear from. As he increases his self-care, he's also increasing his "ownership" of this journey we've been on for the past 6 1/2 years. So it's time he had the opportunity to speak for himself.

I asked him, of course, if he wanted to do it (without explaining that it meant missing half a day of school — the boy isn't stupid, if he knew the thing involved skiving off for an afternoon with Mom, of COURSE he'd say yes!) and he said that yes, he thought that would be good. I have no idea what he'll say to them, if anything — he may just decide to clam up and look beatific, which is sometimes his response to unfamiliar situations. But even if that's the case, I do want him to go for two reasons: One, he gets to see that he has something valuable to offer the physicians or other healthcare providers he meets — something they won't likely get anywhere else — and two, he gets to meet still more people with diabetes living their lives. Both experiences are, I hope, potentially empowering. This year, one of the panelists is a teenager from Eric's pediatrician's practice, and I'm particularly interested in talking to her from the "forewarned is forearmed" point of view.

So that's what's going on. I'll let you know what happens!


It is so important that med students understand patients real issues. Thank you for doing this. Many doctors in my area attended U.N.E. . Nancy

i am interested to see how things will go. good luck to your little t1 advocate!

Bravo, Eric, and thank you in advance for being a Diabetes Advocate! I would have loved to hear from someone like you when I was a med student.

Let us know how your day with the med students went.