The tale of my mother’s refrigerator — how’s yours working?

Don’t throw a day in the trash


My mother got a new refrigerator two months ago. It’s part of the renovation she’s doing on my parent’s new apartment. It’s probably the first time in 20 years she’s bought a major appliance. The refrigerator is made in New Zealand and she really liked it – until it stopped working.  To say the store where she purchased it was in no way customer-oriented was problem enough. An even bigger problem, however, was that my mother refused to send the refrigerator back, or make waves, because she didn’t want to be a problem.

Many patients exhibit this same kind of behavior. They think, well… the doctor told me to take these pills… I don’t see any difference in my blood sugar, but the doctor must know best. Would you be surprised to know that most physicians, outside of endocrinologists, get one day of diabetes training in medical school? My type 1 friend’s doctor told her to eat a bowl of cereal when she experienced hypoglycemia. Hey, when your blood sugar’s headed below 50 and you’re on your knees, a nice crunchy bowl of toasty oats is not the answer – glucotabs, Coke, honey and pure glucose like Sweet Tarts are! But she learned that from me, not her doctor.

Another friend couldn’t figure out why, when doing everything her doctor told her to, her blood sugars hovered around 200. Well, maybe it’s because he doesn’t think that’s anything to be concerned about. Has he heard the only thing that prevents or reduces the risk of diabetic complications is tight blood sugar control? 200 to me is like unfurling a blanket in the park and laying it with baguettes, potato chips, bagels, cheese cake and tootsie rolls. To be fair, the way health care is set up today, most patients get a scant 10-15 minutes with their doctor. How can you possibly get all the information you need in such time? How can your physician get to know what he or she needs to know to help you? But if they’re not asking and you don’t tell no one wins. And you definitely lose.

Then, so many patients are more concerned about being nice to their doctor than getting the care and treatment they need. They are afraid to rock the boat or doubt their own feelings in front of a white coat and stethoscope. They think they know nothing in the same room as someone who went to medical school. What I know for sure is that patients give their power away every day — and this makes it harder for their health care provider to help them. We patients are consumers of health care. Yet, we hardly think about it this way. If your doctor isn’t solving your problems, or even particularly concerned, you need to be.

When my mother’s refrigerator first arrived she had chest pains for three weeks. No, not anxiety. It was coming from opening the refrigerator’s tightly pressurized door. She told me pretty quickly, but took another two weeks to tell the store. They sent over a not-too-pleasant repairman who made my mother think it was all in her head. Until he said, “Best thing to do is tape some pennies between the unit and the door, some people say.”

That worked, but then the refrigerator’s temperature began vacillating between 38 to over 55. Everything perishable, hundreds of dollars worth of groceries, found the trash can their new home. I urged my mother to call the shop and return this lemon and write a letter of complaint demanding compensation for the tossed food. “But I don’t want them to think of me as a complainer. This is a small town and I don’t want a bad relationship,” my mother pleaded.

Two weeks later she called the store as it was becoming a weekly practice to toss her yogurt and milk in the garbage. The same repairman came. “Why are you always complaining?” he asked. My mother had tears in her eyes. As he turned to leave, he obviously thought of something, opened the fridge and mumbled, “Hmm…the sensors aren’t telling me this, but it looks like the fridge might be in constant defrost mode.” “So you mean maybe I’m not crazy?” my mother urged with such hope, and, hallelujah, finally anger.

So how’s your refrigerator, metaphorically — the housing that’s keeping your bodily functions working? If you don’t think your diabetes is well controlled — maybe it’s you or maybe you’re not getting the proper care. Chances are, deep down you know which is true. Certainly the dietician who gave my type 2 overweight, uncontrolled Aunt a daily diet of 300 grams of carbohydrates must be right, right?  She’s the pro, no? No. Only you are the pro on you.

Six weeks after the refrigerator entered my mother’s house she demanded the store take it back. They told her to call the manufacturer in New Zealand. She did. Two weeks later she called the store to ask if it had arrived. They said they didn’t know, “Call New Zealand!” She did. They said it had arrived in her local store a week earlier. She called the store. They said they didn’t see it. Finally my mother said, “I don’t think it’s my job to track down this refrigerator!” Three days later, for the very first time, the store-owner called my mother and said her new refrigerator would be delivered that week.

It was, it’s fine and the food is where it belongs, and we hope won’t see the trash again anytime soon. There’s an oft-quoted expression in Japan. The translation is, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It’s not fun being a squeaky wheel but sometimes that’s what it takes.

If you’re not happy with your care and you feel you don’t have the right team to help you, look further. While it’s not always easy finding a good doctor, one who knows his or her stuff, treats you with respect and will help you manage your diabetes, if you don’t look, you’re sure not to find him or her. 

Don’t throw your perishable latter years away when you could be doing so much now to preserve them. You’re the customer, and while the customer may not always be right, when it comes to diabetes-care, I guess I’m just a little prejudiced that they usually are.

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