The diabetes connection in down under Queenstown


Two stories to wrap up New Zealand as our stay here has ended and we’re on to Sydney.

1. The wool story: After days of walking in and out of shops that sell fine Merino wool, a native staple, I was in yet another shop eyeing these beautiful sweaters, gloves and hats with envy for, alas, I am allergic to one thing in the world– wool. Yet, I could not help admiring these products’ beauty. And so I said, plaintively, to the saleswoman, “It’s funny, I feel like a diabetic in a candy store, I am surrounded by these beautiful wool products and I am allergic to wool.” She looked at me curiously and said, “Really, diabetics are allergic to wool?” Of course that was not at all how I meant it. When I recounted this story to the husband, we laughed and agreed I now had a new myth for the sequel to my soon-to-be-published 50 Diabetes Myths book, “Diabetics can’t wear wool.” 

2. The unexpected encounter: Midway during our stay in Queenstown we switched from a business hotel to a Bed and Breakfast. Over breakfast our first day I heard an American accent. Steve from Rochester, Minnesota was sharing how his rental cell phone went off at 5 A. M. that morning and it was a wrong number! That’s all the ice breaker I needed to begin the usual, “Where are you from?” “How long will you be in NZ?” As the conversation wound down from sightseeing, politics and the global economic meltdown, I mention that I just finished writing a book on diabetes myths. Steve’s wife’s face, Julie, lights up. She tells us that she has type 2 diabetes. Well, that is not all that surprising for a middle aged, slightly overweight American woman, but what is surprising, and stirs an engaging conversation, is that she is working with the famed Mayo Clinic as part of a research focus group on behavioral methods for helping patients manage their diabetes. 

She begins to talk about what I have learned through the more than 100 patients I’ve interviewed: you need to understand the context of patients’ lives to help them change behavior. She recants a wonderful story of one elderly patient who tells his doctor that he wants to be put on Byetta. His doctor who would never have thought this man would chose an injectible drug (and so wouldn’t have offered it), asks his patient why he wants Byetta. His patient tells him he is soon going into an assisted living home and he wants to lose a few pounds because he hears there are a lot of available women there! [Byetta helps most patients lose weight as well as control their blood sugar.] We laughed, and we understood what few doctors do: all our choices are embedded in the context of our lives.

Julie shares about herself that after being in denial for some time after her diagnosis, she took some diabetes classes and lost weight and significantly lowered her A1c. My husband asks what her A1c is and she lights up again and tells us, “5.7!” The husband says, “You must be very proud” whereupon Julie says with both elation and sadness, “Yes, I am and I want to tell people but who would understand?!” My belief that you can experience pride because of how you live with diabetes and it can motivate you to continue to do well is confirmed, and the husband whisks upstairs and returns with two of my books, The ABCs of Loving Yourself with Diabetes, in hand for Julie. We witness a smile quickly spread across her face as she skims through the book and she volunteers that as soon as she’s home one of these books will be at the Mayo clinic. It is like an angel named Julie has sat at my breakfast table in Queenstown.

I keep saying (to anyone who will listen) the universe is continually supporting my work by throwing gems at my feet, but that morning it was Steve who said, “This is so amazing. We weren’t intending to stay here but our travel agent “stuck” us here for three days, and look what’s happened.” 

I agree Steve. And so we fly out of Queenstown taking with us the beautiful scenery, rich new memories and new bonds that were woven that morning.


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