Misunderstandings wreaked havoc for the father of Access Hollywood host Maria Menounos—and almost cost him his life.
Despite not having the condition herself, Maria Menounos has been living with diabetes her whole life. Her father, Costas, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes more than 40 years ago, and for decades he thought he was managing it properly when in reality he was mismanaging it.
The problem? Miscommunication!
Costas was born in Greece and sometimes struggles with English. As a result, he mistakenly believed he should cut out all breads, sweets and pasta—a rule he followed to a fault.
“Growing up, I didn’t even know what a bagel was,” Maria says. Costas restricted his diet so much, he wound up underweight. “He was basically winging it on outdated medical advice—instead of counting carbs, he was counting calories!”
The scenario is not unusual—the International Diabetes Federation estimates people with diabetes are responsible for 95% of their own care, yet many lack the proper skills and knowledge. Indeed, Costas’ lack of understanding almost cost him his life: A low blood sugar emergency sent him to the hospital, where doctors said they nearly lost him. After that incident, Maria helped Costas find the specialist, endocrinologist Anne Peters, MD, CDE (author of Conquering Diabetes), who helped him make an astonishing turnaround: “Dad’s on the pump [a device that continually delivers insulin] now and is able to manage his diabetes better than ever before.”
To make sure myths and misunderstandings aren’t clouding your management program, try these tips:
Get the easiest explanation.
Greek is Costas’ first language, but you can be in the dark after a medical visit even if you speak perfect English—especially if your doctor uses lots of medical jargon. If that’s the case, say, “Doctor, would you mind repeating that in simpler language? I’m having trouble understanding some of the terms you’re using.” Then, make sure you really understand by paraphrasing what you just heard. Say, “So that means x,y,z, right?”
Ask for a translation—literally.
Trouble understanding English? If you seek medical care at a facility that receives federal funding, you are entitled to a medical interpreter free of charge. A licensed medical interpreter can help ensure you get the information you need to understand your condition and the steps you can take to manage it. Why not leave the translation to friends and relatives? For one, they may not be able to understand all the “medicalese” themselves. For another, their feelings may cause them to sugarcoat—or even withhold—bad news.
Avoid the good-patient trap!
Afraid to let your doctor know you’re having trouble following his advice or taking your meds? Don’t want him to know you’re suffering more blood sugar crashes than usual? Worried he’ll think you’re a pain? Don’t be! It may well be that a symptom you assumed was “just a part of having diabetes” can—or should—be treated.
Know what you can eat.
Costas thought he was doing a good thing by eliminating carbs. “Even when he was having a low blood sugar attack, he’d refuse to drink juice to bring up his levels,” says Maria. Yet cutting carbs altogether can lead to a drop in blood sugar that can cause dizziness (something that happened to Costas when he was behind the wheel!), coma and even death. And shunning carbs means you also miss out on healthy whole grains. Even sweets can be part of a diabetes-friendly eating and exercise plan—you don’t have to stick to candies labeled sugar-free or diabetic—but do watch the carbs.
Learn the “hows” and “whys.”
Knowing how a medication works and why it’s been prescribed for you can encourage you to stay with your plan. So can understanding why it’s important to monitor your glucose levels and follow any other instructions.