Bridget McNulty
Bridget McNulty

An open letter to Discovery Health from a diabetic, this National Diabetes Month

Dear Discovery Health,

Earlier today I was driven to tears by an excruciatingly frustrating encounter with Discovery Health. What surprised me most was not, sadly, that a conversation with my medical aid would move me to tears, but that none of my colleagues seemed surprised. In fact, many of them had had a similar experience.

The issue this morning was that I need to test my blood sugar numerous times a day in order to know if I am going dangerously low or high, and how much insulin to inject. To do this, I get a monthly stipend of blood glucose testing strips — pre-approved by Dr Noach at Discovery Health. Every 24 days, a friendly reminder SMS from Disco Medxpress tells me to re-order my medicine (insulin and strips), which I obediently do. Now, come mid-November, I am told that because I obediently ordered every 24 days, I have in fact exceeded the number of testing strips I am allowed for the year. So for the next six weeks I won’t be able to test my blood sugar.

As a Type 1 diabetic, if I don’t test my blood sugar I don’t know whether or not I am going low — which could result in a diabetic coma — or high, which could result in serious long-term complications. Both very expensive scenarios for my medical aid, which I tried to explain to them. I asked what they suggested I do for the next six weeks and they didn’t know. Their only suggestion was that I should have conserved strips for the past few months, even though I didn’t know my monthly stipend was being miscalculated.

Which is about as helpful as telling someone who’s made an omelette that they shouldn’t have used all the eggs, they should have saved some for later. Except it’s ever so slightly more serious than that.

What bothered me most about this encounter — which will no doubt be resolved by my dedicated endocrinologist speaking medical truth to Discovery — was that I was required to spell out (in increasingly emotional terms) how serious a condition Type 1 diabetes is, and that I can’t survive without my monthly medication. That if I don’t test my blood sugar for six weeks, I could die.

I had to spell this out. To my medical aid.

I had to ask my medical aid to let me be a compliant diabetic.

I had to request special permission to be given the tools I need to keep my diabetes under control.

And yes, it was a technical glitch and yes, their system tells them I should have counted the days and known that every 30 days I was due a refill — not every 24 days. But to make someone spell out the grim consequences of their chronic condition in order to get the medication they need to survive is nothing short of cruel.

This National Diabetes Month, as with every National Diabetes Month, I try to spread the positive side of the condition — that it’s possible to live a happy, healthy life with diabetes. To not be able to have a human conversation with someone who can hear what I’m saying and respond humanely (not systematically) is a huge failing from my medical aid, I think.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Kind regards,

Bridget McNulty

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