Diabetic Empathy

I work for a company that makes medical devices.  Specifically those dealing with diabetes and the testing of a person’s blood sugar levels.  The headquarters of the company is right here in Alameda (YAY, short work commute!), so that means that we’re often given the opportunity to act as guinea pigs for new products in order to test their effectiveness.  In exchange, we’re offered compensation, just like most other test subjects who take part in clinical trials.  To that end, I’ve spent the last two weeks trying out our latest product that will become available to European markets later this year.

It’s not the first time I’ve been a medical guinea pig, either.  When I lived in Chicago, I took part in a study that tested the effect of light on the body’s melatonin levels.  For that study I had to stay in a hospital room with no windows for two to five days, with all sorts of wires attached to me.  And I had to sleep at the times the nurses told me to.  Each time I participated in one of those, it was kind of like a mini vacation, where I got to watch TV or work on the quilts I was making, and I got fed three meals a day.  Yes, it was hospital food, but it was quite palatable.  Plus the nurses who took care of me were really nice, and I got paid VERY well for each of those studies.

I actually enjoy being a subject in clinical trials, provided that I don’t have to test out some odd drug that might give me some strange side effects.  I have no desire to be one of those subjects that you hear about in commercial disclaimers who “experienced heartburn, or epileptic seizures” with Product A.  And while this trial wasn’t for a drug, I have had to prick my finger to check my blood sugar level every waking hour of the day.  This equals to about 16+ times that I have to stick a needle in me EVERY DAY.

Thankfully, I’m not diabetic–though many people who work for our company are, or have loved ones who suffer from the disease–but doing this study has given me a WHOLE new level of empathy for people with diabetes.  Even if they don’t have to check their glucose levels every hour, having to do it more than once a day would suck.

By the end of the third day, my fingers looked like they were being used as pin cushions.  By the second week, blood was flowing from my fingertips much faster than it had during the first week.  But it’s not just the pain of pricking my digits that has enhanced my empathy for people with diabetes; it’s also been the time taken out of the day to do the check.  Again, thankfully, I’m only having to do this for the trial, but I’ve been “interrupted” by the timer at some very inopportune times, letting me know I needed to test my blood sugar.  I’ve had to pull over by the side of the road, take it out during dinner, and even had sex disturbed by the beeping of the alarm.

I ignored the timer that particular time and did the testing after we were done, but if I had diabetes I might not be able to just slough off from checking my glucose levels.  There are some people for whom a missed test could cause serious repercussions.

But the annoyance and pain are part of the reasons that I enjoy being a test subject, because now I have a little bit more empathy and understanding for people who have to deal with that disease every day of their lives.  I know what my glucose is when my body’s in need of fuel, and I also know when I’ve had too much sugar.  I’ve even been able to match the numbers with the feelings going on inside of me.  So this journey has been a good one . . . and I’ll definitely sign up to be a guinea pig the next time my company needs some.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nancyadamsfiction
    Jun 27, 2014 @ 11:29:18

    I’ve started eating (mostly ) according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat for Health. I’ve lost a fair amount of weight and generally feel better, and I love the fact that I’m actually able to eat a lot with this–just by sticking to healthy foods. On the downside, is that it can take a fair amount of time to prepare the recipes, but if you look at the general principles, you can come up with quicker types of meals based on the same ideas.


  2. Malena E.
    Jun 27, 2014 @ 15:20:49

    This is a great post, Alyx. I am a nurse and when I worked in the hospital I used to test the patients’ blood sugar in the mornings. I’d just waltz in and prick their fingers without really considering that it might be painful. And no one really complained. But one day I thought I ought to experience it myself and BOY did it HURT. And there was a bruise there for days. What your company needs to invent is a blood sugar monitor that requires no painful pricking. They measure blood oxygen using a light monitor on the finger, why can’t they do the same with glucose?
    Anyway, thanks for this post and good luck with all your future medical trials.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 16:11:28

      It’s great that you decided to experience it for yourself, Malena. I’m guessing it made you much more aware of how & where you were pricing your patients. 🙂

      We ARE working on a monitor that doesn’t require lots of painful pricking. This trial was to test the effectiveness of it against our current meters. I think the population will be REALLY pleased with the results.

      Thanks for reading & commenting today. I really appreciate it.


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