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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Diabetes Ain't Funny

A recent comic strip included a cartoon that had an unexpected punch line. I've been thinking it over, and think that there's a point made in the comic that's not funny, but probably worthy of discussion.

The first frame of the cartoon shows a patient in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor, who says to a physician: "So... I can avoid coronary bypass surgery just by not eating meat anymore?"

Physician: "And dairy ...yes"

Patient: "<Sigh> You know I'm an American, right?"

Physician: "OK! Surgery, rehab and lifelong medications it is ... good choice!"

Patient: "All right, all right... I'll go vegan"

Physician: "Oh, here's a bonus... that'll cure your diabetes, too"

Patient: "Wait... my WHAT?!"

Physician: "Oh... sorry. I just assumed you knew"


Okay, diabetes and heart disease go together. And changing life style and eating habits is an alternative way to treat both, as is "lifelong medications" and perhaps even weight-loss surgery.

But diabetes as an afterthought, that the good doctor assumes the patient knew about? I have several concerns here.

First, the patient had not previously been made aware that he had diabetes. Sadly, that's a too-common problem worldwide: a fast glance at Google showed it's a problem in India, Ethiopia, Singapore, and unsurprisingly, also in the United States.

Second, the physician's half-hearted attempt at an apology to a patient who's obviously ill is simply put, an excellent example of terrible bedside manner -- and not at all funny.

Finally, the cartoonist who thought he was being funny seems to be actively trivializing diabetes.

Or maybe he was simply making the point that physicians sometimes don't share information about important diseases with their patients?

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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