10,000 diabetes conversations in different languages – by Krishna Sarda
In my role as the Engaging Communities Manager, I spend a considerable amount of time travelling and working with people and communities on the challenges they face to better manage their Type 2 diabetes (and those at high risk) and how to prevent the condition from developing.
To give you a flavour of a working day, I can be on the first train out of London in the morning, or if I am carrying a number of boxes and other engagement materials, then I can be driving, for example, at 4.30am to a meeting with Newcastle Clinical Commissioning Group for a 9.45am start, followed with a meeting in another part of Newcastle community centre at 11.30 –attendance can be 20 to 250, an incredible diverse audience. This means that I switch between speaking in English to Urdu to Punjabi and to Swahili. Making sure people have understood the key messages. One of my challenges, when posed a question is that my thinking is in English and I have to convert my response into the language that the person raising the question can understand. This can be quite hilarious for the audience as they hear my words trip, stumble and regain composure. Fortunately I speak a number of languages which is an useful asset.
I leave this meeting at 1.30pm and make my way to Bolton for a 4pm meeting with the partnership that is overseeing our Community Champions Programme. The meeting takes place at Bolton General Hospital, the lead consultant on Diabetes is delayed due to urgent matters at the hospital but still makes time for the meeting – their dedication to public service is most impressive.
The meeting commences at 4.30pm and ends at 6.30pm, there then follows a debriefing meeting between the Chair of the group who is the consultant and myself to agree on actions to take in advance of the next meeting. I leave the hospital building at 7.45pm. It is cold, wet and windy, skipped lunch due to time pressures. Hungry and tired I face another challenge where can I get something healthy to eat at 8.pm in Bolton (no offence to Bolton) – this has been a huge challenge. I give up decide to buy apples, water and bag of mixed nuts and drive back home to London. The journey provides an opportunity to reflect on the day – particularly the individual stories at the community event and the need for us to be even more ambitious on behalf of the communities we serve. As someone who passionately believes in social justice, the fire burns bright, the need to empower and give hope is desperately needed within communities that are balancing deprivation, poverty, ill health and depleted public services.
Tiredness sets in and I switch to my Swahili music on the music system in the car and dream of hot sunny days and blue seas, whilst staring through the windscreen as the wipers desperately push the rain away. I feel re-energised and have planned a series of actions for the next day. The nightmares of traffic on M62, M6, M42 and finally M40 are behind me. I reach home at 1.00am to be greeted by the grumpy cat who gets a treat and I head to bed.
As 2016 comes to a close I breathe a sigh of relief. It provides a pause in a battle to re-think and re-organise -an opportunity to reflect. It has been a very hectic year engaging in many conversations with so many different people in different locations who have Diabetes and those who are at risk of developing the condition. As I review these conversations (over 10,0000) I realise just how much of their life people have shared with me – their frustrations at inability to get better blood glucose control, life events that knock them off balance and the struggle to stand up again, the fears that as they get older – complications will set in and the constant tension between raising a family (the joys and tribulations – often dealing with extended family and sending money abroad to support relatives) whilst holding on to the night shifts that pay a minimum wage, work all hours and with all of this happening to also manage a condition that requires attention every day, every week, every month, every year and on and on. A lot of the people engaged with have not received any education or support on how to live with Type 2 diabetes. Even where this has been provided it is not culturally specific and is of little relevance. Living is an art and requires constant balancing and refocusing – the only place to learn – is in the school of life. Sadly there is considerable evidence that for a lot of people this has not been possible and loved ones have been consumed by the condition and in their absence their presence is even stronger.
I find large sections of different communities that have not heard of us, their condition brings them into contact with health care professionals, who have time to diagnose and dispense, if they end up in hospital A&E- protocols rule –common sense, asking basic questions seem to escape the mental domain- tragedies are created, lives are shortened.
The human spirit is an amazing force I watch it at work while I am busy drumming up support to recruit volunteers as community champions. These champions come from all walks of life, they give generously of their time and energy to support others to better understand how to live with this condition and prevent it from developing. They are out whatever the weather, standing on a cold wet pavement engaging people, or in a sunny park at one of the various summer Melas that we get involved in.
The warmth, love and welcome we get from the communities we work with -alongside an occasional good kicking which is an inherited risk on the landscape of engagement leads to difficult conversations that are not about platitudes but about the real life chances missed, a system that does not listen to voices sufficiently well and moves from one event to another.
Painful stories at our training sessions are punctured with humour – we laugh at ourselves for we feel inadequate facing and living with this condition in two different worlds (this is a reference to communities and people who live in the UK but their belief systems are formulated in their countries of origin) – a true insight into the contradictory nature of human beings – all said and done love prevails- we are bounded with a new sense of optimism as another year approaches – will we make it any different – will it really be a “new year”
I desperately want it to be a new year, I am thinking how many more people we can reach next year –creating an aspirational objective that stretches us to do more and better with the limited resources we have, identify new resources, and realign current ones. Build more partnerships with Universities so that we are engaging with the health care professionals of tomorrow. To build on insights gained on the understanding of risk and prevention within these communities. Building interventions from these insights that enable people to take action that is meaningful.
Diabetes UK Helpline for any concerns about living with diabetes