Living in a Glass House: A Diabetes Patient Shares Her Life Experiences

Colin T. Son


April 28, 2009

Voyeurism apparently is alive and well. In fact, fascination with the intimate details of others' lives seems to be part of human nature. There's something amazing, even charming, about someone sharing parts of their life for public consumption. But when you make yourself that available, you can also expect to be critiqued.

Kerri Sparling is no stranger to such scrutiny. She writes about her life with diabetes at her popular blog Six Until Me, partly to educate and motivate others with chronic disease. Through the blog, she has made many friends and found considerable support from her loyal audience:

Over this past year, I got to meet and hang out with so many wonderful members of this community. A theater date brought me together with some of my favorite local bloggers... We, as a community, marked Diabetes Alert Day and World Diabetes Day. We raised our voices for diabetes...

My diabetes turned 22. I worked hard to keep my diabetes fashionable... Coworkers took on diabetes for the day...I met some wonderful fellow diabetics at the Fairfield County Dinners, and also reconnected with old friends...

[I began using a continuous glucose monitoring system] and applied to my insurance company for coverage. While I fought my insurance company's denials, I learned to manage the BEEEEEP!-ing, respond to the alarms, and place the sensors. We, as a community, fought the denials. I appealed like crazy, and I finally WON. Now I'm living with this machine, with both the pros and the cons of it, and so thankful that I have access to this kind of technology.

Six Until Me hosts Grand Rounds
April 28, 2009

In addition to the positive support that she has received through the blog, Kerri has also received her share of criticism -- something that is bound to happen when you open up your life to the public. In January, Kerri wrote about how the stress and time demands of getting married had complicated her efforts to control her diabetes. Her glycated hemoglobin, a measure of "long-term" diabetes control, was higher than ideal. It was a touching post, one that many patients with diabetes surely could relate to. But a few weeks later, she wrote about the responses she had received.

One reader emailed, "A person in your public-facing position should have better control of their numbers. You are a role model and someone that should set an example to these young children. An A1C of 7.5% is not good enough."

A physician left this comment on the blog:

An A1c of 7% corresponds to an average BG of 180 mg/dL. Not a wise target for someone who wants to become pregnant. A normal A1c is 4.2-4.6 % -- not what the ADA promotes. Pregnant non-obese non-diabetics usually have blood sugars below 70 mg/dL.

Of course, there is some value in criticism if it is constructive. And there's something to be said about inviting criticism when one lives in a glass house. Here's what Kerri said about it:

If you want to leave comments about how you think I should be better controlled, I'll agree with you. If you want to peck at my armor and find the kinks, you won't have to look very hard. I put all of this out there knowing the risks and the judgments that come with a public-facing blog. And I appreciate that people care and offer their opinions and perspectives (both good and bad), and provide that community I was craving when I felt alone.

But my diabetes, shared with the Internet or not, remains mine.

Remember that before you pick up a stone.

The stigma of disease often includes the perception of individuals failing to take care of themselves, failing to heal themselves. Maybe that's why patient-authors are so important and why Kerri deserves some praise for living so much of her life in the spotlight.

While she's doing that, she's also planning for Grand Rounds, the longest-running, continuous publication of the best in medical blogging. It weekly features personal stories, health policy analysis, medical news, and commentary from all those interested in healthcare. Go read the best writing from physicians, nurses, policy wonks, patients and others.