Whenever I learn something new (diabetes-related), I like to share it here. Because I figure if I hadn’t heard about it — as I’m sniffing the air for D-news over the years — then lots of other PWDs out there probably haven’t heard about it yet either.
Today’s tidbit is about that famous diabetes activist Dr. Richard Bernstein, whose promotion of the utra-low-carb diet for diabetics has made him such a controversial figure.
The new online publication called The Journal of Participatory Medicine has just published a feature under the title: “Innovations in Participatory Medicine: The Advent of Do-It-Yourself Blood Glucose Monitoring.” Did you know that up until the 1980′s, the ADA was actually against encouraging patients to check their glucose at home?
Of course, we’ve all heard a hundred times about how lucky we are to live in the era of easy access to home glucose monitoring. It is a revolution in care, yada yada yada (I’m not unappreciative, just a little weary of doing it all day!)
What’s really interesting about this article, however, is the glimpse the author provides into the life and times of the famous Dr. Bernstein. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, and later, as an adult engineer, “became the first patient to own and use a blood glucose meter by circumventing existing efforts to keep the technology in the hands of health care providers.”
He began to measure his glucose levels regularly and noted fluctuations throughout the day. He may have been the first to realize that using these readings to adjust insulin doses, patients could actually make an impact on their own BG levels, and decrease the likelihood of dangerous lows (hypoglycemia).
What’s more (and excuse the lengthy quote, but author Jeana Frost writes it so well; the bold bits are my emphasis):
“Having experienced this personal health transformation, Dick Bernstein became a champion for patient-monitoring and good self-management. He established close relationships with inventors in the industry and helped companies organize and fund innovations in designs. He presented at professional meetings and asked manufacturers to present their monitors to patients at conferences. Internationally, manufacturers and providers were more open to Dick Bernstein’s ideas. Ames received private funding to develop a portable monitor for patients that was then distributed throughout Europe and the Middle East in the late 1970s.
“Bernstein found, however, that on his own even as an engineer, a diabetic, and a precursor to the current “Quantified Self” movement, in the US he was unable to be a strong advocate for patient monitoring. Journals refused to publish his studies. He elicited the help of the marketing department at Ames, a man named Charles Suther, and through him, of medical editors. But even with this help Bernstein was unable to get his writings published in the US. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) was skeptical of Bernstein’s ideas and renegade attitude towards medical practice. As a 43-year-old, highly focused on his own health and determined to share his insights, Bernstein therefore decided to become a doctor. He attended Albert Einstein Medical School and became an endocrinologist. After graduation, he formed a practice treating other people with diabetes.
“Although Dick Bernstein did not invent glucose monitors, he transformed how the technology was used and who used it. As a patient-participant in his own care, he had a personal insight about his own practice and became a crucial force that resulted in a fundamental shift towards participatory medicine in diabetes care. He was not the first patient to monitor blood sugars. But he was the first patient to have a blood glucose monitor and insights about the value of regularly self-monitoring glucose levels.”
Who knew Bernstein was such a champion for innovative technology?! This just goes to show you how the public gets fixated one on thing, and often won’t let it go. What I’m hinting at here is that the name “Richard Bernstein” has become in some senses a bulwark dividing the diabetes community: you either believe in his little-to-no-carb diet doctrine, or you don’t. If you don’t, the believers may very well shout you down as a heretic and a sloth (too lazy to follow the “right path”). I wonder if that kind of black-and-white thinking is in keeping with Bernstein’s evident role as the Father of Do-It-Yourself Diabetes Care?
In any case, as one PWD who finds life extremely unpleasant without carbs, I just wanted to take a moment to thank Dr. Bernstein for his other contribution to successful treatment of this exasperating illness.