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The Lowdown of Sugar Highs

By Ultan Molloy - 02nd Dec 2023

The world and society really do push us in a dietary direction that is unhelpful, writes Ultan Molloy

After a weekend ‘off the (dietary) wagon’, my blood sugars are fairly up this evening having moved to a baseline pre-meals of about 4mmol/L, to a few peaks this evening of 6.5mmol/L. It has been interesting to see the peaks and troughs disappear for the most part over the last eight weeks following dietary adjustment – birthday cake and chocolate brownies being the main culprits. It’s my wife’s birthday today, but there is always an excuse to break a habit, isn’t there? Back on the wagon tomorrow.

Interestingly, something has definitely ‘settled’, having reduced carb intake and started on a few supplements. My energy ups and downs have also gone, or at least I think that is the case. I am sharing this as a follow-on thought from a previous article, which was that the world and society really do push us in a dietary direction that is unhelpful. I remember when we were kids, we got one pack of biscuits to last us the week. If we ate them all on the Friday evening, that was it until the following Friday. It was enough, and it felt like a treat.

Our kids left plates of ice cream and chocolate brownies behind them at Laura’s birthday lunch today, after their usual chips and nuggets excuse for ‘food’ as, they get so much, it’s just not a treat any more. It is simply more sugar, in a world that keeps presenting sugar in its various forms to us from one end of the day to the next. Simple carbohydrates are dumped into our bloodstreams as sugar, and subsequently stored as fat if we have no immediate need for this energy which, most of us, unless we are professional athletes, do not. This includes the tasty breads that we are served with our healthy sambo, bowl of soup, or omelette. Is it any wonder we are seeing increasing obesity levels and a diabetes epidemic while running short on Ozempic?

So, I have also been jumping in the lake for 10 minutes each morning for the last month. It’s about 8C presently, and, at this point, I’m afraid to miss a morning in case I decide to embrace the alternative habit of not doing it. It has solidified my friendship with two other local amadáns who have also embraced a chilly dip as a sensible thing to do in the early hours before getting on with our respective days. It is certainly mentally clarifying and grounding although I believe the science behind the benefits can sometimes be a little sketchy. I haven’t researched it, but the lake habit is building an unexpected degree of mental and physical resilience that wasn’t there before.

Resilience is a thing of value to be cultivated and treasured, is it not? It is a word that has been knocking around for some time now, and ‘bounce-back ability’ is my understanding of it. We all get kicked around in some capacity day to day – with ourselves often being the main source of our difficulties – so being able to get back up and keep going when we experience a difficult period, is invaluable.

Burnout, however, is a different beast. It came to mind this week while listening to an audiobook that looked at the causes of burnout, including the behaviour of ‘selfless givers’; those who pathologically give to others without any regard for their own needs. We all know the ‘takers’ if we stop and think for a minute, and the ‘matchers’ (I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine…), but there is a healthy alternative giving mode. However, that is for another article. The burnout that came up with the givers, was mitigated by time investment in situations where one could see meaning and impact in one’s work. A story of one person working a 50-plus hour week who deliberately added another 10-plus hours to her own schedule, and was energised by this, thus reversing her burnout, left me thinking about our day-to-day work in community pharmacy.


I think we often do not have a clear line of sight of what we do, and the impact that this has on patients’ lives

Take this flagship recommendation of the newly formed HSE working group – to extend the validity of prescriptions to 12 months. Oh, sweet Jesus. The thought of more transactional pharmacy, bureaucracy, and more disjointed heath records between GPs and pharmacies left me frustrated and disappointed. I cannot see how less contact time between GPs and patients is a good thing, and why on earth would pharmacists want to take any further responsibility around prescribing logic or patient conditions?

Anyway, back to the point on burnout in our work. I think we often do not have a clear line of sight of what we do, and the impact that this has on patients’ lives. It has me thinking about how we can join up those dots for ourselves and our teams. This is the critical point, really. Daniel Pink in Drive references autonomy, mastery, and purpose, as our three main motivators. Do we have the autonomy to do our best work, are we mastering and improving what we do, and can we see purpose and meaning in how we are spending our precious time?

How often does it feel like we are just sticking labels on boxes on a production line, or could we have a better connection to the impact we have in the lives of our patients and their families? I would suggest this disconnect is precipitating our burnout and that of our colleagues. Celebrating Google reviews and sharing them with the team; occasional ‘thank you’ cards from patients; positive patient feedback at the counter or in the consultation room are, I hope, just the initial crumbs of meaning we might use to connect ourselves and our team to a purposeful and meaningful day’s work. More paperwork and bureaucracy, rather than initiatives that lead to greater patient interaction and engagement, can only have one result when it comes to the exodus from the community pharmacy profession.

On the subject of retaining people in this sector, I watched Davina McCall’s Sex, Myths, and the Menopause with my wife recently, and I’m left feeling that we continue to focus on the wrong things in terms of what is important for our present community pharmacy workforce, and our most frequent flyers in terms of pharmacy clientele. It is a tragic situation at present. That is, however, scheduled for a rewatch by me, and for some more words another time. I have just realised that this column will be part of the Christmas edition of Irish Pharmacist. I hope to be still be swimming in the lake. I hope you feel you have an impact on people’s lives, and, if not, that you carve out a bit of time to reflect – over a coffee by yourself or with a colleague – on the good work you do, and the meaningful impact you can have on the lives of others. That is certainly something to celebrate this Christmas.

Ultan Molloy is a business and professional performance coach, pharmacist, facilitator, and development specialist. He works with other pharmacists, business owners, and third parties to develop business strategies. Ultan can be contacted on 086 169 3343.

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