Hello everyone! I am pleased to say that Shark Week did an all right job of getting back to its good old days and put together a variety of programming that overall was enjoyable and fairly educational. Way to not fuck up completely again Discovery Communications! Naturally after seeing the sinewy sleekness and athletic capabilities of the mako shark I was reminded how I need to do my best to keep in at least healthy shape and limit the number of nights I run to Taco Bell and shark down some fourthmeal/post-excessive alcohol consumption food. I eat better than I did when I was going to school (nobody eats well in college, but I didn’t even try), and a large part of that is thanks to observing firsthand what it’s like to live with type 2 diabetes mellitus and a lack of healthcare when I had to participate in a service project to complete a requirement in a class I was taking called “Poverty and Disease”. The focal point of the course was to discuss epidemiology, the science of the causes of disease in different populations, but as I found out, it’s one thing to study the statistics on AIDS in Africa; it’s another to see firsthand the effects of something less sinister yet more prevalent in my native country.
I was the first to arrive at South Pointe Hospital that Friday back in my final year of college. There I observed what has to be the most efficient and organized assembly of any hospital event I have ever seen. Everything was in place on tables that ran along both sides of the front hallway and through a side hall. The station I would work at giving hand massages to diabetes patients was the first on the left and it was here that I was introduced to Amy, a nurse at South Pointe who cheerfully greeted me with a smile that showed genuine kindness and appreciation that I was present. I was uneasy how I would explain that I had to leave 20 minutes earlier to attend my Aquatic Resources field lab, but she was so happy that I was ready and willing to help for a few hours that she not only assured me it was alright but encouraged me to leave a full half hour earlier because getting out of the hospital lot would be difficult (it turns out it wasn’t, further adding to my guilt). In addition to the overwhelming benevolence of everyone involved with orchestrating the Diabetes Fair, I was taken by how beautiful the hospital looked. The polished wood paneling, the artistically arranged glass, and especially the abstract chandelier all reminded me this was an institution of the Cleveland Clinic, but made me forget it was a hospital. I was quickly reminded it was though; shortly after my classmates arrived, the first wave of the patients followed and we all started to frantically review the hand massaging technique Amy had showed us minutes before. Yet, our fears were cast aside when we actually performed our first hand massage and realized that there was no need for a step-by-step procedure because it depended on what the patient desired. It was especially easy for me as my first patient turned out to be one of my best friends’ aunts who loved the school we met at. Talking to the patients was very easy to do after that.
All of the patients who came to the fair were older. The youngest I saw were at least in their fifties. As a matter of fact, some were in their eighties. And age did not beget experience with diabetes maintenance though, for many were attending the fair for the first time. Almost all of the patients were women, and some of the few men who were there came along with their wives. Most of the patients were black, and the rest were white; I do not recall seeing any persons of Latino or Asian descent. And most seemed to be poor and probably without health care. Many were overweight, and some had fingers that were so badly curled that I could hardly move them. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with hands like that. Despite the hardships many of them dealt with as a result of their diabetes, almost everyone was in good spirits and every single person I talked with was polite and very grateful to be there.
Going into that service I was both prepared and unprepared for what I would see and do. I knew people who participated in that specific event before and heard about the hand massages and long lines of people, so I came in with some idea of what I was in for. Still, that was the first service activity I had done through the school service office and I assumed I would come away with something more than just a good feeling of charity. However, I could not have anticipated how it would affect me immediately afterwards. Even as I was hurrying out to my car in a rush to get back to school for my field trip (it didn’t take long to leave the medical campus for my academic one, but I did need to change from my more formal attire to something more conducive to trudging through a swamp), I found myself vowing to be more active and to eat healthier, mainly to reduce my sugar intake. This was more than just another glance-in-the-mirror wish to bring back the more fit body I had for track season during my senior year of high school (God I miss those abs), it was a realization that if I do not establish good exercise and eating habits now, then I will undoubtedly find myself being reluctantly dragged along to a diabetes fair by my family when I am that age. Fortunately, my Aquatics professor prepared a meal that night that was much aligned with my aspirations to eat better, and these past few years have seen me snacking smarter than I had. Work and family obligations may occasionally prevent me from getting outside as much as I’d like, but my desire to do so is greater than it had been in a long time. In addition to my attempts to avoid whatever paths led the patients I befriended that day to suffer the ill effects of diabetes, I also find myself wishing to maintain the same kindness they did when faced with adversity like what some I saw were going through with both physical and financial problems. Considering all the complications they had to deal with, I am surprised at the compassion and optimism they had.
I have been exposed to hospitals my whole life without having to have myself actually cared for too frequently (knock on wood). My mom is a nurse for pre-op and post-op, my sister has special needs because of an assortment of mental and physical issues, and my father had an off and on battle with melanoma from my youth until high school. Point in case: I’ve been in a hospital before. Lots of them. Although I never really given a tremendous amount of thought about the way our health system works in America, I’ve always been privileged enough to know that not only does my family have health insurance and access to health care, but that when I do require care in the hospital my mom knows exactly where to take me and can find one of her friends or a trusted doctor to tend to and mend me. It was strange then for me to see hundreds of people who marched in neatly in single-file order to pick up their free Cheerios and testing kit information as if it was the most medical attention they could obtain until the next like event. I used to complain when I have to wait to see the doctor for a yearly check-up. That’s since stopped. I suppose what I really got out of that experience was a face to put to the name of medical poverty in America. Too long I have been content with seeing the hospitals across northern Ohio, the ones I know best, receive accolades for exceptional care and never realized how many people cannot or will not seek it. You can learn all about epidemiology and see statistics that are simply frightening, but it never really means anything until you see firsthand the people who make up those numbers. Now I have an idea what a social health gradient actually looks like.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you don’t have to or won’t have to worry about these issues, but if you do I wish you the best in acquiring all you need to live comfortably and healthy. I’m lucky to still be young enough to get a little crazy and go for a taco 12 pack solo without too much to worry about, but it’s important to remember that everything adds up over time and that that is not an acceptable steady diet. If you want to chime in on the conversation, or if you wish to suggest something for me to blabber on about, hit me up at email@example.com. Until next week, stay funky.
Check your blood sugar and check it often,