One time I went to the grocery store with a friend. We both needed to do some shopping and once in the store we went our separate ways. When we met up near the meat aisle, I was SHOCKED to see their basket. It was filled with junk, processed food, sodas, and juices mostly. I literally was shocked because here is a person that has health issues. No wonder when I cooked they needed to add incredible amounts of salt to their food. Even when the food was already generously seasoned. For a moment, I thought it was me. My daughter said it’s not you Mom, it’s them. They were use to what we call soul food with all of the soul, salt, and fat of the ancestors and they were conditioned to love junk food.
I get it. I get when the CDC, the health experts talk about underlying conditions are high in the minority communities. Poverty is high in the minority communities and the wages are low. There are food deserts. No one should have to travel outside of their neighborhood for food and some CANNOT! I’ve been to stores in one neighborhood where fruits and vegetables look TERRIBLE and go to the same chain in a nicer area and produce looks like it was picked that morning. Pair that with the lack of proper medical care, the disparities of care, the cost of health care, and to be honest add the MISTRUST, DISTRUST between doctors and minority patients. It’s a disaster. I have seen the doctor say “It’s not good for you to eat an entire box of ice cream” and upon leaving the doctor, the patient says stop by McDonald’s and get me a number 5, supersized, add a sundae to that. The unwillingness to take health seriously runs deep. “Those doctors don’t know what they are talking about” has been heard and passed on generation after generation. The idea that the doctors are trying to kill us, us being minorities, stem from the history of experiments done on and to minorities without their consent, knowledge, and against their will. The torture, the inhumanity, is disgusting.
My musing on health issues: Where there is a will there is a way. Where there is a will, there is an opportunity to research. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, fibromyalgia, which both lead to diabetes and a slightly elevated cholesterol reading recently. I learned from a white woman, who I took care after she had a complicated childbirth, to ADVOCATE for your health. “I am a nurse and they still would not listen to me. WE KNOW OUR BODIES. If you can, find a female doctor. At least you may have a chance of her listening to you or understanding you.” These were her words to me in my 20’s. She told several male doctors, nurses, something was wrong, something wasn’t right. They dismissed her concerns and when she went into labor, she had to be airlifted after birth. I never forgot the conversation. It was later on I also learned that when you are African American, male or female, a minority, you REALLY have to advocate for your health. We are seen as less than intelligent and assumed to be uninformed. WE can comprehend and learn just like anyone else. Obviously, there are all kinds of well educated working class minorities.
I once had a black male doctor that told me I had acid reflux. I went to the emergency room a few times with incredible pain. I remembered what this lady said to me and I began to look for another doctor. The week before I saw my new, female doctor, I went to the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. The hospital drew blood and dismissed me. When my new doctor drew blood she rushed into my room. What hospital did you go to? She rushed out the room. She came back in. She made a phone call in the room and lost it on the people in the ER! She said the labs showed my white blood cells count was HIGH. In a week I was schedule for emergency surgery for the removal of my gallbladder. It was inflamed, swollen, and on the verge of bursting.
I also had to advocate for my health with a female doctor years ago at a clinic. I had no healthcare because it was too expensive and I needed that money to pay my bills and take care of my daughter (you see the choices some of us have to make!). She insisted I had diabetes. I insisted for another blood panel test and to see another specialists for rheumatoid or lupus. She told me the clinic already spent money for a test on me last year. This is when I could no longer be nice. I had photos of my swelling joints. She did not want to look. I went ballistic. I was not ashamed either. I asked her was it her money? I asked her did she not think I had any common sense or an education because I was at this FREE CLINIC with partial payment plans? Do all black people have diabetes? I KNOW MY BODY. SOMETHING IS WRONG. THIS IS NOT DIABETES. She ordered another test. I had been suffering for a year. It turned out, after seeing another specialist she referred, that I indeed had Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease, and fibromyalgia, and diabetes was a result of the Rheumatoid. She apologized that same day I lost my marbles before she ordered the tests again.
I am not a health expert. I am not a work out fanatic. I do know ORGANIC and NATURAL foods are EXPENSIVE (and I could say hospital bills are high but, that’s irrelevant to someone struggling to make ends meet). Medication is EXPENSIVE. I have had to pay for 15 pills when I needed 30. I have had my parents “charge” my medication on their credit card. I have gotten a full bottle of pills and took them every other day or every two days to make them last.
I walk. I do yoga (gentle yoga, yoga for seniors, yoga for rheumatoid, fibro, lupus, etc…it’s out there). I don’t have to have a gym membership but, I do. There are YouTube work out videos. It’s not safe in some neighborhoods to walk. I don’t really like to walk in this neighborhood because I am not comfortable. In my old neighborhood it was different. It was better. So, I go to the park in my old neighborhood. You can find work out equipment at the dollar store. You can find equipment for sale on Facebook Market. Walking in place “seems” silly but it works. I don’t walk fast. I can’t.
Eating healthier? Choose more fresh fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to fry inexpensive cuts of meats. You can ween yourself off so much sugar, salty food (I love salty and sweet) sweets, and sodas. I went from 8 lumps of sugar and 8 packs of creamer to 2-3 lumps of sugar and 2-3 creamers in my coffee. It was rough. I didn’t know how addicted I was. There are so many ways to cut back, add other choices, use coupons, and to try something new. Yes, my people, try something new. You can still have soul food without it raising your blood pressure and doubling your insulin levels.
These are some things we can somewhat control. Most of us. Not all of us. There are always EXTENUATING circumstances. I can’t do all the things I use to do and I can’t do the things others do. But I can do what I can do. I do have the power of choice. I am in no way at the weight I will be happy with, not what my doctor would be happy with. I had to figure that out, too. There are carrots and celery, ginger shots, and water in my fridge. There is birthday cake ice cream and a Pepperidge Farms lemon cake in the freezer. I rarely buy sodas because I will drink them just because they are there! I don’t have all of the answers. But, I do know things have to change in the minority communities and it starts with conversations and choices.
~Nikki (Whew! That was long…sorry!)