Wednesday, 15 September 2010

little steps in the big apple

the next installment of my riveting series of random musings is once again coming from the almost impossibly glam location of a small turbo-prop (sounds like a rapid rugby player doesn't it?) plane headed from La Guardia to Dallas. I'm just coming back from some athlete days with our sponsors in the Bronx.

first up i want to say i had fun, i stayed in a pretty swish hotel, ate food which costs more than i spend in a week on groceries and i managed to use my ability to fit through small gaps to sneak into flushing meadow. There wasn't much tennis going down but i did pilfer a couple of US open balls and one of those re-entry stampers which allowed me to liberally distribute the benefits of free entry to the people of queens. which brings me to my next point, those re-entry stampers are straight up racist - think about it. right now im writing a letter to Obama but he'll probably ignore me 'cos he's a muslim, or the antichrist, or not a real American, heck i bet he doesn't even drink bud light. Oh no , hang on, thats a load of rubbish he's just a lot more intelligent and less rampantly populist than Glen Beck.

anyway was i've started to get a teeny bit political i want to continue in a slightly more serious vein. Some of the stuff i saw in the Bronx was really upsetting. I met a lot of people who have lost, limbs, eyesight and loved ones to diabetes. I think that up until now, the people i had encountered how were not managing their sugars well were doing so because they chose not to but this isn't always the case. These guys want to be better, they want to see their children grow up healthy and even still be able to see their grandchildren and have both their legs so that they can walk around and play with them. In a rich country which can afford numerous global wars, is it too much to ask that these people are given (yes given, for free by the taxpayer) the ability to check their sugars more than 3 times a day?

I met a gentleman yesterday whos truck me as one of the most badass guys i'm ever likely to encounter, he was as tall as i am, covered in tattoos and he had shoulders which would put most carthorses to shame. Let's call him carlos, not because it's his name but because it helps to have a name when telling a story. I was talking to him about diet, asking him how large a portion of rice should be, he indicated his plate, all of it, and then motioned to show about an inch of thickness. I smiled and said no, that a portion should be roughly fist sized, he looked at me and told me he was a big guy and he liked to eat, this was his portion he said.

The community outreach co-ordinator overheard this and stepped in. Let's call the community worker Henry, because that's his name so it seems sensible to use it. He asked the carlos if he had kids and carlos responded that yes, he did. Then Henry proceeded to ask Carlos if he wanted to see his Kids grow up, Henry said he's lost 4 siblings to Diabetes; his first brother to survive to 50 was currently undergoing a second progressive amputation cycle, none of the others had got that far.Some of henry's siblings had children he said; he tries to be a good uncle (and having seen how caring he is in his work, i have no doubt he is an excellent one) but nothing would bring their parents back. Pretty soon Carlos was dealing with his disease, for the first time and the enormity of it moved him to tears, it was hard not to join him.

that night i went to the sugar babies club for children, we talked for a few hours about our diabetes. One girl was hugely resistant, she claimed she wasn't taking her insulin and didn't need to. We talked for what seemed like forever, i could see she was clever and a rebel, she didn't want to be told what to do. I can sympathize with that, neither do I. it was the hardest i think i've ever worked with a young person and i'm a teacher but we talked and talked. She said she wanted to start taking exercise and i helped her with some ideas, some strategies. When she left, i still felt partially defeated. then the pediatric endo who was attending came up to ame and said "you know what, right before she left she asked me if she could go back on the pump. She saw you had yours on your arm and she thought it was cool you were proud of it" that made me pretty happy.

What made me really happy were the three little boys. 5, 7 and 10 years old; two brothers and a cousin. the youngest kid pulled on my shirt and wanted to talk, so i bent down and asked him what he wanted. He wanted to know how he could sign up for the team, and could i teach him to ride a bike. i thought that was very cool, i hope i can go back and i hope they can get bikes and i can ride with them but i know it must be tough growing up in the Bronx. you're battling poverty, a cultural inclination towards poor diet and cheap food, a lack of options for exercise and provision for education and health care. Not to mention a language barrier, i only spoke for maybe 1 hour in English during a 9 hour day.

anyway it's nice to make a difference to one, or two or three people but that isn't going to solve the problem. the community there is afflicted with type 2 diabetes in a big way and big changes need to be made to help them.There are fantastic people like Henry out there giving of their time and opening up their deeply personal stories to make sure they don't get repeated. I don't know many people who would refer to their loss of an eye as an "educable opportunity" i think that's also pretty cool. Anyway, next time you think about health care reform or you think about giving to charity think about those little kids and big men who really really need help. Our friends in the industry are working to get them meters, strips and medications but it seems like an uphill struggle.


  1. Great post, James! We often tend to forget that for some folk, they can either eat enough rice to be full or fruits and veggies that don't give them enough calories to get out of bed (and by the way, leave half the family without any food because it's so expensive for them). We forget the struggles of holding down two jobs and barely making enough to pay the rent. We forget the paucity of *healthy* foods in economically-depressed areas.

    And with most of the Diabetes Online Community being Type 1, there is a tendency to forget the issues common to Type 2 (including late diagnosis -- no symptoms; postponed care; socioeconomic inability to make lifestyle changes)...

  2. oh yeah, without a doubt we're leaving these people behind. It's not a healthcare issue it's a holistic issue. Education needs to happen; schools need to serve healthy meals; 3 of them if needs be. If there need to be subsidies on fruits and vegetables we could pull them off effing corn (venezuela subsidises healthy foods)

    what we need to do before all this is acknowledge that we have a problem and it's OUR problem as well.