Editor’s Note: Diabetes has been described as an epidemic among Latinos and is expected to affect half of the U.S. population by 2020. Type 2 Diabetes affects 1 in 10 Latinos, and Mexican-Americans are the most affected by this disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Latinas are 17 times more likely to die of diabetes than non-Hispanic white women. This is one in an occasional series examining this epidemic, a true-life experience of Viviana Rodriguez, a Mexican-American mom of three, living with the disease.
When I was pregnant with my second child I developed gestational diabetes. Sara is now 9 and my middle child. She was THE girl I wanted so desperately, so I was ready to fully enjoy the nine months of carrying her. I had already started picking out girly things like skirts, bows and shoes. I didn’t know that being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes would take all of the fun out of being pregnant, but it did. Everyone was so sad for me when I told them I was diabetic, and I, too, was sad, but not because of the diabetes; instead I was sad because I could no longer sit and eat a box of Ferrero Rochers. Those are the sweet and delectable balls of chocolate and hazelnut bundled into one gold covered bon-bon of goodness. Oh, how I craved them. I craved them so much that the very last thing I worried about was the diabetes; I mean everyone knew that was just temporary. I just didn’t understand what the big deal was. Everyone’s sugar goes up when they eat, right?
I guess one could say I saw diabetes the same way a smoker might see pregnancy: “I have to stop smoking while I’m pregnant because of the baby, but once I have her or him, I can go back to doing what I like.” And what I liked was that box of chocolates. I didn’t know then that Gestational Diabetes is a precursor to the Big D—full-blown diabetes.
I share this because I could not get my sugar under control back then; the hormone levels in my body were so high with the pregnancy that it kept making my sugars incredibly high. I was hospitalized for almost two weeks during my pregnancy, which was especially tough for a busy body (as in always busy) like me. It was so awful that I swore I would NEVER have another baby again. (Well, never say never, but that’s another story for another time.) As I went through the nine months of misery, I was angry and resentful. I felt so useless and I became more and more frustrated. I started getting Charlie horses in my calves. My fingers, arms and legs hurt from the muscle cramps and the endless blood checks. I still remember going to see Dr. Martinez, my OBGYN. He had me come in early to his office on a Monday afternoon in order to run some lab work. I sat there in the crowded waiting room drinking this awful orange-flavored semi-carbonated drink. Drink and wait, drink and wait, drink and wait, and a blood check after the wait. The lab tech read out the glucose levels to me, 210, 225, 200. “Is that bad?” I asked the lab tech, “Naw, they don’t sound bad,” he said. I left that office feeling good about my results! “I got this!” I thought to myself as I went back to my blissfully ignorant little life. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon when I had to follow up with Dr. Martinez to review the glowing results I thought I had that I realized just how ignorant I was.
GO TO THE HOSPITAL. NOW.
I sat across his glossy cherry wood desk as he flipped though my chart.
“Well, Ms. Rodriguez, your glucose levels are too high.”
“What?!” I said in complete astonishment, but your tech said they were good!
I could see Dr. Martinez becoming upset as he demanded I tell him the name of the tech. He clarified that their job was not to interpret results; and he assured me this was not good. A “Good’ glucose level, Ms. Rodriguez, is between 90 and 100,” he said. He went on to explain that my daughter, the girl I wanted so badly could be stillborn if I didn’t get this under control.
His next words were: “I am admitting you into the hospital. Today. Right now.”
I remember feeling my heart sink to my ankles. I was scared. I was angry at myself for being sick, and I was sad for me and my baby. The doctor allowed me to first drive home to tell my husband what had happened. I had to make arrangements for someone to watch my older son, and I had to pack a hospital bag. I got myself together and drove to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, Texas. I was quickly processed and checked into room 423 in the woman’s center. I still remember the sterilized smell in the room. It was so cold and uninviting. I changed into my oversized muumuu and sat on the crisp linens on the bed. Almost immediately the nurses started coming in one right after another to prick my fingers in order to get blood readings. They introduced themselves to me and smiled as they showed me long needles that would be plunged into my gut in order to deliver doses of insulin.
FIXING THE HUMAN PIN CUSHION
“We’re gonna get you all fixed up,” my nurse told me. I don’t even remember her name anymore because at the end of my stay, I didn’t like her very much. As the days went on, my fingers were poked over and over with what now seemed were little razor blades. Imagine having multiple paper cuts on every single finger, that’s how it felt. As if that weren’t enough, the nurse would squeeze the ends of each finger tip hard in order to get drops of blood on the test strips; and I wanted to smack her when she would cut me and then say, “Oh, that wasn’t a good reading.” I remember thinking bad things about her, “What?” “Does that mean you’ll have to poke me again?” I asked her. “Yes, she said, I’m sorry, honey.” Really? You’re not as sorry as I am. Every time they came back into the room after a reading they brought back the insulin and injected me with it. I felt so clueless, so helpless. They just came in and out, in and out, of the room and they never said, it’s high or it’s low. I was just a human pin cushion. I was so frustrated, all I did was cry. I’m not a crier, but that’s all I could do.
THERE’S NO CRYING IN DIABETES
“Drink water” the nurses would tell me, and all I could do was cry. I didn’t have the chocolate; I didn’t have bread, pancakes, rice, or anything good for that matter, but still no change. I had a controlled diet at the hospital and still my sugar was high. Two weeks of misery at the hospital and no results. I cried, and cried all the time; and then finally, the nurse—Nurse Ratchet I liked to call her, but not to her face, of course—who kept coming to poke my fingers every two hours with little razor blades said, “Don’t cry, it will make your sugars go up.” Maybe that’s what the problem was; maybe I could eat good food again? Why didn’t she tell me that two weeks ago? Arrrgghhh! I could feel the pent-up anger toward this poor woman even more, but I had to control myself and I stopped crying that day. I decided I wasn’t going to feel helpless anymore. I was going to stand up on my own two feet and I was going to take this thing by the horns.
After two weeks I finally went home. My husband and I had been counseled on what made a good meal. We tried to change our diet as much as we could afford to, and we got through the nine months in the end. Our daughter was born Sara Ysabel Rodriguez, 7 pounds 8 ounces, normal and healthy. Thank God. My Gestational Diabetes was gone, and how did I celebrate? With a box of Ferrero Rochers, of course! I had beaten this thing, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong!
BUT NOT FOR LONG
I was healthy for about two years. No one told me the diabetes would come back. No one said, you need to change your diet—FOREVER. So I made the mistake of going right back to my old habits. The only person who told me what not to do was the nurse who commanded, “Don’t cry.”
I try to remember this there’s-no-crying-in-diabetes lesson every day. It comes into play more so lately. I am a workaholic. I need to be on the go, and I will usually work anywhere between 60 to 80 hours a week, but I finally gave my two weeks’ notice. I love this job, and I feel like I’m walking away from a major part of my life. I know it’s not a coveted job to some, working in a non-climate controlled warehouse performing HR functions and walking the floor, but to me, it was my life for the last year or so. I made good friends here and earned the respect of not only my peers, but also my staff, and yet, I have to walk away.
I realized that having to justify the termination of good people on the whims of upper management is very stressful; and I realized that I was beginning to cry. Again. In the back of my mind I could hear Nurse Ratchet. “Don’t cry, it will make your sugars go up.” Adding to my stress, my company’s insurance was not very good, so I couldn’t afford to pay for all of the necessary doctor’s visits, the upkeep of being a diabetic, if you will. Every two weeks, I spent $100 dollars for just the test strips to check my sugar.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY HEALTH
I checked my sugar this morning, the day after having given my notice and it was 278. That’s high. It’s not 400 high, as I’ve seen others “score,” but none the less, it is high. Maybe the career change is wise after all. In the hospital my highs were in the 300’s, I want to get down to at least 120; that’s in the “normal” range for someone with diabetes. So maybe with this new job I can do that. I have to wait the customary 90 days before I can get back on the wagon; that’s when the insurance kicks in, but I can’t wait to see the results. I just hope I don’t start crying again. I don’t think I will, because I have to make this work, for my sake and that of my family.
I’ve got a loving husband and three wonderful kids that I want to be around for, three wonderful kids who I want to make sure stay healthy, three wonderful kids who need to learn from me about this disease—and hopefully, how to avoid it.