on reservations is so common that if you lived there, you would
be more likely to become diabetic than you would be to catch the
flu during flu season. Native Americans who live in North Dakota
will develop Type II diabetes at a rate four to five times greater
than the rest of the U.S. population, some of the websites about
diabetes tell me.
So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that
most of the people that I know have diabetes. Unfortunately, the
incidence is changing from older people to teen-agers and even some
young children. One of my aunts has had diabetes since she was 48.
She will turn 79 in August.
I returned home to visit her this weekend.
It is graduation day for one of my nephews, who graduated from Parshall
(N.D.) High School.
After spending the day in Spirit Lake
at an initipi (sweat lodge), I drove to White Shield, N.D., arriving
there Saturday evening. My two aunts and one of my sisters were
sitting in the living room visiting when I got there.
My aunt was laughing and leading the conversation.
So it was hard for me to believe that she was so ill last year.
She had several episodes in which she was hospitalized; and while
at home, she was subdued and quiet most of the time. Sometimes it
was difficult to carry on a conversation with her.
Then she was put in a nursing home. She
didn't complain, but neither did she get any better. The family
did their best to make her nursing home room homey,
and there were people in the home that she knew and could visit.
I went to visit her one evening, and as I walked down the hall to
her room, a woman was screaming and crying loudly. It was a heart-wrenching
sound. My aunt said the woman did that all the time. She has Alzheimer's
disease, my aunt said.
The family realized she was unhappy in
that nursing home, so they brought her home. My sister, Gloria,
who is retired, moved in with her.
My sister is strict with her. She makes
sure that she gets her medication on time, cooks what is on her
diabetic diet and, most importantly, keeps her active. They are
rarely home during the week. Last week, they went to Minneapolis
to visit relatives. They jump in the car and drive to Garrison,
a town about 25 miles from where she lives, if the sky is clear
and they have a gassed-up car ready to go.
Well, when I am there on weekends, I try
to assist by helping take her blood sugar level, giving her the
medications and sometimes giving her the insulin shots.
I am a little nervous about giving her
the shot, but she never is afraid when I come at her with a nervous
laugh, and a hand that is a little shaky.
On Sunday, while my sister was cooking,
I was charged with taking her sugar, which my aunt needs to have
done four times a day. (Remember, I had been in sweat the day before,
so my eyes were a little cloudy.)
I took her sugar and yelled at my sister.
It's 581 (high even for her). She stopped with fork
in mid-air, and turn toward me to say, It's what?
I looked at the machine again, and this
time I squinted. To my chagrin, I realized I had had it upside down.
Her reading was 182, which for my aunt is really good.
It has been sad and difficult at home
this year. Several of our elders have passed on. Diabetes can cause
heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, infections, blindness and
amputations. It is a debilitating disease that seems to slowly reach
in to claim organ after organ. Diabetes-related diaseses claimed
too many this year.
Historically, diabetes wasn't one of the
major diseases of our people. Hard work, war and accidents claimed
more lives routinely. Oh, we had bouts with smallpox, measles, tuberculosis
and other diseases like that. But now, most diseases result from
prolonged diabetes - a result of our new lifestyles.
As my aunt sat there with the rest of
the elders, seated against the wall of the garage where the graduation
party was held, I thought that she is living proof that a changed
diet and more exercise can prolong your life. I don't have diabetes
. . . yet. But I am at risk. So I made a vow that evening, as I
made that 4 l/2 hour drive on U.S. Highway 2 east to Grand Forks,
that she would be my model and example. Good diet and more exercise
for me, I said.
Yellow Bird writes columns. Reach her
at 780-1228, (800) 477-6572 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.