I got a call from my Lakota friend today. It was early in the morning for her (8 AM) even though it was 10 AM for me. She never calls that early unless there is a problem.
She said hello when I answered and asked how I was. There is always the courtesy. I told her I was hanging in there – if you’ve read my prior post, you will understand. I asked her how she was doing.
She replied, “Oh, I’m doing okay.” If I hadn’t known her for 5 years or if I didn’t listen for the sound of her voice as well as the words, I might have believed her. But the only time this woman sounds like she sounded this morning is when she is frightened or emotionally upset. It was the slightest bit of shakiness in her voice that gave her away.
I gently confronted her on it. “Come on now, you’re not okay. I can hear it in your voice. With all we’ve been through over the years, don’t you think I can tell when you’re upset?” I think she wanted to hear that. I think she wanted to know that someone really listens to her.
She told me that during her recent “womanly” physical (gynecological exam) they had found a lump under one of her breasts. She had to go for a mammogram today and needed gas to get there. I told her the gas money would not be a problem. Then we talked about mammograms and ultrasounds. I did not voice my private concern about the quality of care from Indian Health Services on the reservation.
It was a short conversation because she had to get ready to go for the exam. After we hung up, I called the money for gas into the local market that I work with. Then I pondered my friend’s health.
My friend is young enough to be my daughter. She is just in her late 30’s. Yet she has recently been diagnosed with diabetes. She has severe problems with her shoulders. She has been having trouble with her heart racing — which the medical providers could not decide whether it was caused by heart problems or anxiety. Now this.
I know what my friend’s health problem is. She suffers from a combination of Native American genetics, reservation life and diet, hard work and treatment by Indian Health Services.
I see it time and time again in the other people I speak with on the reservation.
Personally, I would like to see health education start in earnest as soon as children enter school. Not just the typical things, but learning about the signs of the diseases that are so common on the reservation and about what those diseases can do to the human body. Kids need to know that they can live longer, healthier lives by paying attention to diet, exercise, education, etc. Not just kids in the relatively well-heeled neighborhoods in other areas, but rez kids too.
My friend did not know that corn was a sugar in your body. She did not know that, when she ate what she thought was a vegetable, she was also eating something that would increase her blood sugar significantly. Vegetables are all the same and all good for you in unlimited quantities, right?
I remember the other times I heard that shake in my friend’s voice. There was the time her daughter had been raped. There was the time her daughter had run away. There was the time her daughter had died.
My friend is scared. She has seen the results of health care on the reservation among her relatives and friends. This time she is scared for herself. And I am 2000 miles away – wishing I could do more than write and pray.
I dread hearing that shaky voice again.