Have you ever had the luxury of talking to salespeople who knock on your door at 10 a.m. or better yet, those folks who try to catch you on the street and attempt to lure you into a store, shop or beauty salon because they oh so kindly insult your hair and the coloring job? (That was one long sentence wasn't it?) Sometimes, when I talk to people about diabetes, like I've managed to do twice on the bus and plenty of times with friends or family, I feel like one of these sales people.
I used to teach. I was a teaching assistant that hosted my own class on Friday mornings at 9 a.m. If you know anything about the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you know that for some odd reason, Thursdays were the days to go out. I mean, ALL out. Drinking and hanging out until 4 a.m. was normal, especially if you were a junior or senior (over 21, of course) because you most likely didn't have classes on Friday. Well, lucky me, I had to deal with sophomores and juniors (mostly underage) who would play the same game and stay out until the waking hours of the morning. Guess how they came to class? Ok, I won't tell you. I'd probably smell the alcoholic fumes all over again.
Anyway, I tried to make them feel like they should be interested in what I was telling them. I felt like I was selling them journalism in the weirdest way because not only was I trying to be interesting, I was trying to keep them awake and trying to keep them from daydreaming. Today, wasn't any different except for the fact I had experience in talking to kids who were barely learning how to pay attention.
Today I was asked to speak at Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen, right in my backyard. A good friend of mine who is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago working on his master's in public health, teaches a class at the school. Jonathan, that's his name, asked me to talk about my experience and life with diabetes. This, by far, might be my favorite thing to do because 1. I know what I'm talking about (from a personal perspective) 2. I have experience talking to kids (college kids, but kids nonetheless) and 3. the opportunity to explain to young people about the repercussions of diabetes, knowing that they can possibly save themselves or talk to loved ones about working on their health, is exciting to me.
The class was at 8 a.m. It was early to say the least, but I was excited. I got to talk about my experience with diabetes, what it is, how it affects the body and what people have to do to take care of themselves. I think I scared a few of them. The though of kidney dialysis or abnormal amounts of sugar ripping through their systems was definitely not appealing. Most of them knew adults with Type 2 diabetes and when I asked one student if his grandmother does anything of which I described, he said no. At least, let's hope she did do things (like check blood sugar) but not in front of him.
I had excellent questions asked like how many times do I have to take insulin and how do I take it. Oh and by the way, I totally forgot my pump after I got out of the shower. Shows how much I take care of myself, right? I wasn't worried because my sugar was slightly low in the morning anyway. It didn't cause much of an affect after, but I say it was luck.
I brought along supplies like my reservoir, tubing and infusion set to show them how it all worked and I watched their faces wince when I showed them syringes, needles and explained how I had a site in me at all times. Winces mean I'm getting through, like when a marketer on the street starts making you walk in the direction of the shop they're selling for. It's all in the presentation and what hits home. It was fun, to say the least. I saw their eyes wander, so I walked around. I asked them to tell me what they knew and they did know a lot. I was speaking to a room of future medical techs and possibly doctors. To know that I might be talking to someone who might eventually find the cure for diabetes was even better.
I was sure to mention that health, in everyone, was important. Watching what you eat and how much you choose to exercise is of critical insight to those without diabetes as much as it was for people with diabetes. Some people just don't realize the importance; the critical importance. I told them, "A lot has to do with what you put in your mouth and that's all under your control."
If anything, I wanted these teenagers to realize that there is a consequence to every action, including eating. I talked about drinking because (face the reality, folks) kids are going to be attracted to that at a young age. I told them outright, I stopped drinking almost six months ago. I told them that I have chosen, for the most part, to stay away from sugary foods unless my blood sugar's low and I tried to emphasize that no one else will take care of you as much as YOU. It's a fact that a lot of people don't understand and it's not because they don't know or they can't realize it for themselves, but it's because no one ever says it out loud.
There is one benefit that I have to speaking to these young people of the future: I look like them. OK, granted, I don't look super young any more, but I don't look old. I'm Latina, like 90 percent of this class was and I was willing to answer all the questions they had. It's not a talent in working with kids, it's just a realization that they're a piece of the future and if we're not willing to reach out and try to teach them what we already know, who else will? Right now, it's in our power to make an impact.