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Local Voices: National Minority Health Month One Never Knows, Does One?

“Without health and long life, all else fails …”
– Dr. Booker T. Washington

Among other things, April 2017 is “National Minority Health Month.” Therefore, this is a good time to tell my personal health story in order to help others deal with their health problems … and to take (much) better care of themselves.

National Minority Health Month was first observed as “Negro Health Week,” initiated by Dr. Booker T. Washington in 1915. That observance grew into today’s month-long initiative. Dr. Washington, along with other Negro health experts of the day, felt that special attention must be given to the (overall) health concerns of the “Negro populace,” for there was not equitable access to health care for them.

Accordingly, the theme for 2017 is “Bridging Health Equity Across Communities.” Its purpose is to raise awareness about the health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities. Basically, it is a call for all of us to unite towards a common goal of improving the health of our communities.

Inasmuch, I shall share my health story to advise and motivate others to “take care of business” when it comes to personal health matters, and the like. I am a 76-year-old African-American male, who suffers from hypertension, high cholesterol, prostrate difficulties, cardiac-pulmonary deficiencies, agent orange symptoms, and sarcoidosis. Considering everything, I was in pretty good shape, or so I thought. Overall I thought I was pretty rugged, too. Thirty years in the Marine Corps and almost twenty years of working with inner-city youth had me convinced that I was “Iron Man.”

Awhile back, I began to notice a drastic change in my bathroom schedule: constant urination, 10-12 or more times per night and day. I “toughed it out,” until a good night’s sleep was impossible to get. Also, everything I drank went right through me, almost instantly.

I sensed something was wrong, and after about two weeks of enduring this discomfort and inconvenience, I made an appointment with my local VA hospital in Hampton, Virginia.

After undergoing blood and urine screening and having my blood sugar tested, I was diagnosed with a full-blown case of diabetes-type 2. My blood sugar/glucose reading was 406. (At the time the 406 reading meant nothing to me. I later learned that a healthy blood sugar/glucose level is 80-120.)

Afterwards I was given new medications that I couldn’t even pronounce, much less spell. Names like metformin and glipizide, coming in dosages/units of 500 mg and 5 mg. Then, the real surprise hit me. After taking these medicines for about 7-8 days, along with my other medications for hypertension and cholesterol, I awakened one morning and discovered while trying to read the newspaper that I couldn’t. Everything was blurred – badly! Talk about shock and trauma! I almost panicked!

Immediately I got an “emergency/priority” appointment with my VA doctor, and he informed me that I was suffering from the effects of my newly discovered diabetes. I asked, “Am I going blind, or am I in danger of losing my eyesight permanently?” He replied that he didn’t think so, although there was no assurance how bad things might get. He arranged an immediate (same day) appointment for me to see an ophthalmologist.

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After a thorough examination by the ophthalmologist, I was told my eyes were generally healthy, but the “lens of my eyes” had changed from the effects of my diabetes. He instructed me to continue on my diabetic diet and prescribed medicines.

Meantime, the doctor told me to get some reading glasses so I could read small print. Further, he said my eyes should return to normalcy within several weeks or so.

Within three weeks my eyesight improved and my blood sugar was under control. My eating habits have totally changed, as I am on a strict diabetic diet. Before this happened, I ate anything and all of what I wanted: greasy foods, fried meats, desserts, breads, butter, cheeses, sauces, spices, candies, alcohol, and the like.

After I got over the shock of having diabetes, I realized how truly lucky I am. Just imagine, if I had not checked on what was wrong with me. Never thought I’d say it, but thank God for the constant urination and sleepless nights. Talk about giving me a sign!

Since my diabetic diagnosis and treatment, I have come to fully appreciate the ordinary and mundane things of life. The “life things” that too many of us “take for granted”: good eyesight, healthy eating habits, proper body weight, adequate exercise, alcohol and tobacco elimination, normal blood pressure, and regular cholesterol.

Not only could I have lost my ability to see and to function as a regular person, but I could have lost my life – instantly and unexpectedly. Mostly, this is my reason for wanting to share my story with others. Especially those who are not taking good care of themselves and/or are too busy, they think, to get a good medical examination.

In closing, I would advise everyone to “take the time to be good to yourself.” Remember, it’s the only self that you’ll ever have. As they say, “One never knows, does one?”

John L. Horton is a resident of Norfolk and a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

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