The stereotype begins as soon as I introduce myself. “I grew up on a ranch.” Pictures begin to flash through their mind- images of rugged, dirty cowboys galloping through towering cactus, tough cowgirls shifting gears in an old, dented 1950 Ford pickup, or, on the other end of the spectrum, a brand new Dually pickup (the pickups with 6 tires instead of the standard 4), and big spreads with rich ranchers. Stereotypes bother me, perhaps because I live in the boonies on a ranch, I’m not rich, and my pancreas gave up hope 25 years ago. “Oh, you can’t eat sugar.” “You just give shots” as if I pop back to life like a vegetarian after a B12 shot. And FYI- real ranchers don’t wear taco cowboy hats and pointy toed boots. We don’t drawl or YEEE-haa either.
First a little background on me. Only 2% of our population raises our food in America (ie the ranchers/farmers), so I’m assuming you have a few stereotypes of your own about me. And intertwined is my battle with diabetes in (very) rural America. Thinking back to my dusty childhood, I remember the night my mom realized I wasn’t well. A visit to the local doctor (a mere 60 miles away) resulted in my diagnosis- type 1 diabetes. Doctors are the best, the smartest, all knowing, right? Wrong, this doctor told my mom a “special” diet would cured my ills. (I know, I know. Calm down, the nurses are coming to the rescue. Good ole nurses.) As we put on our coats to leave the office, the nurse pulled my mom aside. “Your daughter is very sick. You need to take her to the ER in Kearney. Right now.” Off we went, a mere 100 miles further to the nearest ER room, where I was properly diagnosed (bloodsugar of 600) and treated. To this day, I still feel resentment towards the Pink Panther, whose coloring book’s plot revealed my life was going to suck from this day on.
I am a new parent and how did my parents do it? Maybe it was the rancher mentality of independence, acceptance of life’s unfairness, and the will to do the best with what you have. In the 80’s when I was diagnosed, ag prices crashed and the worst ag recession since the 1930’s hit the country. We were poor, diabetic supplies were expensive, and the traveling insurance salesman convinced my parents to drop me to a cheaper policy a few months before. A recipe for financial disaster in the biggest recession, but kids don’t notice that stuff. Just like my other three siblings, I had my own horse (who I rode miles from the house, now realizing I forgot to tell Mom where I was going), ran tractors, mowed hay, sorted cows, doctored, vaccinated, rescued tadpoles from shrinking puddles, picked wild chokecherry berries for jelly. I ran wild and free. However, diabetes was an inconvenience- treating lows with those little boxes of raisins (I also resent raisins), letting my new earring holes grow shut because the infection ruined my bloodsugars (finally repiercing them 20 years later). My dad (calmly) and my mom (shakily) would mix the sterile solution with the dried glucagon pellet and injected my skinny thigh when hypoglycemia struck. The first insulin reaction we drove to the ER room (the same 150 miles). By the time we rolled in, I was awake and fine. So following episodes we treated at home. (Remember my dad vaccinated, stitched, and doctored hundreds of cows, and seemed to handle treating his own kid(s) well. My mom- not so much.)
Five years later, my older brother (then 11 years old) started losing weight. But don’t most pre-teenage boys as they hit the growth spurt? Mom said she knew, she knew. But NO, NO, NO, ignore the symptoms, it’s just a stage. How she could handle two diabetics, I don’t know, but she did. So we shared insulin, strips, and those darn little boxes of raisins. Years later, my outgoing brother’s diagnosis only helped his “cool” factor in high school, as the football team watched in anticipation and horror as he took his afternoon injection on the bus. The high school girls’ basketball team only “eeewwwwww”ed. No bonus points for my “cool” factor. Wussy girls, ggeeezzz!
When my husband and I started thinking of starting a family, I traveled to a specialist. My options: Omaha (6 hours away) and in state, or Denver (5 hours away) and out of state, but I gained an hour from the time zone change (technically 4 hours). So Denver it was. Two years later, and a HA1C of 6.5 (no I’m not always awesome, but I was for my baby!) we were given the go ahead from Dr. Barbour. Pregnancy was an exciting, draining, and nerve racking time. My poor husband was my rock, who scrambled eggs the first trimester and found a reliable and fuel efficient car for my many trips to Denver the last two trimesters. If Newt was my rock, Marcey, my diabetes educator, was my fairy godmother of bloodsugars, tweaking basals and charming carb ratios weekly. All the hard work paid off, and little ReeRee is a year old. No side effects (mom or baby) due to my lazy islet cells!
After reading the above, you realize a theme. Lack of decent diabetic care and the crazy distance I must travel for anything. You take your pharmacy for granted, but my closest is 65 miles away. I love my pharmacy. They carry my pump supplies and they mail Rx’s (even though my mail only comes 3 days/week- another rural norm), and a small Tootsie rolls is tucked in my box (no discrimination here!). And I miss mango’s sweet flesh, avocados- how I miss you, and diet root beer, all which the small local grocery store doesn’t carry. Fast food? No, but we do have a gas station. Daycare center- same location as my pharmacy and they don’t mail. But I love where I live. The crazy openness with no people, the clean air, cold water of a windmill, and waves and waves of grass.
I can’t relate to the hustle and bustle of the city, but I can relate to the dark depression of diabetes, the “I’M DYING” feeling of lows, and the guilt of feeding myself before my baby. And you can relate when I got my lab results back with a HA1C of 6.7 and my first thought was “who needs you, stupid islet cells, I’m doing fine without you. HA!”