Health and heritage: too tough to see a doctor?


Do you have a checklist of your potential health issues? I used to think I could just handle things as they come. I’m young, and I never had a major health issue in the past. What was there to worry about?

Then, one bright, beautiful morning in 2014, I went to the doctor to get a routine annual exam. I knew it would require some tests, including:

  • Blood pressure
  • Reflex
  • Oxygen
  • Blood work
I got the news that my blood pressure was high. No surprise, since I’ve had high blood pressure for a good part of my life, but it was mostly under control with medication.

One hour later, with my blood work done and a new prescription for my blood pressure medication, I was on my way to work, and soon forgot about the appointment.

But, a week later, my doctor asked me to come back in. He said most of my blood work was normal, except one area – glucose.

He explained that the results put me in the category of pre-diabetic – not yet diabetic or to the point of needing medication. But, I needed to make lifestyle changes to prevent reaching that point.

Along with being overweight at that time, I had other things working against me:

  • Age: In my early 40s, my body was not breaking down sugars the way it used to.
  • Genetics: I have a family history of diabetes, including my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle and mom (see a trend here?).
  • Heritage: Coming from a large Mexican-American family, we believe in three things: love your food, eat tortillas with everything, and lard makes everything taste better.

Latinos are one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the nation. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos are likely to delay medical treatment unless they are really sick.  This is especially true of Latino men. I look back and realize that my grandfather was one of those who had this sort of machismo attitude that he was too tough to go to the doctor.

Growing up in South Texas in the rough Depression-era streets of Laredo, quitting school at 9 years old, shining shoes to help the family earn a living, joining the military at 16 to fight for his country during World War II, being captured by the Germans, and working in blue collar jobs for his entire life, I think my grandfather figured that because he'd experienced and survived a lot of bad things, he was tough enough to weather any medical problems on his own.

In his 70s, he was receiving treatment for diabetes, but he continued to eat sweets, smoke unfiltered Lucky Strikes, eat high-calorie foods, drive 1,000 miles to Las Vegas every summer because planes were overrated, fight with my grandmother in Spanish every morning over something, and refused to go to the doctor until he had no choice. It wasn’t until one day my aunt realized his lips were turning blue and he was having a hard time breathing, that she forced him to seek medical attention. He insisted it was indigestion and it would “fix itself.” That doctor visit turned into a hospital stay, which turned into a heart attack diagnosis, which turned into a coma. It was too late. He died shortly after. He was 72-years old and his "old world" Latino male beliefs of seeing a doctor only if it really hurt, couldn’t save him.

Knowing my grandpa’s story, having a mom who was a nurse and seeing my dad suffer from heart issues early in his life, I understand the importance of being proactive when it comes to your health. So, when I got the pre-diabetes diagnosis, I took matters into my own hands. I began eating cleaner and taking regular evening walks with my wife. I’ve lost 60 pounds since, but, more importantly, I am feeling healthier and my numbers have improved.

My grandfather taught me a lot of things, and one was the importance of not waiting to see the doctor until it’s too late. I hope for my son, he learns this lesson from my example, rather than as a cautionary tale.


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