Welcome back to our virtual trip around the world with diabetes -- our Global Series that invites PWDs (people with D) everywhere to share what their lives are like compared to ours in the U.S.
Say hello today to Jess, a young lady who shares her heartfelt story directly from the small country of Belize.
A Guest Post by Jess August
My name is Jessica August, I am 25 years old and live in Belize, which is located between Mexico and Guatemala. Even though Guatemala lays claim over Belize, we are an independent country since 1981. It is the only English-speaking country within Central America. Eventually I'd like to pursue university studies, but I'm presently volunteering as a youth coordinator for the Belize Diabetes Association. This gave me the opportunity to officially represent and participate in the young leaders program held in Australia last year November 2013.
I was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at the age of 11, and it was quite an embarrassing experience. One evening after school, while traveling on the bus back home the urge to urinate was so intense and the journey back home was one hour away, I couldn't hold it in any longer. When I arrived home, after explaining my mistake to my mother she decided to take me to the doctor later that same week. My mother had very strong suspicious feeling that I had diabetes due to the fact that my older brother also suffers from type 1 diabetes. While in the hospital and after running tests I can still vividly remember when the nurse came back with frantically saying that my glucose level was over 500 mg/dl. Subsequently, I spent two weeks in the hospital learning to cope with this condition which would last for the rest of my life.
I was only 10 years old and didn't quite understand what was going on when my brother Kenrick Gideon was diagnosed in 1998. His experience, by my mother's account, was very complicated, as he almost died. He got really slim, slept a lot, asked for something sweet all the time, and urinated a lot. My mother took him to two different hospitals, which both ran several tests and didn't find anything wrong with him (!) It was a very frustrating situation whereby my mother knew something was wrong. She was desperate until she mentioned to one of her aunts about how sick my brother was, and the aunt gave my mother advice to take him back to the hospital and tell them he need a sugar test -- and that was how my brother found out. The name for diabetes in Belize is "sugar."
My family was very supportive of me, especially my mother, as she was knowledgeable about this condition. But going back to school was a nightmare. I felt alone because I was constantly made fun of. My friends just couldn't understand my condition. I always asked my family to keep my condition a secret, as I didn't want anyone to know. The biggest obstacle is keeping it from outsiders. It is quite embarrassing to see how people react, when they learn about your condition.
My brother kept his condition under wraps and I was not made aware of all that he went through. I was diagnosed a year later. It was not until we grew older that we really talked about our condition and compared notes and started taking care of each other. He is 32 years old now and has been living in Los Angeles for the past six years.
About the time I got diagnosed I met a lady at the hospital who introduced me to the first diabetes camp I'd ever been into. She was the president of the Belize Diabetes Association. She was like a godsend for me. She used to take me around with her to different diabetes meetings and health fairs. I remember doing stuff like helping her putting papers together -- but never really understood what all those meetings and health fair stuff was all about. I didn't really even know anything about diabetes at the time, so she taught me a lot, but it was not until I got older that I began to understand what it all means. I lost contact with her later, but I joined a youth group for young ladies that help others with low self-esteem. One day we had to break into small groups of six to talk about what we don't like about ourselves. I talked about my diabetes and one of the ladies present asked if I knew about the Belize Diabetes Association. I told her yes, but I have no one to contact, so she gave me the name and number of the current president. And that very day, I called up to become a member and I started getting involved and am still going strong after 10 years.
Health Resource Gaps in Belize
In Belize, our traditional food is a lot of rice and beans. But we definitely have no excuse to not follow a healthy diet, for we have an abundance of fresh organic vegetables and fruits. Our great agricultural system gives us the advantage to grow all kinds of greens and organic fruits. Belize also has a sugar and banana industry, one of our biggest exports to different countries.
In 2003, the government of Belize started a new system called National Health Insurance (NHI). The potential advantage of NHI is in changing the way the health funding is spent (value for money/equity) through the principle of an informed purchaser 'for a choice of provider'. Since NHI was established, it is much easier to purchase medication in Belize. But we are still behind with regards to updated ways of applying insulin and setting the right dosage for individual patients. We still use syringe needles, as mentioned.
Even though medication can be obtained at the clinic it is a very long tedious and time-consuming process. Hence, why I prefer spend a higher price for the convenience an purchase my medication for 38 bze dollars for Novelin N an R. Nevertheless supplies are easily accessible especially through the Belize Diabetes Association.
We have all the clinics, hospitals, and private doctors. But there's a lack of information on how to treat patients properly, which I experienced myself, and saw many case on the news worst than mine. My experience last year July 2013 was that I went into the hospital with bad pain in my stomach, and the doctor explained that my ultrasound showed liquid in my belly and they weren't sure whether it was blood or something else, so I needed to do an exploratory lab. I cried my heart out in pain and refused to take the surgery. So after hours spent at the Karl Heusener Memorial Hospital, I released my self in pain under a circumstance where the doctor said I wasn't going to make it. The following day I went to another hospital, with the worst pain ever. The doctor did the same tests after I explained my experience at the other hospital. She then told me that I had a sist on my ovary and it burst, but my body consumed it. She gave me some medication, and I continued to visit her and still am seeing her today.
The reason I left the Karl Heusener hospital was because there have been many cases of medical errors there that killed patients. I see it all the time on the news, where family is crying for their love ones who went into the hospital with the flu, or a bad pain, and got the wrong medication, or were put through an unnecessary surgery. I am unable to give the percentage because the hospital keep this information confidential. Except for the ones who took it to the media!
Now is the Time
Partly motivated by these problems, I now continuously participate in many presentations and sharing my personal experience living with diabetes. I help with blood glucose testing and education at various organizations, with students at schools, and at health fairs, on TV and radio programs. And yearly I attend our camp and also our walk a ton and ride for World Diabetes Day. I am hoping to become a podiatrist in the near future. There are no specialists here in Belize so many people suffer from amputation, and end up leading an undignified life. Most of the time they do not get education and can't properly take care of themselves. Now is the time for me to put in my contribution towards the development of educating everyone about this condition.
Thank you Jess, for taking action in your home country, and sharing your journey with us!