I called the nurse's desk and asked to be rung into my grandmother's room, hoping my mom or aunt might be there to give me an update. I had been going to her hospital room every day after work to rub lotion on her hands and feet and just be with her. She was my Nana. The woman who took me to school most days. The woman who taught me to cook. The woman who bought me books and believed in my dreams. The nurse was about to transfer me to the room number I had memorized. Only this time, the response wasn't, "I'll put you through." With the voice of a teacher correcting a child, she said. "There's no one in that room." Knowing she was wrong, my shoulders stiffened as I began to correct her. We both stopped short when a nurse in the background chimed in to share the news.
The nurse on the line became apologetic and tripped over her words. Slowly, understanding flowed over me. As calmly and directly as I could, I asked the question.
"Is she gone?"
I thought I had been prepared for that moment. I had always known my grandmother was sick, but it wasn't until I was older that I knew it was with Type II Diabetes. I watched her slowly die for most of my life.
Nana loved to eat. She loved her sweets. Even when she was laying sick in bed, a collection of prescription bottles on her night stand, she always tried to sneak a sweet. When we were kids, she'd call to us as we walked down the hallway. "Pssst! Mija... just a little piece, pleeeease!!" Every now and then, I'd give her a little chocolate square and she'd snap at me in gratitude: "Don't tell your mom!"
Years later, when I was a young, single mom, my mother, grandmother and I lived together again for a few years. That was when Nana's health took a turn for the worse. My mom and I became her caregivers, going back and forth to and from the kitchen to her bedside with prepared meals and prescriptions. I did some research before she started her dialysis. Dialysis, if you don't know, is a process for removing waste and excess water from the blood, and is used primarily to provide an artificial replacement for lost kidney function in people with renal failure. Renal failure is something that often happens at the end of a diabetics' life, and it is not pretty. I knew about the possible fits and hallucinations after starting dialysis. My mom, never being a fan of research, didn't realize that, so when Nana's fits and screaming started, I had to calm them both down. My mom was so shaken. It was hard to see that. Harder than hearing the nasty words spewing from my grandmother or holding down her flailing arms -- the same arms that had once held me closely and securely, that now wanted to hurt me.
Things got better as far as the fits were concerned, but not as far as my Nana's health.
After several years, my grandmother moved to a home that was close to my aunt who was a stay-at-home-mom and had more flexibility to help take care of her. Sometimes when I called, my aunt would give me an update. More problems. More doctor visits. More pills. When she required round-the-clock care, we moved her into a nearby assisted-living home. I'd often visit with my older girls, sitting with Nana in front of the TV that she couldn't really see, catching up on life. The nurses would try not to interrupt as they put pills in her mouth and patches all over her body. It was hard not to cry seeing all the things that were necessary to keep my Nana alive.
By the time my grandmother had her heart attack on the dialysis machine, her body had long been ravaged by Diabetes. Every time I saw her, she was weaker, blinder, and more helpless than the time before. Only a shadow of the robust woman I had run to for hugs. She was only 74 when she entered the hospital for the last time. She wasn't able to talk to us because of the breathing tube sticking down her mouth. Her wrists had been tied to her bed rails, near enough to move, but not enough slack to grab the tube she kept trying to take out. The frustration came through as tears in her eyes. All I could do was stroke her hair back to comfort her, telling her I loved her and that it was okay to rest now.
I loved my grandmother more than my own parents. Everyone knew that. Even my mom. No one knows how much I still miss her, more than ten years after her death. I think of her almost every day. At first, those thoughts were angry. She had the ability to stay healthy and yet she chose to continue living and eating in a way that helped the effects of diabetes take her away from me. I wondered why she didn't love me enough to stay healthy. I know that sounds selfish, but those were my thoughts. Eventually, I thought of all the things she never got to do and made it a point to try to live the little girl dreams that she had nurtured in me.
And eventually, I forgave her for not eating better and not taking better care of her body.
There's a lot of talk about Paula Deen and her food show and not revealing her diagnosis of diabetes sooner. Paula Deen has always scared me. I like to enjoy a rich meal or pastry, but not every day and every meal. Her show seemed to glorify eating the fried butter way for every meal. I never could understand the frenzied fangirl love that some of my friends had for Ms. Deen.
Now, I know this is going to piss some of you off, but from my perspective, after watching my Nana die the slow painful death that can come with diabetes, Paula Deen not being honest about her disease while continuing to push the kind of foods that cause more people in America than ever before to be diagnosed with diabetes is equal to a porn star that has a life-threatening sexual disease and continues to promote unsafe sex. Personal gratification over the thought that others might get caught up in your lifestyle and, ultimately, your disease is so incredibly selfish and greedy! I don't even know how anyone can defend this woman.
And now she's going to shill for a pharmaceutical company?
Dear God, does this woman have no shame?
I hate that Paula Deen knew for so long and did nothing to change how she impacted the lifestyles of the people who were creating her wealth by following her recipes, watching her shows, buying her sponsors' products, and on and on. It is the height of irresponsibility to continue publicizing behaviors that caused her diagnosis without giving any kind of warning that maybe eating like this every day is a really bad idea. She could have told people what happened to her way back and changed things up a bit in her show. Working with a dietician on some recipes would have been the least she could have done. But maybe she'd offend the Butter Council or something? So rather than piss off a sponsor and losing money, she'll just keep feeding millions of fans her deadly diet?
Paula Deen had a responsibility to tell her fans what her food did to her health. Period. But she didn't. She still hasn't! She just drawls out a little, "Oh hey... I'm gonna stop drinking sweet tea and I'm gonna take these here pills."
I feel like I'M taking pills - CRAZY PILLS!
Anthony Bourdain was right. She is the most dangerous woman on television. And I wonder, how many daughters and granddaughters will go to their grandmother or mother's hospital room one day and find an empty bed because they didn't stop eating the way Paula taught them to cook.
*Type II Diabetes is not a death sentence. There are many lifestyle changes that people can make to live a long and healthy life. Number one is diet. If you are overweight, you coud be at risk. Talk to your doctor. Meet with a nutritionist. Do what you need to do to stay healthy, if not for yourself, for the people in your life.