Amy Krout-Horn (Continued)

In the years after my diagnosis, I continued to learn from Dad's example: denying my repulsion as he taught me how to eye drop my urine and tap water into a test tube, pushing back fear when we dropped in the tablet and it sizzled and became hot, as we waited like a pair of bathroom mad scientists for the result. Monitoring my disappointment as more often than not, the color of the finished chemical process indicated that my blood sugar was out of range. With a vile of sterile water, a disposable syringe – which my father never failed to remind me was a modern diabetes luxury – and an orange, I learned the proper injection techniques and, soon after, took over my morning insulin ritual. My mother's master gardening kept our family in healthy food year round, and she always had diabetes in mind when planning meals. As a quiet man, my father rarely spoke directly to me of our diabetes, but I never stopped observing him as he went through his daily routine.

My teenage years, however, brought the kind of rebellion similar to other teens: I sampled alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Like other nave youth, I took on a delusional sense of invincibility that for a type 1 diabetic, added to the list of possible dire consequences.

********

"For more than a decade, the ugly creature had lurked inside of me, stealing chunks of childhood, leaving only fragmented bits of life as a healthy young girl behind as a cruel and unsatisfying taste of what growing up without its insidious invasion might have been like. Over the years, I had used an assortment of strategies to battle the monster. On its arrival, I believed its power would diminish in the light and I openly spoke of it to all the adults and children around me. Later, I believed its power would diminish if it was not unique and I spent the summer at a camp with other kids who carried their own monsters.

As I became a teenager, I believed its power would diminish through denial, rarely speaking of it and hiding the signs of its existence from as many people as possible. For those who already knew, I played down the situation, crediting it only as a minor detail. This method seemed to be agreeable to the monster, as it quietly festered, surprisingly forgiving of the bad diabetic habits to which I had grown comfortable. I indulged in desserts. I drank beer at keg parties. I smoked cigarettes. I thought I had found a loophole and that I was the exception to the rules that dictate diabetic health. With a sense of invincibility only teens seem to have, I ran like a foolish dog who forgets about the collar around her neck, so sure I had won my freedom from the beast by ignoring it, not once looking over my shoulder to see it smiling and gripping an uncoiling leash in its mean little fist."

Excerpt from My Father's Blood

********

My immature view and poor choices eventually culminated with the loss of my eyesight. Unlike my father, who also had experienced retinopathy, my treatments were unsuccessful, a fact for which he, for many years, harbored a sense of misplaced guilt. But for me, blindness served far more as a new beginning than a tragic end. After receiving extensive rehabilitation training at Minneapolis's B.L.I.N.D. Inc., I returned to the University of Minnesota and earned degrees in American Indian Studies and psychology. Even as I was facing the challenges of Braille, adaptive technology, cane travel, term papers, and a job as the American Indian Studies department's first blind teaching assistant, my father faced his own battles. He spent more than a year on dialysis before a donor match was located and he underwent successful kidney, and years later, pancreas transplants.

Despite the onset of complications, my father continued to work, travel, hunt and fish, and volunteer in his community. I watched him go on with a humble kind of dignity and courage that I've come to believe is an aspect of, and a gift from, our Native American ancestors. Though neither my father nor I were raised with much exposure to our Lakota heritage, as an adult, I have come to learn from elders and wisdom keepers, who have assisted me upon my chosen red path. I have embraced traditional spiritual practices and have found great personal strength and emotional peace in my connection to the natural world. I believe that this has provided many benefits in the management of my diabetes. As an author and a lecturer, it is my goal to express cultural ideas through my words, in hopes that I may reach out and help other Native Americans who live with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, as well as our non-native diabetic sisters and brothers, for in our Lakota philosophical view, we are all relatives.

In 2009, my father passed into the spirit world. He had fought the good fight, and had lived with tremendous grace and profound bravery. He had taken on the challenges of type 1 diabetes for over 55 years. He was a warrior. In his memory, I now carry his eagle feather, an honor with which he was presented after a long diabetes battle. Often, I hold that sacred feather, and remember all the lessons that have come through my father's bloodline. I am the daughter of a warrior. My life is the representation of a strong man, an indomitable Lakota nation, and the challenges that have formed us all into that which is great and powerful.

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Last Modified Date: May 22, 2013

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by Brenda Bell
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