A New Diagnosis

kalimah bioBy Kalimah Johnson

August 2012 — I don't know if I have ever shared this with readers of dLife, but in addition to my two writing jobs and being a full-time assistant professor, I also cultivate dreadlocks for people with African-textured hair (www.picnap.com). I actually prefer to call it cultivating locs, because there is nothing "dreadful" about our "nappy" hair. You might be more familiar with the style if I say it is what the late reggae singer Bob Marley and comedian and talk show host Whoopie Goldberg both wear.

Anyway, I have a small studio salon and I see about 8-15 people in any given week. Well, last week was quite interesting to say the least. If you know anything about beauty and hair salons, you know that they are the ripest place for gossip and discussions concerning hot topics. In my culture, they are the place where problems are talked out, resolved, and put to rest.

My first appointment for the week was with KL. She had been texting me all week saying she could not wait for her appointment because she had something to tell me and wanted my thoughts on the matter. I was eager to start her hair, so we went straight to the wash bowl. It takes about two hours to clean, cultivate, and style locs — plenty of time to get the full story — or so I thought. She leaned back into the wash bowl and I started the warm water, dabbling the shampoo into her beautiful, waist-length hair. She started by saying, "I went to the doctor for a full physical and overall check up and they informed me, right in the middle of the lobby, in front of other patients, that I have type 2 diabetes." She began to cry. "I mean, really, the doctor told me as if this is some normal, regular $#!@ to say to someone. I was not expecting to hear that and I don't even know the first thing about it. All I know is that you have mentioned to me that you have it, so I'm bringing this to you because I am scared and confused. I have not eaten, I started the medication, then I stopped taking it, then started again. I have also paid out of pocket to see another doctor for a second opinion."

My hair client, who was also my friend and sorority sister, was upset, no doubt. I could hear the terror in her voice. The tone she carried was heavy and sad, and I had never heard this from her before. But I have also been there myself, and she took me back to that moment when I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I am all too familiar with that "dreadful" feeling of being disgusted with myself, doubtful of the doctor's diagnosis, and just depressingly defeated.

The first thing I said to her was that being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence. I told her that it is manageable, but I also acknowledged her fear and confusion. I told her what my first few weeks were like when I found out that I had type 2 diabetes. I gave her my iPad and let her browse the dLife website — she stayed on it throughout her entire visit and then some. When she got under the dryer, I did something that I never thought I would do. I called another one of our mature sorority sisters, a retired nurse who has managed her diabetes with ease for more than 30 years, and handed KL the phone. KL cried again, but this time she was also smiling. Later in the week, this woman went to KL's house and gave her an informal, yet personal diabetes class. This woman did the same for me over 15 years ago, so I knew I called the right person. It may have been aggressive for me to make that call and hand the phone to KL, but it was a risk I was willing to take. One thing I know for sure is that when you are newly diagnosed, you can feel quite lonely and isolated, and I wanted to close that gap for KL as soon as I could.

By the way, God makes no mistakes — coincidently, before I saw KL, I called the same hospital where she learned of her diagnosis to RSVP for a film being sponsored by their Diabetes Clinic. The film is called Urban Roots and it is about Detroit, urban farming, and healthy eating for people with diabetes. The film focuses on helping people with health issues to manage disease in urban environments. The woman on the phone asked how many people I would be bringing and I said one other person. She asked me the name of that person and I said, "I don't know yet, so just put me down for two." When I told KL this (almost two hours after her hair was done and she was still at the salon making a list of healthy foods from the dLife website), she said, "I guess that other person you reserved the seat for would be me?"

Then I said,


Then she said,


Read more of Kalimah Johnson's columns, Get it Together, Sugar, here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 10, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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