Friday, March 19, 2010

Topical Topics: when work hits home.

So, I work in public health. I have for (gulp) 11 years. When most ask what brought me here, or how I came to this confusing place (after all, what IS public health), I say what is in my gut: it chose me.

T'is true; public health completes me (most days). Others it at least satisfies my need to understand where and how things connect; social status and blood type, eugenics and bio-terrorism, sickle cell anemia, and avian flu (sorry, I'm over the swine). Most parallels aren't readily apparent, but they are present. I mind many in my profession everyday.

So this week I was able to attend a workplace diversity event around inequalities in health care access and race/class (Black-ness).

Very intense.

At this event a principal administrator of a well-known health study addressing black women and health issues. Highlighted were key points that many of us know and some of us take for granted; largely, those of us who don't have won't have. She also shed some light on that came close to home:

* Black women, even with the highest levels of education (14+ years) have higher rates of disease than others; particularly other black women, and other women of nearly any race, even if those women have lower levels of education, are comparably poor (or poorer), and have similar (or poorer) historical health outcomes...


Let me play that back: remember when Biggie said more money, more problems...? Well, if you are a woman of color, you go out into the world, you return to Central Harlem, Blue Hill Avenue, or other parts of the old neighborhood, you (and I mean that in the communal sense of the word) have a lot working against you.

Now this is no rant on whom/which cultural group has it most difficult (I went to another conference this week on Native American health that could make even the heartless quiver). I know and realize: each of us carries our own pain. Still, this was hard for me to hear.

The health of women of color is impacted, even where higher incomes and advanced degrees typically provide a reasonable buffer.

I thought about my mother, who graduated from an honorable university in the late 70s, speaks multiple languages, each with native fluidly, and has those killer hats to contend with. Mummi faces excruciatingly damning odds.

However, her diagnosis impacts her reality in ways this study, and others, hasn’t quite captured. So, while I can cry legitimate tears, and voice valid concerns, I have privileges even my own mother does not. The combination of what many would likely call co-morbidity; mental health issues, other health diagnoses, socio-economic status, neighborhood (if we're counting pre-gentrification status, her spot is now the jump-off), it's a lot to work through.

I'm still not able to put our race(s) as a morbidity/mortality factor. I simply wasn't raised that way. That won't be changing anytime soon. Uhhh, yeah: def. not.

In any event; the topic of mental illness is still decently taboo, even as we make strides. This is true for diagnoses like schizophrenia. So, how do we make such studies available to the people with mental health disorders, like people from historically under-served populations: limited English speakers, numerical minorities, undocumented Americans, those who are chronically homeless?

I realize there are studies out there that can speak too much of this, but I'm waiting on the one that includes a survey asking Mummi how she fared with the candles from la Botanica San Expedito in '88...

And until we're at least turned our collective ears in the direction of these kinds of issues, with this segment of the population... we're aptly missing the mark.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 1. Hat review.

So my mother makes hats. Lot of hats. Most of them wool, some of them are awesome, in that they actually fit, have a pattern that extends itself from flap to bill.

I like to call them organic; they seem to sprout up, exist in their own world. Aptly covering one ear, but not both, urban enough to get notice in lower Manhattan (where nothing gets notice anymore), and they're special in that (hold for cheesy moment) Mummi makes em.

They're sweet. They take up their own space, unassuming and loud. Strangely in place, though like few other hats you've seen before. I adore that she makes them.

Problem is, she makes a lot of them. Knitting has been her "thing" as far back as I can remember (and I'm 30, but there are at least 28 years of hats in my memory). This generation of hats seems to have kicked itself in high gear just under 2 years ago when my daughter (Mummi's grand) was born. Now we both receive the knits in boxes, bags, used hampers... I can (but won't) go on.

Mummi is compelled to make these things for us. And the process is a lengthy one I won't detail, though it does include unraveling donated sweaters for base yarn before intricately knitting these hats anew. Impressive, if extensive. I've wondered if she makes them as a element of her diagnosis (paranoid schizophrenia) or if she would have made them, or been so creative in general without this reality. I really don't know.

I've grown to appreciate her craft (again, some of these things are awesome) but for both process and product.

I feel like its how Mummi has made sense out of life, she creates.
How many of us would like to do just that?

I, for one, would.