I still remember the old women whispering in the kitchen that day. I was five years old, the age when the pain in my knees began to wake me up in the middle of the night, when the gang of ancient ladies came together to discuss something. My cousin and I always made it a point to spy on them.
Carmen, my great-grandmother by-proxy, had a vat of pozole (hominy) cooking and sat down to suck on a bone. Just as I felt my cousin’s elbow ram into my stomach, my mom began to cry.
Mamá Carmen spit out the bone and held her tight. “Suzy, mija, three things: You will never make it to my age if you are going to cry every so often. Being a mother is a blessing but children are going to make you suffer. You have to be strong! Secondly, the last time I saw you in the kitchen, I can’t even recall. About the girl, it seems to me that someone ‘le hubiera echado mal de ojo’ (Put a curse on her). ¿Mal de ojo?! (Stink eye).”
My cousin and I escaped to the basement to figure out what was exactly wrong with my eyes. After a few mintues, my sister came in dressed as Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles and we soon forgot about the whole thing.
A few years later, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. During my childhood and adolescense, my parents made the decision to take to me to see the best doctors and pay for the latest treatments. However, much of the family and many family friends had other ideas.
Nopales (Cactus)! Give her a cup of chopped nopales each night.
I know a well-respected and very good curandero (healer) near where I live. I owe Don Chava my marriage and the life of my tia (aunt).
I know! Take her to see Padre Tomas. He will know what to do.
Bee stings. The man who owns the place studied under a master teacher in China and he costs much less than a doctor.
These suggestions were exactly that: given in good faith for my good and the good of my family.
My aunts and grandparents on both sides prayed for me, making me feel a little more special the rest of the kids. Maybe due to this, I have had a strong sense of spirituality since I was very small.
However, after 15 years with JRA, I have a nasty allergic reaction to unsolicted comments, especially if they come from the mouth of an acquaintance. I write down the best (or worse, depending on how you see it) comments in a notebook.
In March, I had to ask a supervisor permission for time off to go the rheumatologist. Although he granted me the request, he also gave me his opinion. According to his vast medical knowledge, if I only took my vitamins and coconut oil, I would not be in “such bad shape”. I don’t need to tell you I no longer work there.
Receiving unsolicited comments about your disease is not a Latino problem as much as it is a problem for our entire community. Treating and managing your rheumatoid arthritis is like a good family recipe: it has the familiar traditions but you also have to give it your touch so it will be uniquely yours.
If a combination of nopales, playing Ninja Turtles, seeing your priest and Remicade help you maintain your sanity, go with it. If the prednisone and methotrexate are doing more harm than good in the balance, think up your own recipe. The point is only you and your loved ones know what is right for you.