Healthcare from a Chicana Lesbian's Point of View



HEALTHCARE FROM A CHICANA LESBIAN'S POINT OF VIEW

CATHY ARELLANO

Where do I start? The real title of this article should be "Healthcare from a Woman who Knows a Few Things and Practices Even Fewer." As a Chicana from a working class background whose mother died in San Bruno Kaiser and a lesbian who dreaded getting examined by a straight white male doctor, I steered clear of hospitals.

The best health tip I have is: Do as I say and not as I do. I got this message from the adults in my family from going to Church to flossing my teeth. I dutifully passed this on to my younger cousin Lucha who is like my little sister. Last year, Lucha, who is 20 years old, told me that she still brushes her teeth the way that I showed her when she was a little girl. And I learned that style in Miss Caroline's First Grade Class at Hawthorne School in San Francisco's Mission district. I don't know how I brushed my teeth before that white man came in there with that jumbo set of teeth and huge toothbrush. Flossing was something that my Dad and his new wife did in the suburbs - it was something out of the ordinary like when they took us to McDonald's during our weekends together. Out of the ordinary, but not quite the same - I can't remember ever passing a drugstore and promising to be good for a dental treat.

Healthcare wasn't a big subject around Nana's house (my extended family's headquarters) even with Grandpa and his diabetes. We bought S&W's Dietetic canned fruit for him, but Grandpa would still ask Uncle John to cook him two eggs, one fried and one scrambled.

After growing up mainly on beans, rice and tortillas, I don't think that my mother or her brothers minded that Nana fried almost all of the meat. Maybe they weren' t too worried because the portions weren't that large. Besides, if anyone got sick it was St. Joseph's for the kids and Bayer or Excedrin for the adults.

Now, Grandpa has died and Nana has diabetes. The doctor advises 1/2 baby aspirins a day and it is still only St. Joseph's for her.

Mom did take me and Lisa to Kaiser for a few physicals, but there weren't anymore after junior high school. And after Mom's one month stay, I didn't think I'd ever go back to one of those places. But I did. My high school sweetheart, well the male one, who asked me to marry him not knowing that my fantasies were full of my best friend, offered to go with me for the exam to get birth control pills. I took them for a short while, but never consistently. I don't wonder why anymore.

My sister had the babies. The first one was delivered one month before her 18th birthday. We picked up my sister and my niece from Highland not sure what we would find. My Auntie Carmen called my grandmother's house to tell me why Lisa had been hospitalized - she'd had a baby. That's what I told my uncle and cousin when we pulled into the parking lot. That explained her weight gain over the past few months. No one had asked her directly if she was pregnant. A few, including my Dad, had asked me, but I thought he was being insensitive to our depression because of our mother's death. Of course, Mom would've known without asking.

I grew up walking and catching buses and I'm back to it. Same streets even. Some things have changed. My lover is now also my girlfriend, and she's a Chicana vegetarian yoga teacher, among other wonderful things. I had already tried tofu years ago, but I am very gently being invited back to it. I took an AIDS test for the first time after becoming involved with her. I'm negative. That was a nervous couple of weeks for me as I thought about the bisexual women I've been with and never having practiced safe sex. I also participated in a 'women who sleep with women' health survey. It was anonymous, but I have a feeling that when the results are published, there'll be a note for me to call the nearest clinic.

I still haven't had a pap smear, but my girlfriend has introduced me to post-menstrual self-breast exams. I just turned 28, and my goal is to get complete medical and dental exams, including the pap before the year is out.


Health Behaviors, Status & Access:Lesbians/Bi-sexual/Hetero

Arch Fam Med, 11-12/02


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