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Delores George & Evelyn Umtuch

Full Transcript: Evelyn Umtuch

Evelyn Umtuch – Yakama
February 11, 2005
© Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.

Health—Diabetes: Changing diet to lose weight; diabetes onset resulting from severe illness; sense of isolation and denial that accompanies diagnosis; the mind as a barrier to acceptance; changing diet back and forth; compulsive eating; complications of other physical problems; rate of newly diagnosed diabetics in tribe; blood screening, counseling and prevention; Native suspicion of Western medicine; quest to remove junk food from schools; religious belief as an anchor in struggling with frustration; prevention and education of young people as main thrust of overcoming diabetes.

(Time logged from CD)

Q. Okay we’re rolling again. Now Evelyn, could you introduce yourself and, the same way you saw Delores did?

31:37 Ah, my name is Evelyn Umtuch. I’m a Yakama. I’m half Yakama and half Nez Perce, but I am a full-blood. Um, I was born in White Swan, Washington. Um, resided there most of life until I got married and then I resided in Wapato, and then in Harrah. Um, I went into nursing. I became a regis’. Ah, first I was a, a Nurse’s Aide and then I went on to be an LPN and then I became a Registered Nurse. Um, I retired three times. (laughter) And this last time they ah, asked me to sign for this position, this Diabetes Coordinator. And at the time I was working in a job that I thought I, I liked pretty well because it was a clinical job and I like clinical work.

32:32 But it ah, my friend, Ellen Swan, told me, “They need you out there.” So she waved this little application in front of me and told me to fill it in. And so I filled it in and put it in and forgot about it. And then one day I got a phone call and (clears throat) it was ah, (unintelligible) calling me to asking me to come down for an interview. So I went down and walked in, and he asked me, “Do you have your registry, do you have your license?” I said, “Yes, I do.” And he asked me several other questions and he says, “You have the job.” So I walked out of there kind of like, “What happened to me?” (chuckles)

33:06 So, I started to work as the Diabetes ah, Coordinator. (clears throat) I’ve enjoyed my, this is, on February ninth was my first year, so I’m fairly new to the program. I’ve worked with diabetes all my life. But the Diabetes Program um, consists of ah, a Nurse Educator, who teaches one-on-one and teaches in a classroom. We have a, a Nutritionist, Linda Moncreaf, who teaches the classes as well as one-on-one. And we have um, Ellen Double Runner, and she, she go ah, coordinates all the conventions and, or any of the programs that we have outside the building. She sets those all up and gets them going. She also goes into the schools and she’s going to start teaching in schools for the kids to try to get (clears throat) our young people involved with prevention of diabetes.

34:08 Ah, we have ah, ah, a clerk, Peggy Lynbul and we have ah, Administrative Assistant, Kathy Carl. And we have a part-time LPN, Donna So Happy. Ah, we, there’re not very many of us but we do, I think we have made an impact in the past year. We’ve gone out to various sites to teach besides the classes that we’ve had. And we’ve increased our classes to monthly now instead of bimonthly. And we ah, we have ah, done a lot of ah, programs. We’ve got the Keep Fit Program, in which Linda Moncreaf teaches every Monday um, to the people about diabetes and prevention, weight loss and that kind of thing.

35:04 And the ah, if you go to those then you get additional points. So then we had a good turnout on that. And then we have the Hundred-Mile Club where people participate. They walk on their own time, keep track. And then they turn those in every week. And if they get a, get hundred miles in they get a t-shirt or whatever we have abundance of.

Q. Well good. So the point system is sort of a way for people to mark their progress and get a little bit of incentive.

35:39 Yes. With the Keep Fit Program they’ve actually got a scale where they can measure the fat on your. When you get on the scale you get on it barefooted. And then they rub something on there and then you get up there, and it measures the fat in your body. I don’t think I want to do that one. (laughs)

Q. Could you tell me when you were born?

36:03 1936.

Q. 1936. And you were diagnosed with diabetes too.

36:08 Yes, about thirty years ago.

Q. Thirty? Thirty years ago. So you have direct experience with the disease yourself. So could we talk about you a little bit? What was, did you have it in your family?

36:24 No. I didn’t think I did. I never knew my family in ah, Lapwai, Idaho. So I ah, couldn’t relate to where I got it because none of my other family members had it. Um, and then when I went to Lapwai to meet my family over that way, I found that ninety-nine percent of my relatives over there have diabetes. It’s a strong history. So that, I got to, can imagine that’s where it came from.

36:52 Um, but it was quite a shock to me to become a diabetic. And like Delores, at the time when I was younger I used to weigh three hundred, sixty-nine pounds. Um, and it came from, I came from a poor background. I didn’t have much money. On my, we, we lived well. We ate just what we could and Grandma never l’, allowed us any pop or ice cream, or candy and that kind of stuff. Hmm. So we just lived off the land and Grandma raised cows, and that’s how we lived.

37:27 But ah, after I got married it was like turning a couple of kids loose in school, my husband and I, because we found out we could make our own banana splits. We could ah, we could do all kinds of stuff that we never ever, ever had before. And it was fun! So. So then we just both gained weight. Little, whole bunch of, him, he could walk around the block and come off with ten pounds probably. I had to work harder at it.

37:54 So one day I was sitting in the chair and I, I was at home by myself. He had just gone to work. And I was sitting in the chair like this and (clears throat) it didn’t have no arms. And I was sitting in the chair and I looked down and I was hanging over. And ah, I couldn’t believe that was me, and I sat there and bawled. And while I was crying he walked back in. He had this feeling about it. He came back in, he said, “I knew I sh’. I knew I had to come back, but I don’t know why.” And when he came in we sat down and talked. And he says, “Well, I’ll go on a diet with you.” And he says, “I’ll help you.” So he helped me through that.

38:31 Um, first he took away my Pepsi. That was murder. Then he took away my Snickers. And that was a killer. Then um, took away my fried taters and that was murder. Um, after we got through all of that, he’d be, like every two weeks we’d take something away. And then he brought a saucer one day and he, he said, “Whatever goes in this saucer is, that’s what you’ll eat.” And that’s how I started losing weight.

Q. Well that’s remarkable. I mean, what a support that your husband was. But did you know at the time that you had diabetes?

39:12 No, I didn’t have it at that time. Um, (clears throat) and after I lost all the weight–I got down to a hundred and eighty–that’s when I found out that I had diabetes. But it took, I had a real bad case of flu, and I think that’s what kicked it in. (Inhales) So because when I got, I started getting better I started noticing that my vision was really blurry and um, I wouldn’t admit it. I wouldn’t admit it. I was in complete denial.

39:47 And I went to the clinic and I talked to Dr. Hadaka, who’s gone now. He’s a, he was one of our doctors. And he brought my chart in and slammed it down in front of me and said, “Okay Umtuch. Let’s come, let’s, let’s come to some truths here. You have diabetes. Just face it.” He says, “God damn it, you can’t live like this.” And so I looked at it a long time and I just nodded my head. And I think that was the day I really started to accept it.

40:16 But I found you know, at first when I ah, when that first happened to me and I was like that, I thought, you know, “I’m, I’m a really weird person. I don’t want to accept it.” But I found since that I wasn’t so weird, that there are a lot of people like me, that have a hard time accepting the fact they get diabetes. (Inhales)

Q. Because they see it, like Delores said, that change is hard. They’re going to have to change a lot of things and that’s painful. You’d rather just try to believe that they’re not there. Those things, you won’t have to do that stuff. Well that’s again, that’s another person who really did the right thing for you there. You just needed a slap upside the head there.

41:03 Yeah. Yeah, he was a great doctor. (mm hmm) And I ah, I felt, I’ve always felt a close kinship to him after that, you know, because it was. You just don’t know how strong your mind is until you come to up where you’re going to set up your mind as a barrier to say, you know, “That ain’t so.” But I found out my mind is really strong when, when it shouldn’t be. (laughs)

Q. It’s working against you. Well, after that moment what did you go about changing in your life?

41:40 Well, first I went on medication. And then I started doing some walking. Um, I started ah, my husband and I used to go fishing all the time. And I, I went out, and that Summer I went out and did a lot of fishing. And then I started back to school. I was bit b’, my husband always wanted me to go on to become an RN, he said because, he said, “If something happens to me, I want to make sure that you have a way to provide for yourself.” So he really encouraged me to go back to school.

Q. What a good man! Is he still with us?

42:17 No. (oh) He’s been gone now. He died of a heart attack.

Q. What was his name?

42:23 Josh Umtuch.

Q. So you got more activity. You went on your medication, and of course, you were already dieting at that point, so you continued that.

42:36 Yes. (mumble) I think that you know, I did all right and ah, until he passed away. And then I, I found myself, I gained, you know, I started gaining weight again because I was. With the restrictions put on me, you know, by my in-laws ah, they changed my, put me in dark clothes and I went on that ah, traditional restrictions–no fresh meat–oh, whole bunch of stuff that, what I had to do. So ah, I started putting on weight.

Q. Because the choices you had to cook for yourself were limited by that, so you went to eating easy foods like chips and fast foods?

43:17 Well no, not necessarily that. It was more like potatoes. You know, stuff like that. And ah, not only that, but I’m a compulsive eater. Ah, I found, I found that I am a compulsive eater, that I, I eat food to make myself feel better. So.

Q. Well, it stands to reason that after his passing that you would eat a lot more and gain weight. How long ago was that?

43:46 He died in 1975.

Q. And since that time you’ve again, just gone back to a diet. Are you doing anything else? What are you?
43:57 No, not really um. Ah, um, my health hasn’t been well the past ah, two months. So I kind of slacked off on doing a lot of the walking and stuff that I was doing for awhile. Ah, I have a, I have a stomach problem that I’ve, I’ve had for a long time, and I, it kind of keeps me from eating too much and that kind of stuff, but.

44:23 And I, my medication that I took for a while, I was on one particular medicine for two years. And that put on, I put on forty pounds from it. And it ah, it was just one of the side-effects of the medication. So, when I stopped the medicine, ah, my ankles were even swelling up real big. So I begged that doctor, “Take me off it.” So he finally took me off it and I, I don’t have any swelling in my legs. And I’ve lost some of the weight now, and I’m continuing to lose.

Q. I see. When the diabetes is complicated by other problems and it seems like everybody, most everybody I’ve talked to has some other problem like arthritis. You said you have a stomach problem, or whatever, then it gets a little more complicated, doesn’t it?

45:12 Mm hmm. Yes, it does. But I’ve had arthritis all my life so I can’t blame that. (chuckles) I was diagnosed with ah, rheumatism when I was eleven years old.

Q. I see. So that eliminates some of the activity that you could be doing, the strenuous, you know, activity. Are there any weight training programs on the, in the program available? Is there a Wellness Center or something where people can?

45:39 Well not, where, we’re, we’re in the process of setting of a, a building for our Diabetes Program that we, where we want to ah, have ah, the capabilities of doing exercise, and where we can teach. Um, we don’t, right now we’re kind of all cramped into little cubicles, so ah, we don’t have that capacity, you know. But this month we decided to try ten people to go to Nautilus, up at, that’s in across this way. And ah, to do, just to do walking or whatever they want to do in there three times a week, so that they can control their diabetes and do some exercise.

Q. Good, yeah, I just came from Pendleton and Brian Boltz was the coordinator there, its Outreach Coordinator. And he organized with the Roundup Athletic Club. They’ve got, seventy-five people have gone through a program there and many of them have stayed on with memberships, because they don’t have a Wellness Center.

46:42 Yeah, we don’t have, but hopefully we’re going to have our, our building and we’re going to have some exercise stuff in there. We’re going to get a person that help teach exercise and that kind of thing. So I’m working on that building so hopefully we can get it in before maybe July, I hope. (laughs)

Q. That’s good. Well, with nine hundred diabetics now.

47:03 Well, we have actually a little over thirteen hundred diabetics.

Q. So that’s more than ten percent. And it’s going to be a continuing problem.

47:16 And we’re getting like ah, I, I figured we were getting like ah, six people every month, on the average being diagnosed with diabetes. And there’s probably a lot more out there that, you know, that don’t know that they’re diabetic or pre-diabetic ah, and just not dealing with it, you know.

Q. How are you handling your education and outreach to people like that, people who don’t know they have it or people that do have it?

47:43 Well, we’re trying to reach people through blood screening. Ah, our Community Educator does that. Ah, she goes out and checks their blood. And if they’re high she looks it up and st’, makes sure that they’re not diabetic already. And if they’re diabetic, if they’re on medicine or if they’ve had their care, and, and if, if not, none of those are above, she goes ahead and refers them in to the Nurse Educator, who then checks them out and makes sure they don’t have diabetes. Um, gives them several counseling sessions on how to prevent getting diabetes.

Q. So the blood screening is like mandatory, or is it just set up?

48:27 It’s just set up at random. You know, she different, different places every month. So ah, her ah, the Community Educator and ah, the Nurse, the LPN, they both do blood screening.

Q. And they might set up, give me an example. Where would they set up?

48:42 Well, sometimes she sets up at ah, White Swan. Other times she’ll set up at fisheries, sometimes at the casino. Ah, at the agency, just at the Culture Center here.

Q. And anybody who wants to can just go up. Seems like there, it should almost to be a mandatory thing. Somebody just finally said, I read in the paper that they’re going, they’re going to have HIV testing for everyone and ah. I think they’re thinking maybe that’s what we ought to do, because there’s twenty thousand new cases of HIV every year, you know. And it seems like it should have been mandatory a long time ago that everybody be screened for that. And maybe that would, that would be.

49:33 Well see, there’s a big problem with ah, ah, trying to screen everybody because ah, a lot of the people don’t come to the clinic. A lot, there are a lot of people that, I mean, you’d be surprised. There are people that don’t even have charts here that are enrolled. And for different reasons of their own, just don’t go to a doctor.

Q. Is there some resistance from the traditional community that may not, you know, agree with all the practices of Western medicine that have been brought in here? I’m just fishing because I don’t know.

50:09 Yeah, I think there are. To a certain extent, there are some people out there that ah, do have that ah, thing against Western medicine, you know. Um, used to be before that the Native population used to get upset because they felt like, that ah, Native Americans were guinea pigs, which they, they weren’t but. Um, I don’t know. I don’t think they were. (laughs) Ah, and they’re not now.

Q. So it’s quite an uphill battle. The education is difficult because people are reluctant to change their ways, I guess.

50:52 Yes. I, I don’t know how we’re going to combat the. The thing that I’d like to see is to get the chips and the pop out of the schools. But I think that’s something that the parents are going to have to work at too.

Q. It’s starting to happen around the country. I’ve heard of places where that’s happening. And fruit juice too.

51:15 Yeah, fruit juice is just as bad.

Q. Now in terms of the spiritual practices here among the Yakama, do you feel, as the Coordinator, Diabetes Coordinator, do you feel that it’s almost a good thing to prescribe to people to get involved in these spiritual practices, either whatever their religion or what? Does that help people or what?

51:44 Oh yes! I think that if you have a belief in, in God or Creator, whichever one you want to call him. We have spe’, we have sp’ ah, several ah, religions on our reservation. We have the Presbyterian. We have the Pentecostal. We have a Shaker Church. We have ah, the Wa’Shat. And various, you know, various others. There’s Catholics and, and. Not all of the Natives, you know, go to Wa’Shat. There’re, we have a lot of Catholic people. And we have a lot of Shaker people.

52:20 And I believe, I believe strongly. I’m a Wa’Shat person, but ah, I believe strongly that you need to have some kind of belief to help you ah, to get through life a lot of times. Because if you don’t have that then you’re ah, there’s just nothing to hang onto.

52:44 So ah, I, yeah, I believe it, that really does help people because when it, when ah, when somebody’s trying to get the sugar down, ah, it’s a battle. So with some people, they might try to eat the right foods. They might be walking, but they might have an infection or something they know nothing about and the sugar keeps shooting up. And, and they get frustrated. But if they have some belief, you know, where they can go and say well, say a prayer or something, and ah, re-strengthen themselves. And then they can come back and battle it again and you know, pray for guidance on how to get best of this.

Q. Good. Is there anything like you’d like to say to others around the country who might be listening to this who are in your position, as Diabetes Coordinators or recommendations for programs on other reservations that you?

53:39 Well, I think that prevention probably is the biggest thing. Ah, and we have to start with the young. We have um, start educating our young people to the kind of foods they should be eating. And it needs to start right from Head Start on up. We need, and as, as a grandmother and a mother, it’s up to me to teach my family. And I do the best I can that way. But sometimes um, families will listen to some outsider better than they will an insider. So it’s kind of you know, if, if it’s reinforced enough then they’ll understand it’s yeah, this is here to stay.

54:23 And so that I, I tell people you know, continue to educate them people because they need that education. They need that. They need to be aware that if they keep moving they can keep, they can bring their blood sugars down. They watch their diet, keep moving. That’s the theme of our Diabetes Program, as a matter of fact is, Keep Moving.

Q. Yeah. Stay active. Yeah. Great. Well thank you. This has been really delightful. Two wonderful people. And I’m glad you’re doing this.

54:55 End with Evelyn

55:00 End CD