Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When somebody loves you back, Part 2.

High heels or flip flops?
Silence or conversation?

Is both an option?
Good. 'Cause I want both.

~ Me


By the time I reached my senior year of medical school I'd already been asked to stand up as a bridesmaid in four weddings. Though my collection of confection-colored formal dresses had become quite enviable, my own romantic life was anything but. The more love swirled around me, the worse I felt about my own unfortunate romantic reality.


Sure. I'd had a couple of romantic friendships over those four years at Meharry. One was even someone that I referred to as my "boyfriend" (although I'm not so sure the serious girlfriend he had but somehow neglected to mention would've been so keen on me calling him that.) For the most part, though I had a great time and did some really epic things as a med student, I simply wasn't lucky in love.


And so. Friends often took my woefully bad dating life as a personal challenge. They'd set out to introduce me to the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend with the good job and the no kids. Or with the great job and the one kid that he dutifully cares for. Some elaborate set up would be put together. Painstaking detail would go into arranging a meeting at a place that didn't feel too forced or too loose goosey. A library run in, perhaps? A handshake at the Pre-Alumni lawn party cookout? Or how about an accidental meeting at the bagel shop where we just so happened to be studying? You name it, they tried it. And you know what? None of it ever seemed to work.


What was it, you ask? Well. I can honestly say that it wasn't secondary to lack of interest on the part of the gentlemen. Right away, I could almost always see that tiny spark of, at minimum, intrigue from the moment our hands touched while meeting. Questions would be asked of me and then numbers inevitably exchanged. Once the dude du jour was out of sight, whichever friend had set up the meeting would berate me with question after question.


"Well what?"

"What'd you think?"

"Think about what?"


"I mean. . . he was. . . okay, I guess."

Without fail, I'd get an eye roll and a groan. Hands thrown skyward in the girlfriend sign language equivalent of "I give up."

"I at least gave him my number."

"I hope you didn't have the look on your face that you have right now."

"What? I look happy, don't I?"

"Okay woman. So what was it this time?"

And that question would come because, with me, there was always something. Something that didn't quite do it for me or to which I had some kind of a micro-aversion that would grow into a hard stop. That thing was seemingly minor which, to my friends, probably made me seem petty and unrealistic.

"Clear nail polish."


"He was wearing clear nail polish. On his hands. And his feet. He had sandals on so it was like. . .he wanted me to notice his toes. Which were painted. In glossy clear polish. That was. . . I don't know. . . kind of weird to me." Another micro-aversion.

After a long, hard, incredulous stare, I'd hear something like this: "You're fucking killing me, you know that right?"

And I'd whisper back in a tiny voice, "I know."

Because I did know. I knew that my über-selectiveness was making these possible love connections no-gos from the start. And sure. Things like clear nail polish on the hands and feet of a potential suitor surely shouldn't negate things like law degrees and major life achievements. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't get past the wave of whatever came over me from the start.


After a while, they all stopped trying to set me up. In fact, most of my friends would chuckle and pseudo-discourage the gents who'd inquire about my dating situation. Finally, I made up my mind to try to do things differently. My plan was to fight against my gut and push myself to give more perspective mates a real, true chance.


And that? That was the start of perhaps the most unfortunate era of my entire pre-Harry dating career:  That point where I'd pretend to be attracted to and romantically interested in someone with hopes that something inside of me would eventually change. Problem is, it never did.


It was actually pretty disastrous. I'd talk on the phone and go on dates. Thank goodness these gentlemen were fond enough of me to not add pressure on me to kiss or hug them (since that wasn't happening.) I'd become really connected to the person as a friend but ignore all of the sirens screaming in my ears telling me that this was a friend-friend and not a boy-friend.

I'll never forget the day that I had a friend-friend (who believed he was a boy-friend) come all the way to my city from his city to visit me. He was kind enough to arrange a couch surf with a friend for his sleeping arrangements--but had gone through a ton of trouble to see me. We'd been talking on the phone every day for over three or four months after a chance meeting through friends. And this guy was a good guy. Like me, he was in professional school. He was funny and kind and attentive and didn't even wear clear nail polish. But the problem was . . . I just didn't have romantic feelings for him. Like, at all.


And yeah. I'd heard these stories from women who met some guy and didn't like him AT ALL but then with time and hanging out, their feelings grew-grew-grew. Ultimately, those feelings exploded into something super-lifelong-wonderful. So me, I was holding out for that. Sure was.

So yeah. The friend-friend and I were in a really nice restaurant and the food was good. He reached across the table and touched my hand. And immediately, I wished he hadn't. But since I didn't want to be rude, I just sort of sat through it. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore so excused myself to the ladies room where I used the pay phone in the bathroom corridor to call my best friend, Lisa.

"What's wrong with me?" I wept.

"Oh no. You don't like him?" She sounded empathic, yes. But surprised? No.

"Not at all. I don't feel anything romantic. Anything."


"I feel like such an asshole. I have to tell him."

"Yeah. You probably do."


And just like that, I'd find some awkward point in whatever that trip or date or whatever-it-was was to drop the already obvious bomb that this was a Novocaine relationship--that is, one I wasn't feeling.


And you know? I used to beat myself up about those sorts of things. Like, I'd hate myself for liking the guys that didn't seem to be checking for me but never being able to find romantic energy with the ones that were good people (at least on paper.) I looked at it all as me being broken and standing in my own way. Too trivial to appreciate fine qualities in human beings and to not throw up speed breakers when someone tried to treat me the way I deserved to be treated.


But as time passed, I learned something. I learned that being kind to myself on both of those fronts was one of the best ways to set myself up to attract the kind of mate that I was looking for. Even if I wasn't so sure what I was looking for in the first place.

Let me explain:

A few years back, I had a Jedi master moment with my younger sister about love. I was talking to her in the context of a guy she was dating who seemed to be a little too lukewarm when it came to her heart. By this point, I'd met and married Harry. I was over 30 and had been on both sides of the dating fence. We had two kids and had somewhat figured the marriage thing out between us. . . but I'd been in her shoes long enough to still know that yearning and still vowed to never be the "smug married" type. And so. My advice was simple: "It just shouldn't be that hard."

Like, I'd finally figured out that all this ambiguity in love just wasn't how it was supposed to be. Good people who really, really like you show you through their actions. And when their actions speak something else? Well. It's probably something else.

So all of this went from that point into this other point about the importance of believing you're worth someone making you the apple of their eye. And when I've mentioned all of this to others, it has resonated with them. But now I'm realizing that I'd neglected to regard the other piece of that swinging pendulum:


Whew. I'm going to crack my knuckles and do my best to unpack what I'm thinking about right now. Just bear with me, okay?

Okay, so check it:  All of that advice to my baby sister was about someone she liked not demonstrating through their actions her importance to them. And I still stand by that idea, you know? But sometimes, the person IS being nice. They want to hold your hand and make all sorts of plans with you. They laugh at your jokes and buy you nice things. And, really, they do the things that you always hoped someone would for you.


Something is awry. The romantic feelings that need to be present aren't. Like, at all. And let me be clear that sometimes you feel intrigued and that's it. I do believe that intrigue can lead to deep romantic connections, I do. But I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the person you feel 100% platonic about. And the one that you know deep down in your soul that you'll always feel that way about.


My epiphany was that you deserve to feel the feelings AND have the good mate. You deserve both. And that nice guy or nice girl that you are calling your best friend from the Houston's bathroom about because you don't have feelings for them? Well that person deserves both, too.

Does this even make sense? I don't know.

I'm just imagining as your lot in life being committed to someone who doesn't do it for you. Like, at all. And how time and egg-age starts convincing you that having someone nice that you don't feel romantic towards could work. Or rather should work. Because that's all you have.

Well. I'm saying that's no good either.

See, Teddy Pendergrass crooned it beautifully: "It's so good loving somebody when somebody loves you back--and that's a fact." What he should have also added was that it feels extra good when you aren't pretending.


So I guess someone is reading this thinking, "Yeah, yeah, that's easy for you to say. You're married and you dig your husband a lot. You're lucky." And I get that. But some part of me thinks it's more than that. I do.

A few weeks before I met Harry, I made up my mind to not spend a single day with anyone who wasn't demonstrating to me that they were "into me." But the other thing I decided was that I also wouldn't drag someone along that didn't evoke a remote flicker of romantic energy. I guess in my head, I believed that God put the laws of attraction out there for reason, you know?

Now. I did do a few other things. I did coach myself to relax on the things that I once made into deal breakers like that one crooked tooth or the teeny-tiny keloid scar from when an ear was once pierced. I watched body language more and paid attention to how they interacted with people like valet guys or janitors. If they remembered the things I said or always looked like they weren't listening to me. And after noting these things--over a rather brief period of time--I'd make up my mind.

And honor that decision. Yup. Because like the B.H.E. once said, "When you walk outside in the morning, it's either sunshine or it's not." It's either sunshine or it's not.


Lastly, I inventoried why I think I'm awesome. Ha. I know that sounds silly but I did that. I mean it. In the weeks right before meeting Harry. And no, I didn't get the idea from a self help book or any such thing. Instead, I'd just decided to be kinder to myself.  I also told myself that if I was going to be a single woman indefinitely, I'd do so wisely.  I worked at being my own best friend not branding myself a failure for not being married. This way I could be in a place where I was relaxed. I could operate not out of desperation or fear, you know? Especially since everyone knows that actions made when we feel that way almost never end well, do they?


Did I think Harry was about to come along? Oh hell no. In fact, I thought I'd likely marry well after my childbearing years. I mean, given my track record, I think my friends thought the same.

Oh Lord. I am so rambly, aren't I? I guess my point is this:

We all deserve someone who treats us well. But we also deserve to have our feelings align with that person, too. And it's okay to let that nice person that we don't have any romantic-type feelings toward get refiled back into the "friend" category. Because just like wasting time on the arm of the person treating you lukewarm can cause you to miss "the one" when they walk by, shadow boxing in a metaphorical corner of your heart for months or even years with hopes that suddenly something will unlock and break up your platonic inertia is just as bad.

Maybe even worse since that person deserves someone to love them back, too.


So, to me? Settling is a worse fate than being alone. On either end. Settling for the person that says they want one thing but shows you something else? No bueno. And settling for the person who is nice on paper and in real life but doesn't do it for you at all? Equally wack. Permit yourself to have both.


That's what I think, at least. And look. I'll wrap this up by saying what I've said on this blog seven hundred million times when speaking on such topics: I was NOT lucky in love before meeting Harry. And if this happened for me. . . and my sister. . . and some other person who felt like this before. . .I know for certain that it can happen for anyone. I mean that. Like, this isn't just meant to make you feel good or to chuck you under your chin. It's just one woman's testimony that I know is shared by other people.

I guess it all comes down to doing the work to like yourself, right? Or better yet, know yourself. Because when you know who you are, you stand up for yourself. Which is the very first step in drawing the kind of people toward you who will do the same.


So me? I want both. Both. And you know what? I want that for you, too.

That's all I've got.

Happy Hump Day.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The finish line.

I took this photograph of myself at a red light. I was driving to the funeral of a woman I've known for over twenty years; the mother of my sorority sister and good friend, Ebony M.


It wasn't sudden. Mrs. M had been fighting a nasty malignancy for quite some time. That said, it's not even being cliché to say that she handled it like a true gladiator. Brave and tenacious, yet somehow never lost the tenderness that made her so special.


Since Ebony is from Birmingham like my dad and, like my parents, hers also attended our alma mater, I was immediately taken in like family by her mom and dad. They treated me like a bonus daughter and never missed a chance to let me know they were proud of anything I accomplished. Especially Mrs. M. She had this special way of showing a person how proud she was of them. I was lucky to be one of the recipients of that gift.


So here's the thing: Even though I'm a doctor, the mortality of those around me--particularly the ones of the generation ahead of me--is something I struggle to get my head around. But the older we get, the more these types of phone calls come. They used to be freakish and far-fetched. Not any more.

At 45, most of our parents now have government subsidized health care and AARP cards. Some have body parts that have been replaced or bypassed or even removed altogether. Feet are moving a little more slowly and, in some instances, so are minds. But the other part is that we, too, are sliding closer into the realm of "people old enough to have stuff happen to them." Which, to me, is this point where, instead of people saying, "Oh shit! How crazy is that?" they instead just tell you how very sorry they are to hear of whatever it is they just heard. Kind of like this threshold where you are entitled to have something messed up happen to you.


And this? This is the only part of the 40-and-up frontier that I don't like so much. Like, I always said to people that your teen years are weird, your twenties are great but you're just too damn broke to enjoy them, your thirties are pretty cool since you're still young and a little less broke, and the forties seem to be where the party is happening. And you know? I would say that the fifties will trump the forties except for this aforementioned thing that throws a wet blanket over a part of it.


Wouldn't it be awesome if parents just sort of halted in their late forties and early fifties for you to join them? Like, where you could just hang out and talk shit with all of your collective wisdom and send kids in the kitchen to get you a glass of ice water and then talk all about the really cool vacation you just took that ten years ago you would have just admired on line due to broke-ness? How cool would that be?

Proud to be my sister's keeper: Ebony and me

But the clock ticks. It ticks hard as hell, man. And on Friday, it screamed loudly in my ear that beautiful, loving, amazing people do not live forever. That long time loves may have to part involuntarily and that a new normal at some point awaits us all.

Damn. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be negative. I don't because that's not how I feel. I mostly just feel sort of reflective and aware, you know? And the look on my face in that picture tells how I was feeling. Which wasn't negative. Just sort of. . . mortal, you know?

Yeah. That.

Mrs. M had the most uplifting homegoing service I've ever attended. Tambourines were shaking and voices were singing jubilant songs. She'd been a part of her church choir and every single member showed up. The soprano section sang with extra vigor since that was her section and, for once, overshadowed the low, dusky melodies of the altos. A dance troupe clad in white gowns with angel wings affixed to their backs celebrated her heavenly transition through movement. And all of it was elegant and the most amazing tribute ever.

Sorority sisters from Tuskegee standing in support of Ebony M.

It hurt my heart to see my dear friend and her sister clinging to one another and weeping. But that, I expected. It really wasn't until I was listening to the choir singing this amazingly thoughtful medley of her favorite hymns that I came unglued. Mr. M, her husband of 45 years, was doing that thing that church folks (at least the ones who look like me) do when the music is so good that it makes your bones rattle inside. He stood to his feet, arms folded and head shaking from side to side. Face twisted into an emotional grimace--partly the familiar one of people in the praise and worship zone but, in this case, partly just unspeakable grief. This man was calling on his God quietly. But especially? He was missing his wife in the most intense way ever.

And that? That did it. That's when I lost it.

I can't say her death was timely. She was too young for this. She was. And that man that stood on his feet in that church still had a lot more years of love in his heart to share with her. This I could see for sure. But. We are all mere mortals. No matter how much we try to think otherwise, we are.

The exuberant preacher at her service said this:

"From the day we are born, we are in a race to the finish line of death. We don't want to run there too fast, but we all cross that tape whether we want to or not."

And I took out my phone and jotted that down because I knew I'd want to read those words again.


You know? That preacher man was right. Even if that sounds slightly macabre, it's the honest to goodness truth. And so. I guess the goal is to run the best race you can, you know? Get your form right and do your best to clear some hurdles. Pass the baton often and run hard at certain times but definitely slow down sometimes for breaks. Hit some high notes like Mrs. M and love somebody so hard that the thought of you causes them to stand to their feet, fold their arms and shake their head. And do so much cool stuff while you're at it that the people who thought they knew you later realize that they had no idea what kind of bad ass things you were doing on your race. None at all.

Growing older is dichotomously awesome and awful at times. But that's cool. My goal is to just to make my run the best one ever, to encourage the runners beside me, and to pause at the water stations whenever I can. And ultimately to cross my finish line without regrets.

That's what Mrs. M did. I'm glad I got to run beside her for part of her race. Because what I now know is that it was a part of my race, too.


Happy Early Monday.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The dog in the fight.

I came on as the attending on a Monday. An unexpected scheduling need had shifted my assignment from the outpatient clinic to the inpatient hospital service. By the time I joined the team, the month was nearly over and plans were mostly gelled. Consultants were following and things were rolling along as they often do. And during this week, the census was full and the patients were sick. Very sick.

Okay, so I come onto the scene as the Monday morning quarterback--literally. A new set of eyes who is looking at every case from the 30,000 foot view--first seeing the big picture and then trying to serially zoom in on the little picture parts. And this, this approach when I come into something where the ball is already in motion, is generally my approach. I observe and ask some questions. I make up my mind to be a skeptic and to not just go with what's already happening. Even though, most of the time, I am completely in agreement with the current plan.


But sometimes when stepping in something happens. You realize that everyone involved has been so zoomed in that they've lost sight of that big picture. So you come strolling up and start firing off all your queries. They seem like obvious questions, actually. I know this because I've been there. The one who has been slugging it out for weeks on a sick patient only to have someone ask one or two things that make me wonder what the hell I've been doing all this time. That, or they point some very clear observation out that makes you inwardly cringe because it's the kind of thing you should have asked yourself a full week before.

Anyways. On Monday, that's where I was. And there was this one patient in particular that didn't seem to make perfect sense to me. I mean, it wasn't because the last attending wasn't awesome. It was more one of those things where the Monday morning quarterback had the advantage, you know?

So yeah. I look and I ask and I probe. And finally I resolve that we needed to shake up the game plan some. And by shake it up, I mostly meant that we needed to go harder as advocates. 

Yes, that. Advocates.

So what does that mean? Well. To me, it's simple. What I do is close my eyes and picture myself as the very concerned mama-sister-wife-daughter-granddaughter-partner at the bedside. I push myself to let the patient matter to me as it would to that person. I pop in my mouth piece and shadow box in the corner. And then I go as hard as I can. . . as if that person's loved one is strapped on my back pleading with me to help.

Does that sound crazy? I know it probably does.

Okay, so let me explain what was going on without giving too much detail. Essentially, a lot of doctors were seeing this patient and weren't in full agreement. One said to do one thing which would require another one to do a procedure. But the procedure-doing doctor didn't feel so much like that was needed. Then, another consultant was somewhere in the middle. Maybe a procedure, maybe just more antibiotics. But see, for me? The main thing I saw was a patient who, despite all that, was still sick as stink. Which meant somebody somewhere was going to have to do something different than what we'd been doing.


And so. I strapped them to my back. The patient and the ones who love my patient the most. I fought with the zeal of a mama bear protecting her cubs. Called and spoke to attendings directly and asked some uncomfortable questions. Pushed my colleagues to be decisive and to also feel the sweet burden of caring like it is their loved one, too. And what I've found is that I work with some good, good people. These good, good people are very busy and often spread thin. But since they are good, good they are usually willing to slow down long enough to stick a foot in the way of the clinical inertia ball.

We all talked. And thought. Together. Someone pulled papers from the literature and others modified recommendations. The senior radiologists did more than just read the images; they REread them with their experience in mind and the clinical context considered. And all of it felt right and good.

So what happened? Well. Slowly but surely, the patient started improving. But mostly, it felt more like we were on the same team, you know? Instead of just a bunch of stakeholders with our own prideful opinions, we were one big, bad team. Fighting the hell out of that disease and telling it that we weren't the ones to be effed with.  Knowing that not only do we have a dog in the fight, we ARE the dog in the fight.

Yes. That.

And you know? It's not guaranteed that any of this will work. The patient could remain ill regardless of our earnest attempts and reroutes. But I like to remember one of Harry's quotes about losing a fight:

"I might not have won, but he knew I was there and I'm pretty sure he'd never want to fight me again."


Let me be clear: I am just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to all of this. I fall in love with a diagnosis or plan of care that I developed and can't see the forest for the trees. I also forget that my fifteen years at Grady has afforded me a voice that someone might listen to and entertain if I ask questions. I'm guilty of sometimes letting my exhaustion dampen my enthusiasm. Totally.

But then, like clockwork, in comes a Monday morning quarterback. A good, good colleague nudges me to do the right thing. To reexamine things with fresh eyes and to fight like my loved one depends upon it.

Does any of this even make sense? Probably not.

My point is this: There is a lot of stuff that just can't be learned in books. And this? This little shift in how we see ourselves as patient advocates is just one of them. I'm still learning. But one thing I can say for sure is this: I'm still trying, too.


Happy Saturday.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Do stuff.

*details changed to protect anonymity (as always)

 Live while you got all your rhythm in your hips still, okay?"

~ Mrs. Sanders

If you looked at Mrs. Sanders' life, you'd count it a success. Five children, all of whom were mostly healthy and all of whom grew up to be gainfully employed with families of their own. More grandbabies than the fingers on two hands could count. And a marriage that had lasted more than fifty years. Yes. If you looked at her life, you'd use those spiritual words spoke often by the Grady elders for lives like hers--"blessed and highly favored." Descriptors for lives filled with the things that matter the most.

Her health was good. Beyond some degenerative arthritis in her knees and some very mildly elevated blood pressure, Mrs. Sanders had very few medical problems. She could do for herself and was even still driving. Again, the kind of thing we all envision when wishing upon stars for our futures as senior citizens.

Mr. Sanders had passed on a few years before. Not necessarily suddenly, but it wasn't drawn out either. Just enough time to get things in order and to allow people to get to him and love on him. His death was surrounded by family and the aftermath of it all was mostly okay since it fit into the natural order of the rhythm of life. And, yes, losing him broke Mrs. Sanders' heart. But honestly, it didn't seem to break her.


So the point of telling you all of this is to say that this woman seemed to have a pretty peaceful life. It seemed to have followed the narrative that little girls act out with their Barbie dolls, you know? But every time I saw her, there was this sadness about her. Nothing overly somber or extraordinarily awful. Just this undercurrent of melancholia that cloaked the room whenever I was in her presence. And honestly I'd assumed it was all related to missing her husband. After all, they had been married for over fifty years. But truthfully, I'd known her before his passing and even before he'd gotten ill. And even then, I'd felt the same way.

"How are you?" I asked her toward the end of our visit.

"Am I?" Mrs. Sanders pointed at her chest to make sure she understood the question. I nodded. She released this weak chuckle and said, "I'm here."

"Just here?"

"Well, naw. Ain't nothing wrong, if that's what you mean. Guess I ain't sure what you mean, Miss Manning."

I pressed my lips together and kept my eyes on hers for a beat. In that split second, I reflected on the time last year that I'd screened her for depression with a series of questions. She caught on to what I was doing and interrupted me. "I ain't depressed or nothing like that if that's what you gettin' at." And after I completed those questions, it became pretty apparent to me that she wasn't.

But still. Each time I felt it. And even if it didn't mean there was some pathology there, I really wanted to understand it.

"You know what, Mrs. Sanders? Sometimes when I see you, you seem like. . .I don't know. . .kind of sad-like." Sad-like? I cringed at my own language. I sighed. "I don't know. It's hard for me to put my finger on."

Mrs. Sanders offered me a warm smile and then reached out to touch my hand. "I 'preciate your concern. I'm okay, baby."

"You sure?"

This time she squinted her eyes and smiled. The expression seemed to suggest I was naïve. I wasn't sure how to feel about that. Straightening up my spine, I trained my eyes on hers, making certain not to crack a smile in return. Her face became serious and pensive. Finally, she spoke.

"Miss Manning? How many kids you got?"


"And how long you been married?"

"Twelve years."

"How old your kids is?"

"Ma'am? Oh. Nine and ten. Boys."

She pursed her lips when I said that last part. "Wheeewwwweeeee. Boys is something. Something indeed. They keep you busy, too." Mrs. Sanders shook her head and then paused. It looked like she was trying to decide what to  say next. Or whether what she wanted to say was worth saying to me. She blinked her eyes slowly, glanced down at her pocket book and then back at me again. Mrs. Sanders leaned her head sideways and asked me this: "What you do for fun?"

She caught me off guard with that. "For fun?" I let out a nervous chuckle.

"Better yet, for you. For your own self."

"Umm. Well. I . . I actually do lots of stuff for myself. I mean. . .I do a lot for my family, too. But I do stuff for myself."

"Good," Mrs. Sanders replied quickly. "Good." 

I waited. I could tell she had more to say.

"My life been good, you know? But honestly, Miss Manning? I spent my whole life doing for everybody but me. Like, we got married when I was young and started having babies. And I stayed home with them and was near my sisters so we all saw 'bout each others' kids, too. And my kids grew up to make me real, real proud. They good people. They got to do a lot of good things and I'm glad. But I guess the more time go by the more I realize I ain't never get no chance at nothing."

"Tell me what you mean by that."

"I mean. . .I 'on't know. Guess I jest mean I ain't never been able to choose something that I wanted to do just 'cause. Just 'cause it's what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. Seem like every decision was connected to somebody else needs or wants. And now I find myself wishing I had done some more stuff for me. For me."

Mrs. Sanders eyes glistened with tears. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat after saying that. Then she looked slightly embarrassed for disclosing those thoughts. Or perhaps ashamed of uttering them aloud. That said, I could tell she was serious. And honestly? There wasn't much I could say to any of that. This woman was nearly eighty and had thought about this long and hard. I certainly didn't want to trivialize it all with some Pollyanna statement, particularly one that came across canned and void of empathy.

"I'm sorry." That's all I could think to say. And I said that because I was sorry. Not sorry in that way I was when her husband of fifty two years went on to glory. But sorry nonetheless.

I could see how things had ended up this way. I mean, like her, I'm a mom and a wife, too. And in my mind I've always noted that those mothers and wives set on the highest pedestals are the most selfless. What's also weird is that it's hard to even realize that something is being denied of you, you know? Because everything you hear and see tells you that your definition of joy gets revised the day you become a mother and/or a spouse. And that this is what you were made to do and that this idea alone should be enough.


So yeah. I got it. I got what she was saying. I did. "It's not too late, Mrs. Sanders," I finally said. "Your health is good. There are definitely things you could still do."

"I know," Mrs. Sanders replied. "I know. And I don't want to seem like some ol' charity case that stay sad. I'm not. I do some stuff. But, see, what I can't have back is doing it as a younger woman. With curves and in high heels and with young woman sass. Young enough for people hold the door for you because they think they got a chance to court you, not jest 'cause they got enough home training to respect their elders." She gently laughed at her wittiness. I did, too.

"I get it," I finally said.

"Do stuff, Miss Manning. See 'bout them men of yours. But do stuff for you, too. Live while you got all your rhythm in your hips still, okay? I tells my daughters that. I do. Wish somebody had'a told me the same."

"Yes, ma'am," I whispered. Then I stuck it on a post-it note in my head for later.

Last week, I went to Paris, France. Despite my 45 years on earth, I'd never been. A college sorority sister took a job there this summer and inboxed me on Facebook a few months back urging me to come for the Semi de Paris--that is, the Paris Half Marathon. She explained that it sells out pretty quickly and encouraged me to "just sign up" and figure out the logistics later.

And so I did. Register, that is.

But honestly? I never truly considered going. I mean, not really. Sure, I'd registered for the race, but still. Could I really see myself going all the way to Europe for a race? One that wasn't connected to my kids or work? That answer was a solid no. It wasn't because I don't have support. Harry loved the idea of me running strong through cobblestoned streets and past historic landmarks. Especially in Paris, a city to which I'd never been. And I did, too.


I think I purchased that race number because I liked the idea of it more than anything else. Buying that registration would be affirmation that I really did consider going. Which, in a lot of ways, was nearly as significant to me.


A few weeks after I'd submitted my payment for the race, I was casually talking to my colleague-friend Ira S. With my feet kicked up on a chair in his office, I mentioned this opportunity to do this race in Paris and my friend living in France. He immediately began speaking as if there was no question about whether or not I planned to go. But Ira is different than me. He speaks other languages, has lived in other countries and is, in my mind, more worldly than me. Of course doing this would be a no brainer to him. But to me, it was simply a pie-in-the-sky notion. So I told him the truth. That there was no way I'd go thorough the hassle of getting all the way to Paris just for me to go and run some race. That is, one just for me and the experience.

Ira immediately began listing the litany of reasons that I should go. That life was for living and that if I tried as hard as I could and it didn't work out, that was one thing. But automatically counting myself out would be something I'd regret later. And you know? I inherently knew he was right.

Of course, I can't say that I never do anything. I've had some amazing experiences as an adult woman that called for an understanding and supportive spouse and some hands on deck from others. But nearly all of those things have been either local or stateside. Which means they could occur over a three day (or two and a half day) weekend. Nothing calling for a passport or acquaintance with another language. And I can't say that it was because of lack of opportunities. I think it was more lack of consideration, you know?


And so. I went. And from the moment those wheels went up and that plane rose into the heavens, I knew. I knew that it would be a pivotal experience and one that would enrich my life. And you know? It was amazing. Just. . . . . yeah.

Another of our college sorority sisters routed a business trip from Barcelona through Paris to join us. And, in the end, we became three girls about town together. Feeling the pulse of the city, testing out our rudimentary French in cafes and on trains, window shopping and laughing so hard that we could hardly breathe. I'm so glad that I went.

So very glad.

For nearly the entire time, I thought of my family. But I also thought of me.

And you know what? I thought of Mrs. Sanders, too. I went a little harder, laughed a little louder, imagining myself as an octogenarian reflecting on this time. I sure did.

Look. I don't know all the answers. But what I do know is that my trip to Paris taught me that I really should push a bit outside of my pragmatic mom-work-wife life box some more. To put my own life experiences on the table for discussion. Especially the outlandish ones that require jumping through a bunch of hoops like this one did.


I hate that Mrs. Sanders has regrets. Because regrets suck. Even the little twinge-y ones that niggle at you when you know you should otherwise be happy with the hand you've been dealt. My guess is that Mrs. Sanders' narrative is one to which many women can relate. I feel honored that she trusted me with those feelings. I'm also grateful to Ira for helping me to picture myself as worthy of that experience in Paris.

When I see Mrs. Sanders again, I'll tell her of how she inspired me. And hopefully she can take solace in knowing that she helped another woman do at least one thing that she otherwise wouldn't have . . . . and perhaps shielded her from some potential regret.

 "Live while you got all your rhythm in your hips still, okay?" 

~ Mrs. Sanders, Grady elder.

Words to live by. And to live it up by, too.

Happy Saturday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . please give it a listen and listen to the lyrics. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A change in perspective: On Cam Newton.

Okay, so here's the short story:

Zachary and I watched the Super Bowl together last Sunday. Because he loves football and is a true student of the game, he admitted that, while he had a great fondness for both quarterbacks on both teams, he was squarely in the Cam Newton/Panthers camp.

I think it's because my son and many kids like him identify with Cam. Like them, he was a rec ball football player growing up and, of course, Zack loves that he's from Atlanta. I had to snap his picture during that game to capture his scowl. He was not pleased.

As a side bar, I have to say that Zachary's full knowledge of the game was impressive. He called more plays than I'm sure the coaches did and had several suggestions for what the Panthers could do to right the front of the ship. Finally, on that last turnover, he gave up.

"I'm going to bed, mom," he said. "This game is over."

And he was right.

Later that evening, Cam Newton gave very surly answers in the press conferences. He definitely poked all of the bears who hate him and even swayed a few that love him to the dark side. I woke up in the morning and saw that social media was painted with mean, mean words about Cam Newton. Comment after comment--even from the true, blue Carolina Panthers fans--all scathing and foul.

When I got Zachary ready for school that next morning, I gave him the final score and other updates.

"Did anything else good happen?" he asked.

That's when I decided to tell him about that press conference. He asked to see it and I showed him that, too. I saw a tiny wave of disappointment wash over his face.  That's when I knew I needed to talk to him about the hometown hero Cam and all of the other things that somehow got conveniently forgotten after the media momentum took over.

So what did I say? Well. Mostly I kept it real. And then, after talking to him, I came inside, jumped on Facebook and typed out my thoughts on Cam. I clicked send and headed in to get dressed.

By noon there had been approximately 5,500 shares. Yup. By close of business, it was over 20, 000. The following day, I was even asked by a major news network to let them publish it on their blog as an op ed piece.

Who knew?

And so. Below is the post that I banged out onto Facebook Monday that ultimately was shared over 35,000 times. Morals of the story for me are:

1. People who write a lot can write good things in short time frame.
2. FaceBook and social media are no joke.
3. Still not sure how I feel about being viral.

Anyways. Read below.



Picture this:

You are born and raised on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia, where you spend your earliest years playing recreational league football with your brothers. Early on, you stand out and are noted to have special talent and an unusual combination of a throwing arm, an eye for the field, and bulldozer running ability. On you go to high school, where you are lauded as the best thing since running water and Estee Lauder for your remarkable talent. Division I schools go berserk, offering you racks-on-racks-on-racks of scholarships.

You decide to become a Florida Gator and do quite well for a freshman. But, like many young people in that environment, you make a few bad choices that land you in some trouble. The trouble reaches a climax and threats of expulsion. Your rising star feels like it is falling. You transfer from the multimillion-dollar SEC show to a junior college.

But even at that JC, your talent comes exploding out of you. One NJCAA championship later, you are back on the SEC recruitment bubble and, this time, you shift your shade of blue and orange to become an Auburn Tiger. Though marked with some controversy, it turns out to be a good move. You become the Heisman Trophy winner, you win a BCS National Championship, and are the first round draft pick in the NFL draft. This was the dream you'd spoken of since you were playing rec ball in the SWATS (Southwest Atlanta.)

You become the face of a youngish team, the Carolina Panthers. You get endorsements, praise and fans galore. You use your influence to give back to communities and chasten your body to be better than even the best you've ever known. You become the face of every kid who suits up for those Saturday games and give hope to the ones who are hitting speed breakers along the way. You set your eyes on a shiny prize to culminate what you've been working for your entire life: The Super Bowl.

The year 2015 comes and you play the best season of your life and arguably a season better than most quarterbacks in the NFL will ever know. Your explosive smile can't be hidden, your youthful exuberance oozes out in the form of dances and celebratory gestures that build your quest for your team's first ever Lombardi Trophy to a fever pitch. And like the sign of the true greats, people hate you and people love you with equal fervor. But it's OK, because you can taste it. This is your moment. The show has come.

And so, under those lights and with the cameras you, the rec ball kid that beat the odds of going from SEC to JCC to SEC again to NFL finally gets the chance. This is your wedding day, the pinnacle of your 26 year-old life and you run out of that tunnel not only with your fans but with every single child whose story mirrors yours strapped onto your strong, muscular back. It's for all of you and you know it.

But something happens. Nothing goes as it is supposed to. Things unravel and mistakes are made. You fumble in the end zone, get stripped of the ball repeatedly and, ultimately, your team loses the game -- the game that you have been imagining for your entire life and the very one that was so in your grasp that people urged you to "go easy" on the opposing team. In the back of your head, you know what your Christian mama would tell you: "What God has for you is for you." And you know that this wasn't what He had for you this time.

But it still hurts. Bad.

Now. See all that and then moments after, picture speaking to throngs of reporters. No, this isn't a discussion of just a crappy game. This is a man who is dejected after losing what was, quite literally, his life's dream. If you were close to that -- I mean, so that you feel it in your bones -- would you dance? Would you smile? Perhaps. And perhaps, were you him and that dream that was shut up in your bones slipped from your grasp, you'd have the maturity to take your lumps and be a good sport -- which, I agree, would be the right thing to do.


Take a moment to ponder your greatest wish. The one that goes back further than you can remember and the one that you can't get out of your head. Now, imagine an entire world watching as you get right up to it, and then add to that legions of people who not only look like you but identify with your story. Then see it all crash down before you on national television, with cameras flashing. What expression would be on your face? How would you speak or what would your mannerisms convey? At 45, mine might be different than they were at 26.

I told my son that Cam Newton made a mistake in that press conference, that he was immature and a bad sport and shouldn't have behaved that way. But then, I told him of all of the things I just mentioned. I told my son -- my rec ball kid who loves Cam -- that he is just a man and that what we see is one who was so disappointed that he lost his impulse control. That if Cam had just thought about the fact that he was the league MVP -- someone with a 15-1 record -- and about all of the children that he made smile that he'd realize that he had nothing to be sad about. That said, every NFL player wishes for a ring and can want one bad enough to make a huge faux pas. He is still the same guy that put in all that effort to beat insane odds, and that I'm still okay with him being his fan. I told my son, for context, that Cam Newton is twenty years younger than his mother and father and that young people do some dumb things and learn from them -- his parents included.

Be careful with your Cam Newton narrative. His father is not Archie Manning and his path is a story of triumph and resilience. That will be the overarching take-home message that I tell my son about the guy who smiles and "dabs" -- not that he was a bad sport.

This morning as we waited for the bus, my son said, "I'm glad for Peyton Manning. This was a good way for him to go out. I'm sad for Cam Newton, but he will get over it. It looks like he wanted to cry, and if I was him, I would want to go be by myself so I could cry, too."

To which I replied: "You know what, son? Me, too."

Happy Saturday.

Fight or Flights (of Stairs.)

My feet were already moving briskly by the time I reached the elevator vestibule. As predicted, a large crowd had gathered already; all shaking off the cold and readying themselves for another day at Grady Hospital. Even if I hadn't just arrived, scanning that mixed group of employees and probable patient family visitors would've let me know of the wintry conditions outdoors. There were heavy coats worn by those with tightly folded arms and woolen hats still pulled down to cover chilly ears. At least two people that were still trembling from subpar outerwear; light jackets that underestimated the frigid outdoor temperatures or simply doctors who'd decided to make a break for it from the car to the hospital in threadbare white coats and nothing more. All of it was ordinary for a weekday morning at Grady Hospital.

Since I love people, there's something about the elevator people potpourri that makes me happy. I listen to their idle conversation and, on most days, join in.

"That hawk ain't playing out there is he?" I heard one man say.

"Shoooooot! What you saying? I liked to froze to death!" another responded.

And this--this banter about the cold peppered with down south slang--is all so very Grady. So, so very. One middle aged gentleman was holding a tray of four McDonald's coffees. He let out a big yawn and shivered his shoulders while still carefully holding on to what was surely a highly anticipated delivery.

"Heeey! You brought us all some coffee? Awwww, thanks sir!!" Right after I bellowed this out in a most singsongy way, the whole group erupted into laughter. I pretended to reach for one of the beverages.

"I don't think you want to come between my wife and her McDonald's coffee," he replied with a raised eyebrow. "I wouldn't recommend it, doctor!"

And all of us laughed some more and that was that.


Now you'd think that all of this transpired in far more than twenty seconds. But truthfully, that all occurred as I quickly strolled into and then through that main elevator hallway. I never had any intention of riding the lift; this week I'd made up my mind to take the stairs every single morning and every day after lunch--even though my home floor was ten flights up. And so. As my feet clicked-clicked-clicked on the linoleum like a trusty metronome atop a piano, these observations and commentary happened in passing. And, again, all of it was ordinary and so very Grady.

Once I cleared that lobby and entered the hallway toward the stairwells, I picked up my pace. Like always, I started coaching myself on the ten plus one hard flights ahead of me. Not too fast. Not too slow. Breathe. This is good for your heart. Take that, heart disease. It startled me a bit when I heard someone call out my name.

"Manning! Where you going so fast?"

I swung around and looked back to the elevator vestibule and noticed one of the unit managers from 9A.

"Stairs, baby!" I called back while still walking backwards. "Want to bust out your 9 flights with me? I'm going to 10A!"

She paused for a beat and then shrugged. "Let's do it, Manning!" And that was that. Ms. Harris trotted over to catch up with me and away we went toward the stairwells that go from the ground all the way up to the twelfth floor. Still, all of it very ordinary and very Grady.


So in we go into that stairwell and begin our uphill battle toward our respective workplaces. Our lighthearted exchange continued from the hallway into that vacuous space, both of us schlepping coats and pocketbooks since it was the start of the day.

"How many can we do without stopping, Harris?"

"Manning, you're doing good to have me in here period!" I chuckled again.

But right after that, I noticed something. A youngish man had popped into the ground level door just as we approached the first half of the first flight. He wasn't carrying anything nor did he look like an employee. The baggy coat he wore was too thin for the weather and too large for his wiry frame. And none of that was unusual, actually. It wasn't.

That said, there was one thing I noticed. Well, maybe two things. The first was that the minute I laid eyes on him, something inside of me immediately bristled. I wasn't sure what it was, either. Something about it was just . . .I don't know. . . . weird, maybe? I'm not even sure of the word. I just know my instincts told me that something about it wasn't right.

Then, in a fleeting moment, I saw his eyes dart from side to side and then back toward the little glass window between the stairwell door and the lobby. And then--right then--I heard a voice as clear as day in my head speaking to me:

"Get the fuck out of this stairwell. Now. Right now."

And, yes, my inner voice has a potty mouth when under duress. I think it's to make me listen. And so. Just like that, after only one flight of stairs, I grabbed the door handle and exited the stairs on the first floor.

"What happened?" Ms. Harris asked.

I paused for a moment and then spoke. "That guy behind us. Something about it wasn't right. Like, I don't know. I felt like he was about to rob us. Matter of fact, I feel sure of it."

Just when I said that, Ms. Harris stared at me for a beat without speaking. She took in a big drag of air through her nostrils and then shook her head.

"What?" I pressed.

"You know what? I saw that guy. He was coming up the hallway and had passed the stairs already. It was kind of weird because he double backed, I guess, and came into the stairs once we did. And I didn't want to assume nothing, you know?"

"What were you feeling?"

Ms. Harris shook her head. "The same thing, to be honest. Like something about dude wasn't right."


"Like he might try something."


She sighed. "Yeah. But I guess I sort of ignored it, you know? Thought maybe I was tripping."


So we stood there in silence. All I could think about was how ordinary the last few minutes had been and how, deep down in my soul, I knew that something, something was not right. And that I am learning to listen when I feel that way and respond before I'm sorry.


We took the rest of those flights up to the higher floors. We kept chatting and enjoying one another, too. But you could tell that both of us were lost in thought. Wondering about the near misses that occur every day and pondering what it is in the universe that gives us notice.

Do I know for sure if something bad was about to happen to us? No, not for sure. But the chilling wave that washed over me said get out. And I don't think that was on accident.

Working at Grady is a people-lover's dream; mornings that start with jovial exchanges with strangers and those familiar Gradyisms like winter blasts being referred to as "the hawk." But I constantly have to remind myself that it is a place that attracts people of all walks of life--some of whom have nothing to lose.

And this? This is Grady. And Grady is life. Laughter, humanity and flashing moments of the most beautiful and most ugly aspects of it all.


Happy Friday.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

More than a notion.

"She needs a nursing home," someone said.

It was all matter of fact; the way such things are always mentioned on rounds with those frail elders who've slipped into the cognitive abyss. And I didn't know all the details. I mean, not enough to go arguing and pushing back on a plan that had been rolling forward for this hospitalized patient for the last week. So I responded  with a simple word. "Why?"

"Dementia," I heard them say in response. "Like, she's delirious one minute and then sort of inappropriate the next. It's weird. And honestly, it's mild but the problem is that she lives alone and doesn't really have anyone to help."

"Why is she delirious?"

"Part of it is adherence to what she needs for her health. The other part, we think, is some underlying dementia. She does have someone to make decisions for her, though. Even though they can't really take care of her like we'd like."

"No one around to see about her?"

"Well. No family that can give her what she needs. So we're pursuing nursing home placement but it's drama since she's majorly pushing back on it."

"Dang. So she's aware enough to let you know she's not feeling that plan, huh?"

"Yeah. We just want to safely discharge her, Dr. M. So her durable power of attorney will have to sign her in against what will she has remaining."


Now that? That punched me in the gut and made me gasp a bit. "What will she has remaining" felt like we were playground bullies. Something about that grabbed me hard and said, "Pay attention. Go and talk to her. Think."


Oh, and let me be clear: The team that was caring for this patient before was thoughtful and empathic.  I know I had the luxury of being the Monday morning quarterback. The delirium portion was mostly resolved so I was looking at her through fresh lenses. Fresh enough to feel unsure about sending her to a nursing home.


And so. When we went in there, I listened to her speaking. This woman was older than my mother and stated proudly that she was a "Grady baby"--meaning she'd been born in this very hospital. That always resonates differently with me when I hear it from my Grady elders. In a city of transplants, the true-blue natives enamor me. She was true-blue.

Yes indeed.

And so. Admittedly, there isn't some really elaborate story that follows. I'd imagine the preamble of it all serves as a bit of a spoiler alert that she was, indeed, as sharp as the proverbial tack. And while I can't say that there weren't a few wrinkles in the fabric of her cognition, I can say that none of it was substantial enough to rip her away from the place she'd called home for the last fifty years.


And that? That's the thing. That is the piece I put my kickstand on when thinking of her, discussing her and laying out plans with my team. This notion of uprooting people with very, very deep roots and recognizing that it's a big fucking deal.

Pardon the f-bomb.

In 2006, Harry and I had a young toddler, Isaiah, and were expecting our second child, Zachary. Harry, who has a background in real estate investment, had found this amazing home in a wonderful in-town Atlanta neighborhood--literally walking distance from my employer, Emory University. The schools in the area had great reputations and the entire environment was everything we'd dreamed of having. It certainly had some "fixer upper" necessities, but that didn't deter my husband at all. And his faith in the potential this house had was enough to get me on board.


The home we were in at the time was lovely, for sure. That said, it was significantly further from all that we do both professionally and personally. Getting closer in would be game changing for our family. And no, we didn't need more space or anything. But this? This house was uniquely special. An opportunity just presented itself and, even better, involved my better half utilizing the skills that he'd been fine tuning for the last several years--negotiation and renovation. We didn't look back.

No one knows what the future holds--economically or otherwise. But barring any major changes, we came into that home--now our current home--believing that, God willing, we'd grow old there. I imagine myself slowing down and easing out to that same mailbox someday. Asking Harry if he fed the dog or picked up eggs or even if he wants a cup of herbal tea. And us sitting in our sunroom where the kids watch television now, shaking the hand of some young woman that one of our boys desires to marry. Then later, holding the hand of the grandchild or grandchildren that come from that union, walking through this very neighborhood to do the things that I'd been doing since I was a pregnant thirty-something.


So after that, I picture my mind getting foggy. Not full on foggy, but foggy enough to cause some people to do a double take. Still okay enough to take a shower and make some grits and sweep the porch and feed the dog. Fine enough to wave at the mailman and grab the bills and even get on line and pay them one mouse click at a time. But maybe just off some. Not able to remember which Bush or which Clinton is president or even how to stay on track with every day conversation. Then, I pray, that there is someone who is ready to step in and see about me, you know? To be a go between in the gap of what I can still do but the fog of what I can't.


If, for some reason, that person or those people aren't readily presenting themselves, I think about someone having me in a cold, sterile hospital bed that some 911 call sent me over to on a whim because I'd fallen and couldn't get up. And then I think that, kind of like when people were put on ships and taken to the western world against their will, it must be awful to suddenly be told that you are never, ever going back to live at what has become the only home you really, truly know. Especially if my wits were still about me enough to feel that loss.

So yeah. I think of that and hope like hell that my doctor or doctors or nurse or nurses or social worker or social workers come busting in that room with their hands all splayed out screaming to every one to WAIT, WAIT, WAIT and THINK, THINK, THINK before just signing that form to send me off and away from the home I spent my whole life building. I want them to look hard, go find someone--anyone or some kind of resource to help me. Or at least try, man. At least fucking try.

Because thirty years from now, if you take me up out of my house without warning, I won't want to go either. And I swear on my sister's life that I will fight you tooth and nail with what will I have remaining. Yes. What will I have remaining. Damn right I will.

My patient said she wanted to go home. Her insight wasn't poor and, as it turns out, there are some people around who could see about her. She was a bit forgetful and tangential but she still knew that Cam Newton was going to the Super Bowl and that he was a hometown hero, straight out of southwest Atlanta where she'd lived her entire life. And she wanted to be home to watch that game on her own damn couch where she could clap her leathery hands and drink a light beer.

And you know what? If I have any say in the matter--and I do--that's exactly what she's going to do.

Hell yeah.

Happy Hump Day.

*details were changed to protect anonymity.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Secret o' Life.

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain't nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we're on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

~ James Taylor


"What's the key to making eighty-nine and still looking as good as you?" I asked.  The resident working with me smiled knowingly since this is one of the most predictable questions they hear me ask of the spryest of our Grady elders.

I never miss the chance to unlock whatever secrets my patients might have for longevity in life and marriage. So I always ask. And every time, I get an answer that makes me smile. Some short and sweet. Others long and elaborate. But somewhere nestled in every response is something for me to stick on a post-it note inside of my head for safekeeping.

And so. At the end of our visit, I asked that same question in that same way I generally do when addressing my Grady elders. I use their lingo, too. After hearing it enough times, I decided that I liked the idea of "making" some golden age. "Making" eighty-nine sounds like climbing the rough side of a ragged mountain--and now reaching those elevations that few have achieved. And interestingly, years don't seem to be referenced as being "made" until you get over a certain hump in the birthday game.


"You know I'm gon' make ninety in one month!" she announced with a proud slap of her knee.

I clapped my hands and nodded. "I saw that on your chart, Mrs. Calhoun! That's so great!"

"Sho' is." And from the look on her face, I could tell she meant it.

"So no secrets? You know I'm trying to find out how to make ninety and have it look like it looks on you, Mrs. Calhoun."

"Oh, baby it's simple. First, you gots to get on up in the mornings. Get on out the bed and move your body. I ain't saying you got to go crazy or nothin'. Jest get on out your door and walk some place. Work in your garden. Walk on over to see about a neighbor or to the store. But you can't jest stay holed up in the house watching the television."

"I like that advice."

"Mmmm hmmm. See, folk get up in age and stop moving they body. And now, I understand that ol' Arthur set in on some folk bones and they can't move. But even with my arthritis, I makes myself get on up and move. Every day."

"That's good stuff, Mrs. C. What else? You know we're taking notes." I winked at her and pretended to position my pen to write down her next words.

"Well, now another one is minding your own business, you know?"

I laughed when she said that. "My husband tells me I need work in this area, but yes, ma'am. I hear you."

"See, when you gets up in age, folk get to thinking they got the green light to weigh in on whatever they see fit. Like telling young folk what all they s'posed to be doing and how they s'posed to do it. Saying stuff about how folk run they house and who they decide to be with. And see, me, I figured out that staying worried 'bout stuff that ain't your business 'specially when it come to your kin as they start coming of age make you old. So, I jest mind my own business, you know? Even when folk used to try to get me to chime on in on something, if it ain't my business I jest shrug my shoulders and say, 'Ain't my business.'" Mrs. Calhoun shrugged for emphasis.

My resident nodded slowly and looked over at me. "That's great advice, actually."

"I never thought about the part about growing older and giving your opinion on something. That's a really good word."

"It's true, Miss Manning. Look like people excuse they elders for saying crazy stuff that ain't none of they business. So I think that make people judge folk and get to talking about a whole bunch of stuff that jest make everybody uncomfortable, you know? And I still got my thoughts on stuff but if it don't affect me and mine, I don't really fret about it. Saying a whole bunch on people's lives lead to arguments and hurt feelings and all that. Plus it make people not want to be around you. All that make you old."

"I really should have been writing this all down, ma'am." I squinted an eye and went on. "I can tell you mean what you're saying, too."

"I sho' do."

"Okay. So move my body and mind my business. Got it. Anything else we need to do?"

It's funny. Mrs. Calhoun was genuinely entertaining my questions about living to be an octogenarian. Though most of my patients answered me, few were so thoughtful in their replies. Her lip jutted out and she rolled her eyes skyward as if sifting carefully through her words. Finally, she lifted a long crooked index finger and looked straight into my eyes. "One more," she said in her gravelly voice.

I scooted my chair forward and leaned in. She didn't speak immediately. Instead, she held my gaze with narrowed eyes for a few beats, curled in that finger and brought it to her lips. I stayed silent, waiting for what I knew would be worth the time.

Her finger extended again to point at me and then the resident physician beside me. "This probably the most important thang. You got to see about yourself. I mean look out for your own happiness and don't let nobody treat you bad, you know? Like, when you a kid or a even a young person, it ain't always easy. But once you grown, you got to love yourself enough to not let nobody get away with being ugly to you. And that include you-yourself, too."

"Okay. . . " I lulled her to go on, leaning even closer.

"Put on some clothes every day. Brush your hair and care 'bout how you look. That's all a part of seeing about yourself."

"Got it."

She paused for a second and then patted her hand on the desk. "Oh! And I almost forgot. Make sure you got you a good stick a red lipstick in your  bathroom drawer. And that you wear it sometime."

"Red lipstick?" My resident glanced over at me raised her eyebrows. We both returned our attention to Mrs. Calhoun, intrigued with this unexpected statement.

"Yes, sugar. A good one, too. One that make you feel like a woman. Not no gloss or tint neither. I'm talking 'bout a R-E-D red that can't nobody mistake. You keep it there for when you need to feel strong and good. Or sometime jest for no reason at all. Paint it right on your mouth and look yourself in the face."

Damn. I was taking this all in in giant gulps. I wanted her to go on  and, lucky for us, she did.

"See, putting on some red lipstick--that's saying something to yourself. You telling yourself you worth noticing. But then you got to walk in that. Wit' your head all the way up like you know something they don't."

Whew. This woman was preaching, do you hear me?

My resident feigned a frown and groaned. "But Mrs. C, what if you look terrible in red lipstick? I can't even imagine myself with red lipstick." She laughed when she said that but Mrs. Calhoun didn't.

"Every woman can look good in red lipstick once she find the one that suit her. But the key is jest that she just got to make up her mind that she deserve the attention it brang, see. It ain't never the color. It's that part that hold women back from it."

And that? That I knew I wouldn't want to forget. Like, ever.

No, I would not.

A little later, I saw Mrs. Calhoun in the hallway, cane in one hand and discharge papers in the other. I stood there watching her and reflecting on her words as she took those short deliberate steps toward the exit. At the last minute, I decided to sprint up to her to hold the door--but mostly to tell her goodbye.

"It was so good talking to you, Mrs. Calhoun. Thanks, hear?"

'Oh, Miss Manning, you know I love talking to you young people." I beamed at her reference of forty-five year-old me as a "young person." She nodded in acknowledgement of me propping open the door for her and headed into the lobby.

Just as she was right in front of me, I spoke.  "Mrs. Calhoun? I'm just wondering. . . do you still have a red lipstick?"

She turned to look me in the eye and smiled wide. "Sho' do, baby."

"I love it. Think you'll wear it next month when you make ninety?"

"Maybe. But it ain't got to be no special occasion, do it?" Mrs. Calhoun reached out and patted my shoulder when she said that. Without saying a word,  I dragged in a deep breath and nodded hard to let her know I received her good word.

Because I did.

Move your body.
Mind your business.
See about yourself.
Oh, and have a good red lipstick. 

Words to live by. Like, literally.


Happy Saturday. Best. Job. Ever.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Acutely wonderful.

with Jen and Lucas Grady chief residents 2015-16

It was wonderful and ordinary. Me, sitting on that little couch in their office and them talking to me from their desks. I had a paper in my hand filled with my thoughts on something and I needed their input. And nothing about that was unusual.

Especially this year.

"What do you think about this?" I asked. "Or wait a minute--what about that?"

And, like always, first we looked at each other speaking without talking. Then we all started talking at once yet somehow understanding and hearing what each person has to say. Ideas flying all over the place, crashing into walls, mixing with perspectives and considerations until they meshed into one thing. That's been the nature of this think tank we've developed over the last couple of years. And all of it has been wonderful.

Magical even.

In general, I have a great amount of affection for our Grady chief residents. On most years I befriend them and begin to hammer out ideas with them on things related to our residents and education. They ask for my help on an idea and I ask for theirs. Then, at the end of the year, I feel this slight bit of melancholy at the end of the year, knowing that it's the end of the era. And usually, it's sort of bittersweet but in a way that's mostly okay since that's the way of the medical education world.


But this year is different. The two chief residents at Grady, Jen and Lucas, attended Emory for medical school. I knew them both slightly as students; well enough to be happy when they matched into our program. Then Jen was placed into my Thursday morning resident clinic. I started working with her every single week and got to know her much better. She was also mutual friends with a few of my former small group advisees so the "getting to know you" process was swift and natural. I was immediately impressed by her and wasn't even remotely shocked when she was selected to be a chief resident.


And then there was Lucas. I had these smatterings of encounters with him in the clinic and always found his energy positive and infectious. But that all reached a fever pitch when he was assigned to work with me for his first ever senior resident Grady ward month. It was, in a word, awesome. We were drunk with teaching, high on ideas, and manic from the magnetism that we immediately felt as medical nerds. It was indescribably great.

But just when it seemed like it couldn't all get better, I learn that not only will Jen and Lucas be chief residents--they'd be chief residents at the Grady site together. And this meant that all of this energy would be in the office almost directly across from my own for an entire year.


We hit the ground running. Since we knew we'd be working together during their chief year, we started our collaboration process during their third year of residency. We hammered out ideas and created curricula. Ran our lecture ideas by one another and offered meaningful feedback. And essentially, pushed ourselves into this amazing zone of development that has lasted for over a year.

Great stuff has come from it, too. Seismic shifts, in my opinion, with the learning climate and the level of expectation our learners have from themselves and their teachers. Out of the box interactive sessions that feel more like a really fun gathering than a mandatory lecture. All a manifestation of what can happen when minds intermingle and ignite one another into being able to do their best work.

So yesterday, I was sitting on that little couch running ideas by Jen and Lucas. We skipped from idea to idea like rocks on a pond, influencing each other and laughing and doing the thing that we've been doing for the last two years. And as I looked at Jen, I noticed all of the words written behind her on the dry erase--board, deadlines, ideas, goals--many of which I sat with them to create. Then in the midst of it all, it dawned on me that it is almost February and that June would be here before we know it. And that, like all of the time I've spent with the chiefs, this time is finite.


A wave of sadness washed over me and I quickly coached it away. But right now, I'm feeling it. Feeling it in this weirdly complicated way since the biggest emotion I feel is deep gratitude for this era. But I think that's the hard part, you know? Sometimes you're doing something and you know it's an era. That once it ends it will never be this way again. At least not like this, it won't. And usually that's fine because our lives are enhanced by moving from era to era and the very best ones leave us forever changed for the better--they do. This is no different.

I remember feeling this way around this time during my chief residency. I had this profoundly special mentor named Rick Blinkhorn who was acting as chairman at the time of my chief year. He was smart and innovative and provocative. I loved him in the way you love a cherished mentor because I knew--and I mean it, I was very aware--of how great that era was. I could feel it each day when I met with him and knew I was growing toward something greater because of that time. It was acutely wonderful, that time. It was, and I felt it and knew it.

Yes. That.

Acutely wonderful. I guess that's it. My time working with Jennifer and Lucas in this capacity has been just that. Acutely wonderful. The immediacy of what comes out of our collective thoughts feels magical, not just pleasant. And since I know that it is finite, I feel a little sad about it.

But not so sad I can't enjoy it for what it is and what remains. Plus, I've lived long enough to know how much comes from these times and how much better I am as a result. I'm excited to see that part for us all.


I love that I am a thinker and a feeler. I love that these acutely wonderful eras in my life have been punctuated with chest-grabbing emotion to let me know that this is happening and that I am fortunate.  And let me be clear--much of what I do on my job and in my life are perennially pretty awesome. But somehow, some way these moments, that is, the pieces of my life that are acutely wonderful find a way to stand out. They grab me by the waist and pull me close with an outstretched hand to waltz me all around the room in big sweeping circles. And I feel it. And know it. And savor it. I do.

I'm nearing the end of something acutely wonderful and I know it. But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. No, I would not.


Happy Friday.