Sunday, July 23, 2017

Heavy on my soul.

"I don't know no love songs
and I can't sing the blues any more
but I can sing this song 
and you can sing this song
when I'm gone."

- James Taylor

"You okay?"

I pointed at my chest. "Who me?" 

"Yeah, you. Look like something heavy on your soul."

That's what my patient said to me on rounds the other day. It was late in the afternoon and visiting him was the last thing on my to-do list before heading out of Grady. He'd had some tests and I'd come back to check in on him and explain results. He'd need a minor procedure the following day and I wanted to be sure he was okay with it all. He was. After we'd gone through all of the business parts, I realized I had some time. Instead of walking out to chat with friends or my team, I pulled up the bedside chair and made up my mind to spend that window chatting with him. And honestly? Nothing about it was heavy. If anything, it was light.

Quite light.

A woman was on the television talking about a myriad of unimportant things and repeatedly kept using the word "slay" to describe any and everything. Her outfit. Her friend's hair. Michelle Obama's entire time in the White House. And even the person interviewing her. It was "slay" this and "slay" that.

Yeah, man. So, really, we were talking about whether or not the word "slay" had been officially beat to death or not. Me with my arm leaning on the bed rail and him narrowing his eyes and tapping his chin to give this topic far more thought than both of us knew it deserved.

It was perfect.

See, it had been a bit of a rough week. And with all the sandpaper rubbing against my heart over those last few days, this mundane chat with my young (but sick) patient was like a balm for my emotionally  weary soul. Plus, I really liked this patient. His energy spoke to my own from the moment I first shook his hand on rounds a few days before.  So, on this day in particular, I was really thankful to sit with him.


"I blame Beyoncé," I said.

"The Queen Bey? Honey, she is never at fault." He let out a moist cough into his fist and then slapped his chest a few times. I started to stand up to check on him and he stopped me. "I'm okay. Stay put."

I nodded and sat back down. Then went back to our conversation. "But you have to admit the word has been beat to death."

"Slay? Beat to death? Hmm. I don't think so. But it can't be the only thing you say, you know? Like, you have to mix it up. Everybody and everything can't slay." Right when he said that, the lady said it again. We both laughed.

We sat in silence for a few beats. And then I spoke. "Confession: I still say 'legit.' And 'epic.'"

"Whoa. You legit say legit still? And epic?" He widened his eyes playfully and raised his eyebrows. "And you seemed so cool at first."

"My niece asked me if I knew that wasn't really a thing people say any more. She legit said that to me." That made me snort out loud because it was so funny to me. He laughed, too. Followed by another cough.

After that the room fell silent again. The TV kept going and, other than my patient clearing his throat or coughing here and there, we weren't moving or talking. So there I sat. Chin in my palm and mostly just enjoying that moment. Which was good.

Really good.

A few more seconds passed and that's when he said it. Swung his head  in my direction and rested his brown eyes on me. Even though I was facing the television, I could still tell he we was looking at me.

"You okay, doc?" he said.

"Who me?" I pointed at my chest.

"Yeah, you."

I turned my head away from the television and back toward him. I poked out my lip and furrowed my brow.

"Look like you got something heavy on your soul."

Heavy on my soul.

I didn't say anything. Instead I just stared at him, surprised at how warm my face was becoming and embarrassed at how my eyes were stinging with tears.

"I'm okay," I finally said, speaking quietly. "But yes. That's a good way to put it. Something is heavy on my soul these days. But I'm okay."

"I hate hearing that. And here you are having to see about everybody else."

"No, it's okay. In fact, it's more than okay. Really."

I didn't talk because I didn't want to start crying, you know? But really, he was right. Something was heavy on my soul.

I wanted to tell him, too. I wanted to tell my patient--this patient who embodied every single thing I love about patient care and patient caring -- all about what was weighing me down. I wanted to talk about it with someone less connected to it, someone who didn't really know me. This way I could just hear the words or see the expressions in response unfiltered. Or, just maybe, I could wrinkle my nose like a little child and cry into balled up fists without any expectations or pressure. Empathy uncut.

But I didn't when he asked. I was his doctor. Though my sitting in his room that afternoon dissecting the social relevance of slang terms didn't exactly fall into the physician playbook I'd been shown in medical school or residency, I knew for sure that flipping the script in this way wasn't even in the same library.

So when he asked, I just stayed silent.


Just about 24 hours before that moment in his room, I was down in the emergency department seeing newly admitted patients with my team. My phone had buzzed twice in my pocket with text messages followed by two or three sustained vibrations from incoming calls. A few seconds later, I felt it happen again and that time, I fished into my white coat to see who it was.

Call me when you can. Alanna is not well. She wanted me to update you.

That was what the text read. It was from my colleague Danielle J. in reference to our friend and colleague Alanna. I walked straight out of that patient room and called immediately. That's when I learned that Alanna, who'd been fighting a ruthless cancer, was now intubated and in intensive care.

Wait, what?

The wind was knocked so hard out of my chest that I had to get out of the ER and away from my team immediately to catch my breath. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

As soon as I got out of there I felt the tears filling up my eyes. Once they began falling, I abruptly stopped. Then I turned my forehead into the nearest wall and let myself cry. And I could feel the people looking at me as they walked by, their feet slowing down and wondering what could be going on with this doctor and the muffled, guttural sounds she was making. No one said anything though. They, too, must have read the doctor-patient playbook and decided not ask.


Maybe my actions spoke enough. I mean, whatever it was had to be awful. A doctor facing a wall with shoulders shaking and body heaving in a stiff white coat said plenty. I guess it did.

Here's the backstory:

I met this remarkable woman named Alanna in July of 2007. I met her on her very first day of medical school when she came and sat in a room with several other medical students. And then, I really, truly met her when that big group was whittled down to just seven individuals--the seven that would go on to become my first small group.


I would get to watch her evolve into a doctor--literally bookending the experience from that very first day with placing a doctoral hood over her shoulders at commencement on her very last. I jumped for joy with her on residency match day and again jumped for joy when, after her residency training, she took a job back at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory where we first met. This time, though, it would be different. Now we would be colleagues--both of us Grady doctor attendings.


One year into coming back to Grady, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was aggressive, but they caught it early. And that Alanna. That tough girl slugged it out. She came to work and taught the residents and rallied on. Finally that final treatment day came and our whole division celebrated by wearing pink in honor of Alanna and every person affected by breast cancer. It was super awesome.

Things seemed to be getting back to normal. Alanna was getting on great as a Grady doctor and showing everyone the very things I got to see as early as July 2007. The accolades poured in and so did the opportunities. And she was over the moon. She was.

Last April she wasn't feeling good. I remember sitting outside having lunch with her between lectures at a medical conference we were both attending in Washington D.C. "I'm feeling a little under the weather," she said. And that was about it.

A week later, she would find out why. Acute leukemia. Yes, after licking breast cancer, she now had a new cross to bear.

"Are they sure?" I asked her.

"They are," she replied.

"I'm so sorry." My voice was a whisper.

"Me, too."

Up until the moment Danielle called me during my rounds that day, it never occurred to me that she wouldn't get through this. Our last chat on the phone was upbeat, hopeful even about the bone marrow donor match that she'd located and the road ahead. "I'm nervous but I'm ready," she told me. "Just ready to get on with my life."

"That's great," I told her. "So great." And then, like usual, I started crying. Crying these complicated tears about how much I hated knowing that her dreams were having these horrific speed breakers thrown before them. I'd think about her adoring husband and their precious son with his head of blonde curls. I could hear her telling me that she wanted more children and how she'd chuckle and refer to the timing of her breast cancer as "super annoying." All of that would make me cry when trying to talk to her. I guess it was because of the nature of how our relationship began. As her formal small group advisor, even when she joined the faculty, my role always felt more familial, maternal-ish and big-sisterly than anything else. And in that role I'd always prided myself in protecting my students. From any and everything I could.

Yeah, so not being able to do that made me cry.


She was super kind with my crying. Patient and super kind like she was with everyone. Because of that, even though we talked sometimes, mostly, we texted. And I'm grateful to this day that she permitted me to do that. So very grateful.

Just a few hours after I got that call about her being in the intensive care unit, another call came in. It was Danielle. And as soon as I saw the phone ringing, I knew.

"She's gone." That's all Danielle could eke out. I slumped to my kitchen floor and dropped the phone. And then we both erupted into tears. And the same thing happened a few more times that same evening.

It sucked.

I was on the hospital service when all of this happened. And, since I'd spent the entire night crying in the fetal position on my bed, I knew that next day would be hard. The faces of some people made me cry even more. Then the text messages from that first small group amplified how out of order this all was. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

So all of this is what was going on that late afternoon when I came to sit with my patient. And he was right--all of this was weighing heavy on my soul. So heavy that I couldn't lift it.

Even still, I wasn't forthcoming when my patient asked. I just stayed silent. Even though the heavy was palpable and suffocating to more than just me.

"I'm okay," I said.

"Okay." That was all my patient said. Except for a few moments later when he repeated it. "Okay."

I tried to take things back to where they were. Light, airy and easy. But it didn't work. That heaviness on my soul was now out of hiding and cloaking the room. It was about time for me to go anyway so I arose from my seat and told him so.

"I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" I said. I tried my best not to sound as somber as I felt. "Don't forget--nothing to eat after midnight, okay?"

"Okey dokey." He held up a thumbs up. I returned the gesture.

I stepped toward the door and stopped short to pump some hand sanitizer foam into my hand. Just as I grabbed the door, he spoke one more time.

"Hey, Dr. Manning? I hope it gets better. Whatever is heavy on your soul, okay?"

I forced a smile and nodded. I pulled the handle of the door and then stopped. But then something clicked in me like a light switch. I spun on my heel and faced his bed from the door.

"Um. One of the doctors I work with here at Grady? Um. Well, she passed away yesterday. And she was young. And I knew her since, like, her first day of medical school." I cleared my throat and pressed my back against the door to keep from crying. "So, today was hard. Because she was really great. Really, really great."

"Was she nice?" he asked.

I smiled at the simplicity of that question. "Nice? She was more than nice. She was the kind of nice that you don't see all the time. Like . . . epic nice. . . genuine and for real, you know?"

"Yeah. I think I do know. What was her name?"

"Her name was Dr. Alanna Stone."

He mouthed out her name and squinted one eye as if he was trying to determine if he knew her. Realizing he didn't, he first shook his head then switched to a nod instead. "Well. Something tell me Dr. Alanna Stone would be happy you was in here spending time with a patient like me on a day like this. It seem like she would like that. Plus sometimes y'all need people to see about y'all, too."

He was right. That thought made the corner of my mouth turn upward on one side. I thought of how someone had told me about how, even in her ICU bed, she checked on the well-being of the physicians involved in her care. She even graciously told them that she trusted and appreciated them--even in her last moments.

"You know what? I think she would." Then something came to me so I went on. "Now that Dr. Alanna Stone? She slayed, man. At everything she did. As a doctor and as a person she did. She really slayed."

My patient gave me a playful smirk. "She legit did?"

"She legit did!"

We both chuckled at that and pretended to give a high five through the air since I was nearly out the door. And just that quick the heavy returned. Pressing upon the room once again and sliding around my chest like a boa constrictor.

"Okay then, sir."

"Hey--Dr. Manning? Thanks for telling me that, okay?"

"Thanks for asking. For real."

We stood there looking at each other. Me at the door, him in his bed.

"I wish I'd met her."

"I wish you had, too."

I think he could feel the emotion mounting again and wanted to let me off the hook. He smiled the warmest, dearest smile ever and waved. "See you tomorrow, Dr. Manning."

"See you tomorrow, sir."

I slipped out of the door and let it quietly close behind me. And then I walked out of the unit as fast as I could. . .through the automatic doors, down the hall. . . and then into the quietest Grady stairwell I could find so that I could lean my head into a wall once more to cry and cry.

Crying because I would miss seeing the life of this beautiful woman continuing to unfold. Crying because thirty four is too young to die. Crying because a little boy had lost his mother and a husband had lost his wife. Crying because one of the most legit epic students-turned-doctors that I have ever witnessed has had her career cut short and that patients like the one I'd just left would never get to meet her. Crying because she slayed which was ironic because that's not a word she would have ever used to describe herself or anything else. But also crying because of that moment with that man and how Alanna herself understood more than anyone that patients take care of doctors, too. That patients save their doctors' lives every single day.

I will miss Dr. Alanna Stone.



Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . one of my favorite songs of all time.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Mandolin.

Me and Isaiah this morning

That's me in the corner. 
That's me in the spotlight.

- R.E.M. , Losing My Religion

Today I was sitting in church by myself. Isaiah had joined me this morning but he'd gone on to his middle school service and I to the adult one.

Which was fine with me.

Summer is weird for schedules. At least it is in my family. So a lot of our regular routine relaxes a bit. Harry had a late evening so was breathing heavily and not stirring even though I was moving all around the room. I decided to let sleeping husbands lie. Zachary was as still as a statue--not even the fake, smirking one that appears on most school days--when I tried to rouse him from sleep. I left him be as well. Isaiah was up and said he wanted to come with. "Wait for me," he said quickly pulling on his sneakers. "I'm gonna come, too."

Which was also fine with me.

He's getting older. Twelve now. Full of his own ideas, some of which are still adolescent half-baked, but still very good ones. Views and attitudes. Somewhere along the way he has decided that he likes attending church. Which feels really good since it's of his own volition. The fact that we can wear whatever we want, bring a cup of coffee or a water bottle right into the sanctuary, or even chew a stick of gum without admonishment doesn't hurt either.


I was sitting in church this morning. I'd chosen a corner seat, the first on the aisle. The kind of seat that makes you swing your legs to the side or stand up every time someone comes up. And probably, it's one of those things that, if you really, truly were to ponder it, is kind of selfish. But I just kind of felt like sitting on the end this morning. Which, as it turns out, was fine, too. Summer-schedule weirdness apparently isn't just limited to the Manning family. The church services are generally less full this time of year so no smiling usher-person came over to wave gently in my direction asking that I slide down.

I was glad.

So, I guess all of that had me in a peaceful place. The week had been full. I wanted a peaceful moment of fellowship. And, while I know that not everyone is a believer in God or a follower of any organized religion, I do think we can all agree to knowing that feeling of just wanting a peaceful moment. One not tainted by someone moving you from the place where you want to sit or forcing you awake and guilting you into doing something that, just maybe, you kind of aren't in the mood to do. So yeah. That's where I was.


That's when I heard it. Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. Like a rub on the shoulder when you feel sad or a very, very tight hug when you feel super happy. The room had fallen quiet, as often churches do when lights go down and doors close. But instead of someone talking or singing, it was just this sound, this melody.

I looked up from my corner seat. And there was this light falling upon this one man, head down and eyes closed, playing a mandolin. His head was waving rhythmically, almost choreiform and trancelike. Lost in the sound of his instrument.


I could see the other musicians on the stage, too, but that soft, bluish spotlight was on him. Eventually the rest of the lights filled in to reveal the rest of the band and they began singing. But for some reason, I couldn't hear them. All I could hear was him. And that mandolin.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender.

Like the flash of lightning, my eyes filled with gigantic pools of tears. They spilled over my lashes and onto my cheeks. It all caught me off guard. It did.

But that mandolin. So tender, so beautiful . . . it reached straight into my chest and clutched at my heart. Squeezing it tight and bursting from it every single moment of my week, of my life. And let me be clear: Life is good, it is. But it is, like always, full and complex. It is.

The more he played that mandolin, the more I cried. Tear after tear. Eventually, I just stopped wiping them away and just surrendered to it. All of it.

I'm taking care some very sick people at Grady right now. Sick in ways that I cannot really fix. And all of that feels so dark, you know? But then, right in the middle of all of that, are these enormous bursts of light that shine like sunbeams. People saying and doing unexpectedly amazing things. Some of them patients. Some of them not patients at all but just a part of the teams who signed up to care for them.

This one lady on my team was so sick that she could barely catch her breath when we came to see her. We were seeing her as a team and I felt guilty asking her to answer my questions or even sit up with such short wind and pain. But she did and I was able to assess what was happening with her from that. So I talked to her about the plans and answered our questions. And that was that.

Then, just as we prepared to go, she pointed at my medical student Joav and said to him, "Hey, you're the only guy on this team. How's it feel being surrounded by all of these ladies?" And we all just sort of chuckled as Joav made a small talk comment back. So we left the room and that was that.

But that wasn't really just that. See, on this team, I am working with a med student who is a transgender woman. She, along with all of us, is navigating a territory that is, to put it mildly, new to a lot of people around her. And with new or unknown things, people say and do things that catch you off guard. Some of them extremely hurtful. But some hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender.

Kind of like that man randomly playing a mandolin in my church today.

Or like a lady gasping for air who points out the obvious. The obvious being that there was only one man on our team.

Yeah, that.

So I saw my student Holly's eyes when listening to that mandolin. That flicker that went across them when that patient spoke those words. And, to quote Holly, a lot of trans women will never look like Laverne Cox. They won't have the "pretty" advantage or mysterious ambiguity that some others enjoy. But still. That woman--that woman who pulled her oxygen mask to the side to say what she said--didn't seem to care about all of that. Yeah, so that was part of what made me cry.

And then there was my patient who, while fighting for her life, shared on rounds with me that her biggest concern was getting some diapers to her auntie's house for her baby. That was her big, big worry. She said her baby probably has a washcloth on her. And then she started crying because, honestly, there just wasn't any sort of solution.

To get diapers, that is.

And me, I was just thinking about her medical problems, you know? How serious and life threatening they were and just how totally first world, in comparison, that getting a box of pampers was.

Except that it wasn't first world to her. It wasn't. To her, it was just her world.

So I thought of that, too. With each cord of that mandolin wailing into the heavens, I did. That brought more tears.

This week, at least three different nights, I woke up and felt something right in front of me in my bed. It was my youngest son, Zachary--ten and a half years old and up to my shoulder, no less. But somehow finding himself under his mama's bosom just like when he was a little toddler. So savvy that he even figured out how to do it without even waking me up.


And so I asked him, "What's up with you coming into my bed, son? Big ol' boy in my bed!" And mostly I laugh about it since it was as unusual as it was funny.

"I don't know, Mom," he replied. "Something just told me that you needed to feel my love this week. Plus I just sort of wanted my mom. So I got in your bed."

And he was right. So very right. Which was also something I thought about as that mandolin played.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. My growing, athletic and outwardly tough baby boy. Who somehow hasn't lost that inner compass to his mama's heart.

When he was about five or six, he tried to get in bed with me late one night. It had been a long time since that had happened so it startled me. I lifted up my blanket for him, and he started crying when I let him under the comforter next to me. I asked him why he was weeping and he said, "I'm getting big so I thought you'd say no. But sometimes I just want my mom."

To which I replied, "Remember this: Your mom always wants you, too."


I decided right then and there that I love the mandolin. Which probably I should have already known since one of my favorite songs of all time is "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.  The irony of that song, to me, is that listening to it is always a bit of a religious experience for me.


The rest of the service was amazing. I learned some stuff and was given some good ideas to reflect upon from the sermon. Nobody sat directly beside me or coughed or smacked gum or kicked the back of my seat. They didn't try hugging me when I was crying or intrude upon my mandolin-induced emotional outburst with words of consolation or inquiry. And I'm super glad, too, because I wanted none of that. I just wanted peace on the corner seat. Which was exactly what I got.

On the way out of church, I chatted with Isaiah about a whole bunch of nothing. He told me about what they did in middle school church and I did my best to explain the mandolin making me cry. "I love the sound of the mandolin," I told him. "It makes my heart fill up when I hear it." And since Isaiah said he didn't know what a mandolin was, when we got into the car, I immediately played R.E.M. for him from my iPhone and pointed out the mandolin parts.

He just sort of shrugged and said, "Uh, okay, Mom." Then looked at his phone.

Which was also fine with me.

So yeah. Today, that was me in the corner. Not necessarily in the spotlight. But  as filled with emotion as that man in the spotlight playing that mandolin.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. Like darkness and light existing together. The light always wins.

"Hey, Isaiah, get that paper and that empty bag off of the back seat for me," I said as we got out of car at home. He did as I asked of him and then walked toward the garbage can to toss the stuff in the trash.

"What'd you get from Target yesterday?"

"Some diapers," I replied. "And some wipes."

The garage door went up and Isaiah just sort of scowled at me. Then he just shook his head, deciding not to bite. "Diapers and wipes. . . . Uh, okay, Mom."

That was all he said before trotting up the stairs two by two and out of sight.

And you know what? That was fine with me, too.


Happy Sunday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . the song that me and my friend Mary Moon have connected over and that, just maybe, had something to do with her own baby playing a mandolin. (That might be in my own head, though.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

These three.

3 things I witnessed today on rounds at Grady

1. Faith 

Him: "I was scared at first. But I prayed and now I feel a lot better."

Me: "That's awesome."

Him: "I prayed for YOU, too. Asked God to give me a doctor who was patient and with kind eyes. When I met you and your team, I knew He heard me."


2. Hope 

Me: "How are you today?"

Him: "Thankful for another chance!"

Me: *high five*

Him: "You know what, Miss Manning? I feel like going on."

Me: "That's what's up."

Him: *looks serious* "I think this time I'm gon' get it right, too."

Me: "You can and you will."

And then we hugged it out.

3. Love

Me: "You look like you want to cry. Are you okay? Do you need anything?"

Her: "I need him to be better. Because I just love him so much."

Him: *words in Spanish*

Her: *full on crying*

Interpreter: "She is my world and I am hers. Every day this is what is in my mind. From morning until I sleep. God knitted our hearts together."

Then he grabbed his wife's hand and squeezed it tight. So tight that those hands looked knitted together, too.

Today at Grady I saw faith, hope and love in action.
These three--but the greatest of these was love.


Happy Thursday.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sixteen years.

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 
And mouth with myriad subtleties. 

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
       We wear the mask. 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
       We wear the mask!

- Paul Laurence Dunbar

We are drawn to Grady for its complexity. The people riding along in the struggle bus just hoping and praying to be seen. Seen by someone who cares for real and not just because caring seems like the cool thing to do this year. We want to be that person. We want to be the one who swoops in and helps. 

Because this is what we do at Grady, right?

July 1 marked my 16th year as a Grady doctor. And in 16 years I've seen a lot. I've grown a lot, too. There are stories that I've heard that would break your heart into a million tiny pieces. Laughter garnered from my patients that would split your side in two and make you vow to cover your ears at all funny things for the rest of your days. 


Here is what I have especially learned: Those drawn into the doors of this place know not fully what she will offer to them. She changes you. Makes you believe in humanity again and recognize the similarities we share instead of the polarizing differences. Without asking for it, she gives you that. Freely. And those who are most eager for her lessons get the most frequent and most heaping helpings of them. 

They do.

I saw something beautiful today. A patient felt broken. Sad and like their world had not really, truly been worth living. And no, not suicidal but more in this downward spiral. Life looked bleak. And, when I listened, it reminded me of the man who once told me that he felt like bugs were crawling all over his body. Once I leaned in and looked closer to him? He was right. There were bugs crawling all over his body. So sometimes? A bleak outlook on life is exactly what it is. 


But here is the thing about Grady. From some of the hardest, coldest concrete lives, there is still life. And from it, if you stay long enough, you see a leaf shoots out of it. And then a tiny bud. It blooms into a rose. Fragrant, beautiful. And something about seeing that restores hope in the person who watered it, not believing for sure that it would ever become the flower it was designed to be. 


So that? That is what I saw today. A patient was going through it. And that patient was honest about it. Said, "It is what it is--messed up." Family who mostly isn't fully supportive. And the person who was supportive not living long enough to stay in your corner, pat your back and send you back into the ring when you get your mouth piece knocked out. 

That is where we thought we came in. Us. The Grady doctors. With our listening ears and our hearts on our sleeves and our hearts that have just a little extra space inside for the least of these. Because, you know, that's what we do. Thinking all along that it's them who need us. 

Except when you do this you learn. Especially after sixteen years. You learn that, really, people are all a little bit broken somewhere. Us included. And that kindness is kindness and empathy is empathy and that all of it is therapeutic whether you have several letters after your name and student loans on your credit report or not. Every one of us could use that balm for our weary souls in the form of another human being looking in your direction and offering affirmation. Especially when it's genuine. 

I saw that happen today. At Grady, I did.

The patient was seen by a medical student on my team. And under that student's care that patient felt connected and safe. So, to this student, that patient shared a truth that had never been shared. A scary truth that doesn't perfectly fit into the box of "how to be" in the bible belt. And that student sat on a chair and held that patient's hand. 

She sure did.

She listened and nodded and created a safer space than the patient had ever known. A student did this. Yes, a medical student. And it made this tremendous difference that will, I'm sure, lead to better outcome for this patient. I believe that it will.

So I come back in with the team to see the patient. And I do the things an attending physician is supposed to do,  you know? I ask a few questions. I repeat a few parts of the story. I hold the patient's hand and let them know I am an extension of the care they've already received. And if the care hasn't been good? I am the place where that ends. Except, in this instance, it had been good. It had. 


So I go over everything and it is good. This person who'd felt broken was feeling better. Motivated to fight hard as hell to get to the other side of complicated. And a lot of it had to do with this medical student who'd quietly slipped into that room with a tiny pad of paper and a very big heart. Peeled off the mask that the patient had worn for over half of a century. And it was as a amazing as it sounds. 

It was.

But then something happened. That patient turned toward that student. Looked into her eyes and spoke words stronger than any healing salve in your grandmama's medicine cabinet. Trained those big brown eyes on hers and spoke of gratitude. But that isn't all that happened. 

No, it is not.

See, this student also knew of the pain of wearing masks. That patient let it be known that this student and her transparency had provided the wings this patient would need to fly. And it was stated concretely, too. In front of that whole team. Me, the resident, the others on the team. And that patient said that because it was exactly what was deep down inside of their heart. 

Sure was.

"Thank you for giving me the courage to speak the truth. I don't have to pretend I'm a mistake or the wrong person. I'm so proud of you," the patient said to that student. "You are so brave. And I admire you so much for that. Seeing you be so strong makes me feel stronger, too."

That is what that patient said. That. 

Let me tell you--this? This was a magical moment. And another perfect reminder that we think we sign up to do the healing. Here we come in with our little bag of medicine tricks, believing that we have the panacea to whatever ails you. Or at least the brains to talk about it all. 


Like I said before we, too, are broken. We come to Grady for one thing. But we stay or keep coming back for something altogether different. Healing. Our healing. Opportunities to remove our own masks and walk upright. Souls being soothed by humankind and reminded of the very best of who we can be. 

Grady gives that a thousandfold. Maybe even more 'fold than that.

I know I'm totally rambling. I know. 


Today was the very best of Grady Hospital personified. Underscoring yet again that the most important things we can give to our patients are never learned in medical school. We don't come needing to learn that critical piece--humanism. Instead, it is simply our job to fight to keep it intact. I think that what our patients most need from us are exactly the same things we need from other human beings, too. And when we both agree to remove those masks and share freely? It is a beautiful thing, man. It so very is. 

That is what I saw today at Grady. And what I've witnessed for the last sixteen years. 

And I'm thankful for that. Super, duper thankful.


Happy Monday. And here's to sixteen more. 

Thank you, Grady for giving me sixteen fantastic years and for saving a piece of my life every day, too. And thank you to that brave medical student for being you. You know who you are.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The lady in the street.

Street life there's a thousand parts to play
Street life until you play your life away

- Joe Sample

I was driving down Dekalb Avenue yesterday. Headed away from Grady in an effort to make it to Grand Rounds on the Emory campus across town. It was the lunch hour so there wasn't much traffic which was good. And on this day I was in a mostly good mood and didn't have anything heavy on my mind.

NPR was on. Someone was talking about the 45th President and something he said or did. Or both. And I just listened quietly, doing what I always do when hearing these radio segments. And what do I always do? I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the people speaking. Like, I imagine it to be like people are when they're in a room together on the phone and the person on the line is the butt of a joke. Except they don't fully realize that they are since it's the phone and not face to face. Yeah. So, I wonder if Kai Ryssdal and Steve Inskeep are snickering next to their microphones or if there's some sister producer making the kinds of faces that I make when hearing crazy stuff.


That's what I was thinking about and not much else. Unless you count the fact that I hadn't eaten lunch and was wondering if I would at all. I read a book recently about listening to the body and eating when you're actually hungry instead of just eating at the programmed times. So yeah. I thought about that, too.

The sun was out and the sky was blue. Which was very much a welcomed thing given the sheets of rain that we'd had the week before. Downpour after downpour, man. The kind that keeps kids indoors and ruins plans to do stuff.

So yeah. I guess I was thinking about that, too.

Along I drove . . . telling myself I wasn't hungry, giggling at the imaginary facial expressions I'd assigned to the NPR people and being glad that I wouldn't need an umbrella. And all of it was fine.

That's when I saw it. This blur of brown and blue. Spinning around like a real-life Tasmanian devil in the center of traffic.

"What the hell?"

I said that out loud. Because seriously, I had no idea what it was I was looking at. But then I got a bit closer and saw that it was a person. A woman, actually. Wearing this denim dress versus shirt that appeared both tattered and several sizes too big. And at first, it was hard to tell what she had on since she was moving so quickly and erratically.

Her arms were swinging at the air. She was screaming and punching and fighting some imaginary opponent, cursing them with such deep hatred that spit was flying from her mouth. Her feet were kicking in the air, too. I slowed my car down, partly because I didn't want to hit her but also because I was just kind of worry-wondering about what would happen next.

Then her wild eyes met mine. She lit over toward my driver side window--fast, too. So fast that I couldn't hide my startled expression or quell the wave of fear that washed over me. She ran right up to my window but then stopped. Her eyes were still pointed in my direction but I realized then that she didn't see me. Those eyes were looking through me, into some world far, far away.


And all of this was aimed into my car which was now at a near complete stop. I wasn't scared anymore though. Well, I take that back. I wasn't scared of her. But I was scared for her. Short term scared and long term scared.

Suddenly, it was like a switch flipped. She turned away from me and toward the oncoming traffic. Her bottom fell to the sidewalk while her knees went into a deep bend. Placing a hand on the ground in front of her, she began doing a sexually suggestive dance of some sort. Laughing the entire time, her brown and fractured teeth gleaming in the high noon sunshine. She was still talking, but I now I couldn't hear her.

I could see that she wasn't wearing underwear. Or much of anything beneath her clothes. They were falling off of her, now one deflated breast exposed. That made her throw her head back and laugh more.


A car was behind me. Dekalb Avenue has only a single lane in that direction during that hour. People needed to go. And since I was at a complete stop in a place where there wasn't a light or a stop sign, that honk was for me.

And so. I lifted my foot off of the brake and slowly eased forward. My pulse quickening because I felt like there was something I should do for her. Like, something you know? Even something little like buttoning her up and getting her out of the street. Covering up her body so that no one could see it on Dekalb Avenue or escorting her over to the Grady Psychiatry ER.


But I didn't. I moved my car up and eventually went back to driving to where I needed to go. I kept my eyes on her through my rear view and was relieved to at least see her get out of the middle of the street.

And that was that.

I wish I could say that this moment was something totally unusual. I mean, the half dressed dancing part was kind of odd, but not that sinking feeling I felt. This horrible mixture of guilt and fear and sadness and helplessness. That? That is something I feel a lot.

So those empty thoughts I'd had before were replaced. I sifted through what could have been happening with that woman and what would happen next. Like, was she mentally ill and in need of medication? Was she sick from drug dependence and under the influence of some mood altering substance? Was she a kid who'd been neglected and abused? Was she somebody's mama or somebody's sister? Did she have a grandmother somewhere who was praying nonstop for the Lord to take all of this away from her baby? Or was she none of those things?

Or maybe she was all of those things at the same time.

I don't know. Yeah, man. I don't know and it bothers me that I probably won't know.

I looked for her when driving to work today. Slowed down and really, truly looked for her all up and down Dekalb Avenue as I rolled up the street. I'd tossed a pair of pants and a shirt in the back seat just in case. At minimum, I told myself that I'd give her something to wear. And if her mind was in a better place, maybe I'd even ask her if she was okay.


I never saw her though. Not then or on the way home either.


Not even sure why I wrote about this. I guess I just wanted to honor her as a person. Putting even that tiny sliver of time into words to let her know I saw her. I saw her and in that moment wished I could apologize for whatever in her world had let her down.



The Mom Report Card.

"We gon' be alright." 

- Kendrick Lamar

Some days? Man. I feel like the worst mom ever. 


That might come across more dramatic than I intended. I mean, obviously not the actual worst in the history of crappy moms. Like, not as bad as that woman I recall seeing on some photo on-line who was taking some really inappropriate selfie snapshots in her bathroom mirror clad in pretty much nothing. . . .  but neglected to note the reflection of her infant child sitting on the tile floor behind her-- in what appeared to be a very full diaper.

Yeah. So maybe not the worst.

But seriously though? There are some days that I just feel like I'm flying on one wing as a mother. And as if my shortcomings will ultimately lead to the same unfortunate demise of a plane trying to operate with only one wing.


Okay, so honestly? Most days, I don't feel this way. But man. When I do? I like really do. I'll be doing something like hurrying to get the kids somewhere. And then my poor planning mixed with their lack of urgency explodes into me barking orders and eventually just setting the house alarm forcing them out of the house. Sometimes holding socks and shoes in their hands. Okay, a lot of times even.

See? I told you it wasn't pretty.

So then we get in the car and someone says a smart ass comment. Or declares that they forgot something quasi-essential to their future success as a student and it becomes abundantly clear that, given our tardiness already, that they'll just be shit out of luck for the day. And I find myself communicating all of this to my kids minus the word "shit" but with enough surly snark to count just as much as the aforementioned expletive.

Yeah. So that's how it goes on some days. And without fail, when the last kid is dropped off, my shoulders slump and I let out a big, defeated sigh. Followed by saying (many times out loud): "You so suck." Then, like always, I start running down my grades on my Mom progress report determining that I just might be at risk for academic mom probation.

Case in point:

Breakfast: Wait. You didn't eat breakfast? Shit. I thought you popped down a waffle, dude. Ugh.

Lunch: Not organic. At least one item with too much sugar.  Or conversely something so healthy that my kid won't eat it at all.

House: Lived in looking. Not hotel neat. Unless somebody other than mom does the clean up job.

Laundry: In dire need of doing. With simultaneous need for done things to be folded. Or moved from the couch after being half folded. Or just so badly in need of doing that everyone is to the point of beach towels being used for regular Tuesday evening showers. Eek.

Homework: Asked about but not confirmed on school website that day. So hoping it's exactly what the kid said it is. A form needs to be signed that I did sign but we left on the kitchen table after I kicked everyone out with the house alarm.

Dinner: You asked for breakfast for dinner. And I said yes. Twice in one week.

Night time reading: Me listening to Audible and you reading whatever I told you to read. Then you bargaining video game time with reading time. And eventually you listening to my Audible book with me, even if an occasional F-bomb is in it.

And so on.

So I go through all of this until I come up with a Mom grade point average which, on days like this, is not EVEN passing. Like, at all. Nope.

So yeah. A few weeks ago that's how I was feeling. Like the mom on mom-probation for poor performance in several subjects.


So when this happens, I do my best to chuck myself under the chin. I say stuff to myself like, "They know they are loved. It will all balance out in the end." Then I close my eyes and imagine them slapping knees and laughing as grown up men about how their mom used to flip on the alarm and force them out of the front door in 60 seconds or less. But in the most loving way, of course.


I'm not a perfect mom by a long shot. I'm not. And while I do think that I do a great job of loving my children and letting them know how much I love being their mom, on my beat-myself-up days, I tell myself that the best moms do that and feed their kids gluten-free, grass-fed, cage-free, organic food dinners and set timers for video game time. They plan camps like 5 years in advance for the summer instead of 5 days and they don't throw their kids out of the front door under the duress of a beeping ADT alarm. See, man. Those great mamas do all of this. 

And then they do some hot yoga after all of that.

I was exceptionally sucky the other day. I'd made the mistake of starting "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah on Audible while walking Willow one morning. Oh my goodness. . . the combination of his witty candor and that mesmerizing South African accent of his drew me all the way in. Like. . . . all the way in, man.


My kids would be asking me stuff and I'd yank out one ear bud, raise an eyebrow and try my best not to look impatient. But since my kids know how I get when I get into a crack-equivalent Audible narration that this is just par for the course. Mom will do 90% of everything with iPhone earbuds in until finally that creepy music pipes in that says, "This has been a production of Audible."

I even set the house alarm while listening to Trevor Noah this morning. "You got 60 seconds, dudes. Chop chop," I said. I wish I could say that wasn't true. See? Those really good moms would never do something like that. The only person who gets a mom upgrade when I'm on an Audible binge is Willow because he almost always can count on a longer walk. Otherwise everyone else? Not so much. Ha.


I am really just rambling mostly about how this motherhood thing isn't for sissies, man. It's no joke. Especially when you intermittently suck as a mom.


Now. Before you go worrying about me, know that I generally think well of myself. And though my marks in the mom class are not always passing, I have an extensive history of figuring out how to round out my grade in the end. So I'm hoping big time that this is what happens with these two little dudes living under this roof with the BHE and me.

Which reminds me of something else that happened recently. Like to hear it? Here it go.

So check it: A few months ago, I was in one of my mom-probation slumps. While I wasn't Audible binging or Netflix binging, I was busy with work and generally ready for the kids to be out of school. Most of my head butting was with Isaiah and somehow it almost always went down when it was just us two in the car. He's now twelve and growing smarter and smarter by the year. But not just smart. Smart and a smart-ass at the same time.


Because this kid has always been an old soul with a cantankerous streak like an old man in a barber shop, he likes to push my buttons. Questions things that are generally worth questioning but does so at the most inopportune times. Furthermore, he calls me out on things that are 100% true which, when I'm running late or already feeling a bit low, I could do without.


So on this one day, Isaiah began pointing out that I need to work on not being distracted behind the wheel. Then he started talking about how just because I'm not texting doesn't mean I'm not distracted. And since he's like an old man, I come right back at him like he's not even a kid. Or rather, like I'm not even an adult. Yeah. More like that. It's pretty funny, actually.

"Mom. Checking your eyelash make up stuff at a red light is still a distraction."

"It's called mascara."

"Well checking it makes people honk at you. That guy was honking because you needed to go."

"I did go."

"Once he honked."

"Horn honking is rude, man. Where I'm from? You don't go honking your horn for no reason."

"He had a reason. You were looking in that visor mirror checking picking black stuff off your eyelashes. Which looks not so good anyway so I'm not sure why you do it."

"Do me a favor. Let's ride in silence."

"That's not a favor."

"You're killing me."

"I want you not to be looking in the mirror so you won't be killing me."

I scowl in the mirror. He smirks back. And eventually the whole cycle restarts with another surly exchange.  So yeah. This went on for probably the last few weeks of school. And each day we'd bicker about the most unimportant things of all time. Then, I'd ask him a question about something he needed to have done and from there, would end up shifting from petty tween with him to fussing, nagging mom.


After enough days like this, you start feeling like you're dropping the mom ball, man. My sweet baby that wanted to hug and cuddle me was now groaning in my direction and ducking my hugs. I told myself that this was age appropriate although some piece of me had always hoped that tween-age behavior would somehow skip my boys.

So yeah. That was going on and I was feeling tired. Tired of no longer being sweet and awesome mom. I liked being her. Man, I did.

This one day, I pulled into Isaiah's school on two wheels to pick him up at the last minute from after school care. I scurried up the path to the gym and another mom decided she'd chat with me--even though I was clearly in a hurry.

"Did you see the 6th grade art project?"

"Um, no. I need to see it." Another reminder of my poor mom grades. Because clearly she'd seen it.

"You should stop on the way out to see it," she said.

"Uhh. . . yeah, I'll be sure to check it out." I started walking to the door. But she spoke again.

"It's pretty amazing. Especially Isaiah's part. Did he tell you about his part?"

Another 'F' on my record. "I'm trying to remember." Except I wasn't trying to remember. I'd heard him mention the 6th grade art project and how he'd decided what he'd do. I asked if he needed anything and he said no. So that was it.

I did at least know that the project was this giant tapestry made up of tiles drawn by kids in the class. That compliment given of Isaiah's part didn't shock me considering he's a pretty creative dude. But her persistence was a bit off putting. "You should really consider stopping in the main building to see it before you leave today."

That was the last thing she said.

When Isaiah got into the car, I asked him about the project. "What'd you do?" I queried.

And he shrugged a surly twelve year old shrug, yawned and leaned his head against the window.


I whipped my minivan around and made my way out of the parking lot. That woman imploring me to look at the art display niggled at me. Finally I pulled right next to the door and told Isaiah I wanted to run in to see the project.

"Coming with?" I asked.

"Nah. I'm good," he replied.

And so. I punch in the door code and hustle inside. Immediately I see this big quilt-like thing covering part of the cafeteria wall. It's made up of several squares each drawn by a different pair of hands.

"Oh. Okay, I get it," I said out loud. I said that because the project was a tribute to Influential African American Women in US History. This very liberal parent at my child's very liberal school was encouraging me, a black woman, to revel in this special celebration of sisters lovingly put together by my son's entire grade. Like, urgently.

Well that was nice.

I stood there looking. Lip jutted out and nodding. Ode to black women movers and shakers, huh? Cool. So yeah, I guess it's fair to say it did make my heart feel warm knowing that this activity is what his entire class was working on and thinking about and talking about. And that his school had deemed this the kind of thing worthy of their attention.

Not to mention it wasn't even February, man.

So I'm checking it out. It was an impressively diverse group of women, too. From several eras which was pretty darn awesome. Sojourner Truth. Phillis Wheatley. Michelle Obama. Marian Wright Edelman. Shirley Chisholm. Nikki Giovanni. Simone Biles. Oprah Winfrey. Lena Horne. Barbara Jordan. Debbie Allen. Misty Copeland. Maya Angelou and. . . . wait. . .who?

So there it was. Plain as day. My name. Kimberly Manning. Listed among the Harriet Tubmans and the Ruby Dees. My name. Chosen by my child as his Influential African American Woman in US history.

Wearing a damn superhero cape, no less. Seriously? Seriously.

Yeah, man.

I stood there in silent disbelief for at least two or three minutes. Then I slipped back into my car and started the ignition. Isaiah was now dozing off in the back seat.

"Son?" He opened his eyes and didn't move. His eyebrows went up to let me know he heard me. "Son?"

"Yes, ma'am." His voice was flat, purely obligatory. He knows his mother well enough to recognize that that second "son" meant to open his mouth and answer with words.

"I saw your drawing. For the project. That was amazing." I immediately started to cry.

"Oh my gosh, Mom. Are you seriously crying?"

"Of all the people though. I guess. . .I don't know. . . you picked me?"

He shrugged. "They said for us to pick an Influential African American Woman in US History. So I told my teacher that my mom is a doctor who writes and teaches. And that she's super influential to a lot of people." I just stared through the rear view mirror. Then he added, "Or at least she is to me."

After that, he just let his eyelids fall closed again and didn't say much else. Which was fine with me because I was trying my best not to let him hear me full-on ugly crying while driving the whole way home.


So listen. . . .  there are some days that I feel like a complete mom failure. And definitely in the runner-up finalists for the worst mom ever. But then. . . something happens that makes me feel like I just nailed the final exam and brought my grade all the way back up to a solid A, man.

This? This was one of those times.

Am I a perfect mom? Nope. But if this . . .this is who my kid envisions when he takes out a box of colored pencils to describe his mother and whom he perceives to be an influential black woman? Then I just might pass this Mom class after all.

Maybe even with honors.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Paradigm shifts.

When I stepped into the Grady coffee shop, there was a line. Three or four people long but still longer than what I was in the mood to manage. Usually I'm a very sound sleeper. But for some reason, I'd tossed and turned a lot the evening before and, as a result, overslept that morning. When I first woke up, I'd made a beeline to my Keurig to start a cup of coffee but with the chaos of kids and walking the dog, I didn't remember it until I was half way to Grady Hospital.


Clinic was already bustling when I got there but hallelujah for kind colleagues like Stacie S. who looked squarely into my sleep-deprived eyes and instinctively knew they were in acute need of a pick-me-up. "Hey Kim, I know you said you forgot your mug of coffee this morning. Why don't you pop down to Henry's to get you a cup?"

I didn't even bother with the obligatory first-pass refusal. She had me at "Hey Kim."

I walked down there so fast that it felt like I'd teleported myself. The two young women behind the coffee counter were hustling hard to manage the customers and seemed to mostly be on top of it all. But still. I'd hoped to meet a quiet mid-morning lull with no one there other than a peaceful Grady elder. No such luck.


I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my palms. Two seconds after that I remembered that this was the kind of gesture one does at home and not so much in public. I quickly dropped them back to my sides. Pressing my lips together, I drew in what I hoped was a subtle sigh to break up and also hide my impatience.

"Well, he said he might be coming but I don't know, boo. . . .say what? See, you asking questions that I can't even help you with. That's a grown man you talking 'bout. I ain't the boss of him."

That's what I heard verbatim from the woman ahead of me in the queue. She was balancing an oversized Samsung Galaxy phone on her shoulder while looking through her equally oversized purse. Her voice wasn't even remotely hushed. It was unapologetically loud enough for anyone in earshot to hear. By now, three more people had filed in behind us and a few others were milling around waiting for their orders. My groggy eyes narrowed at the back of her head. This was one of my pet peeves.

Blah blah blah. She kept on talking as if we weren't there. Zero shame in her game.

"Hell, if I know!" The yacking-phone lady threw her head back and laughed out loud at what was clearly some amusing exchange on that phone call. The curly ringlets of her synthetic hair braids shook rhythmically with every chuckle. She continued to rummage through her gigantic pocketbook as that phone still teetered treacherously next to her chin. Some piece of me wished it would fall to the ground and shatter into a million pieces.

Mean, I know.

"I can't find that paper with all that fancy mess you asked for! You getting a regular cup of coffee, chile." The person on her call obviously protested that suggestion. "Caramel Makey-Latte? What in the hell is that?" She laughed again. Her voice was raspy like a person who'd either smoked for a long time or who'd been screaming at the top of her lungs. The surly piece of me assumed it was the former. Or maybe even both.

Mean, I know.

Out came that gravelly laugh once more and, this time, a few heads turned in her direction. But she didn't seem to care. Like, at all.

I'm amazed that the searing stare I was giving to the back of head never created a full thickness burn. But I sure did try considering how she kept that uncomfortably loud phone conversation going strong well until it was her turn to order. And during her order, too.


"What can I get for you, ma'am?" the barista asked. The yacking phone lady pursed her lips and studied the menu on the wall. The same menu that had been there for the entire time she was gabbing on the phone about what sounded like a whole bunch of nothing.

My masseters bulged from my involuntary teeth gritting. I felt myself slowly veering out of my lane, easing dangerously close to tapping her on the shoulder and suggesting she get off the damn phone before ordering. But then I heard the BHE in my head telling me to calm down and stop worrying about stuff that doesn't need to be worried about. He's much better at managing such things so, thank goodness, I live with his little voice in my head to help me in times like this. That gave me enough pause to recognize that her full decibel chit chat was more annoying than criminal. Not to mention she kind of looked like someone who probably wasn't the best person to mess with.

Um, yeah.

"Now what you said you wanted? A caramel makka lacka?" She was still talking into her phone. While ordering. I tapped my foot softly, hoping she couldn't see the steam rolling from my ears. I fought the urge to snatch her phone mid sentence  and dunk it into a the biggest, hottest, most Venti-est cup of joe that they had. Extra hot, even.

"Do you mean a caramel macchiato?" The barista was still smiling. Far more patient than I would have been circa 1988 at the Foot Locker in the Hawthorne Mall.

"Hey you heard that? Is that what you wanted?" The yacking lady yawned and plopped her giant Coach bag on the counter in front of the cash register. A pack of Newports was poking from the top and also what appeared to be some clothing--including undergarments. It was visible to any and every person in that line. All of it was too much. Especially mixed with her being on the phone at the same time. She looked up at the barista. "Yeah, that sound good. That's what she want."

"What size can I get for you, ma'am?"

Her focus remained on the person she was speaking to on the phone and not the unbelievably pleasant person standing before her. "Now see, chile. You got me up in here taking a damn quiz! They asking me a million questions about size and all that. Caramel makky lakky don't come in just one size." She listened for another reply and laughed again. This time I could actually smell the cigarettes. Fortunately her back was to me because that time I grimaced in real life. Her attention went back to the lady behind the counter. "Just do whatever the big size is."

"Grande? Venti?" The barista held up two cups. And she was still smiling. God love her for being so patient.

"Why is Grande smaller than Venti? Hell if I know."

I wanted to scream. Right then and there, I truly wanted to do just that. For some reason, the look on the barista girl's face seemed to snap the yacking lady into a bit of reality. "I'm just gonna get you the middle size," she said into the phone while making fleeting eye contact with me. I offered back a tight lipped smile, representing my acquired southern hospitality more than anything else. "Hey, let me also get a grande size of the regular coffee, too." The sweet barista girl nodded and punched in that, too.

Finally I was able to order my simple cup of much needed coffee. "Room for cream?" the barista queried me.

"Please. Thanks." I kept my eyes trained directly on the barista, my hands inside of my white coat pockets. Straightening my spine, I forced the sappiest smile I could find to rage against the phone lady and her unruly behavior. I wanted to be the antithesis of her socially unacceptable uninterrupted coffee shop conference call. The barista lady placed the blonde roast on the counter in front of me as I offered her a nod of thanks. "'Preciate you," I added.

"My pleasure!" she responded. Her eyes lifted up to the person behind me. That barista girl was far less worried about that previous customer than I was. That's for sure.

On a scale of one to ten for being annoyed, the only reason I didn't feel a ten when I saw the yacking-phone lady still adding sugar and creamer to her coffee drink on the condiment cart was that she had finally gotten off the damn phone. My chest rose as I drew an exaggerated drag of air; I still felt the urge to internally protest although I was trying not to outwardly show my disapproval of her earlier behavior.

"Pardon my reach," I said while gripping the creamer carafe.

"No problem." She looked at me and smiled. Her face was pretty. Though her features were youngish, I could tell from the fine lines around her eyes that she was closer to my age than the twenty something baristas. She also looked tired, too. Tired like a person who has been living longer and harder than only two decades. Her clothes were also youngish. Junior cut sweats with the word "PINK" written across the bum in blinged out block letters. Regardless of her actual age, I decided that she was old enough to know better. Better than to yap on the phone in public like that. And better than to wear some Victoria's Secret velour sweat pants anywhere, ever.

Catty, I know.

She stirred her drinks slowly and seemed to be off in another world. That place was far more peaceful than the laughing, cackling one she'd just left. I decided that I liked this one better.

Snotty, I know.

But see, I hadn't slept well the night before. And I was tired. Furthermore, that coffee shop was filled with all sorts of people and most of them didn't look like me. But she did. So some piece of tired me was mad at her for being the other black woman in the room and choosing to represent us this way. Even when her far away gaze drifted over to my eyes, I felt myself rebel. Turning my eyes downward and folding into myself like origami to signal to the world that I wasn't with her. That I am not the person who'd continue a conversation on my cell phone while paying for a coffee because it was just downright rude and maybe even something that would feed a single story stereotype of who we both are.

Yes. I was judging her.

"I like your hair," she finally said.

"Thanks," I mumbled. One corner of my mouth went upward as a pseudo-olive branch. And I was conflicted about it since I'd already decided that I wasn't aligned with her nor was I her friend.

Then something happened. Out of the blue, she turned her whole body to face me and said, "I am so, so tired. I ain't slept in more than two straight days." She pulled one of the drinks up to her lips and sipped it carefully. After letting out a quick shudder from the hot liquid touching her mouth, she sighed. "That's good."

I felt my heart defrosting. Even though I really needed to get going back to the clinic and even though I'd made up my mind not to like her, I decided to bite. "Why haven't you slept?"

"Oh, 'cause my baby was in a car accident two days ago. I live in Baltimore and she down here going to college. They called me 'bout my baby girl and said she was gon' be in intensive care. They said she was knocked out cold when they got to her and they took her straight to Grady for emergency surgery in a helicopter. I hung that phone up, got my keys and walked out my door. I drove all night 'til I got here."

"Wow." I could feel the metaphorical icicles crashing to the floor around me. "Is she okay?"

"She got her pelvis shattered. And some organ damage that made them have to operate on her stomach and bowels a leave her with one of them bags 'til she get better. But they finally took the tube out her throat last night and let her eat today. First thing she said was that she wanted me to get her some Starbucks. I sholl was glad when the nurse told me they got all the Starbucks stuff down here in this shop."


"Yeah. It's 'bout to be a hard road. She real young and alive, you know? She a good student and be enjoying herself down here in college, know what I'm saying? And having that bag on her and not being able to walk round yet . . . " Her voice trailed off and her eyes quickly filled with tears. She patted the corners of her eyes with napkins, shook her head and sighed. "I thought my baby was gon' die. I did. I got up here and saw her laying there with all them tubes coming out her body. That ain't nothing I wish on nobody mama." A tear rolled down her cheek.

I placed my free hand onto my chest. "Oh my God. I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, we all we got. She my only. I had her by myself, too. Her daddy ain't never been too involved although I did try to call him to come up here. And since she got out that ICU she don't want me out her sight. Like, I couldn't even come down here without her talking my head off on the phone. But I just do what it take, you know?" I felt my face burning, thinking about her initial reference to a man. That was probably her daughter's father. "I had to get out that room 'cause just one day ago, I thought my baby was gone. And it's hard seeing my beautiful baby like this but it woulda been worse to lose her, you know? So I drove all night. Ain't really slept since."

"Man. She's lucky to have a mama like you." I felt the hot coffee on the palm of my hand, radiating through the cup. It was a welcomed distraction from the heat emanating from my face. I felt so ashamed of my feelings before.

"Yeah, I guess. Her mama was scared. Real, real scared. Shit, she still scared."

And when she said that? I could see that she was on the tippy tip edge of tears again. And since I didn't have any other words to offer, I just sort of stood there in this awkward silence. Finally I impulsively let my next thought slip out of my lips. "Um, do you need a hug?"

The look of surprise on her face made me immediately wish I hadn't asked. I mean, she was from Baltimore for crying out loud. Who asks a person from the place that inspired that television show "The Wire" if they need to hug it out? But then I saw her head nodding. And after that I heard her reply in a teeny-tiny voice.


I sat my coffee on the cart and, before I could overthink it, I wrapped my arms around her tight. Gave her a big, two armed hug. The kind that you give when you really mean it. Eyes closed, palms pressed tightly into the center of the back, heart to heart.

And, in this case, mama to mama.

I tried my best to imagine the pain she must have been feeling. The terror in her heart as she pressed that pedal to the metal, not knowing if her baby would live or die. I tightened my grip on her back at the thought.

I sure did.

And that? That was the lever that opened the flood gates. Her body shook rhythmically in my arms as she released a deep, tired cry. I just stood there and let her. For as long as she needed to cry.

Yeah, man.

It was so tender and transparent. I could feel her mama-bear emotion draining out of her and onto the shoulder of my white coat. And I kid you not, all of this happened right then and right there inside of that busy coffee shop in the downstairs lobby at Grady Memorial Hospital.

When she pulled back from me, her entire face was red and covered with tears and snot. I handed her a stack of napkins off of the coffee station and smiled. "Whew. Oh wow, girl. I'm so sorry," she murmured.

I glanced at my soaking wet shoulder and shrugged. "Looks like you needed that."

"I guess I did, huh?" We both laughed.

"You take care of yourself, okay? And try to get a little rest, too."

"Now that my baby is awake and able to talk to me, I'm hoping I can." She held up the two cups of coffee and looked down at her body. With a chuckle she added, "But not until I get me some clothes that ain't made for a teenager. I came down here so fast I didn't even pack nothing. I been wearing stuff out my daughter's dorm room." A wave of embarrassment washed over my face again.

"I'd say any mama who can fit into clothes out of her daughter's dorm room is winning." That time a few people in earshot laughed, too.

It felt like I'd been gone too long. I needed to go back to the clinic. "Listen. . . I pray your daughter has a full recovery. And that her mom gets some peace of mind."

"I 'preciate you, doctor." I could tell that she meant that. Then she added, "Hey, do you got any kids?"

"Yes, ma'am. I have two sons."

She curled her lips and nodded. "I could tell you was somebody mama." We both smiled at that statement.  "Do you work upstairs in the trauma part of the hospital?"

"No, ma'am. I work in the clinic and on the non-surgery hospital service. I was just down here getting some coffee."

"Well, thank you for being my angel doctor this morning. I'm for real. My heart feel better after meeting you. So I just want to say 'preciate you for taking a minute to care about somebody. People be going through it up in here. You don't never know what they dealing with."

Something about that made me immediately want to cry. I felt the tears coalescing in my eyes and making them sting. Twisting my mouth to break up the emotion, I nodded in agreement.

Those parting words played on a loop recorder in my head for the rest of the day. I'm not sure I ever even took a single sip of that coffee that I'd bought that morning. That paradigm shift was all the stimulant I needed. It sure was.

Sometimes we start off wrong. In our attitudes, our thinking, our perceptions. Especially when it comes to people. But everyday I am reminded that we are always more alike than we are different. I'm thankful for life's little autocorrections.


Happy Hump Day.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Images of This American Life: All is well.

Memorial Day at the lake with family. The grey from both sides of my family is coming in fast and furious. I've decided to embrace it. 

The only thing better than a big cousin is a big cousin who will take you out on the jet ski over and over and over again.

Can't believe my little flower girls are now a high school sophomore and a college freshman. Crazy.

I could watch this interaction all day. My nephew is so patient. 

It seems like just yesterday that my nephew in back was the size of Zachary in the front. The days are long but the years are short. This I know for sure.

Zachary is still the snuggly one. He always finds his mom and gets next to her. I always tell him, "Remember--whenever you want your mom, know that she wants you, too."

Family. We are good.

They kept encroaching upon my seat. 

I was trying to teach them how to blow bubbles. What is it with kids these days not knowing how to blow bubbles in bubble gum?

Tickle torture has become predictable. Little cousin is ready to run.

Stepping out to a Delta debutante ball. Was proud of this consignment deal dress.

The very day after that ball: Spring break day one with the boys. I was on fumes but still in a happy place.

With the son who doesn't care if you don't feel like running.

With my wise old man Isaiah. This was at the March of Dimes walk.

Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society visiting professorship at New York Medical College last month.  Pretty cool experience.

This was a big deal to me.

Jamba Juice moment. I love that place.

Jack and Jill of America Atlanta Chapter Mothers' Luncheon. My mom joined me which was super awesome. Especially because this year I was awarded the 2017 Mother of the Year Award. I love making my mom proud. She was beaming.

At commencement with a few of my newest colleagues.

For colored girls who considered being doctors when the rainbow wasn't enuf.

"No, this is not a dream!"

Last day with Small Group Delta. My how the time flies. 

Zachary's book parade. His class did "Harry Potter" as the theme. 

Look on my face when Zack informed me that he was down with Slytherin not Gryffindor because it's less predictable. 

On Mother's Day with the snuggly one.

Isaiah is almost taller than grandma. Yup.

With niece number 1 who is on her way to Georgia Tech next year. 

Uber ride with my BFF Lisa.

When your friends are fabulous it makes you feel the same way.

13 years strong with the BHE and never better. Look at that beard! Swoon.

Rounds last week. The night after that party. Can you say tired?

Finishing my final leg at the Ragnar Relay Tennessee. One of the best experiences of my life.

Look on your face when you and a few friends run a 200 mile relay together and finish.

With my big boy Isaiah. Always so much fun.

The snuggly one strikes again.

Big brother and a grande latte. What could be better?

Easter Sunday. Pretty fancy, right?

My kids in their Easter Sunday best. Bwah.

Co-chaired a charity race. This was me after it was over. We raised over $20,000. 

With my awesome co-chair. I am a goal junkie. Though my job is busy, I love setting non work related goals like this. It feel good.

I hope all is well on your end. I have so much to write about but have had a lot competing. I miss my friends here. Know that I am thinking of you, okay? 

Happy Monday.