Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reflection on a Sunday before going to Grady: Kitchen Floors

Today when I woke up, I didn't really want to do anything other than nothing. I am by no stretch of the word the type who needs to stay in bed all morning, but Lord knows I love me a good ol' extended, early morning snuggle fest on the couch with my two stinky little boys. But I had to work, so that was out of the question. Bummer.

Decided I would sneak in just a few moments of snuggles anyway, and then enjoy a cup of coffee before getting ready to head to Grady. I initially planned to return emails and read a review article on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever over coffee, but instead sat at the kitchen table savoring this image:


Watching Isaiah and Zachary sprawled out on the couch watching "The Electric Company" just put me in a trance. I thought about how blessed they are. . .I am. . . . and how it simply isn't a promise for it to be that way. A life that consists of a warm house with a Mommy and a Daddy who love not only you but each other and who openly role model to you how to give and accept love. Toys to play with, yogurt to ask for, cable channels to choose from, shoes to turn down in the place of other pairs, and just. . . .contentment. The contentment you see in this picture.

This month, I discharged two patients straight to the street. Not because our amazing social worker hadn't arranged either a personal care home or a ride to a shelter, but because the patients were of sound decision making capacity and preferred the street to a shelter. One guy told me, "I'm okay with the street. It's all I know." All you know? Damn.

Another patient started crying this month when I told her she was HIV negative. She admitted that she stopped "turning tricks" only a few months ago, and was afraid that she wasn't worthy of a second chance.

"Why prostitution?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"For crack." Wished I was wrong.

"So do you still use . . . the crack?"

"Nope! It's been 4 months, that's why I'm so happy I'm negative." Face lights up. . .so much that she started crying some more. I was so happy to hear that she was off crack that I almost broke her hand from squeezing it so hard.

"I'm so proud of you! That's awesome!"

"Yeah. . . . I'm just so ashamed for making so many bad choices, you know? My son. . .he gone. He don't even know me, doctor."

I thought about one of my favorite quotes from Oprah Winfrey that's taped to my office door. I held her hand even tighter and at the risk of sounding corny, I shared it with her. "There is this quote I like from Oprah Winfrey. . .she was talking to this woman on her show once who had made a terrible mistake. . .actually had been drinking and driving and hurt some people. . .and she was so ashamed and sorry, you know? She was crying and everybody was judging her. Oprah told her, 'We are not our mistakes, we are our possibilities.' I love that idea. Today I am saying the same to you."

She cried some more, and (y'all know me) as soon as I got out of her room, I did, too. Turns out this young woman was raised by her alcohol addicted mom and (still) crack-addicted father who fancied her early-blooming body at 9. Would get high and then have his way with her. She learned to hate herself early and you know what happened next. Enter crack cocaine. "Out there bad" as she described it. . . "just trying to make herself disappear." Pray my boys never want to just disappear. Never. But how can you blame her?

Remembered something I heard a patient say once about crack:

"It's the loneliest, most hateful drug you can use. With marijuana, you pass a joint. With heroin ("hair-ahn") you tie each other off together and shoot each other up. With lines, you take turns. But crack? You want to do it all by yourself 'cause you want it all to yourself. You don't want to see nobody you love 'cause they gon' tell you to quit. You don't care about nobody, not even yourself. You just want to get high. Then by the time you ready to quit, your people don't want to f--- with you no more 'cause they scared of you. So you get lonely and depressed. No choice then but to go get high."

A lot of my patients have lived some hard lives. Instead of being sprawled out on a couch in a sun drenched living room, at Isaiah and Zachy's ages some of them were sitting on roach-infested kitchen floors where there was way too mature music playing in the background. Instead of somebody cooking up thick sliced bacon, the crackling sound of a water, baking soda and powder cocaine concoction became the other music that was too mature for their ears but equally mundane. A sound as every day to them as toast popping up in a toaster or coffee brewing in a coffee maker.

I look across the kitchen table and see my boys lying there like little angels wrapped in a cherished cocoon of PBS Kids channel nurture. . . . . at that moment, my heart is as glad as it is sad. I try hard to see the silver lining for my patients; imagining the one gentleman that said he only knows street life under the warmest, driest bridge in Atlanta. I silently pray that my beautiful little sister who had just stopped prostituting her body for crack cocaine is somewhere sitting on a God-fearing auntie's porch getting her hair braided for a job interview on Monday. And I pray for mercy and for grace. For them. For me.

I sip my coffee and take in the image across the room. . . .struggling with the aspects of God's will that simultaneously tear at my heart and cause it to overflow with happiness.


  1. I really enjoyed reading that entry and here's why. I lost my daughter last summer to multiple organ failure. She was only 34 years old.

    I get so frustrated with people who... forget to appreciate their children. It's refreshing to stumble on a blog like this and the very first post I ever read here is THIS one.

    So thanks.

  2. From someone who grew up in a trailer park with gangs and drugs and abusive parents, particularly an abusive father. Thank you for this post. It reminds me of where I've come from and just how much God has not let me go. I can only hope to fight for my patients the way you fight for yours.

  3. There's so much beauty in simple moments like that. Lately that's where I've found God the most, in things like that: kids at peace knowing their parents love them and provide for them. The way people greet each other after a long absence. Nature. It becomes even more poignant (and heartbreaking) when juxtaposed next to how wrong things get sometimes.

    I'm so glad to know there are doctors, moms and people like you in the world!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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