"You can take the doctor out of Grady Hospital,
but you can't take the Grady Hospital out of the doctor."
Although every year on January 1, I resolve to be so organized that everything I need to prepare meals is already in my refrigerator. . . . .it never seems to happen. No doubt about it--I'm the queen of "Let's have tacos," but "Oops, no taco shells," or "How 'bout chicken'n'dumplings?" but "Rut roh. No chicken or dumplings." That said, I was rushing through the aisles of my local supermarket picking up a few items for dinner one evening, and I had a grand total of five minutes to pick up spaghetti sauce, ground turkey, noodles, broccoli, salad-in-a-bag, and granny smith apples to stay on schedule. I'm proud to say that I did just that, and managed to slide into the line at approximately 5:05 p.m.--insuring that I would indeed make the 6pm daycare pickup cut off. Shweet!
I yawned and thumbed through a gossip magazine while waiting behind the one person ahead of me. A bikini-clad Kim Kardashian was on the cover with a headline underneath describing how she's "okay" with having cellulite. I felt amused as I asked myself if Kim Kardashian was really clear on what was considered cellulite. Decided that if she really knew first hand about sho' nuff cellulite on her hips, thighs, or buttocks and that if she happened to be truly "okay" with said cellulite, that there is no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks that she'd allow herself to be photographed from the waist down in any bathing suit, let alone a bikini. (Errrr. . not saying that I personally have cellulite . . errrr. .. yeah. . . .)
I slowly inched my cart up to the front of the check-out line. A smile crept over my face as I imagine Isaiah and Zachary fighting over who gets to put what on the conveyor. As cute as it is when they go back and forth while trying to help me--demanding, "I'm the gentleman!" "No, I'M the gentleman!" --I have to admit that it is kind of nice to be able to make a leisurely visit to the store without pushing one of those twelve-foot-long,kid-friendly, mom-unfriendly carts with the dune buggy attached in front. I decided that, as un-relaxing as it sounds, kid-free grocery shopping qualifies as a Calgon moment. Aaaaaaah.
Suddenly, I overhear an exchange taking place between the cashier and the woman ahead of me:
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but this card is reading only three dollars and twenty-two cents," announced the pimply-faced check-out guy while handing her food stamp debit card back to her. In my opinion, his voice was just a lit-tle too loud for the situation. I also didn't like the way it lacked compassion, but perhaps I was reading to far into it. . . . .
"What?" replied the woman incredulously while shaking her head, "That don't sound right. Can you please check it again 'cause that don't sound right."
Pimply-face rolled his eyes and took the card back from her in a way that bordered on a snatch.
He gave her an exaggerated sigh. "Still three dollars and twenty-two cents. What would you like to do, sweetie?" He curled his lips and blinked his eyes at her in slow motion. Not cool.
Okay, first of all, let me tell you about this lady. She was a grown woman. No, I take that back--she was more than a grown woman--she looked like she was a grown woman with grown kids, too. This woman had to be at least sixty--maybe a little older. (So why this nineteen-year-old child would think it was appropriate to address her as "sweetie" is beyond me.) Anyways, she was wearing some kind of uniform which suggested that she had just gotten off of work, and the sneakers on her feet suggested that it was a job that required her to be on them all day long. Although she was no taller than five foot two, she was at least two-hundred-fifty pounds which probably made working on those feet just that much harder. The buttons on her shirt were strained from her ample bosom, but I was able to make out her name embroidered on left chest pocket:
It looked like Irma had had a long, hard day. It stunk that someone who looked like she'd already put in some time on this earth was obviously still having to work so hard. It also stunk that after working all day, she'd have to deal with some teenager calling her out in the grocery store. I narrowed my eyes and gave the cashier a searing "ice-grill", hoping he'd look in my direction.
Irma feverishly rummaged through her purse as beads of sweat accumulated on her brow. I noticed her hands as she unloaded the contents of her bag on the counter one by one. Her stout fingers were each adorned with tightly-fitting rings that looked like they could only be removed a ring-cutter. She sighed and shook her head. Pimply-face finally looked over at me and mouthed, "Sorry." I stuck with the mean mug. Grrrr.
He drummed his fingers on that mini-counter used for check-writing and smirked at her impatiently. "Okay, honey, I have more customers, so I need to know do you want just one of these items or what do you want to do?"
Honey?! Why you little. . . . .
His patronizing tone was really ticking me off. It also annoyed me that he assumed that she had no alternative form of payment. Even if she didn't, the least he could have done was assume she did. Instead of waiting for her answer, he grabbed the microphone on his aisle and bellowed, "I need a manager on 3 for an cancel override!" I wanted to jump over that counter and grab him up by the collar (but don't worry, I didn't.)
Irma looked crestfallen. She slowly snapped her weathered purse shut and looked down. That's when I asked myself, "What would Oprah do?" (Yes, I know -- that's not how the saying goes. . .but I'm just being honest. . . .)
Come on! Y'all know what Oprah would do!
"Miss Irma?" I spoke loud enough for her to know I was addressing her, "I got you."
She swung around and looked at me with a bewildered stare. "Beg pardon?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. . .I didn't mean to startle you. . . I read your name on your shirt," I laughed. "But I can help you. I've come to the store and forgotten my wallet, or had the wrong card and it's such a pain to have to come back." I forced a nervous chuckle and looked in her eyes. She already looked grateful, particularly for the normalizing statement.
"You got. . .my groceries?" she asked with a stunned expression. "Like, you'll pay for them?"
"Yes, ma'am. Today I'm in a position to do just that, so with your permission, I will. Would that be okay?"
"Oh my. . .well, yes. . .well, thank you. . .thank you so much," she stammered. I could see why Oprah was so into the pay-it-forward thing. It felt kind of good. Then. . . .
That's when I did what I shouldn't have done. I looked. Yep. I looked. Inside Miss Irma's basket. I know I shouldn't have, but I did. Aaaaaaah. I shouldn't. Have looked. In her basket. As my college buddy used to say, "Got to be more careful!"
Here's what was in there:
- three cans of Spam
- two canned hams
- some bacon
- a bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate squares
- two bags of Oreos
- a package of fruit cups
- a gallon of milk
- a twelve pack of generic colas
- a six pack of Oodles of Noodles
- a bag of Lays potato chips
- a cabbage
- some frozen corn on the cob
- a box of four sticks of real butter
Dang! Why couldn't I just perform my random act of kindness and keep it moving? Why-O-WHY-O-WHY??? Arrrrrggggghhhh!!!
That's when I really started wondering, for real: "Seriously, what would Oprah do?" I wasn't sure of that answer, but here's what I do know for sure:
You can take the doctor out of Grady, but you can't take the Grady out of the doctor.
My friends, I know you are cringing because by now you know I'm fairly predictable and that my life is a real-life Seinfeld episode. . . . and yes, my friends, you KNOW what happened next.
"Miss Irma?" I asked while helping her place the items back onto the belt that the cashier had just put back into her cart, "Miss Irma. . .uhh. . .you don't have any medical problems, do you?"
See? Why is that your business, Manning? It isn't your business. At all. Who on earth do you think you are? Oprah would totally have not asked her that. This is why Harry is constantly telling me, "Watch your own lane!"
"I have high blood pressure and a touch of sugar," she answered matter-of-factly. "But for the sugar, I just take pills, not shots."
I looked at the Oreos and the chocolates and winced. I wanted to tell her that if she is taking antiglycemic medication that it wasn't "a touch" of sugar but a full-on bear hug of sugar, but decided for sure that Oprah wouldn't have said that. "Are these groceries for you?"
I know. It really wasn't any of my business to be asking. . . .but Spam, y'all? Really?
"Mmmm hmmm," she responded without the foggiest notion of where I could be going with this line of questioning.
::Boop! Boop! Boop!::
That was the sound of Pimply-face quickly re-ringing the items that had just been overridden. I raised my eyebrows sheepishly and looked in his direction. He wasn't paying attention to me, so I waved my hand in front of him. It was obvious that he hadn't forgiven me for ice-grilling him earlier. "Ummm. . . .excuse me," I said, "I need you to wait for just a second, okay?"
He shrugged, did an eye-roll/head-shake combo and began studying nailbeds (in a way that was waaaay too animated. . . but is another story in itself . . . .) I looked back at Irma who now had a shopping list in her hand that she'd retrieved from her purse. I noticed that a few people had gotten behind us in line, and against my better judgment, bit the bullet.
"Miss Irma. . . umm. . .listen. . uuhhh, I'm a doctor. . . .errr. . .and I'm a little bit concerned that some of the stuff in your basket. . . well. . .they might be things that aren't the best things for someone with high blood pressure and diabetes."
"Yeah, I was thinking them fruit cups could make my sugar go up. As for the cookies and chocolates, I don't eat them every day."
"Umm. . .okay. Well. . .the Spam is kind of salty. . and the ramen noodles are, too. . . .uuuhh. . plus they're really, really high in fat. . . .umm. . . .and the Lays probably wouldn't be so good for you. . . .and. . ."
Before I knew it, I had picked apart Miss Irma's entire basket and broken down the sodium content and glycemic index of every single item in far more detail than I'm sure she'd ever had any desire to hear in her whole life. By the time we finished the discussion, I had vetoed all but three items in her buggy. Yeah. It's not pretty, I know. (But I'm saying. . .I maintain that Oprah would NOT, I repeat, NOT have bought her some Spam.)
"Miss Irma, if you want, I could get you some fresh fruit and meat? That's a lot better for you."
"That stuff go bad on you," she countered. "Would you buy me some frozen pizzas instead? Or some chicken nuggets that I can heat up in the microwave?"
That's when it dawned on me that this was much bigger than a chance encounter in a grocery store. This was about education and economics and resources and much, much more. I admit that the Pollyanna clinician-educator in me felt happy that our paths had crossed and conjured up this rosy image of her reading labels and making smart choices in the future. Unfortunately, the realist in me had to accept that this was a multi-layered problem that wouldn't be solved in ten minutes. But still. . . .I had to give it a college try.
"You could get some fresh chicken and then you could freeze it. . .you could even cook it, then freeze it?" I suggested half-heartedly. Deep down I knew she was right. That stuff does go bad.
"With my cabbage and my corn, huh?"
"Sure!" I was relieved to hear her response.
I pointed to a cooler a few feet away near the entrance of the store. "They have some chicken and fruit right over there. If we hurry, we can get it without losing our spot in line."
Before I could offer to do it for her, Miss Irma scooted to the icebox and returned with three packages of chicken and a box of clementines. We shared a smile as the bagger placed these last items in the bag.
"I sure 'preciate you, doc," she said genuinely.
I replied with a slow head bow as if pretending to tip an invisible hat in her direction. I was so glad that she didn't take offense to my dissection of her shopping cart. In fact, she seemed rather appreciative. "You should come see us in the Grady clinic," I offered.
But she didn't even hear me. She was too busy rummaging through the bags and looking around the counter as if she'd lost something. I gave her a puzzled expression. Irma pulled apart the bags again and finally said,
"I thought you said you was gon' get me the Oreos?"