Monday, November 29, 2010

It's football, sugar.




"It's the sport of kings. . .
better than diamond rings. . . .

FOOTBALL!"

from the old school movie "Wildcats" circa 1986


My cell phone rang Saturday while the kids and I were out fighting the holiday shopping crowds. I fumbled through my purse to silence the obnoxious download of Jason Mraz scatting the song "I'm Yours." The familiar ringtone let me know exactly who it was--Harry.

"Babe?" His voice sounded tense, urgent even.

"Hey, baby," I spoke loudly to overcome the ambient store noise and right-in-front-of-me kid noise. "Zachary! Stop antagonizing your brother! I'm sorry. . .hey, love."

"Ummm. . .baby? We have a very serious problem."

A very serious problem? I stopped in my tracks to make sure I was listening. Fortunately my gut didn't tell me serious-serious. But his tone still warranted my full attention. "Okay. What kind of problem are we talking about? Serious or serious-serious?"

"Serious, not serious-serious. But serious, though."

"Okay. . . . " Serious-serious. Like when they stopped making our favorite coffee pods or when we lost one of Isaiah's soccer cleats. Not so bad.

"The problem is that the Falcons are at home tomorrow." What? That's it? When I didn't respond, he added, "At the Georgia Dome, babe. Against Green Bay. Tomorrow." He sighed.

Serious, indeed.

For those who aren't betrothed or officially troth-ed to football fans, let me give you some background. My husband loves football. Do you hear me? Loves it. Even more than the movie Gladiator, he loves it. Even more than sweet potato pie, he loves it. Put his mama's lasagna to the left and football to the right, and the lasagna (which happens to be his favorite) wouldn't stand a chance. I am certain that the only thing that trumps it, fortunately, is our family.

Anyways, the man doesn't ask for much--but football? Fuggeddaboudit. He's sho' nuff asking when it comes to that. And although we never considered a prenuptial agreement (I actually don't know anyone with one of those) we did agree to a few things prenuptially. One of those things was that Harry would have to choose between college football and pro football. There was no way he'd be in a trance on Saturdays and Sundays.

Pro football won.

I tried to be one of those supportive spouses that learned to love it with him. I used to even go to the games until he caught me playing Scrabble on my phone during the third quarter a few years back. I finally accepted that I am simply a fair weather football fan--100% ready to root-root-root for the home team during the play offs, super bowl, or a double overtime nail-biter. (At least I admit it.)

I stood there squinting with the phone to my ear. Isaiah took this as an opportunity to start asking questions.

"Mom, does Santa Claus bring stuff in his sleigh for grown ups, too?" asked Isaiah as he looked through the toy section.

"No, sweetie. Just kids." I turned my attention back to my husband and his serious problem. "So. . . uhh. . .I'm confused, Harry. Why is this such a serious problem again?"

"Your rounds. I know you have to round tomorrow, so this is a problem. A real problem."

A real problem?

"The team is really good this year, babe. This might be our year."

"Uhhh, okay. . . ."

"Don't grown ups want gifts, too?" Isaiah persisted.

"Grown ups should have jobs so they can buy the stuff they want." I winked at a woman who turned around and offered me a thumbs up for that response. "Harry, I can try to go in earlier than usual, but you know how unpredictable things can be."

"But what if an adult doesn't have a job? Does Santa Claus make an exception?" The lady raised her eyebrows in my direction and mouthed "Ut oh."

I paused and looked at Isaiah, wondering why he chose to hit me with the inquisition in the middle of Target. Harry was in his own inquisition. Grrr.

"Do you think I'll make the game if you went early?" (See, I told you he'd ask.)

"Uuuhhh. . . .I think. . . maybe. Put that back, Zachary."

"Awww maaaan!" Zachary groaned as he put back some enormous contraption in its place.

Isaiah was now sitting cross-legged in the aisle playing with a car."If it's night time here and day time some place else, how does Santa not get caught?"

"Get off the floor, son." Isaiah quickly stood up, but looked at me expectantly for an answer. "Uuuuhh. . .God tells him when the coast is clear. God is over the whole shebang, don't you know?" An older man who looked like he could be a pastor somewhere poked his lip out and gave an approving nod as another woman on the aisle passed me saying "Nice!" under her breath.

I winked at them, too.

"Do you think I should call a sitter?" Harry kept going. I thought for a moment about all the holiday gatherings and more that would warrant our sitters on retainer. I spoke what immediately came to my head.

"No way. Shouldn't waste a sitter on that."

"So if Santa goes all over the whole world, does he have to keep going back to refill the sleigh? All the stuff would never fit. Like this--" Isaiah held up another toy. "--if all the kids had these, there wouldn't be room."

I tapped my lip for a moment and thought before answering. "Like I said, God helps with all of that. Surely you don't think a man could do all of that by himself!" (This was my thinly veiled attempt at putting a spiritual spin on things, and to not give the mythical round guy all the credit.)

"Jesus was a man."

Touche.

"Santa Claus isn't Jesus, Isaiah."

He sighed and furrowed his brow. "So how does God help him do it then? I mean, Santa." Grrrr. I thought these kinds of questions didn't start until first or second grade? I now had a small crowd of folks on my row at Target waiting to hear how I'd master this zinger.

"Uhhh. . . .you know those toys that come in those little bitty packages. . .that are shrunken down super, duper tiny like a chewable vitamin? You know. . .the kind that then when you add water they expand? Yeah. . .well. . . .all the toys are shrunken down like that to get them all in the sleigh. Plus they need to be shrunken to get through the chimney, anyways. Then--voila!-- they're all re-expanded under your tree. It's all very complicated, son. Like I told you, God is over the whole shebang." By this point, the five people on the toy aisle were offering me silent applause and fist pumps. (Even the pastor-looking dude who'd appreciated my spiritual slant earlier.) The minute Isaiah turned his head, I playfully gave air hi-fives to my "fans." Isaiah seemed to accept that answer for now. Whew.

At least I had one serious problem solved. I nearly forgot all about Harry.

But he hadn't forgotten about me.

"I know you're taking care of human beings, and that's more important than football. . . .Damn. . .I wish I'd remembered -- I could have gotten a sitter," he said somberly. Wow, this was serious, man.

"Naaah. It'll be okay. We need to save up our sitters for the holiday parties. Plus I'm on wards over Christmas. Should be fine. I don't have that many patients right now on the service, and a lot of them are awaiting tests Monday."

"Okay." Harry sounded almost childlike in that response. Like a kid whose parent said maybe we'll go to the beach or to Six Flags. I almost wanted to chuck him under his chin.

Game Day

On Sunday, I went in early to round. The patients seemed to be in cahoots with Harry's need to make it to the Georgia Dome. No unexpected issues or complications. Clinically on the upswings and not the downswings. Families at the bedside at the right times for discussions. Several of my favorite nurses working which made things go even more smoothly.

And here's the other amusing observation--Harry wasn't the only one with football on the brain. First, I see a patient who has vacillated between completely delusional/combative to scarily docile. Today, he was unusually fine. When the team walks in, he is sitting in a bedside chair watching a televised church service.

"Hey there, sir! What you watchin'?" I asked cheerfully. I still wasn't sure what to expect today.

"Right now, I'm just watching church service. But I'm really waiting to see what these Falcons gon' do with these Packers."

My intern chimed in. "You like the Falcons, sir?"

"Man, I just like football. But yeah. . .since this is my home, I like the Falcons. We look good this year, too."

This was the most lucid he had sounded in the whole time I'd been seeing him. Good ol' football.

A few moments later we were seeing one of the sicker patients on our service--a Grady elder with multiple medical problems. As soon as we walked into his room, I asked if I could turn down the television. In his wobbly voice, he said, "Yeah, I ain't even lookin' at it 'til these Falcons come on at 1. Then y'all got to get out my way."

I laughed out loud. "What is the deal with you guys and 'these Falcons?' " I said with a head shake.

"It's football, sugar. It's football," replied my patient muffled from beneath the mask of his breathing treatment.

"What do you think about Michael Vick?" my intern (also a football fan, I forgot to add) piped in.

The Grady elder lifted his mask and retorted, "I thank he don't play for Atlanta no more, tha's what I thank." We all shared a collective chuckle.


Even with leisurely rounding, since we had a fairly sensible number of patients with problems going in the right directions, I was done rounding by 11:30 a.m. The relief in Harry's eyes when the alarm chimed upon my noon arrival was downright endearing. He gave me a waaaaay too overzealous hug, and thanked me like I'd just bought him a pair of red suede peep-toe platforms and a Chanel bag. (Okay, maybe that's more my kind of happy. . .but you get my point.)

I poured myself a cup of coffee and smiled. I could hear Harry cheerfully singing at the top of his lungs from the bedroom as he scrambled to get ready to go to the game. Isaiah and Zachary played with their action figures on the floor. The sun was shining through the multicolored trees outside the sun room. All was well on the Southern front.

Harry whistled right over to me and the kids, kissed us all on our foreheads, and tap danced out the door. No need to chuck his chin now.

"Daddy sure is happy!" Zachary accurately assessed.

"Yeah! He's SUPER happy!" Isaiah agreed.

As I watched his truck pull to the end of the driveway from the window, I looked at the kids and shrugged.

"Of course, he's happy. It's football, sugar."

***

The closing theme to Wildcats with Goldie Hawn's classic line. . . "Football!"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fall for real.

Day after Thanksgiving in Atlanta, Georgia. . . .


Isaiah stood looking out of the window early yesterday morning for what seemed like forever. His face was serious and thoughtful. Almost like he was making some kind of an assessment. Finally he snapped from his trance and looked at me over his shoulder.

"Okay, Mom. Now I thinks it's fall for real.

Not to be confused with "fake fall" I suppose.

We went out and checked it out--just to be sure. . .






Confirmed: Officially fall for real.

(Too bad for real fall comes so close to whoaa winter.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Random Thoughts of Thankfulness.

Thanksgivin'

I like having a day carved out for reflection about what's great about life. Big things, little things, obvious things, not-so-obvious things. . . .isn't it fun to reflect on them? Here are just a few of the ones I thought about today. . .

Grady

Thanksgiving 2010, Grady Hospital

My Thanksgiving day started out at Grady Hospital, so I decided that this is where I'd start my (random) list.

Although someone cursed me (all-the-way) out (yes, on Thanksgiving) in a Slavic language and I was asked by someone else to (please) come and look at their bowel movement ("here, in the bedside commode!"). . . . .there were still some good things.

One, I got a consult from and caught up with my favorite surgery resident, Carla H., who I learned is now a chief resident and a newlywed. Yay.

Next, I watched part of that show "The Doctors" with one of my sickest patients, who made me smile when I realized that he was definitely feeling better. He was well enough to ask me if I thought that was "that lady doctor's real hair or a hair-weave?" I said, "I think she just has long hair, sir." To which he retorted, "Naaahh, that ain't her hair, thaas one-a them hair-weaves."

Aaaaah. So thankful for Grady.

Technology


This is a picture of Harry skyping with his best friend, Shannon. Shannon is currently away from his family and is serving our country in Afghanistan, yet thanks to technology, got to sit up and shoot the breeze for nearly an hour with his best friend yesterday. Face to face. For free.

Totally thankful for technology.

Disney movies

Our 3D Thanksgiving.
(Yes, I do bring Popcorn cups to split the bag for the kids. And drink cups. Genius, I tell you.)

This is us at the new Disney movie "Tangled" today. Isaiah and I both got a bit choked up off of this one. (Love that Isaiah gets choked up at the right times during movies with me. We were both blubbering messes during Toy Story 3. I decided that this means he is a genius--not just sensitive.)

Zachary watched 75% of the 3D movie without his 3D shades (although has worn them for 75% of the time since we left the theater.) Harry dozed off twice. He would have gotten away with it behind those shades if he hadn't snored. His explanation for this?

"I didn't know this was a musical!"

Hello? Disney?

Family friendly and free Christmas Fun


After the movie -- good, clean (free) fun!

Atlanta has all kinds of fun (and free) holiday things for families to get into. We hung out in Atlantic Station this evening where we enjoyed the lovely Christmas tree (and the pack of screaming kids running laps around it.) The snow-making machine is also a hit. (Especially here in Georgia!)

Dad's and JoLai's health


Dad had a quadruple bypass almost eleven years ago. My sister, JoLai, had an awful battle with ulcerative colitis a few years back which was also managed surgically. The two of them walked 13.1 miles today. Their own half marathon to celebrate life, love, health, and stick-with-it-ness.

Some say 13 is an unlucky number. Today it represented the complete opposite of that.

The Armed Forces and Harry's Army Experience




Harry, the soldier? Two words: Bad. Ass.

Have I ever told you about how when I first met Harry, he told me that he was a Ranger? Ummm, well, did I also tell you about how I thought he meant. . .like. . .a Park Ranger? Well, turns out that what he meant was, like, an Army Ranger. As in jump out of a helicopter and kick somebody's butt Ranger. As in "Black Hawk Down," go after the worst bad guys ever, elite soldier Army Rangers. As in bad ass. As in (nothing against them at all but) not exactly the chase Yogi and Boo Boo, Park kind of Ranger.

Um yeah.

I'm thankful for all of the sacrifices that our service men and women make to protect us. We know first hand what that means. For those who don't, it sometimes means being away from home for over a year. Whether you like it or not. Whether you have kids or not. Or important things to do or not. Harry was in Korea when Shannon, his very best friend in the world, got married. Shannon, who was Harry's best man in our wedding. Shannon, who is Isaiah's godfather. And Shannon, who is a father and a husband and who is currently deployed to the middle east for one year. Now sure. . .missing a wedding is one thing. . .but being gone a full year when you have children? Now that's some sho' nuff sacrifice.(Reminds you to thank a soldier, doesn't it?)


Harry was honorably discharged shortly before we met, but the lessons he learned in the Army and especially in Ranger School will be with him forever. Lucky me--I get to be married to an officer and a gentleman without the fear all that goes with it these days.

Look up "how to be a man" in the dictionary, and you'll see Harry's picture. He's an excellent resource when it comes to leadership, and an awesome role model for sons.

Oh. . .and let me tell you--nobody keeps it realer than Army dudes.

"Sometimes you just have to 'shut your pie-hole' and do what needs to be done."

Words to live by, man.

My Medical Student Advisees

Small Group Alpha, Class of 2011

In 2007, I first met the seven students in my very first small group in the School of Medicine. As a part of the new curriculum unrolled that year, I joined a group of fifteen other faculty members each given the assignment of mentoring a small group of students from their first year to their final year of med school. In 2009, I took on my second small group. I affectionately dubbed them "Small Group Beta."

Small Group Beta, Class of 2013

I have seen these two groups of students twice weekly on average since their very first day of school, and am preparing to see my first group graduate this May. I have come to know each of them so well that they are absolutely like members of my family. How I lucked out and got the two best small groups in each class is beyond me.

I feel personally invested in their futures, and genuinely interested in their well-being. These fifteen human beings have given me a completely new definition of the words "job satisfaction." Hands down, this longitudinal teaching experience is one of the very best things I have ever done in my life-- professionally or personally.

(Almost) The Whole Brood at my house

Case in point. . . Thanksgiving text I received today from one of my advisees:

"Thanks for being you."

Love. Them. Love. This.

Coffee


Four words: Love. Love. Love. It. The smell of it. The taste of it. It.

My blog




I love writing it. I love reading it. And someone told me that they felt encouraged after reading it sometimes. Wow.

According to my little stats counter, more than three hundred folks stopped by to pay it a visit today. On Thanksgiving day, no less. Talk about something to be thankful for.

Now that encouraged me.

Team Manning and iMovie




I watched this several times today. In fact, I watch it any time that I need to be reminded to make love a verb. I call it my "video quilt." It was made from all the "scraps" of videos that I'd taken over a few years that I couldn't quite figure out how to make meaningful. Thanks to the wonders of Apple computers, it's as simple as iMovie.

***

So much to be thankful for. Not enough blog (or time) to include it all. I think that's a good problem to have, don't you?

Hope your day was full of peace and reflections, too. And I hope you didn't put too much into or let too much fly out of your "pie-hole." :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Have no fear.

I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories.

(playing in my heart and on my mental iPod today)

_______________________________________________________________

I sat next to a patient yesterday who was dying. I held his hand and stroked his face as he took laborious breaths. His family clung lovingly by his bedside. They understood that things were not likely to be reversed, and had asked that we do nothing heroic. The patient had made peace with every member of his family and according to his family, was at spiritual peace, too. There was no unfinished business.

I was glad to know that my patient would have death with dignity.

And a few hours later, that's exactly what happened. He made a loving transition surrounded by the ones who cherished him the most.

I asked his loved ones what their favorite things about him were. It was wonderful to hear them conjuring up their favorite moments, and to see them smiling. It somehow felt better than the "sorry" I'd offered earlier.


Death is, unfortunately, a big part of my job. It's something I see regularly. Something I discuss often. Sometimes multiple times daily. Instead of being horrified by it, I believe that it's an honor to be there as a human being nears the end of this life. Because of that, I try hard to respect the family, and to honor the patient. In life and in death.

So I guess after more than ten years of working in the hospital, I thought I knew a lot about what to say and not to say in times like this. I considered myself savvy in dealing with death's aftermath; even if sometimes it meant flat out crying in front of a family at times or in my car on the way home.

But it wasn't until recently that I really learned some of the most valuable lessons I could ever learn about death and life. These lessons could not be taught in a medical school classroom, a journal or a textbook. They had to be learned through an experience that hit close to home.

"C.J. "

Two years ago today, God decided He needed another angel. He decided it swiftly and without much warning. Just like the way He blesses people out of the blue, yet we somehow don't think of it that way. On November 23, 2008, a three year and 11 month old cherub joined the heavens.

His name was C.J.



Celebrating the return of daddy from the Gulf

C.J. was the beloved son and namesake of Harry's dear friend, Cedric and his wife Davina. He was the cherished sunshine of his parent's lives and an absolute joy in every way. But. . . .the same God who gave C.J. to Ced and Davina decided that He wanted to bring him back home.

The moment I entered their home on the day before C.J.'s memorial service remains one of the single most pivotal, painful, and riveting moments of my life.

But.

On that day, Davina and I somehow connected on a level that continues to feel otherworldly even two years later.  She has taught me so much that I didn't know. And ever since, I have never seen grief the same.

I recently read something a wise person wrote that said:

A man who has lost his wife is called a "widower." A child without parents is an “orphan.” Yet there is no single English word to describe a parent who has lost a child. A heartbreaking lexical gap.


Hmmm.

Davina calls it "Mommy of an Angel." It's not a single English word, but it is still beautifully descriptive.

I am so thankful to the "Mommy of an Angel" for trusting me and so many others with her feelings during this painful walk. She has made me a better doctor, a better mother, a better wife, a better writer, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend, and a better believer.

Today I am reflecting on some of the things I learned from Davina about loss, about unspeakable grief and about life. These are things we could all take pause on. . . .I know I have.

Thanks to Davina, I now know that:
  • A mother who has lost her child is still a mother.
  • Mothers love to talk about their children. Even when they aren't alive any more. Especially when they aren't alive any more.
  • "Time" doesn't necessarily heal all wounds.
  • Some things are just as awful and painful as they seem.
  • "Good morning. . . I love you" is an acceptable thing to say when you don't know what to say.
  • So is "Hey. . . "over a text message.
  • Another baby, though a blessing, can't replace the one you lost.
  • Saying "I know another baby isn't a replacement, but. . ." might be better left unsaid.
  • Understanding when you don't get called back/emailed back immediately is deeply appreciated.
  • There's not a good answer to, "No . . .how are you really?"
  • Pretending like you no longer have children of your own when talking to a mom who lost hers is alienating. Because, even though it's hard sometimes, mommies not only like talking about their own children, they like hearing about yours, too.
  • Fear is alienating, too.
  • Not being afraid to speak her child's name is so much better than cryptic references and awkward silences. Even when you mean well.
  • We shouldn't allow gripping pain and tragedy to permanently redefine who a person is. It's like making a person relive a funeral for the rest of their life.
  • Joy and pain really are like sunshine and rain.
  • Loving like you mean it is a good way to live without regret.
  • Remembering is not a passive thing. It is active.
  • So is love.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't actively think about C.J. Despite all the requests God gets constantly, it still amazes me that He heard my whisper of a prayer. . . to not be afraid. He took all the fear and trepidation away and allowed Davina and I to forge an authentic bond as mothers in the mommy-army.

To talk about our children. To talk about our husbands. To talk about nothing. To laugh. To cry. To remember. Without fear. Without facades.

Roomies: Ced and Harry, July 2010

Ced came to see us over the summer while passing through Fort Benning. It was our first time seeing him since C.J.'s memorial service, and the heaviness in the room was suffocating. I was industrious in the kitchen while Harry sat with Ced in the sun room and, for the first time, seemed at a loss for words with one of his very best friends. It hurt to watch . . . .

But then something happened.

Isaiah skipped into the room and completely out of nowhere plopped a framed picture of C.J. right on Ced's lap. Ced looked at the picture. . .this beautiful picture with C.J. beaming straight into the camera. . . .and looked like the air had been knocked straight from his chest. I cannot even begin to describe his expression. It was. . . .so. . .so . . . .yeah.

"Where'd this come from, man?" Ced asked him while staring incredulously at Isaiah.

Harry mouthed to me in the kitchen, Did you tell him to do that????

I mouthed back, Hell no, I didn't tell him to do that!!!

"He's our playroom angel, so duh Uncle Ced! I got it from the playroom!" Isaiah announced in the most beautifully innocent way ever. Ced wrapped his arms around Isaiah and drew him into his chest.

"Wow. . .man, this really means a lot to me, Isaiah," I heard him say quietly.

Isaiah seemed to recognize his grief. He peered into Ced's haunting eyes and said, "It's okay. Everybody knows that C.J. is in heaven. It's okay."

Harry and I looked at each other, both silently shaking our heads. Neither of us ever told him to say such a thing. But even more interesting. . . .Isaiah had never met Ced in person. Remotely, he'd asked what "C.J." stood for and I'd told him it stood for "Cedric Jr. since his daddy's name is Cedric" but that was it.

It was divine. In that moment, God used a little child to do what the adults in the room could not do. Speak C.J.'s name. From that moment on, the mood lifted and the walls came down. Harry reconnected with his friend as a father. . . as C.J's father. The fear of remembering melted away. . . .

Ced (with Zachy) and Harry (with Isaiah): Ice broken between friends and daddies.


So now I get it. Sometimes a simple "I'm sorry" is perfectly suitable. And sometimes just a silent hug is amazing. But remembering? Really remembering. . . now that's special.


As I promised C.J., I will do my best to honor his memory by speaking his name and introducing him to others. . . .just has his mother had the courage to do for me. And I bet he'd want you to meet his mommy and his daddy, too. :)

May I introduce you to whom we affectionately refer to as "The Royal Family?"

  • Major Davina C. aka "Queen D." (super funny, quite sassy, a wonderfully squeaky voice, and one of the raddest mommies I know)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Cedric C., Sr. aka "King Ced" (quite possibly the sweetest man ever. . .he refers to Davina as "my bride"--gaaaahh! But don't let that sweet face fool you. Harry says their roommate days were wild and crazy! Mmm hmmm, Ced!)
  • and Heaven's Angel, Master Cedric "C.J." C, Jr. aka "Prince C.J."(scary smart, the life of all parties, lover of the arts, lover of Disney, champion booty-shaker, major flirt, mini-Harley Davidson owner, an angel on earth and in heaven.)
__________________________
Dear Sunshine Girl,

I will never forget. Ever.

Love,

Your sister and fellow mommy in the mommy-army
_______________________________

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear has torment. 
He that fears is not made perfect in love."

~ 1 John 4:18

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Lovely (Mon)Day.

 How can it not be?
____________________________________________________________________________________
Playing on my mental iPod this morning:

"When I wake up in the morning, love
and the sunlight hurts my eyes
and something without warning, love
bears heavy on my mind. . .


. . then I look at you
and the world's alright with me
Just one look at you
and I know it's gonna be
a lovely day.


Lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day
lovely day, lovely day, lovely day, lovely day


When the day that lies ahead of me
seems impossible to face
and someone else ahead of me
always seems to know the way.  . .


. . .then I look at you
and the world's alright with me
Just one look at you
and I know it's gonna be
a lovely daaaay. . . . . "


From Bill Withers' "Lovely Day"

Sometimes it's seeing someone face to face, sometimes it's just remembering them in your heart or from a picture. . . . this tune always reminds me to think of the people who make me happy especially when I'm dragging. And it always works to lift my mood. . .which is why it has a permanent place on my mental iPod playlist.

For some reason, I'm feeling like someone else needs to add it to their list today, too.

 What's on your mental iPod these days?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

O Tannenbaum.

How lovely are thy branches. . . .
________________________________________________________
This weekend I:
  •  Looked at the Calendar and felt bummed that I have to work at Grady on Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. (Bleccchh.)
  • Looked at the calendar and couldn't believe that it was already time to be thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
  • Played hide and seek with Isaiah and Zachary on Saturday morning.
  • Thought about my friend Davina and her son, C.J.
  • Went to a baby blessing for my med school classmate-slash-ob/gyn Tracey's super cute twin sons.

  • Went to CNN to do a segment on avoiding colds over the holidays (even though I was majorly feeling like I was coming down with something while doing it. . . . )
  •  Officially came down with a nasty head cold. (Ha.)
  • Wondered why people, even doctors like me, refer to colds as "head colds." 
  • Went out to dinner (despite my nasty head cold) with one of my favorite people/college sorority sisters/bffs whose name, "Joy," fits her perfectly.
  • Felt bad when Isaiah started crying and asking me not to go out before leaving to meet Joy.
  • Felt better after explaining to him that "Mommies need playdates, too"-- which he seemed to actually get.
  • Commented to myself that I couldn't believe that so many Christmas decorations were up already while driving to the restaurant.
  • Toasted with Joy, who had made it out of the house from her hubby and two sons, to "being grown" over a delicious red wine blend before dinner.
  • Laughed when I told Joy about how Harry says that at a certain age (our age), all moms call "red wine with a girlfriend" their idea of a par-tay. (Totally true.)
  • Kept talking nonstop with Joy over our red wine so much that the server had to come back three times. (Oh, those Mommy playdates!)
  • Split a steak salad with Joy, who unfortunately preferred "medium" to my "somewhere between medium rare and medium."
  • Felt my mouth watering when the steak on the salad arrived more "medium rare" than "medium."
  • Was openly happy when Joy said she didn't want to send it back after my wimpy offer to do so. (Told you she was a "joy.")
  • Came home and held Harry's hand for a little while before zonking out on Saturday.
  • Woke up feeling like my head was stuffed with cotton balls and like my nose was a leaky faucet.
  • Decided that this was why people say "head cold."
  • Ate a breakfast that I could barely taste.
  • Rubbed my nose completely raw with paper towels (since I was out of Kleenex and it was the closest thing in the kitchen.)
  • Dragged into Grady to round with a nose that looked exactly like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
  • Heard a nurse tell me that my nose "looks exactly like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer."
  • Heard a patient tell me that my nose "looks like that cartoon character on the Puffs Plus commercial."
  • Heard another patient ask me "Did you wash yo' hands? Cawse you sho' look sick."
  • Wore a mask on rounds after that last comment--which I hate doing since it feels like I'm less connected to patients that way.
  • Decided that masks also make my nose run even more which, if the patients could see, they'd realize is much, much grosser than hearing me sniffle. Much.
  • Sat next to a patient and helped her do Word Finds while she took chemotherapy.
  • Scratched another patient's back.
  • Ran out of a patient's room mid-sentence due to a coughing paroxysm that I was about to have.
  • Went to visit one of my favorite Grady elder patients of all time (aka an "F.P. all-star") after running into her daughter during my coughing paroxysm. 
  • Felt touched when her daughter said to me in the hallway, "Momma was just asking about you, Dr. Mannings!"
  • Felt warm inside when I went to see the patient and she squeezed my hand tight and then kissed the back of it saying, "Hey, baby! I was jest asking about you."
  • Talked to the patient about Thanksgiving and Christmas, and about our favorite Christmas songs.
  • Downloaded and played her favorite Christmas song for her right there on the spot--Nat King Cole singing "O Tannenbaum." (Go iTunes.)
  • Stood quietly at the bedside holding my iPhone with an outstretched arm for the entire song even though I had eight more patients to see, was feeling sick, and needed to get back to rounding.
  • Forgot how sick I felt when I saw her start crying with closed eyes listening to "O Tannenbaum" coming from my iPhone.
  • Forgot how sick I felt when I saw her daughter start crying while watching her mom crying while listening to "O Tannenbaum" coming from my iPhone.
  • Decided that Nat King Cole's slow and controlled voice was a good reminder for me to slow down.
  • Hugged a nurse who gave me a box of tissues to keep in my pocket.
  • Thanked a patient for trusting me to take care of her after she told me that she'd asked the ambulance to "Please take her to Grady Hospital."
  • Quietly vowed to not let her down.
  • Talked to a resident about how dressing professionally helps patients feel more confident in their doctors.
  • Listened to the resident as she tried to explain otherwise.
  • Asked if she could please "Do it for me until she reached the point of wanting to do it for her patients."
  • Got confused while trying to enter my notes onto the electronic medical record.
  • Heard Nat King Cole in my head again and remembered to slow down.
  • Left the hospital and, even though I felt sick, decided to skip to my car.
  • Remembered that I'd had excellent parking lot karma while standing at the elevator, and then skipped to my ground level parking space.
  • Stopped at Panera to get some chicken noodle soup for my head cold and my soul.
  • Came home to an empty house.
  • Fell asleep on the couch with all of my clothes on before I could even eat the soup.
  • Felt appreciative when Harry continued to hold down the kid fort while I slept.
  • Thought about the fact that I have to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas this year while eating my reheated chicken soup.
  • Thought about what some of my patients might be dealing with on Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
  • Decided that I was more okay with it than not okay with it this year.
  • Felt thankful to have a job at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
  • Felt thankful to have a job that I love at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
  • Ate gingerbread men cookies with the kids.
  • Thought about my friend Davina and her son C.J. again.
  • Prayed.
  • Downloaded the rest of the Nat King Cole Christmas album and listened to the whole thing.
  • Listened to "O Tannenbaum" twice. . . .
  • This time, I cried a little bit, too.
_________________________________________________

Slow down and listen to this. . . . .happy holiday season. . . .

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Haiku on a Friday: The Lost Ones.



    You might win some, but you really lost one
    You just lost one, it's so silly how come?
    When it's all done, did you really gain from
    what you done done? It's so silly how come?
    You just lost one. . . .

    from Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones"
    ______________________________________________

    How many bloggers out there secretly clap when they see a new follower? (Me!) 
    What about losing a follower? Raise your hand if you notice? (Me!)
    I know. . .you're so not supposed to care. (Is it totally neurotic to even notice?) This is kind of like the "un-friending" thing on Facebook (which I am not on.) Should "un-friend" even be in our lexicon? Sigh. Yet another reason Facebook isn't for me. . . I'm waaaay too sensitive!


    Now. . . (tapping the mike). . . .to creatively deal with my feelings of rejection, I bring you some Friday haiku. . . .ah hem. . . me me me me. . . .
    __________________________________

    Lost a follower . . . .

    Sigh. Was it something I said?

    I need a hug, man.


    And speaking of things I miss. . . .a little more Lauryn H. for you on a Friday, too. 
    (One of my internal iPod songs) Happy Weekend to those who remain!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Waiting on a friend.

    *names, minor details changed to protect anonymity. . .you know the deal, people.

     I'm not waiting on a lady
    I'm just waiting on a friend

    - from the Rolling Stones "Waiting on a Friend"
     _________________________________________________________

    This month on rounds at Grady:

    Looking for Mr. Logan. The last person I need to see for the afternoon.

    Patient not in bed. Light coming from beneath bathroom door in patient's room.

    (Through the door.)

    "Mr. Logan? Mr. Logan, sir? It's me, Dr. Manning."

    "Yes'm! I'm here on the commode."

    "Okay, sir. I'll come back in a little bit, okay?"

    "Alright then."

    Fifteen minutes later.

    "Mr. Logan? Mr. Logan, sir? It's me, Dr. Manning."

    "Hey Miss Manning! I'm in here on the commode."

    "You okay, sir?"

    "I'm alright. Thank I'm starting to run off so I'm jest stayin' here for now. My stomach is boiling."
     ("run off" = diarrhea)

    "Umm. . . okay. Mr. Logan, I'm here to see about you. I need to examine you sir."

    "Naww. You need to do somethin' 'bout my stomach."

    "We actually just started you on a medicine called metro-ni-dazole for the diarrhea, sir. We can also give you something for your stomach."

    "Alright then."

    (Still through the door.)

    "Listen. . . .Mr. Logan, sir? I'll give you a few more minutes and come back, okay?"

    "Mmmm hmmmm."

    Forty-five minutes later.

    Grrrr. Patient still not in bed. Light below bathroom on. Grrrr.

    "Mr. Logan? Mr. Logan, sir? You still on the commode?"

    "Yes'm!"

    "Sir, your stomach is still boiling?"

    "No, Miss Manning. It's calmed down. The medicine helped it."

    "Oh okay. . . . .so. . .what are you doing in there now?"

    "Now I'm jest settin' here thankin'.  Sometimes I get some good thankin' done on the commode. Come on back, hear?"

    Really?

    "Uhhh, Mr. Logan, sir?  I really need to examine you. . . . "

    "Jest come on in here then."

    Eeewww. Really?

    "Ugggghhh. . . .Mr. Logan, sir?" (Yes, I groaned.)

    "Yes'm?"

    "I'm not examining you on the commode, sir. I'm gonna need you to come and do your thanking out here."

    Silence.

    Door finally opens. Mr. Logan shuffles out pushing IV pole and carrying a Word Find book. Looks at me, narrows his eyes, and sits on the edge of the bed in an irritated huff.

    I come at him with my stethoscope. He looks at me and says:

    "Damn, you bossy."

    ***

    I love this job.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Hello rain.

    *written with permission of individuals mentioned

    It's raining today
    It's raining today
    Hello rain, hello rain. . .

    I want to go outside and play
    I want to go outside
    Hello rain, hello rain. . .

    Raindrops fall
    Raindrops falling down
    Everywhere
    All around

    from "Hello Rain"
    (a great song by Marcia Berman that I sang with Isaiah at the bus stop this morning)

    _____________________________________________________________________

    Today it was pouring down rain in Atlanta all day long. The sky was this confluent shade of murky gray and the relentless downpour came in the kind of sheets that renders even the best umbrellas useless.

    Bleccch.

    This was definitely not a day that makes folks who rely upon public transportation or parking meters clamor to come to the hospital. Who can blame them? I didn't exactly want to be at work today either.


    That is until I saw one of best things ever. . . . .

    I saw this lovely Grady elder who was well into her nineties. . . .accompanied by her daughter who was well into her seventies. . . .and her granddaughter who was well into her forties. All wedged into a tiny clinic room together.

    In the waiting room was. . . .her great-granddaughter who was in her twenties. . . .holding her child. . .the patient's great-great-granddaughter. All at Grady together on a torrential Monday just for Mother's appointment.

    Wow.

    "Did ya'll have special plans today?" I asked, "Is that why everyone is here?"

    "Nope," replied Daughter with a smile and a shrug. "We just here with Mother."

    "Yep," said Granddaughter and winked at Mother sitting over to the side in her wheelchair.

    Mother simply beamed while they looked at her--almost child-like. I can't recall the last time I saw anyone look at another human being so lovingly. The love in that room was . . . . inexplicable.

    I studied Mother carefully. She was bundled up in layers; someone had obviously put great care into making sure she didn't get soaked. Her snowy hair was in a network of neatly connected plaits and her weathered hands rest quietly on her bony legs. She gazed back at her doting descendants, her once brown eyes appeared almost blue from the cholesterol haze outlining each aging iris.

    Aaaah, but my how they still sparkled.

    "You okay, Mother?" Grandaughter queried while adjusting the jacket that sat on her grandmother's shoulders. Daughter immediately joined in and began fussing over something else that didn't need fussing over.

    Mother smiled and spread her trembling hands out toward each of them. Both women quickly clasped them into their own. She looked from side to side at both of her "girls" proudly and then shook her head.

    "Sometimes I say, 'Lawd, I sho' musta done somethin' right,'" she finally spoke, tightening her grip around their hands.

    I looked at them all huddled there together and immediately felt like crying. . . . .

    Instead I asked them if I could take a picture of their hands to remember them and this moment.

    (Generational Blessings: Photo taken today and shared with permission of Mother, Daughter and Granddaughter)


    Sigh.


    This picture embodies everything that I love about working in this public hospital. I get the privilege of meeting people like this every day. Caring for an indigent patient population has its challenges, yes. But the moments like these far outweigh the frustrating ones. No question--we see poverty and we see some really unfortunate pathology as a result. . . . .oh, but the love we see. Money can't buy anything better.

    Sometimes when I'm at Grady, I think the same thing as Mother:

    I must've done something right.



    I'm so glad I came to work today.

    .

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Reflection on a Sunday: This Woman's Liberation


    "Who gon' check me, boo?" (insert finger snap here)
    __________________________________________

    "I can pay my own light bill baby
    Pump my own gas in my own car
    I can buy my own shoe collection
    I've been blessed thus far. . . ."

    from Jill Scott's "The Fact is (I need you)"

     ___________________________________________________________
    I was watching television the other day and saw one of these Atlanta "real" housewives rolling her neck and her eyes and tightly folding her arms. She was explaining to her pseudo-friend all the things she could do "for her damn self."  This was in the context of how she didn't want any man or partner "bringing her down" -- and she subsequently listed all the things that any partner would need to bring (or not bring) to the table.

    "Girl, he got to come cor-rect not at all!"  (insert finger snap here.)

    Then there was a litany of more things that men have done that were disappointing and even more that she could do for her (damn) self. (Don't forget the finger snap.)

    Hmmmm.

    That got me to thinking about independence and vulnerability, and whether the two are mutually exclusive. It also reminded me of something that happened recently at our house with Harry, the boys and me. . . . .


    The background and the story

    I live in a rather wooded area in Atlanta.  Mature trees are all throughout the neighborhood. . . and that means chipmunks and squirrels--like all over the place.

    Okay, listen. I'm originally from the L.A. area (and not that "inland empire" or whatever they started calling those far-out areas once I moved away.) Anyways. . . .specifically, I'm from a part of Los Angeles County called Inglewood. Now, if you know anything about Inglewood, you know that it ain't wooded. In fact, there is this interesting set up where for every house you get exactly one square of lawn in front, interrupted by a concrete sidewalk then followed by a narrow landing strip of grass separating it from the street. On that strip of lawn is one tree, strategically placed in front of each house. I'm convinced that some obsessive-compulsive architect painstakingly made sure that every tree was perfectly centered and that no greedy arborist planted two trees anywhere instead of the one that they allocated back in 1940-whatever-year-they-built-that-neighborhood.

    And so. I say all that to say this: I didn't grow up with too many chipmunks. (Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this. . .)

    Fast forward to now. The chipmunks in my intown Atlanta neighborhood, and specifically around my yard, have gone bananas. They are e-ver-y-where.  Every. Where.  Scurrying across the driveway. Scooting across the kids playground. Playing in the bushes out front. Dipping and dodging along the sides of the house.  And for the most part, it's really cute. In that Chip and Dale slash Alvin and the Chipmunks kind of way.

    At least it was for the first few years.  Now, it seems we have entered "The Squeak-uel."

    My local "Alvin" and two of his little brothers have decided that they don't like hanging out in the elements when the weather changes.  No, no no. . . . don't worry. . . they haven't come into my house. But they have figured out a way to clear a tiny corner of my (waaay too old) garage door. So that's what they do. And there's three of them. Just like Alvin and his pesky little brothers.

    So what's the big deal, you say?

    Now, let's just think about this for a second. A chipmunk scurries across your garage as you go down to handle some laundry. Chipmunks are curiously close in size to. . . .um yeah. . . .other rodents. You know--the big, bucktoothed kind that live on subway tracks? Umm yeah.

    Getting a little less cute, right? 

    I'd say. So the very first time I caught one of those jokers in my peripheral vision, I almost had a heart attack.  Literally. Early one morning, I was carrying a big basket of laundry up the stairs (yes, our laundry room is in our garage) when I saw something dart by. . . what the. . . .and then something else right behind it.  OM (expletive) G.  I dropped that basket, sprinted up the stairs, and nearly mowed the door down trying to get into the house to wake Harry up. A rat? Awww hell nawww!!!

    "Harry!! Harry!! It's a rat! No! Two rats! Like rat-rats!! In the garage!! I'm never going down there again!! Ever! In my whole entire life!!!"

    "Are you sure?" he asked while yawning. This lack of urgency was not what I was looking for.


    Am I sure?  What?  Dude. Didn't he hear me? I just saw Templeton and his brother in our garage. What kind of monkeyshine is this?

    "Sure??" I exclaimed, "Sure?? What do you mean,  'am I sure??' Dude! You need to go down there right now!"

    Isaiah chimes in nonchalantly while walking in from his bedroom. "Dad, I think she's talking about the Alvin and the Simon that always run under the garage door. They're chipmunks, Mom, not rats like Templeton in Charlotte's Web." He climbed up on the bed with his dad and nestled himself under the covers.

    Harry cosigned. "Yeah, there's like these three chipmunks that sometimes hang out in the garage when it's raining and since the weather started changing. I doubt you saw a rat, babe. Did it have a long tail?"

    Did it have a what?  I thought I would faint. Oh lawd. I just stared at Harry like he was crazy.

    He repeated himself. "A tail, babe. Did the things you saw have tails?"

    I thought for a moment and was very thankful that I did not know the answer to that question.

    "A tail?? I DON'T KNOW!!! They were running too fast!! But trust me, it was definitely a freakin' rodent that was too big to be a mouse, though. That I know."

    "Relax, baby. It's definitely not a rat. The garbage bag down there would have holes in it if it was."

    O.M. (%#!) G!!! 

    "HOLES? In the GARBAGE? Oh my LAWD have mercy, Harry!! You are really, really killing me!!!"

    Harry erupted in laughter, burying his face into the pillow. Isaiah mimicked him in that way kids laugh when adults laugh. It was kind of amusing, I suppose, but I was serious.

    "Babe! Don't laugh! I'm for real!" I pressed, doing my best not to let them make me break.

    Suddenly Isaiah jumped up with an all-business expression and said, "Mommy, don't worry, okay? We'll go check it out. Right, Daddy?"  He hopped off of the bed and waved his hand toward Harry. "Come on, Dad."

    "Me, too! Okay, Mommy?" a pajama clad Zachary announced as he sped into the room. Harry shrugged and slid his feet into his Crocs, succumbing to his overly dramatic better half.

    So down they went.  One fearless husband and two fearless-in-training little boys all behind one giant flashlight.  Oh yeah, with one terrified-slash-grossed out mommy peeking through a little crack in the door.

    "There he is!" I heard Isaiah exclaim to Harry. I immediately jumped back from the door and screamed. Isaiah looked back up at me and added, "Yep, it's just Alvin, Mom!"

    I cracked open the door a bit further and kept watching as they completed an obligatory search of the garage. I could see them flashing the light in crevices, behind the washer and dryer, and in any other possible hiding place. I loved how brave the boys were, lifting boxes and pointing in places for Harry to flash the light. Five minutes later, they all came back up the stairs with the final verdict:

    Alvin and the Chipmunks.

    Harry pushed my ajar door open, wrapped his arms around me and smirked. He furrowed his brow and gave me a very serious expression. "Definitely chipmunks, babe. They aren't scavengers like rats, so nothing to worry about. I see a small opening at the bottom of the garage that I'll block so they'll stop running in there scaring you, okay?"  He kissed me hard on the cheek and laughed. "Unless you want me to trap them and drown them instead." He chuckled again and got away just before I could punch him.

    Deputy Isaiah, who now had the giant flashlight, shined it in my direction and declared in a most authoritative voice, "All clear, Mom."

    Zachary echoed, "Yeah, all clear, okay Mommy?"

    "Thanks, gents. I appreciate it."  I knelt down and pulled them both close to me. They both treated me to hard cheek kisses, just like the one their dad had just planted on me a few moments before.

    ::Sigh::

    All clear, indeed.

    ***
     Harry and Zachary walking out of church this morning

    Today I'm reflecting on the blessing of being okay with needing other people. Sometimes it's for life or death things, but other times it's for something as mundane as killing a spider or opening a jar without banging it on the counter. Either way, acknowledging that you can't go at it all alone is huge.

     I'm not talking about "not going at it alone"in the sense of needing a divine presence into your life (which I do think is quite important, for the record.) I guess I'm talking more about being open to the possibility that just maybe some of those things that you can do "for your damn self" (insert finger snap here) just might come out better with someone else helping. Or at least rooting for you.
     
    Honestly? I consider myself pretty independent. Still--there are some things that I'd prefer to never, ever do . . . . such as investigating the identity of a rodent in the garage or flashing a light into a crawl space in a nearly 100 year old house. . . .umm yeah.

    I'd even say that I believe that I'm a great mom, a rather proficient doctor and an overall decent human being. I think I'm good at several things and am pretty sure that I could live comfortably on my own salary, thank you very much. But the other thing I know for sure is this: I am better in this life with Harry as my partner. Period.

    I know. Some folks don't have the option of a partner right now, and I realize that. But some folks with partners find it really hard to relinquish some of their bad-ass-ness long enough to admit they need help. Watching that "housewife" talking on television that day made me sad. It also made me see how easy it is to place up walls that make us emotionally unavailable to the potential ones waiting in the wings. . .or the ones living right under the same roof. Take it from a formerly single girl who once took great pride in all that she could do "for her damn self." (Insert finger snap here.)

    Yeah.

    Harry takes the boys for haircuts every two weeks, pulls the garbage to the curb, pressure-washes the deck with some scary contraption every spring and scouts out alleged varmints in our garage. Sure, he can't make a cup of coffee, seems to have an aversion to helping me sort the recycling, has been to the supermarket all of 5 times in the last 5 years, becomes paralyzed during NFL Sundays, and always throws my bath towel on the floor when the kids splash in the tub.

    But.

    He wrestles on the floor with the kids six out of seven days per week until they're exhausted, cleans a kitchen like no other, is always down for taking the kids to the latest animated movie, and (along with his two little helpers) always carries in the groceries.  Real talk? We need each other. Bad.


    Take home point: Vulnerability allows for authentic independence. And realizing that was this woman's liberation.

     Isaiah and Harry playing Laser-Tag 
    (with the same expressions they had when checking out the garage)



    "I can even stain and polyurethane
    But some things don't change. . .

    . . I need you, yeah."

    - from Jill Scott 
    (the same artist who sings my internal iPod anthem)


    Jill Scott sings the song currently playing on my internal iPod. .  .all about needing. . .what a beautiful message!
    Needing someone. . . . I highly recommend it. :)

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Terms of endearment.

    *names, details, etc. changed. . . .yadda, yadda, yadda. . .

     "You need anything, sweetie?"

    "Mrs. Jasper?  Mrs. Charlesetta Jasper?" I overheard a nurse calling from the door  dividing the clinic from the waiting room.  Shortly after, a very snappily dressed Grady ultra-elder shuffled her way to the door with all of her weight leaning on her four pronged cane.  The nurse stepped backward and leaned her back on to the door to create more space for the patient. "You're gonna come right on through here, sweetie," she said while pointing toward the triage room.                                               

    Mrs. Jasper pushed and stepped along with her cane, but inadvertently bypassed the triage door.  "No, no, sweetie. . . .over here," the nurse gently instructed her.

    "Oh. . .I thought we was gon' go strett to the room," replied Mrs. Jasper in a wobbly voice.

    "No, love, we're going right in here." The nurse gestured to the entrance and helped her into a chair to get her vital signs measured.

    "Thank you," spoke Mrs. Jasper.

    "Yes, ma'am, no problem." Mrs. Jasper smiled warmly and stuck out her left arm for the blood pressure cuff.

    A few hours later, I walked downstairs to the gift shop to grab a quick diet Coke.  I was immediately greeted by Shanika, one of the cashiers.  "Hey, Dr. Manning!  How you doing?"

    "I am so sleepy!" I replied with an exaggerated shake of my head. "I need a diet Coke fix!"

    "And your granola bar, too?"  We both paused for a moment and shared a laugh, acknowledging how completely predictable these pitstops have become for me. 

    "You doing alright, Miss Shanika?" I smalltalked as I rummaged through the refrigerator. I have this dumb practice of placing my hand on several drinks in an effort to choose the coldest one (probably one of the most completely asinine things I do on a daily basis.)

    "I'm fine, baby," she answered with a broad smile. I liked her confidence and decided that the gleaming gold in her front tooth was fitting. I smile in return. Next, I sift through the granola bars and predictably choose the same "Peanut Butter" one. Finally, I hand it, along with the winning cola to Shanika.

    I studied the cursive tattoos across her forearms and her long, curved acrylic nails as she rang up my two items.  She caught my eye and flashed that glowing smile once more.

    "You want a bag, baby?" she asked.

    "Naaah, I'm fine."

    "Alright then, baby," she said pushing my purchase over toward me. "It's  good seeing you as always." Shanika dropped my change into my hand and nodded.

    "Thanks, Miss Shanika!"

    "Okay, babe."

    I twisted open the bottle, took a few swigs and scurried back to the clinic.

    As I headed up the stairs I found myself reflecting on words like "sweetie", "love", and "baby."  I recognize in that moment that Miss Shanika, who was easily fifteen years my junior, and the nurse who spoke to Mrs. Jasper, who could have been her granddaughter, both freely used the terms.

    I asked myself if hearing Shanika call me "baby" offended me, and quickly admitted to myself that, for some reason, it did not. It's not like she is my close friend, or even someone who is old enough to be anything other than my "baby" sister. Maybe I should have been put off. Yet the "baby" that she kept using to address me sort of rolled off her tongue in a way that felt . . .I don't know. . .endearing. 

    I thought about Mrs. Jasper. I could still see her appreciative smile, and decided that maybe she didn't mind her "sweeties" and "loves" so much either.

    Or did she?

    I still remember that time when I had my first pelvic exam, and the doctor kept calling me "sweetie" and "honey."  I hated it.  It made me feel creepy and patronized, even though I was only sixteen and a half and not yet fully aware that what I was feeling was even called "patronized."  Since then, subconsciously more than likely, I've never been a huge fan or user of those terms of "endearment" for my own patients.

    But I'm still guilty.

    Confession: I totally change my intonation when speaking to my Grady elders, and especially the Grady ultra-elders like Mrs. Jasper.  I ramp up my Southern hospitality and especially my "ma'am's" and "sirs." I even fine tune my "beg pardons?" and my "Good mornings." Now that I think of it. . . I have also convinced myself that tacking a "Miss" in front of someone's name when I don't know them or I'm younger than them makes me more respectful. . . but is it really? Couldn't that be bothersome, too?  And somehow it's like it just happens without me even thinking of it, just as I'm sure that nurse gave little thought to her pet names for Mrs. Jasper.  Without the "sweeties", yes, but could the musical quality of my voice be equally as. . .what do you call it. . . patronizing?


    Hmmm.  

    My friend Lesley M's kids attend a school where they call their teachers by their first names. Some deep thought has clearly gone into that decision, and that award-winning school is just as much in the bible belt as Grady Hospital.  But for some reason, I cringe when my kids roll up on adults and call them by any name that isn't preceded by a "Ms", "Mr.", an "Auntie" or an "Uncle." (And it ain't like I'm an award-winning child educator like that school. . . hello?) I wonder how their school would feel about "sweetie."


    "Sweetie"
    "Love"
    "Baby"
    "Honey"
    "Dearheart"

    Is it okay if you mean well and are deferential? How about if you're syrupy sweet and with a masterful southern twang?  Would mixing it in with "ma'am" or stirring it up with"sir" make it more okay? And is there some accepted age differential that must be present to make it cool? Like, if you can qualify for Medicare, do you have carte blanche to use these words, or if you're old enough to pay a mortgage and the recipient isn't--does that make it alright?

    I mean, that gynecologist that left me with feelings of violation back in 1987 was quite senior to me--yet the thought of his words and actions still make me bristle to this day. (Just bristled.)

    Hmmm.  (This time with a head scratch and a slow head nod.)

    I'll throw this one out to y'all.  . . . . and this time, comment--okay sweetie?

    Sigh.

    A much-needed nap interrupted: The worst and yet the best.


    Cool thing I read today:

    "The worst things about being a parent
    are still better than the best things about every thing else."

    ~ Will Arnett, actor and husband of SNL funny-lady Amy Poehler


    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    "So I could read it."

    Lame, I know: my #1 follower


    Author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison didn't start writing until she was almost 40 years old. The first book she ever published, The Bluest Eye, is one of my favorite books of all time.  When somebody asked her why, after all that time, she'd decided to write that book she said, "So I could read it."



    I heard that.

    A medical student recently asked me, "What prompted you to start writing this blog?"

    Hmmmm.

    Okay. . . it's true that I write this blog to honor patients, their stories, and to underscore the ups and downs of fighting for work/life balance. No question. But now when I think about Ms. Morrison's words, I realize what I should have said:

    "So I could read it."

    I think that's also part of the answer to the question I hear the most frequently: "How do you find the time to do this?"  We find the time for the things that are important to us. And this has become important to me, so I have to find it somewhere. Nestled between that moment when I first wake up to those first few seconds that the kids break the morning silence. Or intertwined in those few hours after the last Dr. Seuss book and falling asleep with a book in my hand. Even if it means not watching much television. Or talking on the phone a little less. I have to find the time to do this.

    So I can read it.

    Nope. I'm no Toni Morrison, but I sure relate to her impetus to write. Reading my own stories has made me a better doctor, a better teacher, a better mommy, a better wife, but most of all, a better friend to myself. It's given me a golden opportunity to visit with me regularly and often, sometimes laughing out loud over an early morning cup of joe or "ugly crying" into the crook of my own elbow late at night until I'm out of breath and tissue.

    Yeah.

    It's an honor to know that anyone has spent even a moment of their day reading what I've written. Seriously. And I'm the first to admit that sharing these thoughts and hearing affirmations nudges me to keep at it.  But deep down, I admit: sometimes I can't wait to finish a story. . . .just so I can read it. And learn from it.

    Lame, I know.

    My friend and fellow Grady doctor, Neil W., calls me a "free-style" writer. Kind of like those rappers who rhyme off the top of their heads without scribbling or erasing my words off of a notebook multiple times before performing for a crowd. He's right. Most times, I just have to get it out so I just type, type, type. . . and (thanks to my mom, the queen of "girl, you have two typos in that post and 'eachother' is NOT one word for the millionth time,'") my "free-style" approach works. .  .and has made this a surprisingly painless form of self-exploration. Taking the time out to do this is a gift I give to myself, my #1 reader.

    That's been one of the most surprising perks of doing this. I've gotten so much closer to me.

    (Lame again, I know.)

    I now believe that everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them time to befriend themselves. In doing so, you quickly find that you are the friend who is always willing to try that new restaurant, to hear the same stories about what your kids are up to over and over again, and not mind being tapped into late at night for last-minute advice (on the same damn issue--again.)

    I'm not sure what you do to befriend yourself. . . . .

    But I hope it's something. For me, it's writing. About everything and about nothing. And these days I'm thankful for this electronic labor of love that has forced me to take pause in this hectic life and spend a little time hanging out with someone who has finally become my BFF--me. 

    ****

    What do you do to connect with you?

    ***

    Here is a neat essay on finding the time to do something meaningful like writing, shared with me by my blog-friend Lisa R. (Thanks, Mama-smacksy! )

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    This is the remix.



    At the end of proctoring a clinical skills/physical examination test last week, I told two medical students this during the feedback session:

    "Whatever you do, do it with as much zeal and as much confidence as you can muster. If you've prepared, there's no reason to shrink and hide in the shadows. In fact, no one wants you to do that. Don't be afraid to infuse your own style into it. Make it your own."

    I noticed that they'd both done a wonderful job preparing for the exam. They knew every single thing that they were supposed to know. Interestingly, though, these students and several other learners I've encountered over the years were . . .how can I put it. . . self-deprecating to a fault. Apologetic, even. Yet they had no reason to be! I did my best to punctuate that session with a "you go, girl!" moment, just to make my point.

    It took me a while to reach that point of being used to hearing my own voice in medicine.  I remember being stunned and overly celebratory whenever something came out right. One day during my 4th year of medical school, my classmate Jada M.R. and I were having dinner with this accomplished black female attending. We had just gotten our USMLE 2 scores, and were over the moon because we had done well. She looked at us with disdain as we chattered about how elated we were. Then she told us these pivotal words:

    "Why are you so surprised when you do well? That's a shame. You need to tell yourself that your preparation is enough, and that you are the bomb--over and over again. Until you believe it."


      Of course we graduated. We worked hard. We prepared. We deserved to.
    (with Jada at graduation in 1996)


    I've held those words close to my chest ever since. I tell myself those things often, and I tell my husband and children the same every single day.

    Today I'm reflecting on the importance of self-confidence. Sometimes you just have to get in the corner and shadow box for a few minutes to pump yourself up, even when you're feeling unsure. And no matter how nervous it makes you, sometimes you just have to get off of the ropes and start swinging as hard as you can. There's so much that holds us back just because we're too afraid to say, "Let me in, coach!"

    So.

    To everyone out there who is trying their hardest to do something with zeal and with confidence and with non-shrinking-ness and with an infusion of their very own--albeit different--style. . . . this is your nudge to get those shoulders back and that chin up and do just that. This is your nudge to ask the coach to let you in. And to inspire you, I bring you the perfect example of zeal--courtesy of the "king-of-dancing-like-no-one-is-watching" himself--my four-year-old son, Zachary:


    "Hey Diddle Diddle, The Country and Western Remix" by Zachary M.
    (Digitally remastered at Manning Home Studios, 11/5/2010)

    video


     (He also has an extended version of this remix that he sang in front of his class Friday--and a B-side version of "Hickory Dickory Dock" that is equally reminiscent of Waylon and Willie coming soon to iTunes. . . .)

    Now if that ain't zeal, tell me what is?

    Life. Make it your own, people. Don't hold back. Expect to do well. . . .

    . . . and don't be afraid to do an unexpected remix.