Friday, December 30, 2011

Just do it for love.

"In your world of noise
Or in your quiet place
Whatever you say
Whatever you do. . . .

Just do it for love."

~ anonymous man on the beach

This lovely man sang an original song for my friends and me today on the beach. He threw back his head and lifted his voice over that salty air like no one was even watching. And it was beautiful. Really, really beautiful like bells ringing in unison or Etta James singing "At Last."

I asked him his name and he just laughed real easy-like and said, "Yeah, mon, I'm just the singing guy." And that was as much as he was willing to say so I left it at that.

The Singing Guy sang that song plus another by Tracy Chapman that was hauntingly soulful. We applauded and he beamed brighter than that Caribbean sun -- seeming to appreciate our genuine entertainment far more than those few loose bills we dropped into his hat.

That made me think about all of the amazingly talented people in tiny pockets all over the place and how few people get to see them or hear them. Strumming guitars and writing music that sounds as perfect as anything I could purchase on iTunes. Or maybe even better.

As a writer, I relate to this. Our applause was affirming. And affirmations feel good.

And so I offered more. "Singing Guy, I loved your original song the best of all. Those are good words for me to hear in my head going into a new year. Thank you for sharing them with us."

And he beamed again. This time even brighter.

I recorded his song and have replayed it for myself two and a half times already. (That's how I remembered the lyrics.) Even though he gave me permission to share his picture and my little iPhone video, I wasn't fully sure if I should. Hmm. Will think about that some more.

"In your world of noise
Or in your quiet place
Whatever you say
Whatever you do. . . .

Just do it for love."

That's a good word on a whole lot of levels. Yeah, mon.

Happy Friday.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Random Rambling: Macaroni and cheese and latkes.

The kids are out of school, so we've been just hanging out over here. Nothing too fancy. Christmas was awesome. It involved Legos and light sabers and little kids who absolutely, positively still believe.

Giving my full attention to the kids has not given me much time to write. They are up later so they've encroached upon my writing time. No worries, though. It's been a lovely thing.

We didn't go crazy with gifts this Christmas. The kids made simple lists and had everything opened in less than twenty minutes. I also didn't feel that sick feeling like I'd completely overindulged them. They were happy and content. So was I.

I stepped on the scale two days ago. Bad mistake. I saw something I didn't like. I also stopped coloring my gray hair. We'll see how long I last with that.  The combination of a bigger derriere and gray hair is not the best from a timing perspective. Harry says he thinks the salt and pepper I have coming in "looks hot."  He also saw me put on my rugged Frye boots, jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt yesterday and thought that "looked hot", too.  Hallelujah for a man that doesn't take much to heat up.

My kids are getting older. Two days ago I was dancing in front of Isaiah and he looked at me kind of embarrassed. Then he said, "Really, Mom? Are you serious?" Ha.

I think I saw the crazy-gym-lady aka "Miss Daisy" walking down the street in my neighborhood the other day. I was very close to jumping out of the car and tripping her. That or shooting her with a paintball. Okay, not really. But I was thinking about it and got a chuckle imagining that whole paintball thing. That's bad, huh?

It's been raining a lot here. Very annoying. It cleared up finally so we immediately went outside to play. I was glad we did because I was getting very tired of seeing my kids looking at Nintendo DS games and iPad applications. And. I was super glad that they actually WANTED to go outside. Did you know? A lot of kids aren't interested in going outside anymore.

Remember playing kickball and double dutch? We even created our own track meets and roller derbies. Sure did. You can do a hell of a lot before the street lights come on. Just sayin'.

Hey here's something funny:  This dude at work kept wishing me a "Happy Kwanzaa." *snicker*  Can I tell you a secret? I don't think I know any black people who do the full on Kwanzaa celebration. Matter of fact, if you are black and reading this--fast! without Wikipedia!--tell me the principles of Kwanzaa! Go! Go!


Mmm hmmm. I've wanted to do the whole Kwanzaa thing before, too. Had plans one year and everything but it just didn't happen. I was too tired after Christmas, man. Plus it felt like I was trying to hard so that fleeting thought in 2007 was about as far as I got with it. Yep. Hey brothas and sistas! If you do happen to be one of the few that actually does get your Kwanzaa on, let me know how it works for you, okay?  I'm real curious.

Yeah. The point of this is just letting people know that it isn't really necessary to wish all black folks a Happy Kwanzaa. At least, not me.

Isn't it the last night of Hanukkah? I think so. Hey--shout out to my friends celebrating Hanukkah and to my friends who do the Chrismakkah or Hanu-mas thing. Sounds gnarly to me. Oh, have I told y'all? I make a mean latke. Mean, I tell you. Sour cream, apple sauce on top, all that. No, and not from the mix, either so don't even try to play me like it is. I'm nice with my latkes. Mmm hmmm. Just sayin'.

Which reminds me-- 

Have I ever told y'all about my mac and cheese? I call it "Who's the mac?" Mac and Cheese. Why? Because word on the street is that it will make you slap your mama. And when everybody runs up to me foaming at the mouth saying how good it is, I walk into the kitchen, peep my reflection in the microwave and ask myself, "Who's the mac?" Yep, sure do. I don't profess to be super awesome in the kitchen. But I do stand behind my mac and cheese.

Now. What makes this most interesting is that I absolutely DETEST cheese. DE-TEST it. For as long as I can remember, too.

I have never had a cheeseburger.
I have never had a grilled cheese sammich.
I have never eaten nachos.
And no, sirree. I have not ever let macaroni and cheese touch my lips. Not even my "Who's the Mac?" version. Nope.

The one caveat is pizza. And cream cheese. Okay, I will eat very mild and nonstinky cheeses. Mozarella. Provolone. Beyond that, I'm dunzo.

*sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little bit*

So how do I make mac and cheese, you ask? It came from being in love with the BHE who happens to love mac and cheese. I started with one friend's recipe and built upon it to make it my own. And while I do give my friend Stacy B. mad props for the base recipe, it wasn't until I stuck my foot in it that it became the "Who's the Mac?" version, which YES is reproducible and has been reproduced by friends with fool proof results. Mmmm hmmm.

That said, if you have stepped on a scale this week and not liked the number you saw, I would not recommend my mac and cheese as it has a ridiculous amount of butter and cheese in it. Ridiculous. Ha!

Alright. That's all I have.

Happy Everything. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas the night before Christmas. . .

Papa and Auntie JoLai came all the way from California and have agreed to keep an eye out for the Polar Express.

Good times, man.

Happy Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mentor-fic Part 2: Breaking out and braking in.

Rock wall climbing with Isaiah on a Saturday
With one of my student mentees, Erica U., on another Saturday.

When I was a child, my mother took me to see a pediatrician named Dr. Chris. I am pretty sure his real name was something else, but this is what he had us call him. Anyways, from what I recollect, Dr. Chris was a nice doctor in that Marcus Welby kind of way.  Crisp white coat. Pleasant handshake to mom. Antiseptic smelling room filled with glass bottles of ear curettes, cotton balls, and tongue depressors. Even a few kid magazines like Highlights.

As a kid, it was hard for me to imagine that Dr. Chris did much of anything outside of doctoring. Like, surely he drove straight home in his late model Buick, kissed his June Cleaver-ish wife on the cheek and chucked his son under the chin, right? And, of course, after that he switched into slippers kind of like Mr. Robinson and then sat down quietly in an arm chair to read medical journals and textbooks until dinner was ready.

But now that I'm a grown woman (and a doctor) I know that this was more than likely not the case. Not even close. Heck, for all I know, Dr. C was a straitlaced pediatrician by day and Harley Davidson hog riding bad ass by night. Or maybe he did improv at the local theater or had taken up swing dancing.  Who knows?

My friend and fellow Grady doctor, Stacy H., is a movie connoisseur. She loves indie films and big studio films and can talk about them better than Siskel or Ebert in their hey day.

Jason S., my other Grady doctor pal, marches in a marching band during his free time. And not just any old band. He is a part of The Marching Abominable--which is one part marching band and ten parts fun -- all dressed up in some of the best costumes you've ever seen.

Me? I write this quirky blog. And yes, it includes medical things, but I'm sure someone somewhere who meets me in the hospital or catches me talking about something on a television somewhere is a bit surprised when they happen upon this thing. After all--this is the place where I posted a video of myself double-dutching on my fortieth birthday. 

Aaaaaah. But that brings me to my mentor. My awesomely energetic mentor-extraordinaire Neil W. This guy has brains that put Marcus Welby, Trapper John, and House to shame. He edits Journal Watch Hospital Medicine, gives talks all over the place and has a wall littered with teaching awards from medical students, residents and professional organizations. But. He also plays a mean game of full court basketball, knows the words to more 80's rap tunes than me, and my favorite of all of his non-doctor talents?

Wait for it. . .wait for it. . .

He's an auto-mechanic. Yes, people. A highly skilled auto-mechanic. (Kind of like the car version of the "kitchen beautician.")

So check it. One day, back when I was pregnant with Isaiah, I was driving on interstate 285 and suddenly my car just decelerates. Just like that. It was horrible and terrifying.

And expensive.

Turns out that my timing belt had broken which I have since learned is something that you never, ever want to have happen to you because it will absolutely put you in the poor house. So I go to work and I'm lamenting in the hallway with my big pregnant Buddha belly about my dang near $3000 timing belt destruction.

Neil's antennas raise all the way up and next thing I know,  he is spitting all kinds of random factoids about pistons and jamming and timing belts and parts and jobs and labor and getting ripped off and . .and . . and. . yeah.  It was seriously like a one man episode of "Car Talk" on NPR. This is when I learn of The Great Garage of the Grady Doctor (aka Neil's garage.)

It was too late to get my engine fixed at the G3D, plus the head mechanic of the G3D was on the inpatient service that month so it was a no-go. But ever since then? Most of my mechanical questions regarding my car, I always run by the G3D guy.

That timing belt disaster involved a fairly old Volkswagen Passat.  I haven't had much need for the Great Garage of the Grady Doctor since getting my Volvo back in '04.

But in case you haven't checked your calendar lately, it's almost 2012 so the statute of limitations has run out on me not having car issues. And so. At the end of one of our recent mentor-mentee meetings where we were discussing a lecture we're giving together at the upcoming Society of Hospital Medicine meeting, Neil mentions that he is visiting his brother in California, at which time he will be replacing his brakes.

"It's a Volvo and I got a great deal on parts from eBay," he said happily. Neil gets really excited when he talks about fixing cars. His eyes dance all crazy and spit flies from his mouth because he doesn't even bother to stop to swallow the saliva of his foaming mouth. And though this is not the first time I'd seen or heard such a tale from my mentor, one part of this particular story grabbed my attention.

"A Volvo!? Dude, my brakes have been making sounds on my Volvo!"

"Squeaking?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Uhhh. . . . .more like. . .scrubbing. Heh."

"Scrubbing? Like scraping?"

"Errr. . . .srcrubby-scraping."

"Not squeaking, though?"

"I think I passed squeaking a few weeks ago."

And after that, it was back to that "Car Talk" thing again. Hands waving. Words flying over my head and at my face at several miles per hour. Not a single of which made sense to me. All I knew was that at the end of that meeting, in addition to putting together some objectives for our lecture on "Processing Medical Errors", I was also given the assignment of finding out if I needed pads and rotors or just pads.

Fortunately, I'd just gotten two new wheels for my car so that answer was easy. I needed both.

"Figures," Neil said with a shrug. "Scrubbing and scraping are never good news."

"Even if it's intermittent?" I asked sheepishly.

And to that he answered by just shaking his head.

So you know what happened next, right? Of course, you do!  My mentor breaks out into the full happy dance and comes up with a perfect plot for getting my brakes fixed up.  He offered to work on my brakes during my trip to Pittsburgh for my visiting profesora adventure and would even order the parts through his friend's auto shop. (Shout out to Billy at Bones Enterprises in Tucker, Georgia!)

Now seeing as he had just done this job on a Volvo and had been working on many a car of many a Grady doctor before me, I was 100% down with this plan. As was the B.H.E., because I am sure that many of you were wondering just where he stood on such a proposition. Now. Seeing as the B.H.E. and Neil the G3D mechanic are down like four flat tires (wow, I'm so witty) this whole thing was win-win. For sure and fo' sho.

Plus--it wouldn't involve us getting anihilated by some mechanic at a national chain for ridiculously inflated labor and parts costs.

All in time for Christmas, too! Hallelujah!

Alright, so I left my car at Grady with Neil and while I was off having fun with Shanta Z. and my new friends at University of Pittsburgh, my mentor-ific mentor was both coming up with new and exciting things for me career-wise AND fixing the brakes on my Volvo XC90.

Don't believe me? Check this out! (Oh! By the way, if you're viewing this on an iPad or phone, the non-YouTube videos don't display on those devices.)

Got a little help from his buddy -- Thanks, Billy!
And these are the brakes. . . brake it up, brake it up, brake it up!
Those hands also touch patients at Grady, you know.
I have no idea how he figured this out during med school and residency.
Apparently, these are very big brakes. Neil said they were "YOUGE!"

To make the story even BETTER. . . . Neil and his wife Tamara were about to take a trip to Florida to see his mom and needed a rental car from the airport.  So lucky me--they decided to get the rental car at the time that I was due in from Pennsylvania! Not only do I get my brakes fixed, but I get a ride from the airport to boot?


I said to my mentor one of his favorite Long Island-y sayings with as much New York attitude as I could muster:

"Who's betta dan you?!"

And I say that out loud in my car every time I stop without the sound of scrubbing, scraping, scrubby-scraping or squeaking.

Ha ha ha. . . .

So yes. Stacy H. is a makeshift movie critic. Jason S. plays a funky, beat-thumping clarinet in The Marching Abominable. I have mad skills with a double dutch rope and can even free-style rap if given the right beat, enough days of vacation and enough liquid courage. And my mentor, Neil?  Well he can both slam dunk on an eighteen year old hoop star in the Jewish Community Center and also replace the transmission on your hooptie in one day.

All between seeing patients and teaching medical students and residents. Don't let the white coats fol you. We are Jacks and Jills of many trades--not just the one you see in the hospital or the clinic.

And this? This is very necessary if you ask me. My mentor sets a great example of that which, in addition to my new brakes, I deeply appreciate. Yeah. . . I guess my whole point is . . . to see the humanity in our patients and their lives, we must first have lives of our own. Lives that include salsa lessons or trips to Cozumel. Lives that involve singing a capella in a quartet on Wednesdays and teaching boot camp to twenty baby boomers before heading to work every morning. Working on your mentee's Volvo in between giving her advice on teaching during her first stint as a visiting profesora all the way to screaming as a soccer-slash-swim-slash-basketball mom, taking up sculpting and writing a quirky little blog. And of course. . . . it's up to us to be mature enough to balance all of these things the best we can.

Which reminds me. . . .

When I was in Pittsburgh, I was talking to someone wise who said, "The whole term 'work-life balance' suggests that to do it well, life must always win. But you know? Sometimes work wins and that's okay. And sometimes life wins. I think 'manage' is a better word. I'm not sure it's ever perfectly balanced." That was some good food for thought and a good word, too. I liked that take on it and think it applies to this and all of the things we do inside, outside and in-between our professional lives. For us doctors, all of it needs to be swirled together to make us remember that we, too,  are people. . . and to allow us to always remember that we are caring for people. . .yes people, too.

I still don't know what Dr. Chris was up to on those Wednesdays when the pediatrician's office was closed. But something tells me it was a hell of a lot more than just reading journals and playing golf.

Mmm hmmmm. . . .

Happy Friday.

And now playing on my mental iPod. . . . . sorry, I couldn't resist!

. . .and of course, The Marching Abominable! Go Jason!

and last but not least. . . .proof that in my forties I'm nice with the double dutch ropes--STILL. :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I was standing in my room the other day thinking, "I need to get some of this stuff out of my closet."

"Yeah," Harry said cosigning. "There's too much stuff in here period."

I agreed and went about my business.

Harry had to work a bit late on his birthday so that night was uneventful. We decided on dinner at home as a family and then a trip to the neighborhood frozen yogurt spot. With so much stuff to do, we felt that this was appropriately celebratory.

In the clinic on Monday someone came in to have a foot ulcer looked at.  Scraped it on a rock and noticed that some green stuff was coming out of it.

Another patient stood up and threatened to leave before we finished the visit. Hadn't been to a doctor in just about his whole life. Said that all this stuff we were talking about was scaring him. He wasn't ready to be a patient. He already had too much stuff going on in his life already.

"Whose stuff is this?" a nurse asked me as she held up a coat and a bag that had been left on a chair. We found the owner quickly because people don't like being without their stuff.

I interviewed residency applicants the other day and wondered if all the stuff all over my office would help or hinder them from coming to train with us.  Three of the four applicants commented that they liked all the stuff in my office.  I like it, too.

My godson turned one and he had a party. A party for a one year-old at a little place called Gymboree. I was worried that there wouldn't be stuff for my boys to do there being five and six and a half and all. But in we walked, the entire Team Manning and just like that, the boys quickly found lots of stuff to play with, to do, and to fully entertain themselves. And then Isaiah stuffed his face with two cupcakes--first his and then Zachary's because he knows first hand that Zachary is no fan of cupcakes or sweet stuff.

I did find a bag of Halloween candy hidden inside some of the stuff Zachary plays with in the playroom though. When I took it, he yelped, "But that's my stuff!"  And my reply was, "No, sir. It is not."

We went to a homeless shelter on Sunday. Our friends Carol R. and Coach B. invited us to be there for a holiday dinner and even though we missed part of it when we were at Baby Jackson's special party, we came in time for dessert. And. We made it in time to see how much wonderful stuff people had donated to them. Everyone pitched in and cleaned up all the stuff from the dinner and before you knew it, that gym floor was clean and slick and those trashbags were filled with stuff. The energy was wonderful and the men were all stuffed from a perfect meal and each were given stuff to take with them.

Carol R. pointed to the wall and showed Isaiah where the stuff the kids had made for decorations was hanging on the wall. He noticed that before she said it and beamed when she confirmed this. Then a man pointed out to Isaiah that right behind the construction paper garlands were mattresses and this is where they sleep. And Isaiah froze, his little wheels turning. I knew this wasn't over.

We thanked our friends for having us and told all of the men in the shelter "Merry Christmas!" even though something about that felt funny. Especially because I had carried in my designer handbag and was wearing a J. Crew coat that looked swankier than I wanted to look. I knew I should have taken some of that stuff from my closet.

Outside of the shelter, Isaiah saw all the people lining the building that didn't make it inside for whatever reason.

"What about their stuff?" he asked.

"Their stuff?" I asked.

"Where do they put all their stuff if they are homeless?"

And Harry answered in a Daddy voice, "When you are homeless you try not to have too much stuff. Or some stuff you had you unfortunately have to let go of."

"But what if you love it?"

And Harry and I just exchanged glances because that was a hard thing to answer. Then we heard a man calling out from the back of a flatbed truck that was stacked high with boxes full of stuff. "Gloves! Gloves! I have some gloves for who needs them!"

Those men ran from some of everywhere, leaving what little stuff they had behind for gloves. Warm gloves.

And Isaiah and Zachary watched. I wondered if this stuff was too much for their little eyes. Asked myself if this was robbing them of their innocence or instead their ignorance. I decided that this stuff was real stuff and that it was okay in this instance for them to be robbed of both.

"Do people give away blankets and covers to homeless people?" Isaiah asked.

"They often do," I responded.

"You can cover your stuff with a blanket. See? That's what that man did," he observed. We both looked over at a man sitting beside a big heap covered with some kind of comforter.

"That's a thought."

Zachary said, "What if it rains? Rains all on your stuff? Does all your stuff get all wet and yucky?"

He climbed into his car seat and buckled himself in. He seemed to intuitively know that there wasn't much of an answer to that one so he simply added, "I don't want to be homeless."

I knocked the stuff off of the passenger seat that I'd left behind and sat down. Harry started the car and we pulled off.

"Did you get the stuff I need for my doctor's appointment tomorrow?" he asked.

"Sure did."


The ride home after that was quiet. Zachary fell asleep. Isaiah just looked out of the window. When we reached home we all put on pajamas and the kids climbed under warm dry covers. I picked up stuff off of the floor and then made a list of all of the stuff I had to do the next day, which included giving away some of that stuff in my closet.

Harry fell asleep first, so I just sat there listening to his rhythmic breathing. His brow kept furrowing and it made mine wrinkle, too. I know he has a lot of stuff on his plate and on his mind.

Then I thought about the stuff I'd dealt with in the last few days and closed my eyes. I drifted to sleep reflecting on this world, this life, and the stuff dreams are made of.

Happy Thursday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree.

The Grady Hospital version of Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree.
(Thank you to my fellow Grady doctor Lesley M. for this most blogworthy iPhone shot!)

I am totally putting a big a-- red ornament on the that sucker the MINUTE I get to work tomorrow.


Man, I love this place.

 Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . what y'all know about this?

Observations after watching this video:
  1. Charlie Brown may have met criteria for either depression or at least dysthymia.
  2. Snoopy is that dude.
  3. Linus is an old man trapped in a seven year old's body.
  4. Somebody should have called Department of Family and Child Services on PigPen's parents.
  5. I just remembered that Franklin didn't integrate the Peanuts until the late 1960's. Dang. 

    Top Ten: Mentor-ific Part #1

    Telemachus and Mentor

    One of the first things people tell you when you take a faculty position in medical education is this: "Get yourself a mentor."  It doesn't matter if you're a clinician educator, a clinician researcher or both. At some point somebody is going to catch you at the coffee maker and ask you all nonchalantly:

    "So. . . .who's mentoring you?"

    This is the point where you break out in a cold sweat. Unless, of course, you have a clear idea in your head exactly who that person is.  Maybe you're so savvy that it's more than one person, even. But if you are like many fairly junior folks. . . .that answer isn't as clear as you'd like for it to be.

    Here's why. Many institutions help you identify a mentor right of the rip. Someone looks at you and your accomplishments and serves as a professional "" for you and your future.  The problem is. . . as well meaning as these arrangements are, ofttimes it doesn't result in "eharmony."

    And so. You give that name that was given to you whenever someone asks, but secretly you kind of recoil because there hasn't been the kind of magic you'd been hoping for.

    Um yeah.

    I know that some professional person somewhere is reading this thinking, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"  Yes, because it's true.

    Hold up.  A few of you might be like, "What do you mean mentor? Like why must I have one of those? Is it like having a guru? Because if it's that, I'll pass, thanks."

    Alright, so check it. Back in the Greek mythology day, Odysseus (as in the dude behind "The Odyssey") had this right hand man named Mentor (yes, this was the dude's real name.) Anyways, Odysseus had some big things going on and by big things I mean The Trojan War. Odysseus, being the responsible dude he was, was concerned about who would hold things down for him in his absence. And see? Remember when I said that all women need good women friends and all men need good men friends in their corners? Fortunately, The Odysseus had that in his running mate Mentor.

    This just reminded me of my hospitalized patient who introduced me to his best friend who was visiting at the bedside one day. He said to me, "Hey Miss Manning, this man right here is my 'A-alike!'"

    And of course, I asked this patient who happened to be a New York transplant, "He's your 'A-alike?'"

    In unison they both laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, 'cause we B-alike and we C-alike."

    Yes, I digress but the point of telling you that was. . .uhh. . .nothing really.


    Okay, so Odysseus had a son who was the apple of his eye named Telemachus, and he needed somebody to keep an eye on his boy while he was away. Even though Telemachus wasn't like a baby or anything, this was necessary because his father was kind of a big deal. So, in a way, Mentor was kind of like having secret service for the Obama girls but like, before the secret service was invented.

    You still with me? Good.

    So the story goes on, a lot of stuff goes down, but the bottom line is that Odysseus' A-alike Mentor held down the fort big time and proved to be a great guide to Telemachus. When it was all over, Telemachus probably said, "''Preciate you" to Mentor and Mentor, like any good mentor, just smiled all proud-like and replied by saying something poignant like, "Ah, my lad. . . . when you succeed, I succeed."

    Anyways. This is where that whole word comes from in the English language. The gnarly thing about the story of Mentor is that he wasn't just a babysitter. He was wise counsel, a cheer section, a coach, and a trusted confidant. And although Telemachus had a good father who could serve in that capacity most of the time, it ended up being good to have someone else in that role as well.

    So I say all this to say. . .I think good mentors help us to get close to our full potential. We all need good mentors to nudge us, advise us and sometimes taze us into doing what we need to do. The most effective mentors coach, inspire and lead by example. It took me a minute (a Grady miiiii-nute) to recognize and identify my mentors in medical education. And man, am I glad that I finally did!

    Haven't found one yet? Or don't realize who yours are? Never fear because today, in the first installment of my Mentor-ific series, I bring you:

    The Top Ten Ways to know a GREAT mentor when you see one.
    Use this to help guide you to the promised man or wo-man.  (Not in the romantic sense but in the mentor sense, alright?)

    Drumroll please. . . . . .

    #10  --  R-E-S-P-E-C-T

    A mentor that's right for you is someone that you respect. Now, this is trickier than you might imagine. Just because someone is a rock star professionally doesn't mean that you'll fully respect them. Perhaps you don't like the way he or she speaks to his or her administrative assistant or even they never leave work to be with their family.  Whatever it  is, if there's a disconnect with your ability to feel genuine respect for the person, it's probably not a good fit.

    #9  --   PRODUCTIVE

    It's kind of ideal to have a mentor who has actually done some of the things that you aspire to do. Don't confuse that for EXACTLY the things that you want to do.

    Case in point:  My main professional mentor is Neil W., who happens to have some interests that don't exactly mirror my own. But. He is a highly accomplished teacher on the local, national and even international levels. His teaching style is quite different than my own, too. And that's fine. Because he is very, very productive and helps me to push harder both through his encouragement and his example. Plus he's a kick ass teacher, which I always aspire to be. I respect that. It works.

    #8 --  AVAILABLE

    Doesn't matter how amazing of a fit a person is for you if they don't have time for you. Some folks are well-meaning but ridiculously busy. Too busy to reply to your emails or your phone calls. And if that's the case? Regrettably, it's probably not a good fit.

    There are some times when the mentee falls short and isn't assertive or prepared enough. This might leave said busy potential mentor less than enthusiastic about making time for them. But when it's not that, then at some point you just have to cut your losses and keep it moving.

    Yes you are published in the highest tiered rock star journals and you present at the biggest deal conferences every year. But you won't call me back so . . . . oh well.

    #7 -- WISE

    A great mentor has been around the block enough to have gained some wisdom here and there. Sometimes you need to turn to your mentor for insight on what to do when those paths diverge in a yellow wood. It helps if they don't have to use an 8-ball to give you some advice.

    #6 -- EXAMPLE

    Those I identify as mentors are people who I consider role models. Not just professionally, either. I like knowing that, yes, you work hard but that you also go on vacation with your family or take a cooking class with your husband on Tuesdays after work. No, you don't need to be perfect. Just working to achieve some sort of balance, you know? It also helps if you're nice.

    By the way--I gave a speech once called "Let your life be a mentor."  It was about how even when folks don't know you personally, they can be mentored by your example and the lessons in your life. I am mentored, for example, by Angella L. on many things. She is a mom and professional and a wife and when I read her writings, I get guidance. That's just a little bit of food for thought.

    #5 -- UNSELFISH

    I'm sure Mentor had a whole bunch of things he needed to do while Odysseus was gone to the war. Even though it is technically a myth and was technically waaaaaay back when, I know for sure that not that much has changed in the world since then. Real talk? Time is a precious thing.  This is why many people would much rather write a check toward food for the homeless than going to a shelter and actually feeding them. Time. Energy. Commitment. 

    It takes an unselfish person to spend time focusing energy on someone other than themselves. Exceptional mentors are willing to sacrifice their time, ideas, and energy to bring out the best in you.

    Oh,  and don't be fooled. Sometimes productive mentees find themselves working with people who seem unselfish. Ask yourself a question: Would this person still be as interested in working with me if they weren't last author on all of my papers in their field or if I wasn't completing the manuscripts that were sitting on their desk for the last five years? If the answer isn't an immediate absolutely yes, then know that the relationship could be difficult to sustain.

    #4 --  INSPIRATION

    Mentors come in all shapes and sizes.  Some serve as "coaches" -- kind of like what surgeon Atul Gawande, M.D. wrote about in his lovely piece called "Personal Best" in The New Yorker. They stand on the sidelines watching you and telling you how to improve your technique. They come up with ideas that you never thought of, point out strengths and weaknesses that never occur to you, and. . . .they just. . . .they just invigorate you.

    One of my mentors who serves in this capacity is a Grady doctor named Carlos D.  Carlos is quite possibly the busiest, most hard-working person I know. But he does all of the things he does with such zeal, man. He teaches with zeal. Treats patients with zeal. And even responds to my most simple text messages with a spunk that often makes me laugh out loud.  I learn so much from watching him and listening to him. And though he is not my mentor in the formal sense I count him as one because he makes me better.

    There's a whole movement about peer-mentoring that I have to mention here, too. Many of my peers in medicine hype me up so much! I watch them teach or talk or do what they do and I feel invigorated. Ready to try something new.  That list is long. But I count these people as the swirling moons around me that serve in a mentoring role, too.


    Your mentor should NOT be in competition with you. Period.

    #2 -- FUN

    Mentor-mentee relationships can be time consuming. It sure can be painful to spend all that time with someone who's a stick in the mud.  When I meet with my mentor Neil W. we spend at least 70% of the time laughing out loud. It's productive, yes. But always fun.

    Okay, except for the last chapter we wrote together. That wasn't fun. But he did laugh at all of my jokes regarding how un-fun I found that whole process. And the reason he insisted I do it was because he thought it would help me professionally. (He also helped a WHOLE lot with the hard parts which takes me back to number 5.)


    Not what you can do. Not how fast you write. Not how willing you are to work long hours. And not just what you can do to make them look good.


    They remember that your son is turning five and they fly back from wherever they were to be at his birthday party because it's important to you. (Yes, I remembered that, Neil.)  They want to hear your ideas and have the patience to help you flesh them out. They take the time to look at your unique qualities and try hard to come up with the best ways to utilize them.  They know when to push you and when to back off because they've taken the time to get to know you.

    In other words, they care. About you. You.  Even if you don't have great comic timing. Even if you got a 'B' on the medicine clerkship or if you didn't get awarded that big grant from the NIH. They still make room for you in their schedule and start that meeting off with simple things like:

    "How are you? How was Harry's birthday? Are the kids out of school yet? Have you ever eaten at Antico Pizza?"

    And then they get down to business. I think everyone knows that there is a very fine line between business and pleasure. It sure helps when it gets blurred.

    Oh and mentoring isn't just a doctor thing or medicine thing either.  Many of my mentors coach me in life and motherhood and everythinghood as well. And. Many people mentor you without even knowing it. Kind of cool, isn't it?

    Bottom line? The best mentors get it. And they get you. 

    That's all I've got today.

    (Stay tuned for more on my mentor Neil W. in the next installment. Ha ha ha. . .)

    Happy Hump Day, y'all.

    Now playing on your mental iPod. . .  If you're lucky, your mentor just might teach you how to Dougie. . . but don't count on it. Don't worry, this is not a requirement.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    The Dream Team.

    Warning: Non-medical gag-worthy mush ahead. 
    Proceed with caution.
    Happy Birthday to the B.H.E.!

    Remember those walls I built?
    Well, baby they're tumbling down
    And they didn't even put up a fight
    They didn't even make up a sound

    I found a way to let you in
    But I never really had a doubt
    Standing in the light of your halo
    I got my angel now

    It's like I've been awakened
    Every rule I had you're breakin'
    It's the risk that I'm takin'
    I ain't never gonna shut you out

    Everywhere I'm looking now
    I'm surrounded by your embrace
    Baby, I can see your halo
    You know you're my saving grace

    You're everything I need and more
    It's written all over your face
    Baby, I can feel your halo
    Pray it won't fade away
    ~ from "Halo" by Beyonce

    It's so cliche, right? Saying that "a good man is hard to find." But I know for sure that this is the truth. No, I was not lucky in love before that fateful day when we met. Not one bit. I'd trick myself into having interests and traits that aren't my own. Dancing to someone else's beat because mine didn't seem fast enough or slow enough or cool enough. Agonizing over things like what to wear or on which side to part my hair. Or if the phone would ring and if it did, if I should even answer it. 

    But then I met you. 

    And yes, it's like I've been awakened. All those silly rules about "how to be" with boys or men or whatever flew out of the window. Because you recognized something that sometimes lonely girls forget--that we are enough. In fact, I am more than enough. For you, I am your ideal. And yes, you are mine. 

    In high heels and a feminine silhouette you love me. In Ugg boots and fleece pajama pants you love me, too. You listen to my words and hold my hand. You don't have that many mushy words of your own, but your acts--your daily actions--they speak an encyclopedia's volumes. You look at me lovingly. You laugh at my dumbest jokes. And you tell me the truth even if it stings. 

    I don't need to convince you to come home. Or do things with the kids. Or do things with me. Because you want to. On your own, you've decided that. Because we are enough.  

    Even though you are the only husband I have ever known, I have no problem publicly calling you "The B.H.E" because when I look at you I think, "Damn, you are the best husband ever." And sure, I know that some wife some where is ready to argue with me about that, but oh well, that's my opinion and it won't change.


    You'd think I'd be afraid of saying that, right? Saying out loud that my man is all awesome and all that. Scared that there's some other version of you out there doing things that aren't worthy of such a title. And to that I say, "Meh." Look, I know you are a human being and not some deity. I know you are not perfect but neither am I. Should I wait for you to be perfect before speaking positively about you? I think it's kind of a shame to be more afraid of openly saying that your spouse kicks ass than you are of telling folks that he or she is one. . . .


    I go by what I see. I go by what I feel. I won't live in quiet fear that you are too good to be true. No, I will not. I will wake up and look over at you and tell you all the things I am saying right here. That I love you. That you're awesome. That you make me extremely happy. And that I appreciate you.

    Because I know that this thing we have here is not a promise. That some people never get a life's partner. And that some who think they've found one are often confused by behaviors that suggest otherwise. 

    So yeah. I said it. A good man is hard to find. And today, on your birthday, I am telling it on the mountain that you, Mr. Manning, are a good man. No, I take that back. You are a great man. So great that when your son was asked what he wants to be when he grows up he simply said,

    "A man. Like my daddy."

    Now that's what I'm talking about.

    You know? I just hope I am doing and saying and living things that let you know every single day how fortunate I feel to be on your team. Because this team of ours? It's a dream team, man. At least it is for me.

    I hope I start a movement. Of wives and husbands and partners and friends telling it on the mountain that yes, they love someone. And especially living it, too. I have a feeling that there's some other dream teams out there, too.


    So cup your ear and listen because today, I'm telling it to whoever wants to hear it, including you:

    Brother Manning, you are my ideal.
    You are enough.
    And together? 
    We are a force to be reckoned with.
    Yes, we are.

    Now that? That's what I'm talking about.

    Happy Birthday, Bro' Manning.


    Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .this video and song always makes me think of Harry.

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Sparing old ones and tearing new ones.

    Don't let the fanny pack fool you.

    "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge, I'm tryin' not to lose my head!"  

    ~ Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

    For those who read this blog often, you probably feel like you know my dad. My wonderful, awesome father. . . . just a couple of years shy of seventy and filled with energy that would rival any seventeen year-old. The guy who is the head counselor and founder of Camp Pa Pa and who spends his west coast afternoons doing Skype vocabulary words with his grandson some two thousand miles away. Full of easygoing wisdom and patience. . . . .yep. That's my dad.


    Although I can say with certainty that my father, Mr. Tony Draper, has always been a good guy. . . .I can't exactly say that he's always been as . . . . how shall I say it. . .zen as he is nowadays.  Ha! Back in the day, my pop was known for not only being a firm disciplinarian of his own children--he also was the dude who could and would tear someone a brand new you-know-what if they tried him.

    Oh. . . .that 1970's - 1980's version of Tony Draper.  . . . .sigh.  Man, he had a way with words. And talk about going to bat for you!  As long as you didn't mind hearing an f-bomb or two during the defense, he was a good person to have in your corner. Because my father?  Oh man. Nobody intimidated him.

    Now. It's not that this part has changed. It's just that he has now crossed into the land of the "wise and white-haired." That place that makes the people around you bite their tongues a wee bit more which puts people like Tony Draper at less of a chance of dropping f-bombs and emmer-effer bombs in their direction. Yes. The land of the "wise and white-haired." It's this nirvana where people generally avoid saying or doing things to you that could potentially get them cussed out. They hold their smart-ass remarks a bit more and try to take the high road out of respect. I am convinced that THIS has far more to do with this Y2K upgraded zen-like version of my father than anything else.

    Growing up, we called it "pulling a T-Tone."  (I'm not sure why we started calling it this--but I know my brother started it and it stuck.) We could always see it coming, too. Kind of like the day that my sister Deanna got a 'B' on her test because she didn't list "Oceania" as a continent.  Dad marched right up to that school with his briefcase and three-pieced suit to talk to the teacher after he'd insisted that Deanna had missed that question.


    I know you are like, "Seriously?"  And to that I say, "Yes. Seriously."  See, it wasn't so much that the dude was dead wrong about this bootleg geography fact.  It was that it resulted in an alteration in my sister's grade and also a smug interaction in front of my sister's class where he tried to take her down a couple of notches.

    Awww hell naw!

    Mess with Tony Draper's kids? Fuggeddaboudit. He would be up at that school before you could say Rumplestiltskin.  So up he goes to Monroe Junior High School where this dude is sitting behind his desk with a half wet-half dried out Jheri curl correcting papers. Seventh grade Deanna is shuffling her feet behind him because she could already smell it in the air. One false word and her daddy was 100% guaranteed to pull a T-Tone up in that classroom.

    Now. Let me explain a bit about seeing a full on "T-Tone" getting pulled. It first involves a few rhetorical questions. Next it moves to direct logical questions. And if something comes out wrong. . . . that's the point of no return. Basically, the voice goes up several decibels and somebody gets put directly in their place.  Oh, and did I mention? Rarely are those words censored.

    So as you might guess, the whole 'B' for Oceania didn't go so well for that quasi-Jheri curl teacher of Deanna's and I think at some point he recorrected all of the tests in that bootleg geography course. All secondary to having had a T-Tone pulled on him.

    This explains where a lot of my spunk comes from. I'm not really put off by confrontations, in fact, I'm pretty much a "bring it" kind of girl in most instances. This, I attribute to witnessing many a T-Tone getting pulled in my day. On baseball fields, in PTA meetings, in my front yard, and yes. . .sigh. . .even when he was president of the School Board.  My stealthy dad could always be counted upon to be not really a loose cannon per se. . .but a cannon in every sense of the word.

    I do realize that my dad grew up in a different time than me. Being born in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1940's is a far cry from Los Angeles in the 70's that's for sure. Maybe that has something to do with his reactions over the years.  And maybe not. I'm not sure.


    That brings me to the other day.  Last week, I was hustling after work to the YMCA for Zachary's basketball practice.  I had just left work and grabbed both boys and was pushing it on time. With Zachy's practice gear in a bag, we ran as fast as we could into the locker room so that he could get changed. They whined as usual about going into the Ladies bathroom with me, but expecting a five year old to change his on clothes in the boys bathroom wasn't going to happen--especially when time was of the essence.

    Alright. So in we go. Me in that rush-mama way and them dawdling just enough to make me want to punch a wall. Isaiah sits on the bench next to me as I pull open a locker and begin helping Zachary get his shirt over his head.  I'm digging into his gym bag looking for his fresh pair of socks when all of a sudden I see this older woman walk by us. She's dripping wet from the swimming pool and has a towel wrapped around her waist. I look up and offer her a quick smile of salutation.

    Her response?  A steely blue-eyed scowl and these words through gritted teeth:

    "What are they doing in here?"

    I looked from side to side to make certain she was talking to me. Both boys looked up at her, Zachary with one arm in his shirt and one out, and Isaiah from that bench with my iPhone in his hand.

    I assumed she was poking fun at the kids and me so I looked over at them and said, "Yeah, guys. What are you doing in here?"  I chuckled and went back to what I was doing.

    "No. WHAT. ARE. THEY. DOING. IN. HERE?" she demanded.  This time I noticed how her hand with the intricate network of prominent blue veins was gripping the towel on her waist. She was serious. Dead serious.

    "Umm, are you, like, serious?"


    At this point, she had the full attention of me, my boys and a woman with long dreadlocks standing behind her near the fresh towels.  That dreadlocked sister froze and raised her eyebrows in my direction -- sensing a potential T-Tone in the making.


    I looked down at my kids who were looking at me.  See, this was not 1978 and they don't have a track record of seeing their mama cuss people out in such situations. Furthermore, this woman was significantly older than my own father which was something I had to factor into my response -- along with the fact that my kids were watching.

    "I think you need to lower you voice," I decided to say. My voice was controlled and firm. Deliberately low. This involved no f-bombs or permutations of the b-word. I was proud of myself and glad for her that this involved me and my kids and not Tony Draper and his.

    "I think YOU need to get these boys out of here," she shot back while still ice-grilling me with those beady little eyes of hers.

    I swallowed hard and looked back at her with my head cocked to the side. I licked my lips and sighed hard and prepared to open my mouth. Just then I caught that woman at the towel rack looking at me. She was giving me a tiny head shake . . . . telling me to chill. Her expression also affirmed what I was feeling.

    I cleared my throat carefully. "I think you need to realize you are speaking to a grown-ass woman and take your tone down about twelve notches."  My kids quickly shot their eyes over to me after hearing that word "ass." This was serious. I leaned over and addressed the towel rack dreadlocked woman directly."Do you know if there is a family locker room in here?"

    She smiled and replied, "I think there's one further down the hall and around the--"

    Angry-lady interrupted, still dripping with water and her nasty attitude. "There's a BOYS LOCKER ROOM for BOYS and a --" 

    I put up my hand and stopped her. "I'm done talking to you." I felt my voice rising and worked to control it. "Ma'am, you need to move away from me and stop talking to me like this. Especially in front of my children. It's unnecessary for you to be this rude." And then I added again for emphasis,  "Especially in front of children."

    She didn't give a damn about me or my children. "If you had just READ THE SIGN on the door you would have not brought boys into the WOMEN'S LOCKER ROOM!"

    Awww hell naw.

    Immediately I imagined myself grabbing her up by her one piece swimsuit and saying, "YOU GOT ME EFFED UP, LADY! YOU BETTA BACK UP 'FORE YOU GET SMACKED UP!"

    That certainly crossed my mind, although that's not what happened next.

    Surely this steely-blue-eyed woman was banking on the fact that she was now old enough to have crossed into the land of "wise and white-haired." I also think she believed that this made her safe from having a forty-one year black woman go postal on her in that  YMCA locker room.

    I won't even tell you about how I was at the YMCA that is right in the very neighborhood where they filmed "Driving Miss Daisy"--  and that this woman was the Doppleganger of Miss Daisy herself. Some part of me felt FOR SURE like that whole Miss Daisy thing made her feel like she could talk to me any old kind of way. And to hell with the fact that my kids were right there. That kind of pissed me off more.

    You know? In that moment, I sort of understood my dad and his fire a little better. If I lived through things like this all the time, I might be close to the edge a lot, too.


    I know. The other possibility is that she was just a cantankerous old lady with bad manners whose cataracts only allowed her to make out the silhouettes of my boys without so much as even a clue of anything else.


    Thank goodness for the dread-locked sister at the towel rack. This time she put up one hand and waved it at me. She mouthed, "Not worth it." And she was right. It really wasn't.

    I scooped up the kids and headed out of the bathroom.

    I sat there seething and tapping my foot on the bleacher for the entire basketball practice. I replayed the scene over and over but inserted escalating versions of my responses to that angry-crazy lady--from me jumping in her face scaring her to death all the way to me catching a case.


    I guess the only good thing about that situation was that it was blogworthy. And it gave me a context in which to explain the art of pulling a T-Tone.  Okay. And yes, I should have been in the boys or family or whatever locker room and not the women's one, I know. But seriously, was it really that serious? I mean really? Jeeze.

    Man. So here's my question--what's the rule on these types of situations? Is there a statute of limitations or age limit on getting cussed out? (And yes, I mean to keep saying "cussed out" and not "cursed out" because there is a difference.) What would y'all have done? Should I have pulled an old school T-Tone--complete with expletives--just for old times' sake?

    Sigh. Part of me wishes that I had just done it for the story. . . . . and blamed it on my upbringing afterward.

    "You talking to my mama?"

    Happy Sunday.

    Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    La profesora.

    Not bad for an iPhone shot, eh?
    you've been on my mind
    Sister, we're two of a kind
    So sister,
    I'm keepin' my eyes on you
    I betcha think
    I don't know nothin'
    But singin' the blues
    Oh sister, have I got news for you
    I´m somethin'
    I hope you think
    that you´re somethin' too. . . "
    ~ Miss Celie's Blues from The Color Purple
    I stood there quietly on the escalator taking in my surroundings. The airport was buzzing with happy and chatty people. Their voices were distinctly different than the Southern twangs typical of Atlanta. From the corner of my eye, I caught a boy lingering next to life sized replica of a legendary Pittsburgh Steeler, Franco Harris.  His mother suddenly realized that he wasn't next to her and hissed at him in a very midwestern-y voice, "Would you come on? Our bags still need PICKED UP!"

    Our bags still need to be PICKED UP?

    People in Pittsburgh kind of like the Steelers. Like, for real.

    Alrighty then. 

    That's when I knew for sure--I wasn't in Atlanta any more.

    Shortly after I exited the escalator, I saw a man in some sort of black uniform-looking get up standing alone. His shoulders were squared and his legs were stiff; in his hands was a square sign that read: "MANNING."

    "I'm Manning," I announced as relief washed over his face.  He scooped my carry-on out of my hand--which happened to be a Lightning McQueen backpack--and hustled over to get my small bag from the rotating belt before I could.  Before I knew it, we were heading away from the airport and onto the highway.

    "University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, correct?"

    I glanced at the itinerary on my iPhone to be sure. "Yes, sir."

    "Are you here for a job interview at the hospital?" he queried.

    "Um, not a job interview or anything. . ." I stopped mid-sentence before saying the next part since it felt rather silly. "Uhhh, yeah. . .I'm here as a visiting professor."

    He raised his eyebrows, turned the corners of his mouth down like Robert DeNiro and gave a slow, exaggerated nod while turning the steering wheel.  That gesture spoke volumes--"visiting professor" sounded like kind of a big deal.

    Visiting Professor. It felt funny saying it. See, the visiting professors that I met over the years were usually older chaps with wizened eyes and thinning gray hairs atop their head. Almost always male, although a few times I'd run across female ones. Even those were seasoned enough to have at least one foot in the retirement door.

    So yeah. My good friend and former Grady doctor Shanta Z. suggested to someone that I come there as a visiting professor--despite my lack of Dumbledore-ishness.

    Shanta--who'd relocated to University of Pittsburgh after her husband Fernando H. --also a former super-awesome Grady doctor--got a career opportunity that they couldn't refuse. Three years later, Shanta had become the residency program director at one of the largest programs in the country and Fernando's research was booming. And now, here I was coming to see them both on their new turf as a visiting professor.

    Something about being a "visiting professor" sounded like it was too much for someone like me, so in my head I renamed myself visiting "profesora." Even though the translation still says the same thing, I like that it's decidedly feminine. That makes it feel a little warmer and fuzzier to me. And nurturing, too. Plus profesora has an added spunk that just isn't found in the English version.

    Instead of staying in a stuffy hotel, I had the very best accommodations with Shanta and her family. (Yay!!) I bet regular visiting professors don't get to hear a four year old sing Christmas carols at the top of his lungs while wearing foot-in pajamas or get a five minute Tae Kwon Do demonstration by a seven year old yellow belt. No, they do not. But a visiting profesora? Yes, this is exactly what she gets.

    I was a little nervous when I arrived at the hospital on Thursday morning. A room full of unfamiliar residents sat at a table looking in my direction. Looking at me and waiting for me to not only say something professorial, but additionally appearing a little confused by my not-so-professorial appearance. But they had been briefed on who I was already. My fellow profesora, Shanta, had started some sort of drum roll that I now needed to live up to.


    But you know? I found out quickly that these residents were no different than I was as a resident. To them, learning was learning. They were gracious and receptive and welcoming. Plus, Shanta had spoken kind words about me in advance and it was obvious that they all held her in such high regard that I'd at least get the benefit of the doubt.

    I met many wonderful people and was treated more like a family member than a visitor. Yesterday morning I gave a lecture to their Academy of Master Educators. I didn't admit to Shanta how nervous I was feeling on our drive to the hospital.  She had made me some coffee and I tried to act cool as both sipped from travel mugs. She pointed out a few Pittsburgh sights along the way; I wondered if what I felt turning in my stomach would become something more.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that talking to a room of people deemed "master educators" was giving me butterflies.

    "I am so excited," she said to me genuinely. "You're going to be awesome."

    But what if I'm not? 

    That's what I wanted to utter but I didn't dare say it out loud. She had enough confidence in me for the both of us, so I drew from it. It was that confidence that prompted the University of Pittsburgh to bring a youngish profesora into their institution for two full days of teaching and networking. I wasn't going to dare make her have second thoughts about it.

    When I initially stood before that podium I felt my pulse quickening, but then I glanced over at Shanta whose bright smile and clasped hands allayed the last of my fears. A thumbs up from my fellow profesora saying "You're going to be awesome."

    And you know? When it was all said and done. . . I felt pretty awesome. I sure did.

    Right now, I'm reflecting on the joy of female friendships. Every now and then, I hear a woman (or usually a girl) say that they don't really "do" female friendships. This is almost always accompanied by some smug shoulder shrug that suggests just how "over" her own kind she is. The pettiness. The back-biting. The cattiness. The . . . girl-ness.

    "I don't really fool with females too much. Most of my closest friends are all guys."

    Oh, whatever.

    I think women need women friends. We sure do. We need them to survive and to be our best.

    Now, let me just tell you. . . .I have some wonderful male friends--I do. I am not sure what I would do without people like David M. or Neil W. or Jason S. But no offense, gentleman, my friendships with you are simply not the same as the ones with my fellow girlfriends.

    It's kind of like the difference between professor and profesora. Decidedly feminine. . . warmer and fuzzier and more nurturing. Not to mention it has that extra spunk, remember? I think every girl should have some girlfriends she can count on, and every guy should have some close male friends in his corner.

    Sure. Harry is my very best friend--but he also has close male friends. In fact, in my pre-BHE days when I used to pray for a life's partner, I always included this -- "God, let him be good to his mother and also have close, good friends. Old friends. Loyal friends. And male friends."

    Harry definitely has some female friends and I have no problem with that. But that's not what I'm getting at. I guess I'm always a bit leery of the woman who has no unrelated close girlfriends and equally suspicious of the man who has no homies. Because even though I need Harry, I need my girlfriends and the friends I've found in my sisters and my mom. And Harry needs his male counterparts just as much.

    Wait--what was my point again?  I guess my point is that, yes, I came to Pittsburgh as a visiting professor. But having my friend. . .my sisterfriend and fellow profesora there to hold my hand and tell me I'm awesome gave me wings, man. It made my chest poke out a little more and made me project my voice more. And doing a visiting professorship that includes vacillating between questions about work-life balance and resident education and marriage and medical student teaching and raising boys is pretty darn cool if you ask me.


    You know? My favorite part of the entire visit to University of Pittsburgh was hearing person after person share accolades about my friend Shanta Z. For being the amazing teacher, leader, physician and person that she is. How glad they are she is there. How wonderful her energy is. From the highest person on that University of Pittsburgh totem pole all the way to the recently hired temp assisting her in the office. Speaking words that I knew already but that I was more than delighted to hear again.

    "You are doing amazing things here. I know you miss Atlanta, but you being here in Pittsburgh seems right. You are having such an impact."  I told her that right next to the Delta Airlines Curb Check-in. Because these are the kinds of words women speak to women.

    "It was a hard transition," she said quietly. She paused for a moment and added, "You know? After your talk, people said to me, 'Now I see how hard it must have been for you to leave that place.'"

    Those words were loaded with more than just a compliment to me. I thought about all of those people and faces in Atlanta that she left behind. Fifteen full years in a place she loved. Yes, I know it was hard. Then I saw the new ones. . . the people growing in their confidence there because of her. The enthusiasm I felt, the buzz of excitement vibrating from those being touched by her in Pittsburgh.

    "This is right, Shanta. It is."

    She just gripped the steering wheel and sighed hard. That sigh could have meant many things. I decided to just leave it at that.

    We put my bag on the curb and smiled at each other. I gave my friend a hug and thanked her before heading into the airport. I told her how proud I was of her and she hugged me back. And we both felt encouraged. Because this? This is what real women-friends do for one another. And women know more than anyone when other women need hugged and encouraged.

    Profesora. Decidedly feminine. Warmer, fuzzier and nurturing, too.

    Oh. . .and with that added spunk, too-- remember?

    Happy Sabado.

    And now playing on my mental iPod. . . . a song that embodies what is special about having girlfriends.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Strange Fruit.

    artwork by Diana Bryan - "Strange Fruit"

    There's this thing about blogging that is very different than writing for any other venue. Like. . .book authors write and yes, all kinds of people read their work. And. A few of them even write so well that other folks write reviews or whatever on places like or somewhere sho nuff and bona fide like The New York Times or People Weekly. (Yes, People is bona fide.)

    But see. . .before you can get to that point, you first have to write something. Then rewrite it. Then revise it. Then re-revise it. Then get somebody to represent you. Then get that person to get someone agree to publish it. That person will then tell you that, oh, you need to revise it. And then re-revise it. In case you haven't realized by now, all that takes some time.

    But blogging is different. You think of something. You write about it. And with the click of a mouse (or tracking pad) you hit "publish." Then--BOOM--just like  that, your words are published and ready for the world to read.

    Now besides the obvious things like immediate feedback through comments and stats. . . there's this other phenomenon that I have come to recognize as of late. See, with blogging you start to have these friends that read your words without fail. And though I bet that a lot of people don't necessarily read every blog every day, most will tell you that just about every blogger (bleccch, is there a better word for person-who-writes-a-blog than "blogger?") has a small number of people that they know for sure read nearly everything they write. So even if you have 772 public followers, somewhere in the back of your head, you realize that you have this little round table of knights gobbling up your words no matter what you happen to serve up.

    Some are the type that immediately leave you a comment--which is awesome. But you know. . .over time. . I've learned that some of your main knights never, ever comment because that's just not their thing. In fact, two of my most faithful knights at my round table Lesley M. and Carol R. might just shoot me an email if the spirit so moves them, but comment in the comment box? No way.

    And that's cool. Because I know they read and that's enough. It warms my heart just knowing that much. I've said it before and I will say it again--I deeply appreciate anybody reading what I write. Even one post per month.

    Now. Here's the point of all this.  The point is that once you start knowing who your knights are, they become a consideration in the things you write. No, I don't change what I'm writing or censor things. . . .but I do find myself thinking, I wonder what my mother (Shugsie) will think about this post? or Aw, man! I can't wait to get Sister Moon's take on this one! Sometimes I write a slang word and think, Uh oh, will my New Zealand Lucy get this?

    And ofttimes I open a comment or an email and find out the answers to those questions immediately. Other times, I just think about the people reading and wonder things. And sometimes thinking about my reader-friends and how they might be reacting to things makes me think of my posts differently. I go back and reread them and then imagine it from another person's perspective. Weird, I know.


    Here's the thing that this process has brought me to today.

    A couple of days ago, I revisited an encounter I'd had a while back with a patient who'd been previously incarcerated. As many of you already know, I was stunned to discover that he'd had swastikas tattooed all over his body from the penitentiary days.  He was embarrassed and remorseful about them, and even more ashamed of his prior involvement in a supremacist jail gang. I thought about his feelings and decided to do what I could to normalize the situation. Hearing on my mental iPod the Redemption Song the whole time.


    I reread that and all the kind comments that followed and found myself thinking. I thought, As horrible and awful as swastikas are to see up close and personal. . . . the truth is. . . what they mean symbolically is not to ME what it might be to someone else. Specifically a few members of my round table.

    So I thought of them this morning. I thought of Neil W. and Lesley M. who are of Jewish faith and who might immediately well up with tears when anyone anywhere mentions anything about the horrors of the Holocaust that, yes, sure did happen.

    And so I asked myself. What would have been that symbol for me? Like. . .what if instead of a swastika on that man's back, I'd instead seen a black man hanging like some strange fruit from a highly detailed noose on a poplar tree? What if my own loved one somewhere a few generations back had been that strange fruit hanging in a summer breeze while people snarled and applauded below? What if? What if on that tattoo he'd had an intricate portrayal of African men and women stacked up in rows on slave ships from the middle passage? And what if underneath all of that in BIG BLOCK LETTERS he had the N-WORD written repeatedly next to the words "GO BACK TO AFRICA, COON!"

    Would I. . . could I. . .have come back to shake his hand? Even if he didn't mean it anymore and even if I knew for certain that he'd been in that warped-ass world of the federal pen? Well? Would the Redemption song have still been playing for me on my mental iPod or would I have needed to run and open a window to get some air? The truth is that I don't know. I really don't.

    I spoke to Neil W. about this today and asked what he thought. I knew he'd read the post because he sits squarely at my round table so I thought of his perspective. And I know for certain that he has a heart of pure platinum and the patience of Job.

    "I would have taken care of him and that's it," Neil replied. "I don't think I would have been able to do much else."

    And that was telling. Very telling.  So I closed my eyes and thought of those images of human beings being shoveled into mass graves. I saw Anne Frank with her quiet eyes and even more, imagined the real, life family members who literally lost lives and futures all at the hands of people represented by swastikas.


    Let me be clear. I still don't know what I would have done if what I'd seen had been something as painful to me, an African American person, as the swastika might be to a Jewish person. I don't for sure. It's hard for me to say whether or not at this point in my life I would have simply stuck to business only or still done the same thing. And no, I don't sit around comparing horrors and persecutions to see whose people win because I know for certain that nobody wins when it comes to that. I guess I'm just glad that I have all kinds of people at my round table to getting me thinking about all kinds of things. Including how they feel.

    So yeah.

    This is a useful thing about this blog. I think the knights of my round table make me a better doctor because I think differently. And that's a really, really good thing.

    So to each and every knight sitting at my round table, I say thank you. To those I know, to those I don't know, to those who comment, to those who never comment, to those who open this up in Google reader, to those who scroll through iPhones and iPads, and to those who sneak a peak at work or in class--thank you. Because thanks to you, this black woman with Southern ties from Los Angeles who goes to soccer games on Saturdays and church on Sundays gets to hold hands with you. . . who may have absolutely everything in common with me. . . or nothing at all.

    But here? Here is where we meet and think and talk and hang out. We teach, we learn, we care and we grow. . . together. That's our common denominator.

    And I 'preciate y'all. All of y'all.

    Happy Tuesday-almost-Wednesday

    Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .Lady Day sings "Strange Fruit". . .and hearing it, combined with the image above, made me cry. Hmmm.