Saturday, February 26, 2011


I was walking through the hall way during the noon hour at Grady last week. It was my week to teach our resident physicians' Clinic Conference, and I was reviewing my teaching points in my head. My assigned topic was "Hearing Loss"--which I'd admittedly protested doing since I couldn't think of any way to make the topic fun. So . . .in between dreading the topic and a last minute internal rehearsal aimed at "tzuj-ing" up the subject. . . . I did what I always do while navigating the Grady corridors--observe the sights and sounds.

And so I walked and in my head (and occasionally to people) I talked. . . .

Okay, residents. Hearing loss falls into two categories: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. (Yawn)

"Hey there, doc! You doing alright?"

I make eye contact with the cheerful woman pushing a walker in front of her that had just greeted me. I wasn't sure if I knew her from the clinic or the ward, but it didn't matter. Her smile made me smile. "I'm doing great, ma'am? You doin' alright?"

"Blessed and highly favored! But I'm looking for the Dermatology clinic! You know where that is?"

I pointed to the elevator beside us. "Up one flight, and make a left. You can't miss it."

"'Preciate you!" she announced while stepping inside. I waited for the doors to close before heading on.

Can't miss it, I told myself in an effort to be okay with not joining her to make certain.

Conference was about to start, so I let it go and keep walking, my heels like drums on the linoleum.

::click, click, click, click::

Conductive hearing loss involves the external ear and the middle ear. Can you think of some causes of conductive hearing loss? What if you looked in someone's ear and saw what looked like a hunk of feta cheese on their tympanic membrane? Right! A cholesteatoma. Who knows what that is?

"'Scuse me, doctor. Do you know how I can get to the cancer center?"

A frail appearing Grady elder stands in front of me while holding a piece of paper with an appointment on it. His face is gaunt with sunken in temples. His clothes appear two sizes too big. "May I see your appointment, sir?"

He handed me the paper and I quickly scanned it for where he was supposed to be going. Radiation Oncology for a radiation treatment.

"Sir, let's get you over to the information desk. This appointment is for you to get radiation. Did they talk to you about that?"

"Yeah, ma'am. They talked about so much. Mostly my wife keep up with 'em and she know her way 'round Gradys. She under the weather, so I got dropped off."

I thought about the fact that Radiation Oncology was actually outside of the building altogether. I also registered the fact that he was holding a paper in his hand that said just that but, for whatever reason, didn't realize it. I imagined the hassle that this was about to be for him and felt myself badly wanting to take him there myself.

But it was five minutes before my lecture was to start. The best I could do was point him to information. As we reached the info booth, I immediately speak on his behalf to the woman behind the glass.

"I need you to help me with something. This gentleman has an appointment with Rad Onc, and was dropped off here. This is kind of a disaster because he's not anywhere near the Rad Onc building. Please tell me there's something that can be done to help get him there."

And just like that, the woman smiled at me wide and warm and genuine and said, "No problem. We got this." She picked up a phone preparing to dial someone somewhere, but first stopped and spoke to the patient, "Hey there, sir! You doin' alright, sir?"

I like the way real true Southerners tack "sir" onto things when speaking, and especially when speaking to sho' nuff elders. It's a habit that I've admittedly adopted. "Alright then, sir," I said while shaking his skeletal hand. "Looks like you're in good hands!"

I wave and nod as I ease toward the hall near the conference room where I'm scheduled to give my talk. The nice lady at the information desk winks and nods while balancing the phone on her shoulder. We got this.

I went back to reviewing my "chalk talk" on (yawn) hearing loss in my head and drumming the floor for the last few yards before I reached the room.


Who remembers how to use a tuning fork? Don't worry. I always forget, too. I have an easy way for you to remember how to tell whether you are dealing with conductive hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss without you being intimidated by this tuning fork!

"What the f&% are you doing? Let's f&%-ing go!"

When I look up, I immediately make eye contact with this stunningly beautiful young woman with piercing green eyes contrasting her cocoa complexion.The nineteenish - twenty-one year old tops guy who was speaking to her in that venomous tone had already passed me and was easily fifteen feet ahead of her now. All I could see was his backside--low slung designer jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and plaid underwear popping out in between. I paused with my hand on the door of the conference room.

I did my best to hug my little sister with my eyes.

She gazed back at me, almost like a regal gazelle who just noticed a tiger moving in the brush. Her slim fingers clutched her cellphone as she shuffled her feet reluctantly. I offered her a half hearted smile as she passed, which she tried her best to ignore.

"What the f%&$! Come on, dumb-ass!!" bellowed her "friend" from the lobby.

Dumb-ass? Wow.

There were people everywhere. And you know what? He not only yelled these things without any consideration for how this might make her feel, but it also didn't seem to even cross his mind that there were children under the sound of his voice, too. And Grady elders--including my friend who had gotten lost on the way to get radiation.

I try my hardest to think of a reason why young man would think this was okay, and then I try harder to find one to explain why such a lovely girl would be with him. But I knew why--and it was an unfortunate truth that I preferred not to think about.

They were lost, too.

"Here I come!" she finally replied, with an emphasis on 'come' that she somehow seemed to think would sound to all of us like she was defending herself. Her anemic and defeated body language spoke otherwise.

I followed her silhouette down the hall and then noticed it disappear into the sea of other Grady people. My hand was frozen on the door handle as I fell into a trance wondering who among them were lost, too.

In that moment I hope that what I can offer is enough sometimes because on this day, it doesn't seem like it. I start feeling lost myself.

Suddenly, I felt someone pushing against the door. "Dr. Manning? We thought you got lost out there!"

I look at the resident on the opposite side of the entrance and beyond him to the several other learners seated in the conference room facing the clean dry erase board.


Yeah, seems to be going around.

"Here I come," I respond, "Here I come."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. It's amazing the lessons that you can sometimes take away from just observing other people. It's so rude and unnecessary when people talk like that young man in everyday situations, like getting annoyed and impatient at having to wait in a queue and other everyday inconveniences, it really bothers me, especially when in a public place in front of children and elderly people.

  2. I forgot to add... 'All I could see was his backside--low slung designer jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and plaid underwear popping out in between.' - Reminds me of the 'Pants on the Ground' song that this 60-something yo guy sung at the Atlanta auditions during one of the American Idol seasons. You can find it on YouTube, It's hilarious.

  3. I discovered your blog years after you started it so I've been going back through the archives in order. I love all your posts, but I had to comment on this one in particular because it was so amazing! You have such a gift for writing and story telling :)


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