Tuesday, September 6, 2011


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A few weeks ago I was talking to this woman who had gotten off of crack cocaine. It had been four full years since (to use her own words) she'd been "delivered from the stronghold" of addiction, and boy was she proud about it.

"I was out there bad," she said with a shake of her head. "But one day, I just woke up and looked around myself. This was rock bottom. I was flat on my back and all I could do was look up from there."

"Wow, that's awesome," I replied. "Did you go to a recovery program?"

"Nope." She lifted the cover to her breakfast tray and frowned. Covering it back up she looked back at me and smiled. "I prayed about it. Asked God to take that desire away from me. I knew that was the only way for me to do it."

"Hmmmm." I listened to her words and thought about this idea of this desire being "taken away from her." I cast my eyes over to the other members of my team, wondering how her description of drug abstinence was resonating with them.

"What do you mean by 'out there bad?'" one of the interns asked. We all swung our heads in his direction. I felt proud of him for asking this, even if it had broken my train of thought. I liked that he wanted to know more about her and especially her story.

She laughed and recanted, "You sure you old enough to hear all that?"

Our team shared her chuckle and waited for her to go on. "When I said 'out there bad' I'm talking bad as you can imagine. Turning tricks, robbing folks, doing whatever you got to do to get high. That's what a stronghold do to you. It make your mind crazy, like you can't make good decisions." She shrugged and removed the cover to the food again. Ripping open a salt packet she continued. "I feel so bad about that time in my life. But see, the last few years it's like I'm a new person. Like my life got handed back to me. When they test me for the AIDS and told me I didn't have no diseases, I couldn't believe it. That's when I knew I had a chance, you know? A real chance."

Something about her words immediately pushed tears into the front of my eyes. They began stinging like rubbing alcohol in a fresh wound; I tried my best to blink them away in the most inconspicuous way I could. She sighed and stuck her fork into the tepid eggs on her plate. Her mind seemed peaceful, as did her comfort with telling us all of that.

"Congratulations to you for getting your life back," I finally said. "I know you're so proud."

She nodded her head and smiled. "You know, doc? I ain't gon' even lie. I'm real proud."

And as I watched her eat her eggs my eyes became prickly again with fresh lacrimation. If she wasn't eating and if it wouldn't have seemed lame, I swear I would have hugged her right there in front of my entire team. Okay, I take that back--it was really that she was eating that stopped me.

Today I am reflecting on redemption. Redemption. I can barely type the word without crying. Damn. Here I go.

This is one of the main reasons why I love working at Grady. There is nothing that moves me deeper in my core than stories of redemption. They resonate with me so--not because I've had some hard life with tacks and splinters--but because I know that within us all dwells that need for a clean slate at some point in our lives. We need to have people see us with more than their eyes and to accept us not because we have straight teeth and straight spines or straight lives but instead just because.

I remember when I took care of a patient once who had an urgent surgical problem. The resident surgeons didn't agree with my assessment, yet I was senior to them. Instead of calling their attending physician, I shook my head and told the team that my patient would "eventually declare himself." He did just that--and subsequently needed an emergency operation after which he had a perioperative myocardial infarction (heart attack.) And then? He died. Yep. He died.

I deeply struggled with that experience. I wished in the hollows of my heart that I had fought harder for that man. That I had pointed my finger and said my piece and then stepped clear over their heads to get that patient the help he needed -- faster.

When I saw that man's son, he squeezed both of my hands hard at the same time and thanked me for all I had done for his father. And do you know what I did? I cried right there in front of him. It was as if he wrung those tears right out of me with that tight grip and I couldn't reel them back. Sure, it was probably unprofessional but there was nothing I could do to stop myself from the emotion. Partly because as a daughter and a mother I was sad that a man had lost his dad and a child had lost his granddad. But also because there was something about the way he took both of my hands into his during his deepest moment of grief to say those words that felt like redemption. Like they said, "Look, I know that you are a human but there was love in the care you gave my dad." Or even, "There is something complex about the expression on your face that is telling me you need this moment even more than me." And damn, I needed it. As selfish as it was, I did. And he gave it to me freely.

Imagine that.

Whew. Here I go again.

This is why I think I try to be accepting of all kinds of situations, you know? Like mostly because I know that I am way imperfect and needing somebody somewhere to just get me sometimes. It's why even though I'm a woman of deep faith, I don't spend time picking apart the parts of peoples' lives or even trying to relay what I think God thinks about what somebody else is doing. Besides, love and acceptance feel so much better than judgment and exclusion anyway, and frankly, it's the part that got me on board with my own spiritual relationship in the first place.


Even though that lady who'd abstained from crack for four whole years spoke of higher beings and deliverance from strongholds when giving her testimony, I know for sure that redemption comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes when you're lying on the ground and you finally realize that you can still look up. It also happens when a doctor looks across a table and casually tells you that, No, you aren't HIV positive. Other times it happens when someone takes your two hands in theirs and squeezes them tight. When for all intents and purposes you should be grabbing theirs.

I don't know.

I guess the most redeeming qualities come through every day acts like listening carefully and smiling genuinely and seeing people with more than just our eyes. Man. Every day I'm hoping someone does that for me and the people I love. I really am.

Happy Tuesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . .


  1. Well you know I love this. Redemption does come in many blessed forms. I think the hardest to find is our own redemption for ourselves. You know?
    Love you, Sister Doctor.

  2. Ah if only you were my mom's Dr....my how different things might have been ....just my inner thoughts that pop out when I read your post.

    You are some woman and some Dr. Mighty fine...mighty fine. I mean this as it seems like too many Dr.'s have big heads about who they are. They keep forgetting that they are just a man or a woman...a human being like the rest of us.

  3. Your writing and your message are beautiful.

  4. Catchin' up here and loving all these summer posts - thoughtful, funny, touchingly human. Thanks for all this _and_ great music choices, too!
    x0 N2

  5. So much to ponder here -- I'm thinking about redemption and acknowledgment and our essential need for them both --

    Thank you for the pondering --

  6. I think so much about letting go--kind of a redemption from within, but not about redemption from another.

    Great post. And happy 21 plus 20!


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