Monday, September 26, 2011

White coats and questions.

*story shared with permission.

On Saturday, our first year medical students received their very first "white coats" in a symbolic program called "The White Coat Ceremony."  Family and friends came from near and far to witness the event--okay and maybe. . .just maybe. . .to lay eyes on their children and see where all of their money is going.

The day was beautiful. It was so lovely that I tossed my high-heels into my purse and walked to campus that afternoon with a pair of flip-flops. It was as if God himself smiled on the day and decided to make the sky just a little bit bluer and the grass just a little bit greener.  Yes. That day was in technicolor.  But more spectacular than those colors was the energy.  I don't even know how to describe it.

I met so many special people.  I loved the proud twinkle in the parents' eyes when I introduced myself to them. Kind of like meeting one of their children's professors sealed the deal. Yes, my baby is in medical school and my baby is going to be a doctor.  I guess that is something to be proud of, huh?

Well. The entire day was my favorite day. It started casual with soccer and folding chairs and water bottles.  That part was awesome. Then all of that soccer-awesome seamlessly changed over to all of this white-coat-awesome. I realized after seeing all those parents beaming with pride that all the proud-mama-ness that I feel during soccer is really just the beginning. Wow.

half soccer-mom/half amazing

Anyways. It was a special day. But. If I had to pick the very best moment of it all, though, it would have to be this:

After the ceremony we all walked around greeting the families and hugging our newly minted "M.D. candidates."  Some I'd heard about, some had heard about me, and most times a little of both.  There is this one student who shared a week with my team on the wards during the first days of school. The experience was rich and brimming with teachable moments, and he, along with one of his other first-year classmates, drank in every drop.

Unfortunately, there was one part of that week that was bittersweet for him.  His beloved grandfather, who happened to be an Emory School of Medicine alumnus, was nearing his final days.  He was candid in sharing this with me, and of course, I understood his need to abbreviate the week to return home. The day after I learned of this situation, I was surprised to see him on the wards.

"What are you doing here?" I asked him incredulously.

"I decided not to leave yet. I'm going to play it by ear," he said. "I want to stay a little longer."

Play it by who? Say what?

I was really troubled by all of this, quite honestly.  I wanted to send a message to him and the other team members that family is always first.  I needed him not to be heroic by rounding with me at Grady instead of being with his granddad.  But he was firm in his resolve. This student had clearly given all of this careful thought--it was what he wanted to do. I respected his decision.

At the end of that week, I sat the students down to debrief what they'd seen. We discussed their experiences and explored how it made them feel about medicine.  Then I asked about my student's grandfather.  "How is he doing?"

"I will be heading home shortly," he softly replied. "Mom says he's not doing so well. It's getting close."

"Did he know that you were going to be starting medical school at Emory?" I had to know.

"He did."

We all sat in silent deference.  He broke the hush by saying these words. "You know. .  . my grandfather. . .when he heard I was going to be starting med school he said to me, 'When you get there, go off by yourself and just walk around. Look around and ask yourself if this is really what you want to do.'"

I kept my eyes fixed on his and probed. "Did you? Did you do that?"

He nodded quietly.

"What did you decide?"

"Yes. This is what I want to do," he spoke firmly while still holding my gaze.  Then he looked around the room and continued. "My grandfather did his internship right here at Grady Hospital. He and my grandmother lived right up the street from Emory, too.  You know. . . it's almost like I could feel him with me this week. Like. . . like he was there, you know?"

My eyes welled up with tears as his simple truth rang like a tiny bell in my ear.  I cleared my throat of the mounting emotion and said, "So your decision to stay---" I pressed my lips together to keep from crying "--was a decision to be with your grandfather after all."

He smiled bravely and sighed.

Ah hah. Your decision to stay was a decision to stay. Ah hah.

And there we sat. Taking in the magnitude of that moment and what it meant to him to be at Grady Hospital. And now, what his presence for those days meant to all of us.  I tried to imagine his grandfather as an inquisitive medical intern at Grady, scuttling through the halls with hospital whites on. Wow. I felt honored to be the steward of his grandson's experience that week.

"Dr. Manning? This is my grandmother."

This is what I heard that student say to me after the ceremony on Saturday. I faced him in his pristine white coat, filled with the promise of a young doctor's future. Surely that very promise his grandfather held some four decades before. Then I turned and rested my eyes on his grandmother.

I took the hands of this elegant matriarch and took in the complex mixture of pride and sadness in her eyes.  She was beautiful, both physically and spiritually, and I was so glad she was there.

"I am so, so honored to meet you," I emphatically told her.  I meant that because that is truly how I felt.  I knew that after losing her beloved just one month before and taking in the sights and smells of a place she shared with him was hard. But she was there. Strong, resilient, grief-stricken--and there. This was a big deal.

She offered me a smile so tender, I thought I'd cry right then and there.  I composed myself and told her what her grandson had done. "Your grandson brought your husband's legacy to life for us. He honored him by sharing his lessons and mostly by sharing his story.  He also told me all about you.  You know this already but you have a very special grandson."

We instinctively hugged, and it was right.  A knowing hug filled with mutual gratitude for the continuum of life as we know it.  "He is in good hands," I whispered to her.  "And so are we."

She nodded and hugged me once more. And yes, it was still right.

That was just one moment. But do you know there were several others that closely mirrored this? Like for every student there was an intricate tapestry of family and love and sacrifice trailing behind them. I loved seeing it, and just like those students during that first week on the wards, I took in every single drop.

When I walked home, I thought of that encounter with the elegant matriarch repeatedly.  I took in the neighborhood and imagined what it must have been like when she'd walked this very thoroughfare many years before.  Man. I sat on a bench and took a moment to reflect on what this all meant. Me telling this woman that her grandson was "in good hands." Us knighting our students with white coats. The charge we have as stewards, really, of someone's professional upbringing.

Wow. This is a lot.

For the rest of that walk, I took that sage advice and asked myself that question. "Is this what you really want to do?"


Happy Monday.


  1. What a gift God has given you for loving others. When you met the grandma, I immediately knew how she felt in meeting you. I know she was thrilled that her beloved grandson would spend time in the years to come with you. I would have hugged you, also, because you radiate your love for others so beautifully. Thanks for this heart warming story.

  2. I knew this grandfather personally....well, he was the first person I met on this Earth...he delivered me over 40 years ago! He has also been a mentor to me throughout my life and medical school career. I trained in Gainesville, FL and am currently an OB Gyn in Wyoming. Dr Forbes is, without a doubt, the most knowledgeable, compassionate and skilled surgeon and physician I have ever met. Not only did he bring me into this world, he saved my life over 20 years later, when I had a ruptured cornual ectopic pregnancy with 4 liters of blood in my abdomen and nearly died. I had seen my OB doctor that very day, who felt the pregnancy was proceeding normally. Yet, when I arrived in the emergency room of our small community that night with literally no palpable blood pressure, Dr Forbes knew instinctively what was wrong and worked quickly and confidently to save my life. Our small community hospital no longer did obstetrics, due to malpractice issues. Yet, had Dr Forbes not been there, and as obstetrical care was over 80 miles away, I would have certainly died. In addition, it was his day off...which was of no concern to him when the call came. What an amazing amazing man! This matriarche, the grandmother that you met, is as amazing as her husband. It is because of her that he was able to give the unending care that he did in our community. She and her family have sacrificed many a birthday, vacation, or day off so that he was there when people like myself needed him most. For that, I am forever grateful. Dr. and Mrs Forbes are two of the most giving and compassionate people I know. The world has lost a true legend. Emory is blessed to have Jeffery as an incoming student!

  3. Oh my goodness, this brings tears to my eyes! It is so inspiring to hear about the "intricate tapestry of family and love and sacrifice" that makes all those miracles of healing possible every day. You are such a wonderful doctor and teacher, and listener, Dr. Manning!


  4. I just went to the white coat ceremony (at another medical school) for my son. You're right, it was a beautiful and special day. My son worked very hard to get into medical school and could not be happier... and as you say: "an intricate tapestry of family and love..." But I am especially glad to have read your post today -- because I missed the other part, the flip side: that all of the wonderful doctors who are mentoring and teaching my son, they have made a choice to do that as well, and as you say, that really is a lot. Thank you!

  5. Another awesome post. Thank you so much for sharing. You are truly a phenomenal person. A rare gem. I so appreciate you. I am certain that you make this world a better place. Thank you for being you.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

Related Posts with Thumbnails