Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get up, stand up.

 *minor details changed
image of Alvin Ailey dancer

 "Get up, stand up
Don't give up the fight."

~ Bob Marley

Yesterday at Grady: 

Passing through the Grady atrium on the way to clinic. Diet Coke in one hand, PowerBar in the other. A fairly obese, middle-aged woman passes in front of me quickly moving through the hallway with a walker. She's wearing walking sneakers and has a fanny pack strapped to her waist. Sassy and peppy and full of urgency. This lady had things to do, people to see. I step out of her way.


She looks like someone I've seen before. No big deal. Errr. . . that is, until she turns and ice grills me. She halts the walker and points straight at me.

"Hey! It's you! There you is!!"

Lady folds arms and scowls at me. Kind of looks a little mad. Okay, more than a little mad.

"Uhhh, hello."

"I been waiting to run into you. I know you remember me, mmmm hmmmm."

Pretty sure she is giving me the hairy eyeball. She said that like I owed her money.

"No, ma'am. I'm not sure I do."

"Yeah, you do, too."

"No'm. I don't. Refresh me. You do look familiar, though."

"You might not remember me 'cause it's been a minute."

"Hmm. Okay. . . "

Can't place her. This is getting awkward.

"Yeah. You ain't seen me in two years 'cause I told y'all to go to hell."


"Uhhh, okay."

"And you was in charge that day, so I know you remember."


"Now you remember me?"

"I . . . I honestly. . .uhhh. . .hmmmm. . ."

"You changed what my doctor was gon' do. Yeah yo' ass. You the one that came back with my doctor and changed everything up.  Tha's when I left and told y'all to go to hell. All y'all."

Yikes. Face getting hot. Trying to be cool. Maybe some humor?

"Hmmm. Usually I remember getting told to go to hell."

She doesn't laugh. Then something clicks.

"Hold up. . . did you. . .like. . .lose a bit of weight since then?"

"A bit? A BIT? I lost almost fifty pounds since you last seent me."

Now vaguely remembering her. But not being told to go to hell. Squinting, searching.

"Now you remember? Ooooo. You pissed me off so bad." Gritted her teeth on so bad for emphasis. Pointed at me. "You was so high on your horse, too.  Like you wasn't budging and I kept explainin' and you kept on with yo' plan. Pissed me off."

"High on my horse? Wow, ma'am. I'm sorry. That's awful."

"Yeah. I was like to hell with Gradys. My doctor had already told me what we was gon' do and here you come. You with yo' plan."

Eek. Eek. Eek.

"You know what you did? Do you remember, doctor?"

Wish I did. But have a feeling I'm about to find out. Want to find a rock and crawl under it.

"No, ma'am. I. . .no. . .I don't remember.  This is really kind of embarrassing."

"The motorized wheelchair."

"The what?"

"The scooter, 'member? My doctor was still a intern doctor and had did the form and everything but needed you to sign with your qualifications and all that. He didn't have no license yet." She shook her head. "But you come in and shut the whole damn thing down. Shut it all the way down. Talkin' 'bout some, 'You don't need a motorized chair' and some 'It's jest gon' make you gain weight and you need to be walkin'.' Damn, you pissed me off!" She clenched her teeth again. "Basically you was sayin' 'You fat and YOU of ALL folks need to be walkin' not ridin' in no scooter.'"

Mortified. So very mortified.

But then something weird happened. The uncomfortable and angry deadpan she was offering before became a smile. It erupted like a beam of sun through clouds.  And then came a chuckle.


I furrowed my brow, unsure what to say. Her face grew serious.

"You was tryin' to help me that day. I know that now." Looks down at her body.  "See, I know I'm still heavy and all, but if I had set in that motor scooter, I wouldn't be able to walk at all. I was so mad at you 'cause you wasn't backin' down. No matter what."  She reached for my arm and smiled. "You made me go to that physical therapy and use a walker. You didn't care if I was mad at you, either. And even though it hurt my feelings, you was right when you said that me being overweight was not disabling like I thought."

My mouth just fell open. Why did I feel like crying?

"I lost fifty pounds. From walking where I needed to go. Just walkin' 'round my house. Goin' to the store and over to the laundromat. No where far. Jest basic places, you know?"

Hand was on my chest. Just listening. She had the floor.

"My joints, they was achin' but you know, it got better, doctor. Ooo wee! I was cursing your name, too! But I needed that. I needed to move my body. And now, when I see folks that can't do nothin' fo' theyselves 'cause they ain't moving at all, you know, settin' off in them chairs? I know you was right. I always hoped I'd run into you so I could tell you."

Kind of feel like crying. For real.

"Thank you, doc. I really do 'preciate you being real with me that day.  I really do. You know, some folks do need them chairs. But you said that I wasn't one of them folks.  That wasn't easy, but you stood your ground. Now, I got me a testimony."


I reach out and give her a big hug and she hugged me right back. One of those hugs that lasts a while because it's really a dialogue. Do you know that kind of hug? Where you pull back, smile, and then hug again? Yeah, that kind.

"Alright then, doc.  It was good seeing you."

"Same here."

She gripped the walker and prepared to leave.

"Umm. . ma'am? That day. . .was I. . .like, rude to you?"

She laughed loud and hearty. "Naw, baby. You was jest firm, tha's all. Okay, maybe you coulda been a little gentler on me, but you wasn't rude, though. It jest caught me off guard you standing up to me like that. But you know? Sometime you got to fight fire with fire."

"Hmm.  Okay." Hoped I wasn't too rude. Or high on my horse like she said before. Hmm. Decided to put that on a post-it in my brain to revisit later. "Hey--are you back at Grady again?"

"Yeah, baby, I'm back. This time for good."


"Alright then, baby."

"Alright then, ma'am."

After that? I just stood there in the atrium and watched as she walked away.

Happy Tuesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .


  1. One just never knows, you know?
    Great post.

  2. I love this!! I keep drawing comparisons between your life at Grady and mine when I was a teacher. Tough love can definitely be the way that it needs to go and it can improve lives as your blog entry shows!

    Once I had a student whom I felt I didn't know at all - she was rarely in school and kind of checked out with everyone and everything, doing just the little bit to stay below the radar. I did what I thought was a minimum - reminding her of her responsibility to herself and her education, being willing to work with her as long as she was making an effort, but also holding her to high standards and not putting up with excuses. I gave her fair warning she would fail if she didn't turn things around immediately - and I so would have failed her, and she knew, and she did turn things around.

    I kind of forgot about her (I had 170 students each year so can't remember most in detail) until a couple of years later when I got a letter from her. Turns out her mother had died when she was my student (how did I not know that!?) and she said that my firm kindness kept her from going under and that I was the person she most looked up to for what I'd done for her (and she apologized for her bad behavior, which I don't remember AT ALL).

    What the heck? We never know how we affect people and what their struggles may be, but letting people slack and just get by is rarely the answer. And just like with you - if somebody doesn't like me sometimes because I push them for their own best interests, so be it.

    (Once my principal caught kids sneaking out of school *after* my class. He was intrigued why they would only come to my class so he asked why. "Oh, man, she won't let us out of it! She'll hound us and make us do more work, she'll even come to our house to drag us to school. Trust me, it's just easier to do what she demands!" Hey, if ruling with fear gets kids to graduate, fear it is!)

  3. This was great. Reminded me of my dad who wanteed a motorized chair. His doctor didn't sign off on one either. He was able to walk with a walker and cane until right before he went home to be with the Lord.

  4. Love this...you are a wonderful doctor!!!!


  5. Thank you for standing up for her. It breaks my heart to see obese people riding around on scooters, knowing that it is the last thing they need to do. It also made me angry when I tried to shop when I was deep into chemotherapy and could never get a scooter at the store because overweight people were using them.

  6. Wow! Tears again. You have a gift for storytelling. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  7. That is such a beautiful story - how amazing to hear about the differences you've made in peoples' lives!

  8. That must have made your whole week. You know I love you.


  9. I love the line about the hug being a kind of dialogue -- that was so exact and something I've never read before!


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

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