Sunday, March 25, 2012

One moment in time.

Give me one moment in time
When I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me
Give me one moment in time
When I'm racing with destiny
Then in that one moment of time
I will feel
I will feel eternity

~ from Whitney Houston's "One moment in time"


So it all started with jury duty last week. I was sitting there in a big room in the courthouse minding my own business and happy as I-don't-know-what that they had WiFi and even happier that I had thought to bring my laptop. I watched the obligatory video, which for whatever reason, wasn't so bad this time around and even managed to write a blog post. Even though I was in jury duty, it was all good.

Then I did what I'm sure many people sitting in that holding room did. Exactly! I checked my email. Yawn. Nothing too exciting really. Work-related stuff and reminders about things that I needed to be remembering. Otherwise, not too eventful. Amongst those uneventful emails was an email from a medical student. Also not unusual--at all. Anyways. This email was inquiring about our residency program and whether or not we had any openings which we did not. I quickly shot the student back an email thanking her for her interest but letting her know that we'd filled all of our positions in the match for the coming year.

And this was also not at all unusual. Because I get these kinds of emails often--so often that I can probably type that response with my eyes closed.

So there I sat in jury duty with nothing to do but wait. I'd already blogged. I'd forgotten to bring a magazine. And I wasn't in the mood to read anything on my Kindle queue. So clearly I did what any bored person would do. Of course! I checked my email again.

And there it was. A response from that student. Just like that. Explaining a bit more about her situation but not so much that it felt like TMI. She had attended college in Atlanta and was visiting with friends. Here for spring break, she wondered if my schedule would allow us to chat. 

Chat? Chat about what? I didn't have any positions. I'm sure she was nice and all but I couldn't exactly hire her or anything. And truthfully, I can't just be meeting up with any and every random person who emails me. And don't even judge me for saying that because you know you can't either. 


Since I was held captive in that courthouse, I went ahead and responded. 

"Was there something in particular that you wanted to speak with me about?"

Of course that was wrapped around a few other diplomatic sentences, but that was the gist of it. She responded back in the snap of a finger.

"We don't have to meet in person. I'd really just hoped to talk to you so that if you had something open, you'd have more insight into me."


I liked the humility in the email, but still. Why did she want to meet me or even talk to me if I couldn't necessarily give her a position? Maaaan. I'm a bleeding heart and all but seriously? I just don't have time. And look, y'all. Before you give me the hairy eyeball, you have to understand how residency programs work. People not only from ALL OVER the U.S. contact program directors about positions but also applicants from all over THE WORLD contact you, too. Setting up times to chat up all of the folks that email you--despite how wonderful they surely are--could take up your entire week. So I generally try to avoid it.

I prepared to quickly reply a kindly worded decline to her, but decided to just chill for a moment. What was the hurry? Hell, all I had was time in jury duty which, at the rate things were going, was about to be good and plenty. 

Then, just two moments later I hear the clerk shuffling at the microphone. 


And I sat there waiting. More like yawning and waiting because I knew my name never seemed to get called in the first few batches of people. Since this was batch three, I listened just enough to see if somebody I knew was also unlucky--err. .. .had the honor of serving their time in jury duty that day, too. 

That's when I heard it. 


I thought it was some kind of joke. I looked up from my laptop incredulously. 

Awww man! Already? Dude!

"Uhh. . .HERE!"

Great. Getting called meant going upstairs to an actual courtroom. And going up to an actual courtroom meant no more WiFi and no more catching up on emails and friends' blogs. Talk about a buzz kill. 

He kept rattling off names and horribly mispronouncing a few of them. Great. None of them even seemed fun. Man. This was totally going to be the group mandated for the next OJ trial--I could feel it. I closed my laptop and prepared to scuttle off to wherever we were going to be scuttled off to next. I took a deep breath and prepared myself to be a big girl about it.

Your civic duty. Your civic duty. Your civic duty.

And then this:



Shut the FRONT DOOR!  Dismissed?!  Hush yo' mowf!!  

I looked at the time on my iPhone--10--fricking--23 AM. Shut. Up.  

I skipped out of that courthouse and past those security checkpoints whistling Dixie. Like literally. 

So I get out in the sunshine and realize that I'd expected to be in that building all day. Hell. I didn't know what to do with myself. I just sort of stood there with this dorky grin on my face smiling at people who looked at me and my big blue JUROR sticker on my chest. Kind of like this:

Who DOES this when they get out of Jury Duty? (Me.)

No. Exactly like that. I started to do the running man dance for a minute, but remembered that the last time I did jury duty, one of our big-boss deans was there, too. For all I knew, the dude could walk up while I was mid-stride.

Anyways. I sit on a bench and pull out my phone. For whatever reason, I looked at that email again from that same student. And then--and I'm not sure why--I pushed the hyperlinked number at the bottom of her email and called her right then and there.


"Hey there. This is Dr. Manning. How are you doing today?"

"Uhhh. . . Dr. Manning?" she cleared her throat hard. "I'm good. Very good." 

She sounded stunned as hell that I'd actually called her. But also she sounded pleasant, professional, and driven. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I started to hear more about her story. 

She was at an excellent medical school and preparing to graduate this spring. Without going too much into her business, I learned that she was sort of in a jam.  Match day had been bittersweet and while she DID get into an advanced program, she did not secure the mandatory preliminary year. Now she was trying to get a one-year spot--so she wouldn't lose the position that was to follow. That, I couldn't assist with.

But as I listened, I also figured out that we had a whole lot in common. 

Like me, she was an African American female who had attended a historically black college. Like me, she had roots in the south. And she seemed to have spunk. She was almost scrappy--kind of like I was as a medical student.

I listened. I responded to her queries. And I liked her. Instinctively, I liked her.

It dawned on me then that although I couldn't help her out with her particular situation, I could put her in contact with a friend of mine at another institution who potentially could. A friend who'd gone to medical school with me who was now in a high position elsewhere. 

So I called her. And she listened, too. And together we decided that we'd try to help. 

And since that phone call last week, I have talked to that student four other times and emailed/texted even more than that. I've made at least fifteen calls to other people on her behalf. 

And today, I called just to be of encouragement.

"Just called to remind you that you will succeed in this."

"Thank you, Dr. Manning. After last week and us talking I am really feeling that way, too." And I could tell that she meant every word. 

You see, I'm not sure if you all realize it but medical school is hard. Like some parts of it are really hard. But it's not just because of the complexity of the facts you're trying to master. The environment breaks some people long before the school work. Yeah. The medical school and residency environment can be really rough for any person who is different in any way. And by different, I mean a lot of things. I mean things like being black. Or being older. Or having a kid. Or being from a foreign country. Or having some kind of disability. Or even something as simple as just being married with children (since most medical students are not.)  

Unlike this young woman, I attended a historically black college AND a historically black medical school -- which meant I never felt or was treated like a minority as a medical student. But once I went to residency and then came here, I realized that black students and residents can feel pretty isolated sometimes. No, this isn't unique to my institution or where I did my training at all. In fact, my good friend who leads a program way off in another state talks to me all the time about this very thing and how it manifests at her institution, too.

So my point is--it's an everywhere thing.

Anyways. At some (and by some I mean many) academic medical centers, black medical students get lost. Especially the ones that are very good and full of promise but not necessarily stellar on paper. They get overlooked or misunderstood. And unless there is some great mentor advocating on their behalf and helping them to slug it out, it can be a hard row to hoe. 

Man. Tonight when I spoke to that young lady, she sounded so encouraged. Like my time and attention had meant so, so much to her. And for the record--my friend and me had not sorted out her problem yet. We hadn't secured her a position or anything like that. But I can say this: We did listen to her and try to see what we could do to help. And when I talked to her I did my best to inspire her to keep fighting because I believed that if she did she would win.

And she said to me, "You know what, Dr. Manning? I believe that, too. I truly do."

We got off the phone and I just sat there at my kitchen table lost in thought. Then, without warning, tears started rolling over my cheeks and splashing on my lap. Tear after tear and I couldn't make it stop.

Crazy right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Like. . . .do you ever have these pivotal moments in your life that start as something super tiny but while they are happening you just know it's the start of something big? 

Oh, you don't? Dang.

Well, I do. Like what if me being a student at Meharry and then a faculty at Emory and still friends with a classmate from Meharry who happens to be on the faculty at another institution AND who also happens to have connections all over the place. . .like what if all of that was just a part of a drum roll to this moment in time? All setting me up for that one moment where I randomly decided to cold call that student after being sprung from jury duty. . . .like what if that was the case? 

What if the time I took--that we took--to at least try to see what we could do to help her but even more to just mentor her and inspire her -- just what if that changes her life? What if reading her emails without distractions and then calling her was like that movie Sliding Doors -- you know, the one that shows how an entire life can change with something as simple as making it onto a subway before the doors close on you?

I spoke to my other good friend, Jada R., who happens to be Meharry classmate, too. She helps me process in times such as this so I called her up. And you know? I couldn't even get the story all the way out before I started crying. 

"This is so crazy," I blubbered, "I don't even know her, Jada. I don't even know her."

And Jada just listened intently and replied softly, "Of course you know her. We both know her. She's us, Kim." 

Of course. She's us. 

That did nothing but make me cry even more.

So now I am just reflecting and rambling about these moments in time and what we do with them. I am sitting here with a giant ball of Kleenex partly because I'm hormonal but mostly because I'm feeling so full just imagining how much one human being can do for another . . .and how just maybe the entire universe has been waiting for one of us to do this tiny part in something enormous. 

Just maybe.

Jada and I always speak of this black female physician who had us over to her home for dinner when we were fourth year medical students rotating up at Case Western SOM as visiting students. We had just passed our second set of boards and had done well--and we were SO HAPPY. I'm talking CRAZY, INSANELY happy. But according to her, we were a little too happy.

"You're so. . . happy and relieved, wow. But I think I hear too much relief in your voices. This is interesting."

And we looked puzzled. She went on and said this:

"At some point, you will have to get comfortable with succeeding. You'll have to stop treating it like it's some kind of accident or fluke and accept that you are fully deserving of it. Why not? You deserve to win."

She said that while buttering a roll or sipping wine or whatever she was doing. My point is that it was just a tiny moment at her dining room table, you know? Like I doubt if it was even a big deal to her, you know? But those words--those mighty words--changed our lives, do you hear me? Changed our lives.

We talked about those words all the way home. We spoke of them around commencement time. We revisited them during residency and again when we were both asked to serve as chief residents at our respective residency programs. And even to this very day, Jada and I speak of that one moment in time at least once per year. That one moment in time.

Anyways. . .back to the student.

Honestly? I was actually very disappointed when all of our phone calls and discussions didn't end in some fairy tale ending to that student's situation. That would have made this story a hell of a lot better, right? But in my heart of hearts I know that she will be fine. In fact, she will be more than fine. She's going to win. And I told her just like that doctor told Jada and me seventeen years ago: "Why not? You deserve to win." 

That may have been a bold thing to say to someone I don't even know. But you know what? That woman who said that to me didn't know me either.

But then again, maybe she did.


Once I ended my hyperemotional babble in Jada's ear, I finally said, "Girl, I just can't stop feeling like . . . I don't know. . . this was some kind of destiny. Like I was supposed to be in her life to. . .I don't know. . . to help nudge her to the next level."

And wise Jada responded, "That could be, sister. Unless, of course, she was supposed to be in your life to do that for you."


That could be.

What are you doing with your moments in time?

Happy Sunday.

And now playing on my mental iPod which is covered with snot after just one play of Whitney Houston singing this:


  1. Exactly. We may perceive events/ life happenings differently than their actual context. Beautiful post, as always.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

  2. I am so thankful that I never had to experience the emotional upheaval of going unmatched, but I can only imagine that you made a huge difference to someone going through an extremely rough time. The world needs more attendings like you!

  3. Well this post brought tears to me eyes for so many reasons. As a Black woman Scientist in big pharma I can so relate to the isolation I've felt through out my education and now career.

    But as a middle aged Black woman preparing to apply to med school this year, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention being concerned about how my app is going to be perceived by adcoms. But 5 facts are undisputable when it comes to me. I work hard, get along reasonably well with others, I test well, I'm bright, and I've got the best mentors anyone could hope for. And while I know that may not be enough for others to accept me as I am, that's okay. I've got enough acceptance of myself to go around!

    I'm a STRONG believer that everything happens for a reason and in it's own due time, so I'm sure this medical students' delimma will have the positive outcome she's hoping for.

    Great post, as usual!!

  4. Words escape me, but I will say this: you are very inspiring. You really get the big picture. So much of this life is about the impact that we have on others. We can never really know the weight of it sometimes but it can make such a difference, just listening to our heart or the voice inside that leads you to action. I too am sure that she will be more than fine.

  5. What a great way to start the week. Thanks for sharing. I am taking that very powerful phrase to heart and passing it along as well.

  6. Well, hell. If we aren't here to help each other, then what are we here for?
    You done GOOD, Dr. Manning. You done good and the good will continue on down the path.
    Beautiful, beautiful post.

  7. I love the "surprise" ending - maybe she was there to give you something. I think you were both there for a reason and I wonder what it'll be.

  8. It's probably both. She's there for you and you're there for her. I love the circular nature of life! A blessing (sometimes in disguise) is right around the corner. 5 years ago I made it to the interview stage for grad school at Berkley. Didn't get in. SHOCKED. I always expect to get what I want. I aim HIGH. I got into UF. Had a GREAT unexpected mentor. That program moved to Wake where I got an amazing opportunity to start my teaching career there because I had a master's and the experience for a class for which they needed a professor. Seriously. There are so many other little (or what felt at the time major) setbacks for me that changed everything. I might not be exactly where I think I want to be right now but I know I'm exactly where God needs me to be. Thank you for that girl!! If I don't find another black female doc prof to mentor me, I definitely want to be that for my future students. You're the best!

  9. I wanted to say something profound about messengers and angels and HOW FREAKING AWESOME YOU ARE. But I have to go find a kleenex cuz my eyes are leaking.

    Another beautiful post, m'dear.

  10. You make this world a better place, and if you are not hearing this truth daily then the rest of us are slacking.

    On a more personal note, when I first found your blog I felt very insecure about commenting and contacting you. I wondered whether you would think of me as another medical student looking for a favor, then or down the road. As I read the first half of your post, I felt that old insecurity. I worried that my sincerity may have never made its way to you through these expressionless digital words. I was so relieved to read the ending, and chided myself for thinking, even in passing, that you could have been jaded in that way. (It also helps to remind myself that my coveted specialty is not the one taught and learned in your residency program.)

    As far as appreciating those moments... I cannot recount the number of times I stop and marvel at the way in which my universe aligns itself to make those moments inevitable, when I feel that life has unfolded EXACTLY as it should have... to bring me to that particular moment in time (and I'm not talking about some huge, life-changing events, but moments that might seem entirely ordinary and inconsequential to someone else).

    Sorry about the long, rambling comment.

  11. So many profound insights in this post. You are the real deal, Kim. You receive the blessings and then, by God, you pass them on. So humbly, eloquently, so full of goodness and love.

  12. Something about this story got me in the gut even before you got to the tearing up and bawling parts. I think it was the way you got over your initial feeling of skepticism, took a chance and made an effort for this young woman. You were that mentoring hand that reaches out that we all wish for and many never experience. Love the realization of what you are getting back. x0 N2


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

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