Monday, November 5, 2012

The unnatural.

 Monday, Monday
Can't trust that day
Monday, Monday
Sometimes it just turns out that way

Oh Monday morning you gave me no warning 
of what was to be
Oh Monday, Monday
How could you leave and not take me?

~ The Mamas and The Papas

Today was tough. I saw and heard things that weren't natural. Out of the order of nature and not how things should be.

At least, not to me.

A woman sat across from me today in the clinic. She was trying to quit smoking and we kept it light, talking about things like how hard it will be for her to not have a cigarette while on the commode. And that made us all laugh big, full, fluffy laughs. The kind that connect people and make them feel at home. She smiled at me and I smiled right back, feeling a connection.

"Do you have any kids?" I asked her. And I asked this because this woman was in her late forties and there was no mistaking--she had the twinkle in her eye and the tenderness of a mother. I knew for certain that she was.

But when I asked that her face grew serious and troubled. "Sometime I don't know how to answer that question." And right then and there I wanted to kick myself for not remembering what my resident had just told me before I'd entered the room. She had a son. But he had passed away.

So I was honest. "I'm sorry," I spoke softly, "Your doctor had just told me that. I'm sorry."

And she shrugged. This really complicated, lopsided shrug that I couldn't fully interpret. I knew it didn't mean "that's okay" because it wasn't. Maybe it just meant "this sucks" because it does.

"He wasn't but fifteen." She looked somewhere distant when she said that. I felt my pulse quickening.

"Do you . . do you mind telling me what. . . .you know. . .happened to him?" I hate the way I stammer when I'm treading out of my own lane. But she didn't even seem to notice.

"High speed car chase," she said. "Died right here. . . in this hospital. They had him under a John Doe 'cause he didn't have no I.D. And he died right here in the trauma room. Brain hemorrhage." Her voice was tiny and far, far away.

I didn't speak. Instead I just reached for her forearm and held onto it. Like we needed each other to be steadied to hear all that. Because hearing of a mother losing her fifteen year old boy is unnatural.

"He was caught up in them gangs and with the wrong crowds, you know. And it seem like God prepared me some kind of way. Like, I told him that if he don't change what he doing he wouldn't live to be a man. And he just told me, 'Mama, until I get out of here it ain't nothing you can do.'" That part was too much. She pulled her arm away and covered her face with her palms. Her head dropped and her body just shook and shook. We waited quietly, voyeurs to this unnatural grief for which there are no words.

She spoke first. "I didn't have no way to get us out of that neighborhood. No money like that, you know? And I knew. I just knew that this wasn't no place for my boy to be who I wanted him to be. You just want to protect your kids so bad, you know? And this kind of thing make you feel like a failure. Not being able to protect your boy."

And my resident and I--we just patiently listened. Honored her son and her testimony by keeping quiet until she was done speaking. Then she simply wept some more. Right there in front of us.

Eventually the room fell silent.

So I asked what her son's name was. I asked her to tell us what he was like and even asked if he looked like her. For the first time since he'd come up, she smiled. "Yeah, he look a lot like me. 'Cept he was red." We both laughed when she said that because we understood that terminology.

My resident looked a little puzzled. In his defense, he's quite culturally competent. But getting descriptors like "red" and "redbone" meant that you'd spent some time in only the most relaxed and every day settings with Southern black folks. But she was gracious and caught on that this was lost on her resident doctor.

"See me, I'm brown-skinned. And her," she pointed at me with a smirk on her face, "she red."

"Whaaaat?" I feigned an offended tone. "Excuse me! I ain't red." I held my arm up to hers.

"Oh yeeeeaaah. You a redbone for sure. Same complexion as my son." She chuckled, a soft and gentle chuckle that seemed to comfort us all.

Next,  she reached into her wallet and pulled out some pictures of him. A few small ones and one large one that was tearing on the ends. I stared carefully. His young face did resemble hers. And she was right, you had to get past the striking contrast in their complexions to see it. This boy obviously belonged to her.

"I loved him so much," she said.

"I bet he loved you, too." I paused after saying that because I needed to choose my words carefully. Then I recalled my friend Davina and my friend Rachael. Both of whom had the unnatural experience of burying their own sons. I thought of them and felt their example reminding me that the love is still as fresh as ever no matter how much time passes. And that there's nothing awkward about loving your child.


So I remembered that and let that guide the rest of our conversation. To make it natural even though a big part of it wasn't at all.

"So tell us. . . what was he like?" I asked again. "Like, his personality?"

Her face lit up. And then she told us. Told us about his strong will and quick wit and sense of humor and his love for his mother. And all the while she kept showing us pictures but each time she'd return to one in particular--the first one she'd pulled from her purse. It was obviously her favorite.

"Yeah, girl. That's a redbone if I ever saw one!" That response felt natural. And she seemed to appreciate that. I encircled her forearm once again with my palm. "Thank you for telling us about your son. And for introducing us to him. I am so, so glad that you did."

And I said that because I was glad. I really was.

So that was pretty much the end of that.

Later that day, I saw that one of my favorite Grady elders of all time was scheduled to see us in the clinic. The minute I saw his chart, I told his resident doctor that it was imperative that he sign out the patient to me and not another attending -- because this man was my ultimate F.P. (I then explained that F.P. is short for "favorite patient.")

I knocked on the door, walked right in and smiled big and wide like always. My greeting was easy and familiar. "Heeeeey, sir!" I announced in a sing-songy voice.  I reached right out and hugged him and he hugged me right back.

"Heeeeey, babygirl!" he cooed as we squeezed for a moment. Being called "babygirl" by this Grady elder felt natural. So I didn't mind at all.

I was so glad to see him. So, so glad. He always has a good word to tell me and has the kind of faith that could move mountains. Yes. I was happy to be in his presence.

But today, something was different. His smile wasn't as full. He'd put on a few pounds. I even smelled cigarette smoke emanating from his skin. Something wasn't right.

I waited, though. I let us get through the nitty-gritty of blood pressure and blood sugars and all of that stuff. Then as we got to the end of the visit, I acknowledged what I was sensing.

See, me and this man go way back like car seats. Three different resident doctors and a lot of years of seeing each other in that clinic. So he knew, for sure, that I not only care about him but I really do have love for him. I told him what was on my mind. "Something in my spirit is telling me that things aren't okay with you. What's going on?"

I remembered my patient who once insisted that I not be afraid to sometimes push. Push because sometimes I might be the only one who does--and that person might not be okay unless I do. So I honored her and the promise I made her that day by stepping right out and nudging my F.P.

But this time? I didn't have to push so hard because it was right on the surface. Right there.

That big, strong, over six-feet-tall Grady elder reached for my hand--then he just cried and cried. Told me he was feeling sad. Sad because his wife of many years had health troubles. That life was hard and "these was 'sposed to be the golden years for them just to enjoy each other." And since his wife was feeling ill and was frustrated, she wasn't being so nice to him. They weren't communicating well. And he missed her. The old her. So that had him sad.

"All I do is set in my easy chair and smoke. And I eat and I sleep. Tha's all." And after he said that he wept some more. Because this wasn't how it was supposed to be. This wasn't natural.

It wasn't.

And you know? I tried but I couldn't hold it back. I covered my eyes with one hand and turned my back to him because that--seeing that Grady elder who had worked his fingers to the bone his whole life and who had raised up his kids the best he could, crying in front of me like that--it was just. . .just.. . unnatural. And I love that man. As sure as I type this, I mean it--I do.

Let me tell you. I just hated seeing that. Damn, I did. But we talked some more and all of us--me, him, and the resident doctor--came up with a good plan that took all of these things into consideration.

But still, I hated everything about that.

On my way home from work today, I felt heavy. NPR was talking and I wasn't listening. Not even twenty four hours until the biggest election of my lifetime and I was totally disconnected from every bit of news surrounding it. I couldn't help it.  I was haunted by that faded, dogeared photograph of that teenage boy who will never be a man and hearing his mother telling me about how she wished she could have saved him from that environment. But couldn't. On that drive, I wondered what my favorite Grady elder was doing and hoped that he could find just a tiny ray of sunshine because, dammit, he deserves it.

And you know? You'd think that a day like this would make me not want to do this job. Like it would feel too burdensome to carry around day after day, right? I don't know. It's weird. In ways that even I don't understand, it's the days like this one that make me appreciate being a Grady doctor the most. These are the days that I feel like my steps have been ordered and like I am more plugged into God than I could be anywhere else. The ones that make me hug my children tighter, make me want to write faster than my fingers can type and that end with me drifting asleep with clasped hands in a fetal position.

I don't know. I just. . .yeah.
So today? Today was tough. I saw and heard things that weren't natural. Out of the order of nature and not how things should be.

But something tells me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  And that part does feel natural.


Monday, Monday. Can't trust that day.

Now playing. . . .


  1. I sat at the bedside of a dying friend today and thought a lot of these thoughts -- how weird and unnatural it was. The day in LA was so freaking hot -- unnatural. It feels so unnatural to be so nervous about the election tomorrow -- well, I just hear you. I would say, though, that the way you tell your truth, your life, your story is incredibly natural, and I'm grateful for it --

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Writing about it made me feel so much better. I needed to tell this truth. For them, for me.

  2. Agreed. You were and are, exactly where you are supposed to be.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

  3. Speaking of NPR, have you heard that doctor interviewed who is the physician of the Dali Lama? He talked about how His Holiness chooses his physicians not just on skill but on HEART, as well.
    I think that he would most definitely choose you to be one of his doctors.
    And thus, your patients receive the exact same sort of care that the Dali Lama would receive. Which means that yes, you are most certainly in the right place, doing the right thing right now.

    1. Heart is important. Even if it leads to crying in front of patients, I know it's necessary and therapeutic. We heal each other.

  4. Your compassion for your patients brings tears to my eyes. My daddy was blessed with a doctor that listened to him before he died. I will always be grateful for that.

    1. We all need compassion, don't we? It sounds like your daddy was a special man. I'm glad his doctor recognized that.

  5. Thank you soo much for your life-stories!! The empathy that radiates from these posts is soo humble & true! I am soo glad that your patients have you to grapple their burdens with, and even more grateful that you share them here for us to read.

    1. I appreciate these kind words and I also appreciate you reading. Thank you, friend.

  6. All we really want is for someone to pay attention to us, isn't it? And you paid singular attention to both of these people. You honored that woman and her son's memory and acknowledged your FP's predicament. That is sacred. Amen.


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

Related Posts with Thumbnails