Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Diploma, see?

Encounter on a Wednesday

Did the things you asked of him
but didn't do them quite right
even though
you'd written them all down
word for word

Do this, you wrote
Avoid that, you added
Go here, you underlined
And whatever you do
go there, sir

You'd written it all down
word for word
and put it in his hand
so he wouldn't forget
couldn't forget

It's important, you implored

Okay, he replied


So he kept the appointments with you
but missed the others
All of the others
that you'd worked so hard
to get him scheduled into

Did you get the MRI?

Did you see the neurologist?

Did you get the ultrasound of your heart?
You know. The echo?

But see, he kept the appointments with you
All of them
And he smiled and nodded when you talked to him
so why wouldn't he
get the MRI
or go see the neurologist
or get his heart ultrasounded.
Or, you know, echoed

"Do you know if he can read?" This was my question.

"He finished high school," you replied.

"Yes," I asked, "but, again, is he comfortable with reading?"

And you became silent for a moment
then admitted quietly that you weren't completely sure

Even though you were sure
that he'd completed high school

"You tell him when his follow up appointment with you is scheduled.
But the others come in the mail."

You nodded in response

He did finish high school

He did.

So we went in and talked to him
Explored why it was hard for him to do things like
get an MRI
or go see a neurologist
or get his heart imaged in two dimensions

"I try my best."

And so we asked, this time specifically.
Not could he read in the black and white sense
But how comfortable he was with it
in the gray sense

That's when he gave us a clearer understanding
of his gray areas

"I can't read none."


Yes, a high school graduate
with a job
and kids
and medical problems, too

With a high school diploma
and an inability to read or write


And so
we wrapped up the visit
with this new piece of information in mind

Glad for what we'd gleaned
to help us understand him more
and sad that this wasn't the first time
that he'd slipped between the cracks



  1. Happens more often than people think...I had an uncle that was completely illiterate, but kept it hidden from everyone. He was brilliant at memorizing an faking faking faking his way through things all his life. His wife, my dad's sister-knew. And helped him with everything as much as possible...planned his work routes drew picture maps fopr him--he was a delivery man.

    It is a sad commentary on our education system these days...I volunteered with a Literacy Project in North Carolina and it was astounding the size of the waiting list for classes. And the majority of them were young people.

  2. I used to be a high school teacher, and sometimes the saddest day of the year would be graduation because I knew that we were sending some kids into the world who weren't quite ready. They jumped through all of the hoops, but the hoops didn't guarantee they had everything that they needed. Stories like this keep me in the fight for education.

  3. Not a diploma that's worth much, sadly...

  4. So sad, that he put in the time and couldn't learn to read. In my brief stay at the community college testing incoming students, I got my eyes wide opened about the shocking number of people who reach adulthood with barely an elementary school reading level. More amazing to me is your intuition and kindness in discovering the patient's secrets and helping ensure their medical needs are met. You take the time to see people, and that is such a rare gift.

  5. A young mother with three kids living in public housing drew pictures of food when the WIC worker asked her " What foods do you feed your children?" Sad but a reality still in this day.....#nobodybotheredtoask


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

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