I think that any well-meaning doctor should have a mental Rol-o-dex of personalized talking points to bring up when their patients return to see them. For some of my patients it's their grandchildren. New ones born or older ones finishing high school and getting into college. Sometimes the report includes one of those grandbabies having a baby of his or her own. That means greatgrands and a green light to start the whole bragging cycle over again. Yep. For others it's the weight they lost or the cigarettes they put down. That or the drug stronghold that they finally shook a-loose and pride they feel every time a new day passes and they haven't turned back.
Me? I take a mental inventory of such things and file it away. Slipping it somewhere in my note or sticking it on an imaginary post-it note on the inside of my head for safekeeping. Then, when I see them again, I bring it up. That grandbaby who made officer in the Marine Corps and who is on his third tour in Afghanistan? I ask how he's doing. Or the greatgrands that she decided should call her "Duchess" since she wanted something grander than just "grandmama?" I greet her as "Duchess" and watch her laugh out loud. And don't think I forgot about day my patient quit Newports cold turkey--which happened to be the anniversary of his wife's passing. Oh, and as for the congratulatory handshakes regarding another man's decade long abstinence from crack cocaine? Nope. Those handshakes never get old.
So, yeah. These parts aren't really imperative to the plan but they are a part of the relationship-building that's very, very necessary for good vibes between doctors and patients. At least that's what I think.
I was thinking of this because I saw one of our Grady elder F.P.s in the clinic not too long ago. Her "thing" to talk about wasn't grandbabies or greatgrands or strongholds or weight loss. That said, it was another very common talk point that I encounter. What's that, you ask? Oh, I'll tell you:
Yes. You read that right. Jesus, as in the one from Nazareth.
Look, man. If you work at a place like Grady Hospital which is smack, dab in the middle of the bible belt and two blocks away from Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther-the-King preached, then you most certainly will hear your share of references to J.C. (none of which are loose at all.)
Yep. And actually? It's cool. I mean, it really is--no matter what you believe--because, really, it usually means you get to hear of some testimony. Which means you get to hear of some kind of test and, trust me, that test is almost always something harder than anything I've even come close to experiencing.
So, yeah. I guess that list of icebreaker topics to touch upon should really include grandbabies, greatgrands, victories over weight/habits/etc., and Jesus, too. Sure should.
Let me clarify this before someone throws their head back and groans out that very name in vain. No, I don't roll in, say hello and then start quoting scriptures. Nope. Instead, I do what we did with this lady. Ask about her church and what she's up to in it.
Let me be even more clear--what I specifically ask about is their "church-home" because that's what the Grady elders call it when you're a sho nuff and bona fide member somewhere. Mmm hmmm. And this lady? Man. She totally was all up in her church-home. She dressed in all white and sat on the third pew as a part of the Mother's board. She was one of the ones that the pastor called by name during his sermon and the one that could be heard shouting "HALLELUJAH!" and "PREACH PASTOR!" loudest and earliest in every single Sunday service.
Oh. And when I say every single Sunday service, I mean every single one -- from 7:30 a.m. to the last one at noon. ('Cause everybody knows the Mothers in the church stay for all three services.)
Uhhh, hmmm. What was my point again? Oh. My. You'll be super annoyed to know that everything you just read has nothing to do with the point of this post. And I'm sure you're all like, "What does this have to do with poison?" Answer: nothing really. Well, sort of, but not really. But I am going somewhere with this and I promise I'll get on to that now.
So, check it. I was talking to this dear lady along with my resident. The patient seemed a bit downtrodden this day and her resident dutifully explored more about that. She also remembered that her church-home was a big part of her life and so she asked about it to see if somehow this could help us gain more insight into why she had the blues.
"I ain't at that church no more." She didn't make eye contact with us when she said that. Instead she stared straight ahead and pursed her lips in an effort to contain what was obviously a sore point.
Now this? This was unusual. A Grady elder that's been at her church-home for over "twenty-some-odd" years doesn't just up and leave. Not even if the pastor changes or the building fund runs low. And so, the resident asked some follow up questions to find out why.
"Well. I been at that chuuch longer than I can even 'member. For years! And I always helps out with thangs and see 'bout people, you know. But then, I lost my sister, Emma Jean, and don't you know didn't nobody come to see about me from my chuuch? Not-a-one."
"Not even anyone that sits on the Mother's board with you?" I asked.
"I ain't talkin' 'bout them. They all my friends so they was gon' see 'bout me no matter what. But Pastor ain't came to see 'bout me and he s'posed to have a bereavement team tha's s'posed to come minister to you during times like that. N'an one of them came."
"But the Mothers did, yes?"
"I said they my friends so they was gon' come ir-regardless. That ain't got nothin' to do with Pastor and 'nem." Her facial expression showed us how much this had hurt her feelings. "After twenty-some-odd years there not one of them can come and see 'bout me?"
"Did they know?" I wanted to give her church-home leadership the benefit of the doubt.
"They all knew 'cawse the Mothers knew. And that ain't right. So I went on and left. Now I attend service with my son at his church. It ain't the same, you know? I miss being where I know everybody and they know me."
"I wonder if they know how much this hurt you. Maybe you could talk to your pastor to see if y'all could make amends," my resident chimed in.
"Naaw. Seem like they shoulda knew better. Even if they say they sorry, I think it's jest one of them thangs I ain't never gon' get over. Everybody know how close me and Emma Jean was." Her eyes welled up with tears and she patted their corners with the hem of her shirt sleeve. She took a big drag of air and quickly shook her head. "They shoulda knew better. Somebody shoulda called and seent about me. 'Cawse they all knew how close I was to Emma. They did."
And that was that.
We did talk to her some more about this, but her mind was made up. She had decided that she couldn't let this go. Even if it was making her miserable, she couldn't let it go.
That made me think of the day I heard a Grady elder say this:
"Being angry is like you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."
But that was just it. She was the one with the poison on the inside of her. And it was making her sad and robbing her of her quality of life. Still. This was her decision and, as I've said here before, our own decisions to react--or not react--in certain ways to certain things can be life-altering.
But then I started wondering. What about when your mind is telling you the right thing to do or feel, but your heart is saying something else? Like, what if that Grady elder knows that holding that grudge against her Pastor and the bereavement team is just not that serious--especially not serious enough to leave the church over? And what if she is fully aware of the fact that maybe her pastor thought that the Mothers had things covered with her losing Emma Jean and that she was sufficiently "seen about" by them? See? What if she is all of those things but despite all of that logic still hurt and mad and disappointed that Pastor and his team didn't factor her twenty-some-odd years into the equation and physically come to lay hands on her in her own living room? And what if, no matter how clear it is that she should, she just can't get past it?
So that's what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about logic and emotions and how the two sometimes can't seem to meet in the middle.
When Deanna passed away I was absolutely engulfed with support. I was called, emailed, texted, visited, fed, refed, and everything else supportive that you can imagine during such unthinkable times. People were amazing. The kindness of my friends and even strangers probably brought more tears to my eyes than anything else in those first few days.
After a several weeks had passed I was driving down the street minding my own business one day. In that moment alone, it dawned on me that I hadn't spoken to one of my very close friends at all since all of that had happened. Not at all.
But then, as I think of it, it wasn't not at all. She'd left a short note in my blog comments on behalf of her family. And had also sent a text in response to one I'd sent. But I never heard her voice. Nor did I see her face or receive regrets regarding the homegoing services despite geography that would make that not unreasonable.
How did I not realize that? Somehow, in all of the planning and traveling and running and comforting, I hadn't noticed until then. So you know what happened next, right? Of course. I drank the poison and started feeling slighted.
But, see, I am a logical and introspective person. So I did my best to immediately spit it out and counter it with the antidote. Positive thoughts!
Look at all of the support your family received!
Your blog community was AMAZING!
David flew all the way from Philadelphia to be there for you!
Falona came from Denver, Colorado. DENVER. As in, MOUNTAIN TIME!
There were over a THOUSAND people at the service! All honoring DEANNA!
That worked for a little while but then I had to ramp up my self-
Maybe she didn't know what to say, Kimberly.
A lot of people don't "do" funerals and homegoings.
It's ridiculous to let this bother you.
This should not change your friendship one bit! Ridiculous!
Grow up, Kimberly!
Don't be ungrateful!
See this as an opportunity to know how to better support others during such times.
This is POISONOUS THINKING. Hello?!?
Then I decided that I'd just let some time pass. And not think about it. That's when my snarky inner voice pointed this out:
Indifference still counts as anger when the person is close to you! In fact, it's worse!
And that's where I stopped. And where I've been stuck.
Here's the thing. This was not just an acquaintance. This was a good, good friend of mine. One that I have told my deepest thoughts and with whom I shared pivotal experiences. One who'd met Deanna and all of my family and knew what this meant to us. And, fortunately--for me and anonymity--I do have a lot of good, deep friendships. So the point is not at all who this is. It isn't. In fact, let me even go on the record to say that this particular friend has definitely been extraordinarily caring and engaged throughout the tenure of our friendship and has no track-record of repetitive ball-dropping whatsoever. Furthermore, this also doesn't even factor in the balls I'VE dropped that I may or may not even realize or the fact that all of those things should immediately earn her the benefit of the doubt. But none of that--though true--is really the point.
No, 'tis not.
The point is more that I could relate to my patient and her hard line despite what logic and home-training were telling me. I felt myself wanting to leave the church altogether because I saw our deep friendship as something akin to her twenty-some-odd years in that church. And I felt myself counting her comment on my blog and text message as those "expected" things like the Mother's board turning up instead of the pastor.
Ridiculous, I know. And so super counterproductive, too. I know. But like I said. This is an issue where logic and emotion don't play well together. And that underscores how broken the human mind can sometimes be.
So I couldn't pass judgement at all on my patient when she told us that. Because I'd been there--recently. And, you know? Even though when my friend and I finally did chat and I was pleasant and seemingly okay, the poison had started to work on me already. It had. I felt myself redefining our friendship and refusing to understand. A poisonous voice whispering that there was simply no good excuse for her absence. Which isn't me.
The only big difference between my patient and me in our positions is that I haven't felt nearly as sad as my patient seemed. But. I'm not a retired octogenarian with a life centered around my former church-home. I'm a full-time working mother and so is my friend. My guess is that, as far as this causing mayhem in the grand scheme of things, we're in the same place. That kind of complicates it even more.
Or maybe not at all if you're Harry and you believe that "everybody can't go."
So that aforementioned reference above was a BHE-ism that I've heard Harry say a million times. He shrugs his shoulders and says, "Everybody can't go." Which is his way of saying that every person can't be carried with you into every phase of your life. And that's fine and well if you're Harry but not as simple when you're me.
Good heavens. I am so, so rambling, aren't I? But I guess I'm just trying to work through this, you know? Yeah.
I guess I could put all of this to rest by simply asking "What would Jesus do?" I mean, seeing as Jesus does happen to be on the short list of Grady icebreakers and all. But it wouldn't be put to rest because I KNOW what Jesus would do. He'd turn the other cheek -- the one on his face, not on his toches (pronounced took-us.) But that's the thing. Somehow Jesus seemed to avoid drinking the poison better than every other person who has ever existed.
I know me. Usually, with time, I get back to normal somehow. Or some revised yet acceptable version of normal. Which might mean going to another church for a bit and then eventually coming on back. And if that feels okay, I might get around to going back to the Mother's board and staying for at least two of the three services.
So here is what I am asking your thoughts about. . . . not WWJD, because I know that answer already. That and the answers to WWASMAPAD -- that is "What would a super-mature-and-perfect-adult do?" (See WWJD for answer.)
How do you navigate issues where knowing better versus doing better collide? And is it ever acceptable to decide that forgiving but not forgetting is a reasonable explanation for letting go of important things and people? Even if it's done subtly and without door-slamming? Or is that worse?
See? This is what you get for reading beyond my initial tangent. Now you have to comment. . . ha ha ha. . . .and yes, I at least expect props for my advanced Yiddish as demonstrated through the use of the word "toches."
And here's a horrible picture of another kind of Poison which is equally dangerous. . .
and some MORE "Poison" for your mental iPods to get stuck on for the rest of the day. . . .