Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fight or flight.

My head was down and I was looking at my list of patients. Trying to figure something out about someone and doing so while pushing my way through the revolving doors at the front of the hospital. The work day had come to a close. The patients had been seen and we'd all spent time teaching each other. And so, like I always do, I did my ritualistic mental sign-out rounds with my marked up patient print-out preparing myself for what I'd need to read that night and do the next day.

My shuffling feet stayed in step with the automatic doors and inside of the tiny slice of space I was given to exit. The sun was unusually bright when I finally made it out. I looked up and squinted for a second and then I returned to what I was doing. Walking, thinking, reviewing, revising. And then, this:

"'Scuse me, miss. 'Scuse me."

My eyes immediately met those of an anxious appearing man. His hair was matted and his lips were cracking. His movements were jerky and seemingly unpredictable. And then, as he spoke again, he stepped closer. Into my personal space.

"Umm. . .I don't mean to bother you, miss. But. . .um. . .can you tell me how to get over to the Marta?"

His proximity was scaring me. My instincts told me to pay attention. To him. To everything. I stepped back a bit and replied, "It's straight ahead of you."  I was careful not to turn my head away from him when I said that. Something about the way his eyes were flitting about and his body kept moving so restlessly made my pulse quicken.

My purse was resting on my shoulder. I was wearing a shoe with a moderately high heel.  I began thinking about all of the things that would have to be taken into account should I need to get away. Or fight. My fingers tightened around my strap as I positioned myself to leave. Or something.

"Ma'am, I was wondering if--" He reached his hand out toward my shoulder as he said those words. And now he was very close to me. Very. I scanned the area and was stunned at how, at this particular moment, there seemed to be not one other person nearby. That hand reaching for me startled me. Wait. It more than startled me--it ignited something inside of me that's hard to explain.

I stopped his hand--almost swatted it away--before he could reach my body and spoke loudly. "I have to go. I can't help, I'm sorry."

I moved back and started to walk away from him as quickly as I could. And not in the direction that I was initially going, but instead in the direction of the Emergency Department where I knew I would find more people. That brisk walk became a jog. And I did that until I reached the corner by the ED.

When I looked back, I saw that man still in the same area near the door. Nervous, jerky, anxious-appearing. For a moment, I felt bad for leaving like I did. But then I heard Harry in my ear saying, "You work downtown in a major metropolitan city. Pay attention and if you feel like something ain't right, get the hell out of there." And that is exactly how he said it and how he says it to me when talking to me about my Pollyanna-ness about the world and the people inside of it. Sometimes he uses an f-bomb during that admonishment for emphasis. Just so I'll pay attention.


A security officer near the emergency entrance had seen me trotting and asked if I was okay. I told him yes, but did at least mention that I felt a little weird when that gentleman had approached me.

"Oh, that dude's just trying to get high. Let me go down there and get him to keep it moving." And that's exactly what he did. He came down there with a bellowing voice and brushed that man away like debris on a sidewalk. I stood on the corner watching the whole thing. . . .not really knowing how to feel about it. Bad? Wrong? Smart? Right? Sigh. I don't know.


I work at Grady Hospital in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia and it is a place that is near and dear to the most tender parts of my heart. But. This hospital I love sits in the epicenter of some harsh realities that I must remember to acknowledge. I'm thankful for a streetwise husband who regularly makes sure that I do. And you know? I don't know what that man wanted from me. Maybe all he wanted was a dollar to ride the Marta train and that's it. Or maybe he just wanted a dollar to get a hamburger or a few loose cigarettes. Maybe. But maybe he was sick and desperate from an addiction and wanted to get his "medicine" by any means necessary. Maybe he, too, saw that there wasn't anyone out there and that this lady doctor who was looking down and not up might be a good target to help him with getting that "medicine." Maybe.

I don't know. But I do know that we have the "fight or flight" instinct for a reason. That part I know for sure.


Happy Thursday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . 


  1. I am ALWAYS the point of ok ok I get it, Aunt Sheryl...cautioning my nieces to stay on alert...stay attention. good post!

  2. You did the right thing. It's impossible to know what he was going to ask you for, but you've got to trust your gut. BHE is a smart dude. I work at a hospital, too, and we had some training last year with regard to what might happen if a Code Silver needed to be called. The security person who ran the training expressed concern that "today's generation" is not aware of their surroundings, always walking and talking on their phones or texting, etc. Something I know I need to take into account.

    1. Yep. I'm learning to listen to my gut more. The world is crazy. So, so crazy. Often times our gut is the only warning we get.

  3. I'm glad you paid attention to what your self was telling you.

  4. So glad you're ok.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

  5. The Lord watches over His children!

  6. Listen to your BHE. And to your gut.

  7. There places in this city that I never ever feel unsafe. The area that Grady is in isn't one of them. Glad I didn't hear about you on the evening news.

  8. Dr. Kim. it is never wrong to listen to that little voice. That little voice keeps you safe.
    I've spent years reading all the true crime books in the libraries and I'm fascinated by the random ways evil insinuates its self into to our lives. I've read both books by Gavin DeBecker and the Gift of Fear really stuck with me. I took notes, lots of them. You did the right thing, you did.

    Glad you've got a heightened sense of awareness and a loving husband to remind you that you can't always be nice and be safe.

    Great post, as always. xo


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