Friday, March 28, 2014

But if you close your eyes.

"But if you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing's changed at all?"

~ Bastille's "Pompeii"

I captured this photograph of Isaiah the other day at the end of our commute from school. He asked to stay in the car for a bit because he was listening to his favorite song (which was playing on the radio at the time.) He said he was also "just daydreaming." What I would give to be inside of that mind of his some days. Man.

I fell in love with him one hundred times over all over again in that instant.

Keep your eyes open so that you don't miss these little moments. Fleeting bits of wonder nestled into ordinary things like carpool lanes and carrying in groceries. They're everywhere. But if you close your eyes, you might miss them.

Happy Friday.

Isaiah's favorite song, now playing on my mental iPod. . . .

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Team S.J.G.R. Thursday Huddle: Game Plan.

What's up, Team?  I hope this finds all of you well--literally and figuratively. This will be short and sweet, but I hope it will make us all think.

I was just thinking this morning about all of the things that we do in our lives and how, for the most important things, we generally have a game plan. That is, there is some bar we seek to get over or at least up to. For work, that might be one thing. As parents even we nudge our children to work hard in school because a goal has been set. And the bottom line is this: Goals require game plans.

What is your goal? I mean, specifically when it comes to all of this stuff we've been doing and talking about? That's the million dollar question.

Now. Of course our goals can be broken into little mini-bite sized ones but usually there should be some overarching big one. At least, that's what I think.

Here is what I mostly hope every person reading this aspires to have as either their main goal or at least one of their big two:

To personally reduce my modifiable risks of HEART DISEASE and CANCER.

Yes. That.

Okay. So let's just get real again since that's what we do on this team, shall we?

Let's imagine the photo above as all of us standing in a ginormously long line. All of us different people with different stories and builds and everything. Despite all those differences, the reality is the same. Hands down, the thing most likely to cause any of us DEATH or DISABILITY is heart disease. Period, period, period--end of story.

When I say "heart disease" let's also include all forms of atherosclerotic disease like strokes, etc. Because that counts, too. Yeah, that.

So anyways. Let's draw all of our attention to that second word "DISABILITY." I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I think since Deanna left us, DEATH has always seemed like the worse possible thing that could happen with heart disease, but recognized that the aftermath of can devastate families just as much from what I've seen.

Imagine if suddenly you couldn't walk more than a foot without being severely short of breath. What would that mean to your family and wall that you do? What if a stroke left you unable to speak or move the dominant side of your body? How would that affect everything you do? Well? Because THIS? This is as real a possibility as the whole DEATH part.

Sometimes I imagine if Deanna had been left unable to talk or move. Like if her cardiac arrest had ended not in a sudden death but instead severe anoxic (lack of oxygen and blood) brain injury. It's so hard for me to picture us rolling her over and propping her up or cleaning off her tracheostomy tube. And please--let me be clear--I am not making light of the many reasons that people become or are born with disabilities. I'm not. But I am making sure that we are going at everything with our eyes wide open to heart disease as a cause of acquired disability. Even in the younger of us. And yes, I know this sounds super grim, but I need our team to recognize that we are running from more than just death. We are. 


So let's regroup. Let's look at our goals and come up with real game plans. I know it's time for me to look at mine again.

Are you getting at least 150 minutes or more of cardiovascular activity?
Do you know your BMI?
Are you realistic about trying to get it lower?
What are you eating? 
Are you thinking when you eat?
What example are you setting for your family?
Will you be the catalyst for a generational tradition of fitness or a generational curse of inactivity?
How much are you drinking?
Are you separating weight loss from exercise and tying it to what you eat? 
How do you feel? If you feel bad, what are you doing about that?
Who is your doctor?
When did you last see her or him?
What is your blood pressure?
What is your cholesterol level?
Are you up to date on your age-appropriate cancer screenings?
What is your family medical history? Do you know it? Does it affect your health risks?
What excuses are you making?
What foods are in your house that you KNOW should not be?
What do you want? For you, for your family, for your peace of mind?


Because this is stuff we have to KEEP ON ASKING ourselves. Over and over and over and over again. These realities DO NOT go away when we ignore them. They don't. So we have to go at them head on. We do. We DO!

Remember: Anything I say here is a word for ME too. Every word. I need to hear it and read it and digest it all right along with you. But at the end of the day, only you will be accountable for these questions. You can talk about it all you want but a lot of it is visible.

And let me just say again--this IS NOT all about weight loss. It isn't. But the reality is that being overweight dramatically increases your chances of DEATH or DISABILITY from heart disease--and also increases your risk for A LOT of cancers, too. So no matter how you look at it, it is what it is. We just have to acknowledge that fact even if we don't like it.

And slim folks? Don't think we don't see heart attacks and strokes in the slight ones. We DO. So know that you still need to be doing all of these things. You DO, too.


So there. That's the deal. Let's get on board with our game plans and get vicious with them. And let's rage against this machine called heart disease.

You feel me?

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And still I rise.

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

~ Aibileen, "The Help"

This picture was taken on Match Day last week. The beautiful, proud young woman holding this envelope is Swaisha F. and she is one of our graduating senior medical students. I have found it literally impossible to look at this photograph without crying. I am not even kidding.

I can't say all I want to say because I am crying again. But let me say this: Students need support. They do. And when they have it? I mean really, really have it?

This is what it looks like.

Here's the other thing I'm learning from this side of medical education:

When we support you, it supports us, too. It gives meaning to what we do and a nudge to go harder. So for that, I thank you, Swaisha. I thank you for allowing me to be a part of this journey with you because it has left me forever changed.

Forever changed.

I guess I'm just thinking. . . true support comes when someone looks at you as who you have the potential to be. They remind you repeatedly of who you are because sometimes, especially when the going gets a little tough,  it's easy to forget that. And sure, sometimes it's very specific help with the nitty gritty things. But a lot of times? All it is is someone chucking you under the chin and reminding you over and over and over again of these simple affirmations . . . .

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important."


Happy Wednesday. And warmest congratulations to our newest gainfully employed M4 students!

You can read more on the Match Day experience (from the perspective of this blog) here and here. And you can also get better insight on the above post and Swaisha here.

I swear this just never gets old for me. Ever.

Oh, and of course, this:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A return to love.

Our friends were married yesterday in an impossibly exquisite beach wedding. He looked at her the way a man looks when his heart is filled with love and gratitude. And her? She floated down the aisle like some ethereal being, eyes dancing and glistening in anticipation of their future together.

It was just. . . . magical.

And we were there. Celebrating and cheering and surrounding them with love until the wee hours of the Caribbean morning. Most of us old friends who'd attended each other's weddings in years past and who felt that tingly reminder of what that first moment of "I do" means when it's right. Yes, we were there. All taking vows right along with them and being reminded of what magical things can happen when we return to love.

Happy Sunday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Time to Teach.

I don't want to be a human speed breaker--
some wretched intrusion to your hasty departure
from the hospital

I hate imagining that my bright eyes create too much of a glare for you

or that my bushy tail gets in the way of what you have to do
I don't want to think things like that

but sometimes that's how it feels

It isn't my preference to be scuttled off into dusty corners

pseudo-encouraged to explore answers to sidebar questions
that you may or may not even care about

or at least care to hear about from me

It doesn't elate me to be dismissed with the sun still high in the sky

nudged out of the building
but mostly out of your way while you tend to the things
that I long to learn all about

"I wish there was more time to teach," you told me

because if there were you'd show me all kinds of things
and explain more of the nitty gritty of what you're doing

You would but you can't

because there's too much to do and not enough time

Never enough time

especially to teach me in the ways you want to teach me

And so

I sit in the shadows while you scroll through screens
your industrious gaze mostly indifferent broken occasionally by an obligatory smile
then I walk behind you asking the questions 
the ones that I hope might unlock the door and invite me in
into the reasoning, the bedside discoveries, and the sticky conundrums
into the subtle interactions that can and will shape me into a real doctor

But today, you don't because there just isn't enough time

you blanket me with compliments
before sending me in the opposite direction

away from you

away from them
away from the parts I signed up for and always dream of

And yes

I know you wish there was more time to teach me--
the human speed breaker standing between you and "done for the day"--
and yes, I know that you wish you knew what to do with me


You know what I wish?

I wish you knew the truth

that there's always time to teach

and that you're always teaching me

whether you intend to or not

Happy Wednesday.

Oh yeah!

Tonight is our 3rd Annual Fellows Teaching Competition at Emory. The Department of Medicine sponsors this amazing event celebrating our dynamic junior teachers--those in fellowship training. Each has prepared an 8 minute lecture that they'll present to a full house and a panel of esteemed judges. The one with the top score takes home a substantial cash prize. Why? Because we want to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to letting our learners and institution know that we value medical education. Every year this event excites us all and reaffirms what those busy days make us forget--that there's always time to teach.

The order of the speakers tonight was selected by the unbiased and sticky fingers of the seven year-old boy pictured below. Oh, and you can read this post to learn more about the Fellows Teaching Competition.

Had to add this. . . .

When you take the time to teach, learners be like. . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting the best of me.

Giving you the best of me. . .
amazing, amazing, amazing

~ Anthony Hamilton

I was proud of my day at work the other day. I'd come in with a good attitude and that translated into what felt like some effective teaching and patient care with my residents. Our rounds led to meaningful connections with our patients and their families and the communication was transparent and open. It was really good.

Later that afternoon, a few of the first year med students from my Small Group Delta came over to join me at Grady. They arrived in fresh white coats and eyes filled with wonder. With their help we diagnosed and treated a sweet, sweet man with a myocardial infarction and helped another who had pneumonia. I took them to speak with and meet other real patients and implored them to sit down and hear their stories. And during all of this, the fourth year medical student on my team guided them from his perspective as a seasoned student. And that part was really, really good, too.

A nurse hugged my neck and said she was glad to see me on the wards. Another paused in the hallway to ask me questions about my hair just before asking more about what our plan was for the patient we were caring for together. A family asked to speak to "a doctor on the team" and since I was right there that's what I did. And this time I didn't have my students with me, but I pulled up a chair and explained exactly what was going on and clarified the tiniest points of the plans until they got it. No, no students or residents were there for that part, but I assure you it was very good, too.


So I did all of those things and before I knew it time had escaped me. It was already 5PM which meant I needed to be hustling out of there to go and get the kids. I checked in with my resident and then trucked it over to the elevator. No one else was on the lift when I stepped inside. I felt my shoulders slumping and the tired setting in. I leaned back against the wall and let my eyes close for a bit.

The doors flew open and I strolled out into the sunshine. My footsteps were softer and slower. I instinctively reached back to massage my own shoulders; all signals that it was time for me to dial it down and start unwinding. Yes. That.

But then something happened. A funny image popped into my head from the previous weekend. The kids had gotten hold of my laptop and started taking silly pictures of themselves using the side effects. They made themselves look like martians and chipmunks and all sorts of bizarre things. And they just laughed and laughed because they are children and when you're a kid that kind of thing is really funny. I remembered that, on that day, I was tired from working 8 days straight without an off day. And while I did give them an obligatory chuckle, it wasn't until several hours later when they were fast asleep that I actually did look at those images and laugh out loud.


So the epiphany I had while walking out of the hospital was this:

Who should get the best of me? 

Let me explain. Who should get the very best parts of who we are? Who? Certainly, in a perfect world, everyone should, right? But I realized that when it comes to Grady Hospital, there are days that the patients, the students, the residents and all of the people in between get the very best of who I am. And, depending on the day, my family might be left with fumes.

No. Not on most days. But on some days that happens.

So I resolved right then that this wouldn't be the case. Especially when I'm on wards, I wouldn't allow work to have the best of me. That means I'll need to shadow box before going into after school care, but that's okay. It means that I'll need to put down my cell phone and listen to the differences between a piggy and a creeper on Minecraft. Because that's what some eight year old boys like to talk about after school. I'll also need to come up with a solid answer when asked, "Mom, would you rather be a free safety or a cornerback?" Because that's what some seven year old, football-obsessed boys want to discuss at the end of their day.

Then, when I get home it means that I will look at my man lovingly and tell him he's wonderful. Because I love him and he is. And in the midst of all of these things, it translates to doing things for myself--if only for a moment even-- like blog or dance in the kitchen or listen to some AC/DC while playing the air guitar. My point is that I will not spend up all of the best of me at work and not save any for home.

No. I won't.

Does it mean that work must get less of me? I don't think so. I think, instead, it means that I need to do things that recharge me so that there is more of the best of me to go around. But no matter what, Team Manning should be the first to get served when it comes to getting the best of me.  I think it just means making up your mind, you know? Just making up your mind to give your personal life the attention and TLC that it deserves. And not leaving the people we love nothing but the scraps and the fumes of our very best.

Oh, and those "people we love?" That includes ourselves, too.


Happy Sunday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .and I'm doing the cha-cha in my kitchen and snapping my fingers loud and hard, too. Sure am.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I should tell you.

exactly when is it a good time
to ruin your life?

or rather

life as you know it?

the one filled with hurdles, yes
but still that far away uncertainty
that we all share when it comes to embracing
the inescapable fate that we all must someday face?


when might you suggest
I bring up these facts that I am holding close to my chest?

the ones that will snatch you from your loved ones
like a ruthless thief
and pry you away from your future hopes and dreams?

is now a good time?
or would you prefer I come back later?
tv muted or off?
lights on or would sunlight somehow make it feel 
less awful 
and unnatural?
shall I tell you on an empty stomach?
or a full one instead?
or not bother with any of these trivial things
and jump right in and tell it all?

your life is about to change
and just maybe--
no more than maybe--

tell me
would offering you a blissful weekend 
before you walk into your new normal be better?
would offering you that be empathic?
or unethical?
or cruel?

or what?

I'm asking you
because I don't know
I don't

and yes, I do know
that I should tell you
and that I must tell you
but I also should tell you
that I've seen people wade those waters
not just the ones like you
but the ones who love the ones like you

but I know I should tell you
but when? 
when would you recommend
that I shatter your world?

after I speak 
the tranquil sea of your life will split
one half will be B.C. -- before cancer
and everything else consumed by the deafening white noise
of A.D.--after diagnosis.

and no

this isn't the kind that can be knocked into remission
with good family support
or aggressive drug regimens
or fancy juicing machines


it's the kind that you see
and then say


because I know I should tell you
of course I know I should tell you
but please tell me, what time is best?
what might you suggest?

'cause see I keep asking myself
and my answer is never


even though I should tell you
that it can't be that


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hummingbirds do fly.

JoLai and me in November 2012 ~ remembering the joy after everything changed.

"There are not many things in life 
you can be sure of


rain comes from the clouds
sun lights up the sky

and hummingbirds do fly . . ."

~ from "Everything must change"


This morning I woke up and was at least two hours into my day before realizing that daylight savings time had taken place. It was literally almost ten in the morning before I had any idea--which I think is kind of crazy for a grown mother of two kids. And a doctor responsible for a bunch of hospitalized people.  


Fortunately, I had already planned to go to the hospital a little later than normal since the team would be admitting new patients. Thank goodness I hadn't planned on going to church or else I certainly would have been among the poor, unfortunate souls (albeit well-meaning ones) that showed up an hour late for service. 


When I figured out the time, I was fully dressed and prepared to go run a few miles before heading to Grady. I couldn't believe that I made it that far into a new day without having any idea that I'd lost an hour of it. I texted my mother and blamed her for it. 

When she replied, it dawned on me that she wasn't actually my daylight savings reminder person. Nope. 

Deanna was. 

It was Dee who always texted me and said, "Fall behind tonight, Pookie!" or "Spring ahead, Pookie!" She also kept me on my toes with school and federal holidays and other important dates. All via inconspicuous little text messages laced with emoticons and smiley faces. 

I tied up my shoes and headed out for that run anyway. Hoping badly that it would counter the deep ache I felt welling in my chest in what seemed like such an ordinary moment. And while, yes, my run did feel really good. . . .there wasn't much I could do to push down those feelings. 

I couldn't.

Man. I missed my sister so, so much today. In the deepest, most unrelenting way I did. I wanted to see her, talk to her, laugh with her, hug her neck. . .  .or just know I could. I wanted to talk to her about Lupita Nyong'o because I know she would have been a fan. I wanted to ask what she thought of the last episode of Scandal or how anxious she is to see the next season of Orange is the New Black. Because all of these are things that Deanna would have loved and I hate it that she isn't here to see them.

Damn I do.

When the boys did their black history presentations last month, I felt that same feeling. And even though that day was perfect, we were driving home and I could tell by looking at Isaiah through the rearview that he was feeling the same way. His eyes were quiet in that way they get when something is swirling through his mind and his heart. At some point he just came right out and said it:

"Auntie would have been at this if she was still here. And she would have really been proud of us." 

And nothing could be truer. Nothing. 


Damn. I miss her so much. We all still do every single day. And there are still days that I just sit there staring at my phone with her name still on my favorites saying, "I cannot effing believe that you aren't here. I just . . .cannot." And I say it out loud just like that. Over and over again.

Then I scroll one name down, call JoLai and say the same thing to her. And she always says something back that makes me glad I called her.


So like I mentioned, I went running anyway. Even though I had the time wrong, I did. During my run, I felt emotional so I let myself cry. I needed to do that and it felt good. Good because I don't ever want to get to a point where seeing an impossibly beautiful day or hearing a perfect joke or watching a beautiful brown girl winning an Oscar while dressed like a princess doesn't make me think of Deanna. I also don't want to ever reach a place where I don't miss her. I don't. I guess. . . I don't know. . . I think I like the idea of missing her forever. Forever.

Does that sound crazy? 

In case you're wondering--was it a bad day?  No. Not at all. See, any sustained thoughts of my sister always end in feelings of intense gratitude. Always. So few people get to have what we had. All of us together who had her in our lives as family. We had uniquely close, deeply personal relationships all our own that weren't soured by misunderstandings or selfish tendencies like a lot of family ties can sometimes.

Nope, not us.

So in the end, even on the days where the grief sets in like a bad toothache. . . .I'm always more glad than sad. Always, always, always. 

But even still, I missed my sister terribly today. In the deepest, most unrelenting way I did. 

And you know what? I'm okay with that. I am.

Thanks for listening, y'all.

"Winter turns to spring
A wounded heart will heal
But never much too soon
Yes, everything must change

The young become the old
And mysteries do unfold
'Cause that's the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged

There are not many things in life 
you can be sure of


rain comes from the clouds
sun lights up the sky

. . .and music makes me cry."

Happy Sunday. (Oh and Jill and Stacy? I need you both to add "daylight savings time" to your lists of things you help me keep track of. . . wink.) 

Now playing . . .which interestingly was on my running playlist today. Love this version of this song the best (sorry the video is kind of weird.) This is what tipped me over into tears on my run. Whew!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A river runs through it.

the other day

There are these moments in medicine
that are awesome
No, not the "like totally" kind
but the kind that evokes
a real, true feeling
of wonder and magic


This is what I saw the other day:

A young student doctor
barely beyond the legal age
stared into the eyes of his patient
the one who was nearly a centurion.
This was a first for him, breaking bad news
or rather heavy news
to a real person
with a real life
hearing that real news
the kind of news that alters real plans

With hearing as sharp as her wit and cognition
his patient was aware
aware of what he said
aware of what he meant

Yes, she was

And so
he uttered that word that chills blood and stops tracks
He said it
and she heard it

This time she heard it 
and this time it sunk in

Those centurion eyes brimmed with tears
a lip began to quiver
"Are you afraid?"
She shook her head.
"Are you sad?"
She shook her head again.
"Are you okay?"
She closed her eyes and nodded.

Next, her eyes traveled off to some far away horizon
and finally she spoke words for her young doctor to hear.

"On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."

She then described her vision
of the other side
the tree of life
and the meaning of the same

And she didn't appear afraid
No, she did not

She squeezed his hand
and he squeezed hers, too
and then
the centurion petitioned her God
to guide that young doctor
to keep him humble

and filled with awe

And the whole time she kept his palm
in her trembling grasp
and, lucky for me, I was there for it all

Yes, I was

Her words felt like that river
her soul bearing us fruit
and leaves for the healing of the nations

I was there
I was there physically, mentally and spiritually
hearing it
feeling it
living it
getting it

And all of it was awesome
No, not in the "like totally" way 
but in the way that evokes a real, true feeling 
of wonder and magic

Which, for me, never gets old
and always feels new
especially when witnessing it 
through novice eyes 

I know
that in the books you find the knowledge
the guidelines, the rules, and the algorithms
you read them and you memorize them
and convince yourself that this is what it means
and that this is the experience 
that equates with 
becoming a doctor
that this is what serves 
as our metaphorical tree of medical life

But on this day
and everyday 
I now know more than ever
that a river runs through it
flowing with these moments
that can never, ever
be found in books

And still
after all this time
I am in awe

Still, I am.

Happy Saturday. 

This is Grady. And no, I don't make this stuff up. 

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . a song that always, always makes me cry--especially when sung by the matchless Mahalia Jackson. Just. . . .awesome.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Team S.J.G.R. Huddle: Chastening.

When I get busy, I fall off. Specifically, I wait until the eleventh hour to eat so when I do, I'm famished. I eat whatever is in front of me all the while inwardly pledging to do better with the next meal. The next meal comes and the cycle repeats itself.


My guess is that some version of this happens to you, too. But, see, for me what compounds it is that busy-busy times in my life also make it hard for me to exercise in the meaningful and consistent ways that make me feel good. I look for ways to balance childcare with hospital responsibilities and once I figure that part out? I'm exhausted.

And sure. I know that these are really all excuses. And I also can't help but hear the "excuses" quote in my head that many of us have been forced to memorize and recite at some point or another.

"Excuses are tools of the weak and incompetent and build monuments to nothingness. Those who master them seldom master anything else."

Or something like that. (I know that between my husband, me and a few other folks who pledged fraternities or sororities, we all learned slightly different versions of this--but you get the picture.)

Anyways. I recognize that with some chutzpah I could lunge all over my house or do some work out videos on my computer. But for whatever reason that hasn't been happening.

And so.

What happens next? Well. If nothing changes, I'll look up and have a few extra pounds on me. But see, this is where the philosophy of Team S.J.G.R. is so helpful to me. I know that we get FIT in the gym and we LOSE WEIGHT in the kitchen. So if my schedule is crazy on the hospital service and I feel like there are too many moving parts? My first step is to modify what goes into my mouth.


So, for me, that means I have to set an "absolute." In other words, I give up a specific item (or items) for a designated period of time. Although I am willing to make an excuse or two, generally when I make a promise to fast off of something, I stick to it. Right now, those things are bread, sweets and fried treats. I make it black and white. Nothing gray about it.

Some folks give things up for lent. Admittedly, I'm not Catholic though I've always dug the idea of how fasting off of certain things can get your mind refocused. That said, I am the first to admit that what I've given up for these next two weeks is simply meant to counter the imbalance of my dietary life right now. It sets limits which helps a lot. So, nope. No 40 days in the wilderness for me with all of this. I'm thinking about 14 days or so.


You know? It's already working. Last night I had dinner with my friend and fellow Grady doctor Stacy H. The bread basket hit the table and normally I would have been all up on it. But I wasn't. And I know that it was because of my "absolutes" or rather this decision to chasten myself with the fork. Or the bread. You get the picture.

And this? This works for me. This has helped me maintain a certain weight for quite some time. I do this periodically and find it helpful. I used to step up the exercise but, again, I now know that weight management happens in the kitchen.


So that's the huddle. Me raising my hand and saying that I needed some chastening. And sharing with you something that has worked for me when life is crazy.

Tell me. What tricks to you have up your sleeve? Are you good at keeping promises to yourself?

Happy Huddle.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You are my sunshine.

The Grady coffee shop

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray. . .

No. Like, literally, you do.


There I was standing at the counter. Feeling a bit fancy on this day and a little like splurging on a latte of some sort instead of something regular. Definitely more regular than the regular drip coffee of the day. Anyways. In that time I spent in queue behind those other two people, you'd think that I'd have made up my mind about what I wanted to order. And mostly, I had made a final decision--I mean, it was definitely going to be some sort of latte--but, again, since I was feeling like something fancy today, the added part of selecting a flavor shot was a little more than I could fully handle on demand.

Vanilla, Caramel, Cinnamon, Hazelnut, Almond, Irish Creme, Coconut, and . . wait. . .Peppermint. Yum. Wait. Then there were these sugar-free versions of nearly all of those flavors, too. I imagined myself saying, "Can I have a sugar free hazelnut soy latte?" Blecch. Yeah, so even though the thought of those sugar-free ones sort of grosses me out, the fact that they were thrown into the option pool made me go even slower.


I realized that I was just standing there tapping my lip and squinting my eye while the cashier-lady just stood there quietly. And by quietly I mean like she wished I would get the hell on with it. She had yet to greet me with a "top o' the morning!" or hell, even a surly up nod. Instead she just stood there like a statue with one hand on the register and the other on her hip.

Mmm hmmm.

Now. It seems to me that there just has to be some barista rules in this place. And technically I know that there are some when it comes to Starbucks. This, however, wasn't a Starbucks--although it was just as nice and served up all the Starbucks stuff. To be transparent, this was in the newish coffee shop that we have in Grady Hospital now which, again, is just as fine as any Starbucks.

Mmmm hmmmm.

Even still, I'm not sure if the woman standing in front of me saw herself as a "barista". I'm also not sure if she was annoyed with me, bored, having a bad morning, or all of the above. Either way, I wasn't getting too much warm and fuzzy from her. I was not.

So she sort of shifted on her feet at the register which was a subtle-ish way of saying, "Come on, lady" which I got right away. And me? I was having a good morning mostly, so I flashed her this big smile and started a conversation.

"Good morning!" My voice was all musical. She was professional for the most part but definitely not seeing the point in giving back to me all that chipper energy.

"Hello. What can we get you."  I didn't put a question mark on it because she said it like a statement. No soft and fuzzy query tone to it, just a factual string of words.

"Well. . . .I was thinking of a latte. So definitely having a latte."

She positioned her hand to punch in the order and then looked up like AND?

"Umm. . .wait. . .do y'all have soy milk?"

She nodded. Then she turned to her barista-buddy and said, "Soy latte." Her barista buddy looked equally as business as she when she reached down and pulled out the vanilla soy milk.

"Thank goodness. . . you definitely don't want me drinking the regular milk latte!" I laughed at my own joke. And kind of snorted a little bit which, I know, was kind of dorky. The two others waiting behind me in line chuckled, too. But my barista? Not even the tiniest smirk.


"What size you want?"

"Uhhhh, let's see. Wait. First, I think I want some flavor in it."

So instead of asking more, she just waited.

I took a deep breath and selected. "Okay. I'll have a small size or tall or whatever you call it with a shot of . . . uhhh. . . peppermint."

"That's seasonal."

"Pardon me?"

"That's seasonal so we ain't got that any more."

 "No peppermint?"

"Peppermint seasonal."

"So y'all don't have it anywhere?"

She shook her head and clearly was coaching herself not to yell out, "NO. DAMN. PEPPER. MINT." I knew there were a few folks behind me so I quickly chose an alternative. "How 'bout some almond, then? Yes. Almond."

She swung over to the barista-buddy and called the order out. "Small Almond Soy Latte." Next she rang up the order and told me the price. I handed her a five dollar bill and added for good measure what I hoped would warm things up. "Here you go, pretty lady!" The very edge of her mouth made the teeniest, tiniest of smiles in response.

But that was about it.

When she handed me the change, I smiled at her again. Still, not much in return.


My first inclination was to be annoyed. To start on some tirade in my head about how service is lacking these days and feeling like this was evoking some PTSD from Teenage Mutant Target Checkout Chick. I even thought of finding some manager with whom I could pull aside and share my disdain. But instead, I just paused and thought before doing anything.

My experience in that coffee shop has always been positive. I'm even pretty certain that this very woman had assisted me before--and was just fine. In fact, I can say identical things about the cafeteria, the gift shop and pretty much any service-related place within Grady hospital. So admittedly, this was a bit of a detour. It was. 

I thought for a moment. Maybe she was having a not-so-great morning. Maybe the last twenty-five doctors who'd entered before me had treated her like "the help" and refused to even make eye contact with her. What if this was one of two jobs or what if she'd just gotten a call from her child's daycare saying that his eye was pinkish and that she'd need to come and get him?  Maybe it was all of that. Or some of that. Or none of that.


And so, I decided to keep things light. I made up my mind to give this seemingly indifferent young barista-woman the benefit of the doubt. It was as simple as that--making up my mind to see it a certain kind of way.

"Have a good day." She said that to me as she finished up the transaction and placed my receipt in my hand. And, okay, it wasn't that kind of "have a good day" that makes you feel all warm inside and ready to go out and really, truly have a good day. Instead it felt more like some drone-like, pre-programmed and scripted line that came from hours of working on retail autopilot.

Have a good day.

"Hey," I finally said while looking into her eyes. She widened hers, wondering what I was about to say. I quickly took my serious gaze to something more mischievous--right along with the tone of my voice. "Dag girlfriend! Why you gots to look so mean up in here today?"

And yes, I said "why you gots to" instead of  "why must you look so" -- not because I didn't think she'd be fine with standard English, but instead because I knew that would make this a little less heavy and judgey-judgey. I also knew that because of our cultural similarities that those words would be easy and authentic.

"Excuse me?"

I repeated myself for good measure. "Why you gots to be so mean up in here this morning?" That time I even rolled my neck a little--which I knew would be a funny sight from a doctor in a long, stiff white coat.


My expression was playful instead of accusatory. She saw that and immediately cracked the first real smile I'd seen the whole time I was there. "Yeah, you! You're all like, 'Tha's seasonal.' No love in it, nothin'." My impersonation was exaggerated which made her laugh. Her barista-buddy chuckled, too. "Don't be laughin' at her! You're the accomplice. I saw you over there all like, 'Soy milk? Aiight then.'"

This time every person there, including the baristas, erupted into fluffy laughs.

She defended herself the best she could to the lighthearted onlookers. "I didn't say it like that! I didn't sound that mean, did I?" She covered her mouth and looked around. People nodded all together which made us laugh even more. Her mouth fell open. "Oh my gosh! Really y'all?"

That's when I decided to make it a full on stand up routine. Not even kidding. Right in the middle of the Grady coffee shop.

"This is you--you ready?" She and the rest went along with it. I made my face as flat and surly as ever.  "Mmmm hmmm. What you want, lady? And here's me: 'Uhhhh, can I have a latte?' And you're all like 'What size you want? What flavor--wait. We ain't got that.'" She reached out and pretended like she was swatting at me. I pulled back and kept with my funny business. "'Hey! How 'bout some peppermint?' 'Tha's seasonal.'"

She was doubling over the counter cracking up. So was her buddy. "I didn't say it like that!"

I put my hand on my hip and twisted my lips extra hard. "THA'SS SEASONAL."

She was a great sport about it. None of it was awkward or angry or judging. But there was a message in there that I wanted her to get. And so I made sure of that. "Look at that beautiful smile on that beautiful face! That's more like it!"

She couldn't help but grin. And her face really was gorgeous. As was that of her barista-buddy who was now smiling, too.

"You're our sunshine when we first come in here, pretty lady. I mean that." I glanced at both women over the counter. "Let your lights shine, okay y'all?"

"Yes, ma'am," they replied in unison. Both were nodding their heads like they meant that, too.

The barista buddy handed me the almond latte with the biggest, widest smile ever. And I returned the favor which really felt awesome.

As I prepared to leave, I noticed that the atmosphere was decidedly lighter. Their greetings were more pleasant and those 'have a nice days' were more genuine. And it was good. All of it was very, very good.

I'm not sure if that young woman was just tired that morning or if something altogether different had stolen her joy before I'd walked in. But whatever it was, now I realize the power of human interactions. It doesn't always have to involve a manager or a supervisor. Sometimes something as simple as a smile and some playful teasing could be enough to get the ship back on the right course. And, sure. Sometimes that may not be enough. But a lot of times-- if we give it the chance-- it is. It is.


Happy Tuesday.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

You never know who's watching.

This right here? All. Day. Long.

I don't know if she'll win. But to me and a world of people everywhere, she's already a winner.

Happy Oscar Sunday.