Saturday, April 26, 2014

Habitual Reflection and moments in time.

"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."

~ James Baldwin


I just returned from the National Meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM.) This year it was held down in San Diego and was a really networky-academic-general-medicine-nerdy good time. I've been to the SGIM meeting several times over the years, but admittedly, this was one of the larger turnouts from my recollection. From Emory alone we had close to fifty people--maybe even more--all of whom presented workshops and posters and sat on committees and panels and just did great and important things.

And some just soaked up the energy. Which is cool, too.

This year for me was mostly a year of soaking up energy. Usually I'm running all around making last minute tweaks on a presentation or scurrying over to judge a poster. But this year? I simply attended. Well. Unless you count being on the list of authors for an oral case presentation which really was 100% effort-driven by one of our amazing residents. Otherwise, I was just a spectator.

Which, for me, was just fine this year.

Presenting a workshop at SGIM last year

Anyways. I left that meeting with a lot on my mind. Not because things that most would define as earth shattering  happened but more because now that I habitually reflect on all that I live, far more in my life is of good report. Does that even make sense? Sigh. I don't know.


Some birds I met while running on the waterfront Thursday

Well. Speaking of this idea of habitual reflection--or even "mindfulness" as some like to call it. . . . I'm reminded of a conversation I had during the meeting with one of my residency classmates, Rachel S.

"I think writing and reflecting helps us to see the power and magic of the seemingly ordinary, you know? That 'boring' patient has a story."

"Yeah. There are stories all around us. Everywhere."

Then I told her about the day I watched a woman crossing the street to the bus stop with her children. This otherwise mundane event that this habit of reflection caused me to behold with different eyes. And then write about it. The story in it, the pain in it, and ultimately the beauty and triumph in it.

"It's weird," I told her. "That piece of writing ["Little Mama"] is one I go back to reread probably more than any other. And I know that had it happened ten years ago, I would have never even noticed it."

And Rachel's eyes filled with tears because she understood. She also knew of the walk my family has taken since losing Deanna and she remembered. Even though we hadn't seen each other in one full year (at the last SGIM meeting) it was evident in her eyes that she recalled and she got it. Got how life opens up and becomes richer when we allow ourselves to be more aware of the little things.

I should mention that Rachel leads writing and narrative medicine workshops at her institution in Denver, Colorado. She's my kind of people and just so. . . present and intentional. So that part--talking to Rachel and thinking with her--was really good.


So then there was this other part of this SGIM meeting that I also loved. Remember when I went up to be a "visiting profesora" at University of Pittsburgh? Well during that amazing visit, those folks up there embraced me in a way that I never even saw coming. I mean, yes, my good friend Shanta Z. is there and they know and love her. But mostly that means that they should just have been polite and welcoming--which, of course, they were. That said, they've also gone above and beyond that. Ever since that visit, their faces are warm and happy to see me when our paths cross. Familiar and easy. Hugs instead of handshakes and my favorite part is that the ones that I didn't even formally meet while I was there are the same way. Kind of like "a friend of Shanta's is a friend of ours." Many even started off with, "I feel like I know you." And that? That's just awesome. I mean really and truly awesome.

Pittsburgh people

One of the people I met up in Pittsburgh was this woman named Missy M. Missy is this unbelievably talented, committed and infectiously loving clinician educator who has committed her career to medical education and women's health. It came as no surprise to those who know her when she was tapped on the shoulder to be the Distinguished Professor of Women's Health at this year's meeting. That meant a keynote address which I made it my business to attend.

A blurry selfie with Missy M.

Her talk was aptly titled "Life Lessons Learned." And let me tell you--it was nothing short of transformative. She stood up there and shared her truth. About being a woman taking care of women. About teaching. About self care. About being a mom. About the things that really matter. And all of it was was magical. It was.

When they called for questions, usually it's a bit intimidating to take that microphone and speak. But I did ask one. but I especially made sure to stand up and publicly say, "Congratulations on being asked to do this. You are truly deserving of this honor and have blessed us all with your wise words." And she needed to hear that because we all know how pesky that little voice can be that tries to rob us of accolades and honors and replace them with feelings of being tiny and undeserving imposters.


Standing ovation after Missy's talk

So Missy gave the hell out of that keynote and I was there in the number when we stood to our feet to applaud. And even though I am not at her institution, I felt like she was one of my own and like I was a part of some different, insiders crew. Mostly because of how people like Missy and her Pittsburgh colleagues have treated me.

Missy doing a mystery case--and killing it.

So yeah, that was great. It was.

Yesterday I slipped into the back of the room as one of my Grady BFFs presented an update on hepatology. I've talked about Lesley M. and her trailblazing heart-work with Hepatitis C. And please, if you've never read that post, please take a minute to right that wrong. So she and our other fellow Grady doctor Shelly-Ann F. spoke to a standing room only crowd. Or rather standing, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall room only crowd. They were unbelievably polished, knowledgeable and just. . . inspiring. I remember when that idea of general internists treating patients with hepatitis C was embryonic and just a pie-in-the-sky idea. And this? This was a full circle moment of seeing what happens when people dream big and then go hard.

Update on Hepatology with Lesley M. and Shelly-Ann F.

My favorite line was what Shelly-Ann said after:

"I was very, very proud of us. I could feel that we were doing a great job and sharing good information and I'm so proud." 

And that was an awesome line because that's exactly what she should have been feeling.

Yep. So that was rad. Like super rad.

Of course, there was also the fun I always have each year at these meetings when I share a hotel room with my other Grady BFF, Stacy H. It always feels like this slumber party where we lie in our opposing beds whispering like middle schoolers. There's the parts like chatting while doing our hair and putting on make-up or pulling out contact lenses and all that kind of stuff. But in the midst of it we also nudge each other professionally and explore the "what next" parts of our careers as academic physicians. And all of that is wonderful, too. It really is.

me and my nerdy-meeting roomdog, Stacy H.

But I guess the last thing I wanted to reflect on was perhaps the one that has stayed on my mind most of all. Maybe because it almost felt spiritual. . . or even divinely appointed. And yes, I know that everyone reading here isn't fully on board with the idea of things being "divinely appointed" per se, but I do know that even those in this community who don't follow any organized religion can fully appreciate these moments that you just know will feed your soul and stay with you for a long, long time.

So yeah. Kind of like that.

I had just made my way into the poster session in one of the large ballrooms yesterday. For those who aren't familiar, at these meetings a big part of it is a competition of research posters that people put together from their hospitals and residency programs. There are literally rows and rows of bulletin boards with bright-eyed and bushy-tailed presenters standing beside them poised and ready to discuss their good work. The picture above is a lot like what these sessions are like at national meetings. This one was packed to the gills with not only posters and presenters--but people. I'm sure I won't be the first to say that it can all be a bit overwhelming to take in all at once.

I was mostly coming to see the Emory resident and faculty posters, but had also hoped to peruse a few that caught my eye and also locate my friend Rachel S. (who I knew was somewhere in that vast expanse.)

Pittsburgh peeps during poster session last year

 Anyways. In I wander and, of course, am bumping into folks and craning my neck to try to see if I noted any familiar faces. I snaked up and down the aisles, stopped to ask a few questions about intriguing posters, and visited with a few of our Emory people. Every other step required me to apologize for either nearly running someone over or mistaking them for the wrong person. As I said, it can be kind of overwhelming.

One of our Emory chief residents, Megan D.

After about twenty minutes or so, I noted a smiling red head next to a board that I recognized. Rachel! Yes. I was excited partly because I'd finally found her but also because I had some ideas for collaboration for next year that I wanted to chat about. We'd seen each other in passing but had neglected to exchange numbers so I was pretty anxious to find her before leaving San Diego.

I prepared myself to elbow through the crowd and bee-line it over to her poster before I missed my opportunity. Just before scooting up the aisle, for some reason I glanced toward the door on my left leading to the lobby area. Amidst that sea of people and noise, my eyes briefly met those of this slender, young black woman. We gave one another "the nod" but that wasn't where it ended. She held my gaze for a few seconds while pushing through the door. I smiled deliberately in her direction to let her know the thing we all want to know: 

I see you.

It was clear to me that she wasn't a faculty level attendee. Her wide eyes and youthful face assured me that she was still in training--either a senior medical student or a pretty junior resident. In that second, I felt this really intense thought. And I swear to you--as sure as I sit as this computer and type these words--I heard these words as clear as day:

"She needs to talk to you. That learner--she needs you."

My eyes cut over to Rachel for just a split second so that I could make a mental note of her location. But in that miniscule slice of time, I looked back to that door and just like that, that smiling stranger was gone. I felt this complex disappointment with the universe for robbing me of that moment and myself for looking away and squandering it. Grrrr. And I know this sounds crazy--especially because that entire exchange took only 4 seconds MAX--but it's true.

See, I knew from other experiences that it's my job to take notice and be obedient when these "one moment in time" things come before me. And that? That's what that felt like.

Anyways. I turned back to my original intention and headed over to Rachel. And we connected and talked as I told you before and all of that was good. So good that I pretty much let myself stop thinking about that brown girl with the big eyes and that missed opportunity.

Besides. I told myself that it would have been weird to say, "Hi, I know you don't know me but something is telling me that I need to come talk to you. And that you need to talk to me." Which seriously would have been creepy and stalkery on so, so many levels. So yeah. I told myself that-- which allowed me to toss it aside and not give it much more airplay.

Later that afternoon, I was sitting at a round table with a big group of my colleagues from the Southern Region. We were all relaxed and simply recapping the various workshops and run-ins people had. Old friends talking to old friends. New friends talking to new friends. And a lot of things in between. Feet propped up on chairs. Professional attire now exchanged for blue jeans, flip flops and fleece jackets embroidered with the names of our various institutions. And that part was cool, too.

So I was leaning on my elbow yucking it up with with some fellow Grady doctors and I notice Shelly-Ann (the other Grady liver lady) walking in my direction. Her head is up and her shoulders are squared and I can tell that she's still giddy from their rockstar hepatology session earlier that day. And since there were five trillion people rushing them after their talk and I didn't get a chance to congratulate her, I jumped up to my feet as she approached me to tell her how great they'd done. So she smiled ear to ear and we hugged and spent a few moments basking in all of that.

I guess I was so focused on Shelly-Ann that I didn't even notice the person standing right behind her.

"Kim, I actually brought someone over that I wanted to introduce to you."

And, as you can already imagine, she steps aside and up walks that same woman that I saw in the poster session earlier that morning. And you know? I didn't even hide my elation that she was in front of me. I didn't. Instead of sticking out my hand when Shelly Ann made the introduction, I reached out and hugged her. Like I meant it and like I'd meant to do it before.

And she did the exact same thing.

Now. Let me be clear. Before I saw her in that hall, I'd never seen her before in my life. And from what I learned, she, too, had never seen or met me either. No, she wasn't some reader of this blog who'd seen my quirky writings and photos and linked them to me. And you know what? When I saw her that first time, I knew that. I knew that it wasn't some "where do I know you from" glance or "hey, that's the lady who writes the Grady blog" look. I knew deep down in my soul that it was something else.

So Shelly-Ann simply tells me that she just felt like this resident should meet me and had taken it upon her self to escort her right in front of me. Not because she'd pointed me out and asked Shelly-Ann either. But because somehow Shelly-Ann, too, was in cahoots with the universe and this magnetic pull for us to make acquaintance.

"I saw you earlier," I told her. "You looked at me and I swear something inside of me said, 'That woman needs to talk to me. We need to talk to each other.' I know it sounds crazy, but I swear it's true. Do you remember seeing me?"

Her already wide eyes widened some more. I could see that they were already glistening with tears from hearing what I said. She nodded her head.

"We were supposed to meet. I felt bad when you got away from me--honestly, I did. I can't even tell you how happy I am to have you standing in front of me." And I told her that because it was true. I wanted her to know that this was important to me and that she was worth my time.

"I. . .I felt like that, too. Like. . .I don't know. . .like I wanted to talk to you just from that glance. It's not just you."

And so. We sat down and we talked. I listened to what it was like for her as a resident and also specifically a resident of color in a high-powered majority environment. I let her know that I knew how she felt and talked to her about always remembering who she is. But mostly I just heard her and encouraged her. I reminded her of Abileen's mantra--not through words but through eyes, ears and heart.

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

Yes. That.

And you know? That brown girl broke down crying. Right then and there in that lobby area in our quiet little area where we'd stolen away to talk. And her tears were so layered yet so familiar. Not so much sad but just . . .I don't know. . . .relieved and empowered. And I swear to you, it fed my soul probably more than it did hers.

"I don't even know how to thank you," she sniffled. "I just . . .I needed that so much. . .and I just don't even know how to tell you how much. So thank you." And when she said that, she wept some more.

I told her that the way to thank Shelly-Ann and me and all of the other women she'd met that week was to be excellent and pay it forward. She nodded her head and promised she would.

"Oh, and to constantly pay attention. Don't take your eyes away because you might miss the chance to do what you're supposed to be doing."

And she knew that I was referring to her getting away from me in that ballroom earlier. But I also think both of us knew that somehow, some way the things that are supposed to happen somehow do. Even if it seems like we missed the chance--sometimes that second chance makes what you do even more powerful and more meaningful. Kind of like. . .I don't know. . . .it affirms what first just felt like a tiny nudge as something more . . .and as something so, so much greater than it or you.


So we exchanged numbers. And I know that I will hear from her and be in touch with her. I will. And we will continue remind one another of who we are and what we can do with just one moment in time.


So that? That just explains a few tiny morsels of the rich slice of my life over the last few days. And I am seeing it and feeling it and embracing it all. The ordinary, the extraordinary, the all of it--forcing from it each and every drop I can taste.


This cappucino made me happy

"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."

~ James Baldwin

Thank you for reading, okay? I mean that.

So cool! With my former chief resident from residency, Mimi S.

Happy Saturday.

Super corny yes, but now playing on my mental iPod. . . . the song that has always made me wish I could sing. Ha.

And this--worth viewing again. . . . my Grady BFF Lesley M. on Hepatitis C. #superproud


  1. I just read a devotion that said if a 30 yr old soccer mom can get her 4 kids where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, don't you think the Divine Scheduler can make sure you are where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there? You were supposed to be there for that young woman and you were. Amen. Also thanks to the HEP C researchers. My 28 yr old daughter will start her hep C meds next month. two pills a day for 4 months. When she was first diagnosed it was an injection a week and 9 pills a day and terrible side effects. They advised her to wait for the newest drugs. Thank God.

  2. I thought of you when I left the stepshow and passed by Grady. I felt compelled to come and read your blog, even this late. Because of things going on at work, I needed to hear EXACTLY what you told the brown girl...always remember who you are.

    This brown girl thanks you. You give so much of yourself, and selflessly too. My prayer for you is that God replenishes your spirit each and every day. That He keeps your tank on full because I know it may sometimes feel drained. Well done.


  3. more lovely inspiring writing... thank you! I will email a TED talk that my husband forwarded to me about writing.

  4. You have the power to make me tear up – tear up more times in one post (I went to all the links!) than anyone.

    After I read you, I always wish I was your friend/neighbor/relative/patient.

    You are wonderful, your are real, you are amazing.

  5. Oh how thankful I have been for the moments that an awesome Black woman has poured into my life when she didn't even know me to know I needed to hear every word she would say.

  6. It was so great to meet you!!!! You have a wonderfully welcoming spirit.


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

Related Posts with Thumbnails