Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Complexities of inferiority.

On rounds at Grady

"What questions do you have for me?"

He paused for a moment. "Do you think that you're better than the people you take care of here at Grady?"


I'd just finished examining him and discussing the plans for his care. Things had gone well for us during the hospitalization so far so this took me aback. I turned my head sideways to see if this was rhetorical. He raised one eyebrow, a hint of mischief in his young face. He was totally serious and waiting for my response.

My initial answer was too fast and slightly defensive, I admit. "Definitely not." There was this uncomfortable silence afterward. His question wasn't meant to be offensive, I don't think. Just provocative. So I thought a bit more while gazing into his eyes. Then I spoke again. "Do you think I think I'm better than the people I take care of here at Grady?"

I braced myself, afraid of the answer and wanting it all back immediately after it tumbled from my lips. It all sounded so insecure, so self important.

"You mean do you think I think you think you're better than me?"

I didn't really say anything to that because he was a patient and technically, his answer would include his personal feelings on the subject. At least, I thought it would.

"Uhhh, naaah. Not really. Or, I mean, it don't really matter," he replied. His hands smoothed the covers over his lap then he leaned back onto the pillow, placing those same hands under his head with his lean, brown elbows bowing out.

I admittedly wasn't so keen on that reply. Noncommittal and not emphatic enough for me. I wanted him to vehemently affirm that he thought I was one of the good guys. But he just left it there.

"I wasn't trying to offend you," he finally said studying my expression. "I guess I just wanted to know how you felt about being up in here every day. At Grady, you know?"

"Hmmmm." Now I was leaning forward with my chin in my palm. My knee was propped up on the edge of his bed and our eyes stayed locked. "Grady? I honestly love being here."

"Why, though? Like, does it just make you feel better about yourself?"


I wrinkled my face to try to follow where he was going. Like was he actually trying to "throw shade" my way or what? I wasn't sure. But then I decided not to read more into it. "Um, well. Let's see. I think I love Grady because . . . .I just love people. And the people at Grady are just. . . I don't know. . . . just . . .amazing to me. Corny, I know. So, yeah. I guess interacting with folks here does make me feel better about myself in a way."

Take that.

"I hear you. I guess sometimes it seem like people come in here and they're nice to the patients but they sort of have this look in their eye like . . .you know what I'm saying. . . the folks who stand on the line feeding people on Thanksgiving Day at Hosea Feed The Hungry.  Like 'Here is my good deed. Take my picture and post it on Instagram and get my good side.'" He chuckled when he said that. I sort of didn't because I wasn't sure what camp he thought I was in. Nor was I even sure in that moment.

"That's kind of deep," I replied. "Do you feel like that a lot when you're here?" He had lots of medical problems even though he's young. That gave him perspective to answer that question.

"Me? Naaah. Not so much. But I see it a lot when I'm here. Kind of like it's a novelty, you know?"

Novelty. Wow. 

I pressed my lips together and let all of this marinate. "I think. . . " I paused and thought carefully about my words. "I think maybe when I was a lot younger, I'd heard so much about public hospitals like Grady that most of it felt like an idea more than a reality. I don't know if that was a bad thing, but I'd say that, like, the first few times I met people who smoked crack or who lived outside or even just the very elderly patients with fixed incomes. . .I think. . . yeah. . I think the idea of the people here overshadowed them sometimes. Does that even make sense?"

"Yeah, man. Makes total sense."

I liked how at ease he was and how he called me 'man'. Maybe I should have been offended, but instead I just enjoyed talking to him. It was provocative--probably one of the most compelling discussions I'd had with a patient in a long while.

"But back to your first question--I don't think I'm better than anyone. I think I'm fortunate, yes. But better? No."

"That's good."

I closed my eyes for a moment and then opened them to find him still looking at me. I felt sure of myself and my position so challenged him with my stare. I responded, "It is good. I agree."

His mouth turned upward on one side at my resolve. But I was okay with that. It was good.

"Yeah. I'm a Grady baby, so I been in this game for a minute. I think about a lot of stuff like this a lot."

"I hear you. So what do you think is the way to get over the idea of Grady enough to get to the people part?"

"Ha. That's easy and hard. The first part is just starting with people that really have a heart for human beings, know what I'm saying?  Like not anybody that sees it like some badge on their boy scout uniform that says 'I survived Grady.' If you start there that's the easy part."

I nodded and kept listening.

"The other part is hard because that got to do with how the patient see theyself. Like me, I'm not gonna be a part of some field trip, you know? Like some cartoon character they heard about saying stupid shit like 'Ain't nobody got time fuh dat!'" We both laughed knowingly at the Sweet Brown reference, one the world now knows well. He went on. "See me?  I'm gonna say something, ask something, do something that jolt the person into reality. Like that ain't what this is. Or at least what I am.  Get 'em to think. About me. Not just the fact that 'Oh, it's so neat to be up in Grady talking to people.'"He wiggled his fingers and spoke in this animated voice when he said that part.

Sweet Brown, the muse of a seemingly innocent news bite that went viral


"Yeah, because I see me as they equal, you know what I'm saying? And this ain't no summer camp, man."

And I nodded hard again, this time with my brow furrowed because I did get what he was saying and I didn't want to miss anything. I didn't.  I also reflected on the conversation we were having right then and there and how, yes, he'd done exactly what he said. He "jolted" me. And got me to think.

Yes. That. Think.

"You know? That kind of makes me think of this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt."

"Remind me of who that is again?" he said, no shame in his game. And I dug the way he came right out and asked me because I was admittedly being hyper-careful about not asking if he knew so that it wouldn't seem like an insult.

"She was the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President during the Depression and World War II."

"Right. Yeah. Okay, I'm with you. What's the quote?"

"It's something like, 'Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.'"

We both sat there quietly for a few moments as those words swirled around us, punctuating the interaction.

He picked up a pencil off of the table and grabbed the cafeteria menu sitting in front of him. "Say that one more time?"

This time I pulled it up on my phone to be sure. Then I placed it in front of him so that he could write it down. And he did.

Before leaving, I told him that I write and that I'd like to share this story. He poked out his lip and shrugged. "Fine by me," he said.

"Thanks for giving me something to think on today, " I said as I prepared to leave.

"Always," he chuckled his hands now folded under his head again. "Always."

"Alright then. I'll see you later, okay?"

He dipped his chin downward and fished around his blankets for the set of oversized headphones that had apparently been there all along. Just as he stretched them out to place them over his head, he paused. "Hey, Dr. Manning?" I raised my eyebrows. "Thanks for that whole thing, man. For real. You gave me something to think on today, too."

I smiled at him from the door one more time. And then I went on to see the rest of my patients--the ones who, I pray, won't feel like novelties or who, at least, will refuse to allow themselves to be seen as such.


Happy Wednesday. This, my friends, is Grady. And no, I don't make this stuff up.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .not sure why but it is. Maybe it's just because I learn so much from the people of Grady--and that I just realized when I typed that. . . .that I am one of the people of Grady. I'm thankful for that.

Maybe seeing ourselves that way is the key. Hmmm.


  1. This is so deep. That young man was our teacher, and you were his, too. I love the way you really considered his question, how you didn't let defensiveness blind you to what might be in that exchange to help you, and the rest of us, grow. Thank you.

  2. This is it- this is how I try to live my life. To try to understand the stories of everyone I meet because that's how we learn. That's how we see heart-to-heart. And sometimes, I have to tell my story so that can happen.
    Yes. Heart-to-heart.

  3. A simple thanks for the reminder to stay on track with my goal to provide care at "Grady like" hospital one day.

  4. I loved that interaction and I'm so glad you decided to share it. You see, for about a year now, I've lived in Africa, Angola to be exact. A lot of my other expat friends often think of the poor Angolans as a sort of novelty and I've tried my very best to learn their stories and to see them as people and not just caricatures or examples of the folks from the "feed the children" commercials. This post just reiterates that for me so thank you.
    - Bridgette

  5. I was in Atlanta this past weekend. Made a wrong turn and ended up seeing Grady. I think it was fate!

  6. This is pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing this. I feel like this is something that even medical students and trainees should keep in mind.

    Derin A.

  7. Wow. And, thank you - and thank him. Grace is everywhere.

  8. Again, thank you for capturing this. Again, thank you for capturing the WAY he says it. I can just see him, hear him. He is saying/You are writing (or recording) something so important. I'm just thankful.


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

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