Friday, February 12, 2016

A change in perspective: On Cam Newton.

Okay, so here's the short story:

Zachary and I watched the Super Bowl together last Sunday. Because he loves football and is a true student of the game, he admitted that, while he had a great fondness for both quarterbacks on both teams, he was squarely in the Cam Newton/Panthers camp.

I think it's because my son and many kids like him identify with Cam. Like them, he was a rec ball football player growing up and, of course, Zack loves that he's from Atlanta. I had to snap his picture during that game to capture his scowl. He was not pleased.

As a side bar, I have to say that Zachary's full knowledge of the game was impressive. He called more plays than I'm sure the coaches did and had several suggestions for what the Panthers could do to right the front of the ship. Finally, on that last turnover, he gave up.

"I'm going to bed, mom," he said. "This game is over."

And he was right.

Later that evening, Cam Newton gave very surly answers in the press conferences. He definitely poked all of the bears who hate him and even swayed a few that love him to the dark side. I woke up in the morning and saw that social media was painted with mean, mean words about Cam Newton. Comment after comment--even from the true, blue Carolina Panthers fans--all scathing and foul.

When I got Zachary ready for school that next morning, I gave him the final score and other updates.

"Did anything else good happen?" he asked.

That's when I decided to tell him about that press conference. He asked to see it and I showed him that, too. I saw a tiny wave of disappointment wash over his face.  That's when I knew I needed to talk to him about the hometown hero Cam and all of the other things that somehow got conveniently forgotten after the media momentum took over.

So what did I say? Well. Mostly I kept it real. And then, after talking to him, I came inside, jumped on Facebook and typed out my thoughts on Cam. I clicked send and headed in to get dressed.

By noon there had been approximately 5,500 shares. Yup. By close of business, it was over 20, 000. The following day, I was even asked by a major news network to let them publish it on their blog as an op ed piece.

Who knew?

And so. Below is the post that I banged out onto Facebook Monday that ultimately was shared over 35,000 times. Morals of the story for me are:

1. People who write a lot can write good things in short time frame.
2. FaceBook and social media are no joke.
3. Still not sure how I feel about being viral.

Anyways. Read below.



Picture this:

You are born and raised on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia, where you spend your earliest years playing recreational league football with your brothers. Early on, you stand out and are noted to have special talent and an unusual combination of a throwing arm, an eye for the field, and bulldozer running ability. On you go to high school, where you are lauded as the best thing since running water and Estee Lauder for your remarkable talent. Division I schools go berserk, offering you racks-on-racks-on-racks of scholarships.

You decide to become a Florida Gator and do quite well for a freshman. But, like many young people in that environment, you make a few bad choices that land you in some trouble. The trouble reaches a climax and threats of expulsion. Your rising star feels like it is falling. You transfer from the multimillion-dollar SEC show to a junior college.

But even at that JC, your talent comes exploding out of you. One NJCAA championship later, you are back on the SEC recruitment bubble and, this time, you shift your shade of blue and orange to become an Auburn Tiger. Though marked with some controversy, it turns out to be a good move. You become the Heisman Trophy winner, you win a BCS National Championship, and are the first round draft pick in the NFL draft. This was the dream you'd spoken of since you were playing rec ball in the SWATS (Southwest Atlanta.)

You become the face of a youngish team, the Carolina Panthers. You get endorsements, praise and fans galore. You use your influence to give back to communities and chasten your body to be better than even the best you've ever known. You become the face of every kid who suits up for those Saturday games and give hope to the ones who are hitting speed breakers along the way. You set your eyes on a shiny prize to culminate what you've been working for your entire life: The Super Bowl.

The year 2015 comes and you play the best season of your life and arguably a season better than most quarterbacks in the NFL will ever know. Your explosive smile can't be hidden, your youthful exuberance oozes out in the form of dances and celebratory gestures that build your quest for your team's first ever Lombardi Trophy to a fever pitch. And like the sign of the true greats, people hate you and people love you with equal fervor. But it's OK, because you can taste it. This is your moment. The show has come.

And so, under those lights and with the cameras you, the rec ball kid that beat the odds of going from SEC to JCC to SEC again to NFL finally gets the chance. This is your wedding day, the pinnacle of your 26 year-old life and you run out of that tunnel not only with your fans but with every single child whose story mirrors yours strapped onto your strong, muscular back. It's for all of you and you know it.

But something happens. Nothing goes as it is supposed to. Things unravel and mistakes are made. You fumble in the end zone, get stripped of the ball repeatedly and, ultimately, your team loses the game -- the game that you have been imagining for your entire life and the very one that was so in your grasp that people urged you to "go easy" on the opposing team. In the back of your head, you know what your Christian mama would tell you: "What God has for you is for you." And you know that this wasn't what He had for you this time.

But it still hurts. Bad.

Now. See all that and then moments after, picture speaking to throngs of reporters. No, this isn't a discussion of just a crappy game. This is a man who is dejected after losing what was, quite literally, his life's dream. If you were close to that -- I mean, so that you feel it in your bones -- would you dance? Would you smile? Perhaps. And perhaps, were you him and that dream that was shut up in your bones slipped from your grasp, you'd have the maturity to take your lumps and be a good sport -- which, I agree, would be the right thing to do.


Take a moment to ponder your greatest wish. The one that goes back further than you can remember and the one that you can't get out of your head. Now, imagine an entire world watching as you get right up to it, and then add to that legions of people who not only look like you but identify with your story. Then see it all crash down before you on national television, with cameras flashing. What expression would be on your face? How would you speak or what would your mannerisms convey? At 45, mine might be different than they were at 26.

I told my son that Cam Newton made a mistake in that press conference, that he was immature and a bad sport and shouldn't have behaved that way. But then, I told him of all of the things I just mentioned. I told my son -- my rec ball kid who loves Cam -- that he is just a man and that what we see is one who was so disappointed that he lost his impulse control. That if Cam had just thought about the fact that he was the league MVP -- someone with a 15-1 record -- and about all of the children that he made smile that he'd realize that he had nothing to be sad about. That said, every NFL player wishes for a ring and can want one bad enough to make a huge faux pas. He is still the same guy that put in all that effort to beat insane odds, and that I'm still okay with him being his fan. I told my son, for context, that Cam Newton is twenty years younger than his mother and father and that young people do some dumb things and learn from them -- his parents included.

Be careful with your Cam Newton narrative. His father is not Archie Manning and his path is a story of triumph and resilience. That will be the overarching take-home message that I tell my son about the guy who smiles and "dabs" -- not that he was a bad sport.

This morning as we waited for the bus, my son said, "I'm glad for Peyton Manning. This was a good way for him to go out. I'm sad for Cam Newton, but he will get over it. It looks like he wanted to cry, and if I was him, I would want to go be by myself so I could cry, too."

To which I replied: "You know what, son? Me, too."

Happy Saturday.

Fight or Flights (of Stairs.)

My feet were already moving briskly by the time I reached the elevator vestibule. As predicted, a large crowd had gathered already; all shaking off the cold and readying themselves for another day at Grady Hospital. Even if I hadn't just arrived, scanning that mixed group of employees and probable patient family visitors would've let me know of the wintry conditions outdoors. There were heavy coats worn by those with tightly folded arms and woolen hats still pulled down to cover chilly ears. At least two people that were still trembling from subpar outerwear; light jackets that underestimated the frigid outdoor temperatures or simply doctors who'd decided to make a break for it from the car to the hospital in threadbare white coats and nothing more. All of it was ordinary for a weekday morning at Grady Hospital.

Since I love people, there's something about the elevator people potpourri that makes me happy. I listen to their idle conversation and, on most days, join in.

"That hawk ain't playing out there is he?" I heard one man say.

"Shoooooot! What you saying? I liked to froze to death!" another responded.

And this--this banter about the cold peppered with down south slang--is all so very Grady. So, so very. One middle aged gentleman was holding a tray of four McDonald's coffees. He let out a big yawn and shivered his shoulders while still carefully holding on to what was surely a highly anticipated delivery.

"Heeey! You brought us all some coffee? Awwww, thanks sir!!" Right after I bellowed this out in a most singsongy way, the whole group erupted into laughter. I pretended to reach for one of the beverages.

"I don't think you want to come between my wife and her McDonald's coffee," he replied with a raised eyebrow. "I wouldn't recommend it, doctor!"

And all of us laughed some more and that was that.


Now you'd think that all of this transpired in far more than twenty seconds. But truthfully, that all occurred as I quickly strolled into and then through that main elevator hallway. I never had any intention of riding the lift; this week I'd made up my mind to take the stairs every single morning and every day after lunch--even though my home floor was ten flights up. And so. As my feet clicked-clicked-clicked on the linoleum like a trusty metronome atop a piano, these observations and commentary happened in passing. And, again, all of it was ordinary and so very Grady.

Once I cleared that lobby and entered the hallway toward the stairwells, I picked up my pace. Like always, I started coaching myself on the ten plus one hard flights ahead of me. Not too fast. Not too slow. Breathe. This is good for your heart. Take that, heart disease. It startled me a bit when I heard someone call out my name.

"Manning! Where you going so fast?"

I swung around and looked back to the elevator vestibule and noticed one of the unit managers from 9A.

"Stairs, baby!" I called back while still walking backwards. "Want to bust out your 9 flights with me? I'm going to 10A!"

She paused for a beat and then shrugged. "Let's do it, Manning!" And that was that. Ms. Harris trotted over to catch up with me and away we went toward the stairwells that go from the ground all the way up to the twelfth floor. Still, all of it very ordinary and very Grady.


So in we go into that stairwell and begin our uphill battle toward our respective workplaces. Our lighthearted exchange continued from the hallway into that vacuous space, both of us schlepping coats and pocketbooks since it was the start of the day.

"How many can we do without stopping, Harris?"

"Manning, you're doing good to have me in here period!" I chuckled again.

But right after that, I noticed something. A youngish man had popped into the ground level door just as we approached the first half of the first flight. He wasn't carrying anything nor did he look like an employee. The baggy coat he wore was too thin for the weather and too large for his wiry frame. And none of that was unusual, actually. It wasn't.

That said, there was one thing I noticed. Well, maybe two things. The first was that the minute I laid eyes on him, something inside of me immediately bristled. I wasn't sure what it was, either. Something about it was just . . .I don't know. . . . weird, maybe? I'm not even sure of the word. I just know my instincts told me that something about it wasn't right.

Then, in a fleeting moment, I saw his eyes dart from side to side and then back toward the little glass window between the stairwell door and the lobby. And then--right then--I heard a voice as clear as day in my head speaking to me:

"Get the fuck out of this stairwell. Now. Right now."

And, yes, my inner voice has a potty mouth when under duress. I think it's to make me listen. And so. Just like that, after only one flight of stairs, I grabbed the door handle and exited the stairs on the first floor.

"What happened?" Ms. Harris asked.

I paused for a moment and then spoke. "That guy behind us. Something about it wasn't right. Like, I don't know. I felt like he was about to rob us. Matter of fact, I feel sure of it."

Just when I said that, Ms. Harris stared at me for a beat without speaking. She took in a big drag of air through her nostrils and then shook her head.

"What?" I pressed.

"You know what? I saw that guy. He was coming up the hallway and had passed the stairs already. It was kind of weird because he double backed, I guess, and came into the stairs once we did. And I didn't want to assume nothing, you know?"

"What were you feeling?"

Ms. Harris shook her head. "The same thing, to be honest. Like something about dude wasn't right."


"Like he might try something."


She sighed. "Yeah. But I guess I sort of ignored it, you know? Thought maybe I was tripping."


So we stood there in silence. All I could think about was how ordinary the last few minutes had been and how, deep down in my soul, I knew that something, something was not right. And that I am learning to listen when I feel that way and respond before I'm sorry.


We took the rest of those flights up to the higher floors. We kept chatting and enjoying one another, too. But you could tell that both of us were lost in thought. Wondering about the near misses that occur every day and pondering what it is in the universe that gives us notice.

Do I know for sure if something bad was about to happen to us? No, not for sure. But the chilling wave that washed over me said get out. And I don't think that was on accident.

Working at Grady is a people-lover's dream; mornings that start with jovial exchanges with strangers and those familiar Gradyisms like winter blasts being referred to as "the hawk." But I constantly have to remind myself that it is a place that attracts people of all walks of life--some of whom have nothing to lose.

And this? This is Grady. And Grady is life. Laughter, humanity and flashing moments of the most beautiful and most ugly aspects of it all.


Happy Friday.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

More than a notion.

"She needs a nursing home," someone said.

It was all matter of fact; the way such things are always mentioned on rounds with those frail elders who've slipped into the cognitive abyss. And I didn't know all the details. I mean, not enough to go arguing and pushing back on a plan that had been rolling forward for this hospitalized patient for the last week. So I responded  with a simple word. "Why?"

"Dementia," I heard them say in response. "Like, she's delirious one minute and then sort of inappropriate the next. It's weird. And honestly, it's mild but the problem is that she lives alone and doesn't really have anyone to help."

"Why is she delirious?"

"Part of it is adherence to what she needs for her health. The other part, we think, is some underlying dementia. She does have someone to make decisions for her, though. Even though they can't really take care of her like we'd like."

"No one around to see about her?"

"Well. No family that can give her what she needs. So we're pursuing nursing home placement but it's drama since she's majorly pushing back on it."

"Dang. So she's aware enough to let you know she's not feeling that plan, huh?"

"Yeah. We just want to safely discharge her, Dr. M. So her durable power of attorney will have to sign her in against what will she has remaining."


Now that? That punched me in the gut and made me gasp a bit. "What will she has remaining" felt like we were playground bullies. Something about that grabbed me hard and said, "Pay attention. Go and talk to her. Think."


Oh, and let me be clear: The team that was caring for this patient before was thoughtful and empathic.  I know I had the luxury of being the Monday morning quarterback. The delirium portion was mostly resolved so I was looking at her through fresh lenses. Fresh enough to feel unsure about sending her to a nursing home.


And so. When we went in there, I listened to her speaking. This woman was older than my mother and stated proudly that she was a "Grady baby"--meaning she'd been born in this very hospital. That always resonates differently with me when I hear it from my Grady elders. In a city of transplants, the true-blue natives enamor me. She was true-blue.

Yes indeed.

And so. Admittedly, there isn't some really elaborate story that follows. I'd imagine the preamble of it all serves as a bit of a spoiler alert that she was, indeed, as sharp as the proverbial tack. And while I can't say that there weren't a few wrinkles in the fabric of her cognition, I can say that none of it was substantial enough to rip her away from the place she'd called home for the last fifty years.


And that? That's the thing. That is the piece I put my kickstand on when thinking of her, discussing her and laying out plans with my team. This notion of uprooting people with very, very deep roots and recognizing that it's a big fucking deal.

Pardon the f-bomb.

In 2006, Harry and I had a young toddler, Isaiah, and were expecting our second child, Zachary. Harry, who has a background in real estate investment, had found this amazing home in a wonderful in-town Atlanta neighborhood--literally walking distance from my employer, Emory University. The schools in the area had great reputations and the entire environment was everything we'd dreamed of having. It certainly had some "fixer upper" necessities, but that didn't deter my husband at all. And his faith in the potential this house had was enough to get me on board.


The home we were in at the time was lovely, for sure. That said, it was significantly further from all that we do both professionally and personally. Getting closer in would be game changing for our family. And no, we didn't need more space or anything. But this? This house was uniquely special. An opportunity just presented itself and, even better, involved my better half utilizing the skills that he'd been fine tuning for the last several years--negotiation and renovation. We didn't look back.

No one knows what the future holds--economically or otherwise. But barring any major changes, we came into that home--now our current home--believing that, God willing, we'd grow old there. I imagine myself slowing down and easing out to that same mailbox someday. Asking Harry if he fed the dog or picked up eggs or even if he wants a cup of herbal tea. And us sitting in our sunroom where the kids watch television now, shaking the hand of some young woman that one of our boys desires to marry. Then later, holding the hand of the grandchild or grandchildren that come from that union, walking through this very neighborhood to do the things that I'd been doing since I was a pregnant thirty-something.


So after that, I picture my mind getting foggy. Not full on foggy, but foggy enough to cause some people to do a double take. Still okay enough to take a shower and make some grits and sweep the porch and feed the dog. Fine enough to wave at the mailman and grab the bills and even get on line and pay them one mouse click at a time. But maybe just off some. Not able to remember which Bush or which Clinton is president or even how to stay on track with every day conversation. Then, I pray, that there is someone who is ready to step in and see about me, you know? To be a go between in the gap of what I can still do but the fog of what I can't.


If, for some reason, that person or those people aren't readily presenting themselves, I think about someone having me in a cold, sterile hospital bed that some 911 call sent me over to on a whim because I'd fallen and couldn't get up. And then I think that, kind of like when people were put on ships and taken to the western world against their will, it must be awful to suddenly be told that you are never, ever going back to live at what has become the only home you really, truly know. Especially if my wits were still about me enough to feel that loss.

So yeah. I think of that and hope like hell that my doctor or doctors or nurse or nurses or social worker or social workers come busting in that room with their hands all splayed out screaming to every one to WAIT, WAIT, WAIT and THINK, THINK, THINK before just signing that form to send me off and away from the home I spent my whole life building. I want them to look hard, go find someone--anyone or some kind of resource to help me. Or at least try, man. At least fucking try.

Because thirty years from now, if you take me up out of my house without warning, I won't want to go either. And I swear on my sister's life that I will fight you tooth and nail with what will I have remaining. Yes. What will I have remaining. Damn right I will.

My patient said she wanted to go home. Her insight wasn't poor and, as it turns out, there are some people around who could see about her. She was a bit forgetful and tangential but she still knew that Cam Newton was going to the Super Bowl and that he was a hometown hero, straight out of southwest Atlanta where she'd lived her entire life. And she wanted to be home to watch that game on her own damn couch where she could clap her leathery hands and drink a light beer.

And you know what? If I have any say in the matter--and I do--that's exactly what she's going to do.

Hell yeah.

Happy Hump Day.

*details were changed to protect anonymity.