Sunday, July 23, 2017

Heavy on my soul.

"I don't know no love songs
and I can't sing the blues any more
but I can sing this song 
and you can sing this song
when I'm gone."

- James Taylor

"You okay?"

I pointed at my chest. "Who me?" 

"Yeah, you. Look like something heavy on your soul."

That's what my patient said to me on rounds the other day. It was late in the afternoon and visiting him was the last thing on my to-do list before heading out of Grady. He'd had some tests and I'd come back to check in on him and explain results. He'd need a minor procedure the following day and I wanted to be sure he was okay with it all. He was. After we'd gone through all of the business parts, I realized I had some time. Instead of walking out to chat with friends or my team, I pulled up the bedside chair and made up my mind to spend that window chatting with him. And honestly? Nothing about it was heavy. If anything, it was light.

Quite light.

A woman was on the television talking about a myriad of unimportant things and repeatedly kept using the word "slay" to describe any and everything. Her outfit. Her friend's hair. Michelle Obama's entire time in the White House. And even the person interviewing her. It was "slay" this and "slay" that.

Yeah, man. So, really, we were talking about whether or not the word "slay" had been officially beat to death or not. Me with my arm leaning on the bed rail and him narrowing his eyes and tapping his chin to give this topic far more thought than both of us knew it deserved.

It was perfect.

See, it had been a bit of a rough week. And with all the sandpaper rubbing against my heart over those last few days, this mundane chat with my young (but sick) patient was like a balm for my emotionally  weary soul. Plus, I really liked this patient. His energy spoke to my own from the moment I first shook his hand on rounds a few days before.  So, on this day in particular, I was really thankful to sit with him.


"I blame Beyoncé," I said.

"The Queen Bey? Honey, she is never at fault." He let out a moist cough into his fist and then slapped his chest a few times. I started to stand up to check on him and he stopped me. "I'm okay. Stay put."

I nodded and sat back down. Then went back to our conversation. "But you have to admit the word has been beat to death."

"Slay? Beat to death? Hmm. I don't think so. But it can't be the only thing you say, you know? Like, you have to mix it up. Everybody and everything can't slay." Right when he said that, the lady said it again. We both laughed.

We sat in silence for a few beats. And then I spoke. "Confession: I still say 'legit.' And 'epic.'"

"Whoa. You legit say legit still? And epic?" He widened his eyes playfully and raised his eyebrows. "And you seemed so cool at first."

"My niece asked me if I knew that wasn't really a thing people say any more. She legit said that to me." That made me snort out loud because it was so funny to me. He laughed, too. Followed by another cough.

After that the room fell silent again. The TV kept going and, other than my patient clearing his throat or coughing here and there, we weren't moving or talking. So there I sat. Chin in my palm and mostly just enjoying that moment. Which was good.

Really good.

A few more seconds passed and that's when he said it. Swung his head  in my direction and rested his brown eyes on me. Even though I was facing the television, I could still tell he we was looking at me.

"You okay, doc?" he said.

"Who me?" I pointed at my chest.

"Yeah, you."

I turned my head away from the television and back toward him. I poked out my lip and furrowed my brow.

"Look like you got something heavy on your soul."

Heavy on my soul.

I didn't say anything. Instead I just stared at him, surprised at how warm my face was becoming and embarrassed at how my eyes were stinging with tears.

"I'm okay," I finally said, speaking quietly. "But yes. That's a good way to put it. Something is heavy on my soul these days. But I'm okay."

"I hate hearing that. And here you are having to see about everybody else."

"No, it's okay. In fact, it's more than okay. Really."

I didn't talk because I didn't want to start crying, you know? But really, he was right. Something was heavy on my soul.

I wanted to tell him, too. I wanted to tell my patient--this patient who embodied every single thing I love about patient care and patient caring -- all about what was weighing me down. I wanted to talk about it with someone less connected to it, someone who didn't really know me. This way I could just hear the words or see the expressions in response unfiltered. Or, just maybe, I could wrinkle my nose like a little child and cry into balled up fists without any expectations or pressure. Empathy uncut.

But I didn't when he asked. I was his doctor. Though my sitting in his room that afternoon dissecting the social relevance of slang terms didn't exactly fall into the physician playbook I'd been shown in medical school or residency, I knew for sure that flipping the script in this way wasn't even in the same library.

So when he asked, I just stayed silent.


Just about 24 hours before that moment in his room, I was down in the emergency department seeing newly admitted patients with my team. My phone had buzzed twice in my pocket with text messages followed by two or three sustained vibrations from incoming calls. A few seconds later, I felt it happen again and that time, I fished into my white coat to see who it was.

Call me when you can. Alanna is not well. She wanted me to update you.

That was what the text read. It was from my colleague Danielle J. in reference to our friend and colleague Alanna. I walked straight out of that patient room and called immediately. That's when I learned that Alanna, who'd been fighting a ruthless cancer, was now intubated and in intensive care.

Wait, what?

The wind was knocked so hard out of my chest that I had to get out of the ER and away from my team immediately to catch my breath. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

As soon as I got out of there I felt the tears filling up my eyes. Once they began falling, I abruptly stopped. Then I turned my forehead into the nearest wall and let myself cry. And I could feel the people looking at me as they walked by, their feet slowing down and wondering what could be going on with this doctor and the muffled, guttural sounds she was making. No one said anything though. They, too, must have read the doctor-patient playbook and decided not ask.


Maybe my actions spoke enough. I mean, whatever it was had to be awful. A doctor facing a wall with shoulders shaking and body heaving in a stiff white coat said plenty. I guess it did.

Here's the backstory:

I met this remarkable woman named Alanna in July of 2007. I met her on her very first day of medical school when she came and sat in a room with several other medical students. And then, I really, truly met her when that big group was whittled down to just seven individuals--the seven that would go on to become my first small group.


I would get to watch her evolve into a doctor--literally bookending the experience from that very first day with placing a doctoral hood over her shoulders at commencement on her very last. I jumped for joy with her on residency match day and again jumped for joy when, after her residency training, she took a job back at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory where we first met. This time, though, it would be different. Now we would be colleagues--both of us Grady doctor attendings.


One year into coming back to Grady, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was aggressive, but they caught it early. And that Alanna. That tough girl slugged it out. She came to work and taught the residents and rallied on. Finally that final treatment day came and our whole division celebrated by wearing pink in honor of Alanna and every person affected by breast cancer. It was super awesome.

Things seemed to be getting back to normal. Alanna was getting on great as a Grady doctor and showing everyone the very things I got to see as early as July 2007. The accolades poured in and so did the opportunities. And she was over the moon. She was.

Last April she wasn't feeling good. I remember sitting outside having lunch with her between lectures at a medical conference we were both attending in Washington D.C. "I'm feeling a little under the weather," she said. And that was about it.

A week later, she would find out why. Acute leukemia. Yes, after licking breast cancer, she now had a new cross to bear.

"Are they sure?" I asked her.

"They are," she replied.

"I'm so sorry." My voice was a whisper.

"Me, too."

Up until the moment Danielle called me during my rounds that day, it never occurred to me that she wouldn't get through this. Our last chat on the phone was upbeat, hopeful even about the bone marrow donor match that she'd located and the road ahead. "I'm nervous but I'm ready," she told me. "Just ready to get on with my life."

"That's great," I told her. "So great." And then, like usual, I started crying. Crying these complicated tears about how much I hated knowing that her dreams were having these horrific speed breakers thrown before them. I'd think about her adoring husband and their precious son with his head of blonde curls. I could hear her telling me that she wanted more children and how she'd chuckle and refer to the timing of her breast cancer as "super annoying." All of that would make me cry when trying to talk to her. I guess it was because of the nature of how our relationship began. As her formal small group advisor, even when she joined the faculty, my role always felt more familial, maternal-ish and big-sisterly than anything else. And in that role I'd always prided myself in protecting my students. From any and everything I could.

Yeah, so not being able to do that made me cry.


She was super kind with my crying. Patient and super kind like she was with everyone. Because of that, even though we talked sometimes, mostly, we texted. And I'm grateful to this day that she permitted me to do that. So very grateful.

Just a few hours after I got that call about her being in the intensive care unit, another call came in. It was Danielle. And as soon as I saw the phone ringing, I knew.

"She's gone." That's all Danielle could eke out. I slumped to my kitchen floor and dropped the phone. And then we both erupted into tears. And the same thing happened a few more times that same evening.

It sucked.

I was on the hospital service when all of this happened. And, since I'd spent the entire night crying in the fetal position on my bed, I knew that next day would be hard. The faces of some people made me cry even more. Then the text messages from that first small group amplified how out of order this all was. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

So all of this is what was going on that late afternoon when I came to sit with my patient. And he was right--all of this was weighing heavy on my soul. So heavy that I couldn't lift it.

Even still, I wasn't forthcoming when my patient asked. I just stayed silent. Even though the heavy was palpable and suffocating to more than just me.

"I'm okay," I said.

"Okay." That was all my patient said. Except for a few moments later when he repeated it. "Okay."

I tried to take things back to where they were. Light, airy and easy. But it didn't work. That heaviness on my soul was now out of hiding and cloaking the room. It was about time for me to go anyway so I arose from my seat and told him so.

"I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" I said. I tried my best not to sound as somber as I felt. "Don't forget--nothing to eat after midnight, okay?"

"Okey dokey." He held up a thumbs up. I returned the gesture.

I stepped toward the door and stopped short to pump some hand sanitizer foam into my hand. Just as I grabbed the door, he spoke one more time.

"Hey, Dr. Manning? I hope it gets better. Whatever is heavy on your soul, okay?"

I forced a smile and nodded. I pulled the handle of the door and then stopped. But then something clicked in me like a light switch. I spun on my heel and faced his bed from the door.

"Um. One of the doctors I work with here at Grady? Um. Well, she passed away yesterday. And she was young. And I knew her since, like, her first day of medical school." I cleared my throat and pressed my back against the door to keep from crying. "So, today was hard. Because she was really great. Really, really great."

"Was she nice?" he asked.

I smiled at the simplicity of that question. "Nice? She was more than nice. She was the kind of nice that you don't see all the time. Like . . . epic nice. . . genuine and for real, you know?"

"Yeah. I think I do know. What was her name?"

"Her name was Dr. Alanna Stone."

He mouthed out her name and squinted one eye as if he was trying to determine if he knew her. Realizing he didn't, he first shook his head then switched to a nod instead. "Well. Something tell me Dr. Alanna Stone would be happy you was in here spending time with a patient like me on a day like this. It seem like she would like that. Plus sometimes y'all need people to see about y'all, too."

He was right. That thought made the corner of my mouth turn upward on one side. I thought of how someone had told me about how, even in her ICU bed, she checked on the well-being of the physicians involved in her care. She even graciously told them that she trusted and appreciated them--even in her last moments.

"You know what? I think she would." Then something came to me so I went on. "Now that Dr. Alanna Stone? She slayed, man. At everything she did. As a doctor and as a person she did. She really slayed."

My patient gave me a playful smirk. "She legit did?"

"She legit did!"

We both chuckled at that and pretended to give a high five through the air since I was nearly out the door. And just that quick the heavy returned. Pressing upon the room once again and sliding around my chest like a boa constrictor.

"Okay then, sir."

"Hey--Dr. Manning? Thanks for telling me that, okay?"

"Thanks for asking. For real."

We stood there looking at each other. Me at the door, him in his bed.

"I wish I'd met her."

"I wish you had, too."

I think he could feel the emotion mounting again and wanted to let me off the hook. He smiled the warmest, dearest smile ever and waved. "See you tomorrow, Dr. Manning."

"See you tomorrow, sir."

I slipped out of the door and let it quietly close behind me. And then I walked out of the unit as fast as I could. . .through the automatic doors, down the hall. . . and then into the quietest Grady stairwell I could find so that I could lean my head into a wall once more to cry and cry.

Crying because I would miss seeing the life of this beautiful woman continuing to unfold. Crying because thirty four is too young to die. Crying because a little boy had lost his mother and a husband had lost his wife. Crying because one of the most legit epic students-turned-doctors that I have ever witnessed has had her career cut short and that patients like the one I'd just left would never get to meet her. Crying because she slayed which was ironic because that's not a word she would have ever used to describe herself or anything else. But also crying because of that moment with that man and how Alanna herself understood more than anyone that patients take care of doctors, too. That patients save their doctors' lives every single day.

I will miss Dr. Alanna Stone.



Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . one of my favorite songs of all time.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Mandolin.

Me and Isaiah this morning

That's me in the corner. 
That's me in the spotlight.

- R.E.M. , Losing My Religion

Today I was sitting in church by myself. Isaiah had joined me this morning but he'd gone on to his middle school service and I to the adult one.

Which was fine with me.

Summer is weird for schedules. At least it is in my family. So a lot of our regular routine relaxes a bit. Harry had a late evening so was breathing heavily and not stirring even though I was moving all around the room. I decided to let sleeping husbands lie. Zachary was as still as a statue--not even the fake, smirking one that appears on most school days--when I tried to rouse him from sleep. I left him be as well. Isaiah was up and said he wanted to come with. "Wait for me," he said quickly pulling on his sneakers. "I'm gonna come, too."

Which was also fine with me.

He's getting older. Twelve now. Full of his own ideas, some of which are still adolescent half-baked, but still very good ones. Views and attitudes. Somewhere along the way he has decided that he likes attending church. Which feels really good since it's of his own volition. The fact that we can wear whatever we want, bring a cup of coffee or a water bottle right into the sanctuary, or even chew a stick of gum without admonishment doesn't hurt either.


I was sitting in church this morning. I'd chosen a corner seat, the first on the aisle. The kind of seat that makes you swing your legs to the side or stand up every time someone comes up. And probably, it's one of those things that, if you really, truly were to ponder it, is kind of selfish. But I just kind of felt like sitting on the end this morning. Which, as it turns out, was fine, too. Summer-schedule weirdness apparently isn't just limited to the Manning family. The church services are generally less full this time of year so no smiling usher-person came over to wave gently in my direction asking that I slide down.

I was glad.

So, I guess all of that had me in a peaceful place. The week had been full. I wanted a peaceful moment of fellowship. And, while I know that not everyone is a believer in God or a follower of any organized religion, I do think we can all agree to knowing that feeling of just wanting a peaceful moment. One not tainted by someone moving you from the place where you want to sit or forcing you awake and guilting you into doing something that, just maybe, you kind of aren't in the mood to do. So yeah. That's where I was.


That's when I heard it. Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. Like a rub on the shoulder when you feel sad or a very, very tight hug when you feel super happy. The room had fallen quiet, as often churches do when lights go down and doors close. But instead of someone talking or singing, it was just this sound, this melody.

I looked up from my corner seat. And there was this light falling upon this one man, head down and eyes closed, playing a mandolin. His head was waving rhythmically, almost choreiform and trancelike. Lost in the sound of his instrument.


I could see the other musicians on the stage, too, but that soft, bluish spotlight was on him. Eventually the rest of the lights filled in to reveal the rest of the band and they began singing. But for some reason, I couldn't hear them. All I could hear was him. And that mandolin.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender.

Like the flash of lightning, my eyes filled with gigantic pools of tears. They spilled over my lashes and onto my cheeks. It all caught me off guard. It did.

But that mandolin. So tender, so beautiful . . . it reached straight into my chest and clutched at my heart. Squeezing it tight and bursting from it every single moment of my week, of my life. And let me be clear: Life is good, it is. But it is, like always, full and complex. It is.

The more he played that mandolin, the more I cried. Tear after tear. Eventually, I just stopped wiping them away and just surrendered to it. All of it.

I'm taking care some very sick people at Grady right now. Sick in ways that I cannot really fix. And all of that feels so dark, you know? But then, right in the middle of all of that, are these enormous bursts of light that shine like sunbeams. People saying and doing unexpectedly amazing things. Some of them patients. Some of them not patients at all but just a part of the teams who signed up to care for them.

This one lady on my team was so sick that she could barely catch her breath when we came to see her. We were seeing her as a team and I felt guilty asking her to answer my questions or even sit up with such short wind and pain. But she did and I was able to assess what was happening with her from that. So I talked to her about the plans and answered our questions. And that was that.

Then, just as we prepared to go, she pointed at my medical student Joav and said to him, "Hey, you're the only guy on this team. How's it feel being surrounded by all of these ladies?" And we all just sort of chuckled as Joav made a small talk comment back. So we left the room and that was that.

But that wasn't really just that. See, on this team, I am working with a med student who is a transgender woman. She, along with all of us, is navigating a territory that is, to put it mildly, new to a lot of people around her. And with new or unknown things, people say and do things that catch you off guard. Some of them extremely hurtful. But some hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender.

Kind of like that man randomly playing a mandolin in my church today.

Or like a lady gasping for air who points out the obvious. The obvious being that there was only one man on our team.

Yeah, that.

So I saw my student Holly's eyes when listening to that mandolin. That flicker that went across them when that patient spoke those words. And, to quote Holly, a lot of trans women will never look like Laverne Cox. They won't have the "pretty" advantage or mysterious ambiguity that some others enjoy. But still. That woman--that woman who pulled her oxygen mask to the side to say what she said--didn't seem to care about all of that. Yeah, so that was part of what made me cry.

And then there was my patient who, while fighting for her life, shared on rounds with me that her biggest concern was getting some diapers to her auntie's house for her baby. That was her big, big worry. She said her baby probably has a washcloth on her. And then she started crying because, honestly, there just wasn't any sort of solution.

To get diapers, that is.

And me, I was just thinking about her medical problems, you know? How serious and life threatening they were and just how totally first world, in comparison, that getting a box of pampers was.

Except that it wasn't first world to her. It wasn't. To her, it was just her world.

So I thought of that, too. With each cord of that mandolin wailing into the heavens, I did. That brought more tears.

This week, at least three different nights, I woke up and felt something right in front of me in my bed. It was my youngest son, Zachary--ten and a half years old and up to my shoulder, no less. But somehow finding himself under his mama's bosom just like when he was a little toddler. So savvy that he even figured out how to do it without even waking me up.


And so I asked him, "What's up with you coming into my bed, son? Big ol' boy in my bed!" And mostly I laugh about it since it was as unusual as it was funny.

"I don't know, Mom," he replied. "Something just told me that you needed to feel my love this week. Plus I just sort of wanted my mom. So I got in your bed."

And he was right. So very right. Which was also something I thought about as that mandolin played.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. My growing, athletic and outwardly tough baby boy. Who somehow hasn't lost that inner compass to his mama's heart.

When he was about five or six, he tried to get in bed with me late one night. It had been a long time since that had happened so it startled me. I lifted up my blanket for him, and he started crying when I let him under the comforter next to me. I asked him why he was weeping and he said, "I'm getting big so I thought you'd say no. But sometimes I just want my mom."

To which I replied, "Remember this: Your mom always wants you, too."


I decided right then and there that I love the mandolin. Which probably I should have already known since one of my favorite songs of all time is "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.  The irony of that song, to me, is that listening to it is always a bit of a religious experience for me.


The rest of the service was amazing. I learned some stuff and was given some good ideas to reflect upon from the sermon. Nobody sat directly beside me or coughed or smacked gum or kicked the back of my seat. They didn't try hugging me when I was crying or intrude upon my mandolin-induced emotional outburst with words of consolation or inquiry. And I'm super glad, too, because I wanted none of that. I just wanted peace on the corner seat. Which was exactly what I got.

On the way out of church, I chatted with Isaiah about a whole bunch of nothing. He told me about what they did in middle school church and I did my best to explain the mandolin making me cry. "I love the sound of the mandolin," I told him. "It makes my heart fill up when I hear it." And since Isaiah said he didn't know what a mandolin was, when we got into the car, I immediately played R.E.M. for him from my iPhone and pointed out the mandolin parts.

He just sort of shrugged and said, "Uh, okay, Mom." Then looked at his phone.

Which was also fine with me.

So yeah. Today, that was me in the corner. Not necessarily in the spotlight. But  as filled with emotion as that man in the spotlight playing that mandolin.

Hauntingly beautiful. Painstakingly tender. Like darkness and light existing together. The light always wins.

"Hey, Isaiah, get that paper and that empty bag off of the back seat for me," I said as we got out of car at home. He did as I asked of him and then walked toward the garbage can to toss the stuff in the trash.

"What'd you get from Target yesterday?"

"Some diapers," I replied. "And some wipes."

The garage door went up and Isaiah just sort of scowled at me. Then he just shook his head, deciding not to bite. "Diapers and wipes. . . . Uh, okay, Mom."

That was all he said before trotting up the stairs two by two and out of sight.

And you know what? That was fine with me, too.


Happy Sunday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . the song that me and my friend Mary Moon have connected over and that, just maybe, had something to do with her own baby playing a mandolin. (That might be in my own head, though.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

These three.

3 things I witnessed today on rounds at Grady

1. Faith 

Him: "I was scared at first. But I prayed and now I feel a lot better."

Me: "That's awesome."

Him: "I prayed for YOU, too. Asked God to give me a doctor who was patient and with kind eyes. When I met you and your team, I knew He heard me."


2. Hope 

Me: "How are you today?"

Him: "Thankful for another chance!"

Me: *high five*

Him: "You know what, Miss Manning? I feel like going on."

Me: "That's what's up."

Him: *looks serious* "I think this time I'm gon' get it right, too."

Me: "You can and you will."

And then we hugged it out.

3. Love

Me: "You look like you want to cry. Are you okay? Do you need anything?"

Her: "I need him to be better. Because I just love him so much."

Him: *words in Spanish*

Her: *full on crying*

Interpreter: "She is my world and I am hers. Every day this is what is in my mind. From morning until I sleep. God knitted our hearts together."

Then he grabbed his wife's hand and squeezed it tight. So tight that those hands looked knitted together, too.

Today at Grady I saw faith, hope and love in action.
These three--but the greatest of these was love.


Happy Thursday.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sixteen years.

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 
And mouth with myriad subtleties. 

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
       We wear the mask. 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
       We wear the mask!

- Paul Laurence Dunbar

We are drawn to Grady for its complexity. The people riding along in the struggle bus just hoping and praying to be seen. Seen by someone who cares for real and not just because caring seems like the cool thing to do this year. We want to be that person. We want to be the one who swoops in and helps. 

Because this is what we do at Grady, right?

July 1 marked my 16th year as a Grady doctor. And in 16 years I've seen a lot. I've grown a lot, too. There are stories that I've heard that would break your heart into a million tiny pieces. Laughter garnered from my patients that would split your side in two and make you vow to cover your ears at all funny things for the rest of your days. 


Here is what I have especially learned: Those drawn into the doors of this place know not fully what she will offer to them. She changes you. Makes you believe in humanity again and recognize the similarities we share instead of the polarizing differences. Without asking for it, she gives you that. Freely. And those who are most eager for her lessons get the most frequent and most heaping helpings of them. 

They do.

I saw something beautiful today. A patient felt broken. Sad and like their world had not really, truly been worth living. And no, not suicidal but more in this downward spiral. Life looked bleak. And, when I listened, it reminded me of the man who once told me that he felt like bugs were crawling all over his body. Once I leaned in and looked closer to him? He was right. There were bugs crawling all over his body. So sometimes? A bleak outlook on life is exactly what it is. 


But here is the thing about Grady. From some of the hardest, coldest concrete lives, there is still life. And from it, if you stay long enough, you see a leaf shoots out of it. And then a tiny bud. It blooms into a rose. Fragrant, beautiful. And something about seeing that restores hope in the person who watered it, not believing for sure that it would ever become the flower it was designed to be. 


So that? That is what I saw today. A patient was going through it. And that patient was honest about it. Said, "It is what it is--messed up." Family who mostly isn't fully supportive. And the person who was supportive not living long enough to stay in your corner, pat your back and send you back into the ring when you get your mouth piece knocked out. 

That is where we thought we came in. Us. The Grady doctors. With our listening ears and our hearts on our sleeves and our hearts that have just a little extra space inside for the least of these. Because, you know, that's what we do. Thinking all along that it's them who need us. 

Except when you do this you learn. Especially after sixteen years. You learn that, really, people are all a little bit broken somewhere. Us included. And that kindness is kindness and empathy is empathy and that all of it is therapeutic whether you have several letters after your name and student loans on your credit report or not. Every one of us could use that balm for our weary souls in the form of another human being looking in your direction and offering affirmation. Especially when it's genuine. 

I saw that happen today. At Grady, I did.

The patient was seen by a medical student on my team. And under that student's care that patient felt connected and safe. So, to this student, that patient shared a truth that had never been shared. A scary truth that doesn't perfectly fit into the box of "how to be" in the bible belt. And that student sat on a chair and held that patient's hand. 

She sure did.

She listened and nodded and created a safer space than the patient had ever known. A student did this. Yes, a medical student. And it made this tremendous difference that will, I'm sure, lead to better outcome for this patient. I believe that it will.

So I come back in with the team to see the patient. And I do the things an attending physician is supposed to do,  you know? I ask a few questions. I repeat a few parts of the story. I hold the patient's hand and let them know I am an extension of the care they've already received. And if the care hasn't been good? I am the place where that ends. Except, in this instance, it had been good. It had. 


So I go over everything and it is good. This person who'd felt broken was feeling better. Motivated to fight hard as hell to get to the other side of complicated. And a lot of it had to do with this medical student who'd quietly slipped into that room with a tiny pad of paper and a very big heart. Peeled off the mask that the patient had worn for over half of a century. And it was as a amazing as it sounds. 

It was.

But then something happened. That patient turned toward that student. Looked into her eyes and spoke words stronger than any healing salve in your grandmama's medicine cabinet. Trained those big brown eyes on hers and spoke of gratitude. But that isn't all that happened. 

No, it is not.

See, this student also knew of the pain of wearing masks. That patient let it be known that this student and her transparency had provided the wings this patient would need to fly. And it was stated concretely, too. In front of that whole team. Me, the resident, the others on the team. And that patient said that because it was exactly what was deep down inside of their heart. 

Sure was.

"Thank you for giving me the courage to speak the truth. I don't have to pretend I'm a mistake or the wrong person. I'm so proud of you," the patient said to that student. "You are so brave. And I admire you so much for that. Seeing you be so strong makes me feel stronger, too."

That is what that patient said. That. 

Let me tell you--this? This was a magical moment. And another perfect reminder that we think we sign up to do the healing. Here we come in with our little bag of medicine tricks, believing that we have the panacea to whatever ails you. Or at least the brains to talk about it all. 


Like I said before we, too, are broken. We come to Grady for one thing. But we stay or keep coming back for something altogether different. Healing. Our healing. Opportunities to remove our own masks and walk upright. Souls being soothed by humankind and reminded of the very best of who we can be. 

Grady gives that a thousandfold. Maybe even more 'fold than that.

I know I'm totally rambling. I know. 


Today was the very best of Grady Hospital personified. Underscoring yet again that the most important things we can give to our patients are never learned in medical school. We don't come needing to learn that critical piece--humanism. Instead, it is simply our job to fight to keep it intact. I think that what our patients most need from us are exactly the same things we need from other human beings, too. And when we both agree to remove those masks and share freely? It is a beautiful thing, man. It so very is. 

That is what I saw today at Grady. And what I've witnessed for the last sixteen years. 

And I'm thankful for that. Super, duper thankful.


Happy Monday. And here's to sixteen more. 

Thank you, Grady for giving me sixteen fantastic years and for saving a piece of my life every day, too. And thank you to that brave medical student for being you. You know who you are.