Wednesday, September 5, 2018

On Nike.



Nike.

This is the same company that created a dri-fit hijab for Muslim women athletes. “Seeing” people is not a new thing for them.



Nope.



For those feeling conflicted about the “Just Do It” campaign? Know this: People REALLY like to matter. And if you and your loved ones get to live your lives every single day as the ones who consistently get to matter in this country by historical default? Or if you’re down with Kap and Nike but are among those who have the luxury of being able to voluntarily remain silent or indifferent on a whim because of your outward appearance? Thank your lucky stars.

For real.




After that, take a moment to wonder what it’s like to breathe an involuntary sigh of relief every single time your black husband or son makes it home after dark. Or to regard the millions of families like ours who have to regularly run through “the police drill” with their middle school sons at the dinner table—because it could literally be life or death someday if you don't.

So you have to start early.




Sigh. 



It’s so much deeper than shoes, man.






Oh—and for the record? I’m the proud wife of a Ranger-qualified United States Army Veteran who approves of this message.

Don’t have a full appreciation for what a U.S. Army Ranger is? I'd suggest you Google it.

Seriously. You should.

That's all.

***
Happy Wednesday.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Some type of way.



When I saw you on rounds today you were quiet. Your eyes looked in my direction but were otherwise vacant. This was a change.

Me: "You okay?"
You: "I'm okay."

I asked you to sit up in bed and carefully untied the back of your gown. Gently, I searched your back with my stethoscope, listening to see if you were improving.

Me: "Can you take a deep breath?"
You: *deep breath*
Me: "And let it out."
You: *let it out*

We repeating that exchange for a few more beats. The sounds emitted from your lungs confirmed what I'd been told. Things were improving.

I'd attempt to lift the mood.

Me: "You sound so much better!"
You: *head nod and shrug*

No such luck.

You'd been so upbeat the day before. So animated and full of light. Out of breath, yes. But still with eyes that twinkled. And so loquacious that I pulled up a chair to sit down and just let you talk. Today? None of that. Just quiet cooperation and a cloak of melancholy that didn't make sense.

Me: "What's wrong?"
You: "I'm okay."
Me: "Really? You seem sad today. Like you're not okay."
You: *silence*

Another shrug.

I slowed my movements and looked for a chair. Perhaps if you didn't feel like I was too busy to listen, you'd share. Something was wrong. And I didn't like the idea of you holding on to that something all by yourself while laying in a hospital bed. And so. I told you just that.

Me: "I don't like you in here by yourself with something heavy on your soul. If you feel like sharing, I want to hear. If you don't feel up to it, I can respect that."

A tear squeezed out of your eye and rolled under your chin. You sighed.

You: "Somebody came to talk to me about all this. Told me that if I don't do better I'm not gon' be here this time next year."
Me: *listening*
You: "Saying 'You need to lose weight and take your medicines! And stop missing appointments! And why you don't exercise and why you keep eating the wrong stuff and smoking cigarettes? You keep this up and you gon' die!' That's what they said to me."
Me: "Hmm."
You: "They kept on saying it was 'tough love.' Like every few words it was 'tough love' this and 'tough love' that. But to me? It wasn't no love in it."

Another tear slipped over your nose and disappeared into your nostril.

You: "I wanted to say, 'Do you know my life? Do you live where I live? Like, do you even know? I want to be healthy, too!' But all I did was just wait for it to be over. I just said, 'Okay' and acted like it was cool." *shaking your head*
Me: "Man. I'm sorry."
You: "That hurt my feelings, Miss Manning. For real. I know that doctor meant well but I felt some type of way about that."
Me: *silence*
You: "Like, I think when a doctor speak to you they should look you in your eye and see where you at. And if your face say this ain't okay? They need to do something else. Or just stop talking."
Me: "That's good advice for anyone."
You: "Know what? You right."

After that, we talked more about what makes it hard for you to get your medicines and make appointments and eat healthier and move your body and move toward being a non-smoker. You told me about where you live and who you live with and what it's like and how you get the things you need and what makes your nerves bad. Then we talked about a few strategies to help you make steps in the right direction. And the whole time I watched your face to see where you were.

Or if I needed to just stop talking.

The doctor who gave you what was believed to be "tough love" is a good one who, I have to believe, was looking to motivate you not be unkind to you. And I told you that, too. That we are all works in progress with blind spots and ball drops. All of us.

This seemed to resonate with you.

We didn't fix all your problems. But you were smiling when I left. Which, to me, was a start.

Yeah.

***
Happy Sunday.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ms. Doctor.



I was walking near the hospital entrance today and saw three young brothers standing out front talking and laughing in the sunshine. One was slender with long locs rolled into an afrocentric hipster man-bun. He was animated and talking with his hands. Another was short and stout with flawless espresso skin and a close cut fade haircut. His mouth was gleaming with gold teeth. The third fellow was leaning on the wall chuckling in response to his comrades. His dancing eyes were a beautiful shade of amber and his nose was dusted with freckles.

They were beautiful. Seriously, they were. They greeted me in deference as I passed by.

Manbun: "Hey Ms. Doctor."
Me: "Hey gentlemen. You guys doing alright?"
All: "Yes, ma'am."
Me: "That's great. Have a good day, gents."
They smiled and all said it again: "Yes, ma'am."

I liked the way they all called me ma'am. Even though hearing it always jolts me out of this frozen-in-time idea in my head that I'm forever thirty years old, something about hearing it said in my direction feels maternal and special. I always return the favor, greeting the young men I see around Grady as "gentlemen"-- no matter who they are. Just like I do my own sons.

Yep.

I could immediately tell they weren't being fresh. Just pleasant and respectful toward a woman that they saw as--dare I say it? An elder.

Gasp. An elder.

Ha.

As I walked by, I admired the vast variations in blackness that each of them represented. All so different yet clearly unified in this cultural thread that weaved them all together.

And me with them.

Manbun reached for the door when I got to it and held it open. Just then I noticed that all three of them had their pants hanging nearly to their mid thighs. At first I was going to ignore it but then I decided to use my elder license instead.

Sure did.

Me: "Now you know I don't like seeing my three handsome little brothers standing out here with their pants falling down. Pull up those britches, gentlemen."

And yes. I said "britches."

You know what happened next? All three of them immediately pulled up their low slung jeans up over their hips. And all of them mumbled apologies and words like "my bad" and such.

Me: "Who y'all here to see?"
Manbun: "Our homeboy."
Me: "Is his mama there, too? Did she have to see what I just saw?"

*laughter*

Me: "If she is there, I know she don't want to see your whole behind hanging out of your jeans."
And yes. I said "whole behind."
Manbun: "Ha ha ha we hear you, Auntie."
Me: "Okay, but for real--what's the deal with your entire butt and drawers hanging out of your pants?"
Them: *looking at each other with amusement*
Me: "I'm serious, y'all!"
Frackle face: "It's just the style, I guess."
Me: *old lady scowl* "A style that make it where you walking like a penguin?" *shaking my head*

*laughter*

Me: "Let me go in here and do my job."
*laughter as I walked through the door*
Manbun: "Hey Ms. Doctor!"

I turned around from the door and looked back. All three of them were standing in a row with their pants pulled all the way up and holding them at the waist. They all had these goofy, exaggerated smiles that reminded me of my own sons. Then we all burst out laughing.

I waved my hand at them and walked away shaking my head and smiling.

I told my team on rounds today: "If you stay with someone long enough, you'll always find a place where you intersect. Always."

No-- I don't like the sight of sagging jeans. At. All. And honestly? I'm not a huge fan of gold fronts either.

But I also don't like that video game Fortnite.
Or the random YouTube gamers I have to hear about nonstop.
Or dinner table discussions about skins and virtual outfits for video games.

Nope.

But what I DO have is a soft spot in my heart for goofy sons with silly smiles. And beautiful brown manchildren with knotty hair and easy slang who hold doors and also poke fun at me and each other. Just like the ones that stood outside of that hospital entrance today.
And just like the ones that came from my own body.

Yeah.

***

Pollyanna.



Her: "Do you think we should do any more testing?"
Me: "I think we should check another round of cardiac enzymes, don't you?"
Her: "I don't know, Dr. M. The timing aligns with the crack use."
Me: "That's true."

*silence*

Me: "Cocaine accelerates coronary heart disease. So, like, even if you use, it adds risk both short term and long term."
Her: "I get it. I guess I'm just trying to think through what we would do next, you know? If the cardiac enzymes are positive. Would we suggest cardiology come do a cardiac catheterization?"
Me: "If they are suggestive of an acute coronary syndrome? Yes."
Her: "Hmmmm. But let's think this through. So then we do the cath and it calls for an intervention. And then the intervention calls for the patient to take anti-platelet medicines that must be taken."
Me: "And that if they don't take them they'd be worse off."
Her: "Exactly. So I am torn. This isn't because I don't want to advocate for the patient. It's actually because I do."

*silence*

Her: "So what do you think?"
Me: "The same thing. Check them."
Her: "Really?"
Me: "Yeah."
Her: "And if the cardiac enzymes are positive?"
Me: "Consult Cardiology."
Her: "For a cath? And intervention?"
Me: "Yeah."
Her: "You wouldn't be scared of doing harm?"
Me: "I'm always scared of doing harm."

*silence*

Me: "Listen. I should tell you. I'm a total Pollyanna. . an eternal optimist--often to fault. So I want you to know that I truly get what you are saying. But I always have this little idea in my head that I can encourage the patient to quit. Like, if your heart depends upon it? And I believe right along with you that this isn't your lot in life and that you can recover? Yeah. I tell myself that this might be the day. The discussion that turned the ship around."

*silence*

Me: "But I get it."
Her: "I get what you're saying, too."
Me: "You make great points."
Her: "Let's check one more set. And if they are abnormal, we will cross that bridge when we get to it."
Me: "I like that plan."

*silence*

Her: "Hey Dr. M? What's a Pollyanna?"
Me: "You don't know what a Pollyanna is?"
Her: "I'm a millenial."
Me: "Then Google it."
Her: *smile*
Me: *smiles back*

Let's be clear: My resident is sensitive and empathic. And this discussion is as old as crack cocaine itself when it comes to ethical dilemmas at Grady. But regardless of that and all that I see, I can't shake my optimism. Some piece of me always believes that this might be the day.

Yeah.

I love this job.
****

#amazinggrady #eternaloptimist #igetburntalot #butsometimespeoplewin #blindspot #rooterfortheunderdog #alwaysalwaysalways #thismightbetheday

Friday, August 31, 2018

Fear is a liar.




Me: "So wait. I'm making sure I hear you correctly. You said this first started when?"
Her: "Like two and a half years ago."

*silence*

Her: "I know. I know I should've come before now. I know. "
Me: *silence*
Her: "You are probably thinking I'm crazy."
Me: "I didn't say that."
Her: "You didn't have to."

*silence*

Her: "I was just . . .I was just so, so. . . ." *starts crying*
Me: "Afraid?"
Her: *crying and nodding*
Me: "It's okay. You're here now."
Her: "I've been scared every day. And I would want to come but then I would just get too scared of some bad news."
Me: "I get it. I'm serious. I do."
Her: "You do?"
Me: "We all scared of something."

*silence*

Her: "What are you scared of?"
Me: "The same things you scared of, I think. Something bad. Something taking me from my family. Something that make it where I can't do what I want to do in my life."
Her: *staring*
Me: "Or rather what I feel like I'm supposed to do."

*silence*

Her: "Can I ask you a question?"
Me: "Sure."
Her: "Do you think I'm gonna be okay?"
Me: "I think anything is better than living every day in fear. So yeah. I think today you are more okay than yesterday. And that's a good thing."
Her: *starts crying again*

*silence*

Her: "I'm so relieved. To tell somebody. To get this weight off my chest."
Me: "And I'm happy that you are here and that we are sitting here together."
Her: *smiles*
Me: *smiles back*

I remember a few years ago when I had a health scare. I had something happening in my body that didn't seem right. I worried for two full weeks. When I finally told Harry I was crying before I could even explain. Man. I was so scared when I finally went to get it checked out.

Whew.

And no--I didn't wait two and a half years but even in those two and a half minutes that passed between the doctor looking at my results and telling me what could have been life-altering information, I fully understood how she felt.

Damn, I did.

Look, man. Fear can present itself in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it marches in like a King Kong with big muscles and gnashing teeth. Other times it's a smooth operator and completely in disguise. And the only things to take it down are love and truth. And today they both showed up like a badass tag team.

Sure did.

I love it when fear loses. And today it did.

Hell yeah.

***
#amazinggrady #fearisaliar #getitchecked #maketheappt #knowingisbetterthanworrying #loveisthewhat #andfearisapunkassbeeyotch

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Squeaks and Squawks.



Him: "Them shoes you wearing is some a your favorite shoes?"
Me: *looking down* "My shoes?"
Him: "Yeah. Your shoes. They your favorites?"
Me: *squinting eyes and thinking* "Ummm. . . I guess I like them. They're good work shoes for the most part. And this color goes with a lot of stuff."
Him: "You mean it's a good work shoe for YOU."
Me: "Huh?"

*silence*

Him: "Look here. If them ain't your favorite shoes--hell, your ONLY shoes, then you need to go on and retire 'em."
Me: *looking down at my shoes again*
Him: "Miss Manning you woke me up two different times this week with that damn squeaky shoe. And today it was both of 'em squawking? Lord Jesus! Unh uh!"
Me: *laughing*
Him: "Them shoes got to GO. Or you gon' need to kick 'em off for you get on my hall so folk can get some rest."
Me: *still laughing*
Nurse: "Tell her how you really feel."
Me: "I was in denial."
Him: "Well you need to get out of denial. Or out my room in that shoe."

*laughter*

He's right. I do love the shoes. And I have no idea why or when they started squeaking like this and how to fix it. Wait--I take that back. It was after getting caught in the rain last week. I guess I just hoped it wasn't as bad as I knew it was.



Ha.

That got me thinking about all of the things that we totally notice but that we act like people don't see. Like the skirt that used to fit but is now too tight. Or that stomach or thigh you bared that reeeeally wasn't ready for sunshine or for going un-Spanxed. Or that very odd weave or hairdo that leaves people speechless (to your face.) Or the reeeally wrinkled shirt that you know you should have taken a moment to iron. Or even the funny smelling shirt that you hope only you've noticed. Man. . .If you noticed? Oh, someone else noticed.

Totally.

And this? This is just one more thing to love about Grady. You'll immediately know if you've gained weight, if your decision to go grey is questionable and even if you need some gum since your breath smells like garlic and onions after lunch. Folk will tell you, do you hear me?
By the way--that same patient told me that I shouldn't button too many buttons on my white coat because it makes me look like I'm. . . wait for it. . . ."with child."

Bwah.

***

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

L-O-V-E.



I took care of you in the hospital for fifteen days straight. I was there when you first came in with those symptoms. And I held your hand when you found out why.
“I am not afraid,” you said. “I’m just really, really glad you’re here.”

And you said that every single one of those days after. You also said the same thing to me each day before I left your room:

“I love you.”

Which isn’t something we never hear as doctors but is something out of the ordinary. But you—you said it each and every time.

I love you.

Not “I’ve got love for you.” Not “I love all that you’ve done.” But those three simple words spoken with clear intention every time.

I love you.

When your body got sicker and you were in pain, I held your hand again. And you looked into my eyes and told me once more, “I am not afraid. I’m just really, really glad you’re here.”

And then, “I love you.”

You had a big fight ahead of you. The kind of big that comes in like a playground bully, stealing lunches and terrorizing the innocent and weak. You were brave and fought back. You did. But that bully wouldn’t leave you be.

No it would not.

Someone called me the other day to tell me you’d been readmitted. This time sicker and requiring intensive care. I was grateful to have been told and made a plan to go see you first thing in the morning the next day.

You transitioned before I could.

Damn.

Today I am thinking of you. Letting your memory remind me of the great privilege of caring for you and every one of my patients at Grady. I am remembering our time together and speaking back the words you gave to me:

I am not afraid. I’m just really, really glad you’re here.

and

I love you.

Yeah.
***


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Open doors.




You weren’t nice to me. Your words were scathing and mean—the kind designed to cut straight down to the bloodless white meat. Though I’d told myself over and over again that it wasn’t really about me, how could I be sure? You weren’t an angry patient pounding a fist on the tray table when denied Percocet. You were a learner.

A learner.

We had things in common. Undeniable things. That made this blow land harder on my jaw. And, what’s worse, is that I didn’t even see it coming so it came like a ruthless sucker punch.

Ooph.

I told myself that I’d tried my best. That your approval doesn’t matter. Me trying is what mattered. But on that day I was forced to admit it. It does. Of course it does. Especially from the ones like you.

Like us.

I told a colleague friend about what you said. I was honest about how it felt and admitted that it hurt. Together we unpacked it all and I looked inward for what, if any of it, was true.

“Even if a person isn’t happy, there is a way to express it,” my friend said. “This isn’t it. This feels like something else.”

“Yeah.” That was all I could say.

“No matter what, I say keep the door open. Don’t lash out. You can only control you. Make it known that you are always a phone call away. Even after all that, you are. You have to be.”

“Do I?”

“I think so.”

After that, I sent a message your way keeping the door open like she said. I chose kindness. And you? You chose radio silence.

Yep.

That was a while ago. Time has passed. New learners have come along and both of us have moved on. Fortunately, we won’t have to interact again. So given that, mostly I pushed the memory away. And I suspect from the indifference I perceived that you never even had to push it anywhere.

Nope.

But funny how life is with our paths. Just when you think something is behind you, Life LOLs and shows you otherwise. And the older I get, the more I wonder if anything is really ever behind anyone.

Hmm.

Today a silhouette was coming my way and, from a distance, I couldn’t tell it was you. But by the way you slowed your feet, I could see you knew it was me. As you got closer, you stopped and just sort of stared.

“Hey you.” I broke the ice with something neutral. “You doing okay?” I smiled. And it wasn’t even forced.

At first your face appeared pensive. But then it softened with relief.

“Hey, Dr. M,” you replied quietly. And then you let out this tired sigh. Your shoulders sagged..
We talked a bit. I gave you a hug. You hugged me back. And it was good. It was.

See, we have things in common. Undeniable things. And because of those things, i know how hard it can be to navigate all of this as who you are. As who we are. So very hard sometimes.

I know.

“Call me, okay?” That’s what I said.
“I will,” you say back. “For real, I will.”

This time you hug me. I hug you back.

Control you, she said. I’m so glad I did.

This time especially.

Yeah. 

Snitches and stitches.



If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

________________________________

On rounds at Grady

Him: "I just wanted to say sorry for how acted yesterday. I shouldn't have cussed at you and called you out your name like that."
Me: *silence*
Him: "I was just in pain. But I know you was just trying to look out for me. I shouldn'ta said all that to you, though."

*silence*

Me: "Um. Are you sure I'm the one you cursed out? I appreciate your apology but I'm not sure I'm the one who should be getting it."
Him: "Damn. Am I going crazy? I was sure it was you."

*silence*

Neighbor on other side of the curtain starts laughing. Loud and hard. We both swing our heads in the direction of that loud cackle.
Neighbor: "Yeah it was you."
Me: "Sir?"
Neighbor: "Bruh, you did have some words for her but it was after she left. You was talking to ME not HER, remember?"
Him: *eyes widened*
Neighbor: "Be glad you didn't hear it, doc. It was . . .whooo." *starts laughing super hard again* "Mane! That lady ain't even know you said nothing!"
Him: *now laughing too* "Damn! I snitched on myself!"
Neighbor: "Yeah bruh. Where they do that at?"

*laughter*

Neighbor: "Want me to tell you what he said?"
Me: "Nah, I'm good."

*laughter*

Him: "At least I said I was sorry."
Me: "True that."
Neighbor: "Hey. . . .do snitches REALLY get stitches in the hospital?"
*howling with laughter*
A Grady elder once told me:
"Some shit said 'bout you ain't meant for you to be hearing. Don't go dissecting some little bitty shit you overheard on Tuesday that don't mean nothing on Wednesday."

Bwah.

This was in reference to her niece whose feelings were hurt because she was earhustling and overheard her auntie talking about her. That elder said she didn't answer the phone when her niece called because she talks too much. When confronted, that elder said:
"Well. You do."

Ha.

Here's what I now know for sure: People say all kinds of things. And sometimes? Some things said about us just AREN'T meant for our ears. Nope. Does it mean the person wants to ruin your life or see you go bankrupt? Nah. And in a perfect world would everyone be saying only nice things? Sure. But you know? It's not that heavy, man.

You know? I'm convinced that my angry-about-oxycodone patient who cursed me out to his neighbor isn't the only person saying something unflattering about me away from my ears.

And I'm cool with that. Supercool, in fact.

So. . .if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Well. That depends on if the tree is a snitch.

(Or in the room with one.)

OMG. I love this place.

***
Happy Humpday.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Aretha.




Any and every resident or medical student who has ever worked with me at Grady has heard me say these words:

"Rock steady, baby."

It is what I say when a patient is doing better. It is what I say when everything is going well. It is the response I give to someone telling me they got several interviews for jobs or fellowships. Or even just the thing I offer someone who asks how things are going with me.

"Rock steady, baby."

It is the song that lifted my spirits after losing my sister. The one that lulled me out of bed and outside to learn to run to combat grief. The beat that thumped in my chest when I spoke to millions of people on CNN as the Chilean miners were rescued. The velvety voice that crooned over my shoulder when stepping up to a podium to give a lecture. And the jam that helped me cross finish lines for those 13.1 mile races I never believed I could run.

Rock steady, baby.

See, I believe that everyone should have a soundtrack playing in their head every single day. Those who know me and have read my blog know that I have a mental iPod playing 24-7. I kid you not--if my life were a movie and it had to have a musical soundtrack? Right at the top of the playlist would be this song.

Rock steady, baby.

Sometimes I put my earjacks in and strut straight into Grady to the beat of this song playing in my ear--literally. But most times? I don't even need it. I can hear it clear as a bell no matter what other ambient noises are around me.

Yup.

Something about the bass. The horns. Her voice. Her voice. . . and the background singers, too. All of it seems to swirl in my spirit and speak to my mood. It says, "You are good. You will be fine. Things are good. And if they aren't, they will be or they can be."

Rock steady, baby.

It makes me want to high five people, do the bump with somebody in the elevator, and put some pep in my step. It makes me want to convince a patient they can make it, shake the hand of a security guard, and raise my hand in the back of the teaching conference. It lifts my spirits and puts my feet on a positive path. Yes. That.

Rock steady, baby.

Such a perfect song. Nothing too fancy. Not too many complicated lyrics. Just good, clean soul. I mean, let's call this song exactly what it is.

Mmmm hmmmm.

So if you see me around Grady or anywhere for that matter. . . .and you wonder why I look like I hear music in my head? It's because I do. And thanks to the Queen of Soul, it is probably this very song.

Rock steady, baby.

Aretha will forever be playing on my mental iPod as a reminder to feel the rhythm of each day and step into it with gratitude. And then? Just call this life exactly what it is: One I'm glad to be living.

Rock steady, baby.



Rest in power, Soror Aretha. Your talent and legacy will live on forever. May you forever move rock steady, baby.

***

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Busy is a liar.




The last 36 hours for me have been insurmountably busy. Emotionally, spiritually, physically and personally--all of it like a whirlwind of moments stacked on top of one another in a giant, endless pile. Juggling time for myself and my commitments with the needs of my family and others has been challenging. It's been a lot.

But not impossible.

The older I get and the more I live, the more I realize that it IS possible for busy people to keep a space open in their hearts for concern for others.

Yep.

Yesterday a sorority sister of mine reached out to check on me about something I'd asked her to pray about before. She's busy, too. So that wasn't lost on me.

Another time, my friend David flew all the way back to Atlanta from Philadelphia where he'd just moved three weeks before to attend my sister's memorial service. And, because we are good friends, I knew how chaotic his life was at that time. I did. And I never forgot that.

Nope.

So recently, someone I care about has been navigating a tough time with a sick loved one. And I have been fortunate to walk with her a little bit during this difficult time. A lot of it has transpired in the last 36 hours, too. The epicenter of the same crazy 36 hours that I have been muddling through myself.

At the end of my rounds yesterday, I got a text from that friend. I slipped away from the hustle bustle of the hospital into an empty-ish stairwell. I sat down right on the stairs and, in the middle of my busy day, called my friend. I listened to her talk. I said a few things and then let her go tend to the needs of her family. After that, I scooped it all up and tucked it into my heart for safekeeping.

Then I went back to my work. The whole thing took five minutes.

Listen--nobody can be present for everyone. And Lord knows I drop the ball sometimes and that I have to draw lines somewhere. But what I also know is that it's so easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we're too busy to be emotionally available for those we care about. Or that it doesn't matter when we aren't. I now know for sure that this just isn't true. And that it doesn't even take as much time as I once thought.

Nope.

Sure--sometimes showing up involves planes, trains, and automobiles. But other times? It just involves plopping down on a metal step in a stairwell, just a little bit of effort, and a decision to stop for a few seconds to remember someone in real time.

Once you live long enough and go through enough, you know that it makes a difference. You do.

Yeah. 

***

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August.



Waiting for the elevator today at Grady when one of my favorite Grady employees walks up:

Him: "Hey my favorite doc! You having a good day?"
Me: "Hey friend! I'm hangin' in. You?"
Him: "I'm cool. You know what, Dr. Manning? Every time I see you? You always look like you havin' a good day. ALWAYS, you know that? So I don't even know why I asked. I can just look at you and tell."
Me: "Well that's a nice thing to say."
Him: "It's the truth, Miss Manning."

*silence*

Me: "You want to know the truth, sir? Today hasn't been my favorite."
Him: "No? Damn. But you smiling. And on the outside you seem like you happy."
Me: "I didn't say I wasn't happy. I just said today wasn't my favorite is all."
Him: "You okay?"
Me: "I think so."
Him: "What's wrong?"

*silence*

Me: "It's August. My sister that passed a few years back would have turned 50 this month."
Him: *eyes widened* "Damn. She died?"
Me: *nods head* "Yup."
Him: "Damn. I ain't know you lost a sister. That's messed up, man. I hate hearing that."
Me: "Yeah. Me, too."

*silence*

Him: "So you happy. . . but this just ain't your favorite day, huh?"
Me: "Pretty much."
Him: "I had a brother that got shot. Wrong place wrong time. Died the next day. He was young, too."
Me: "Dang. I'm sorry."
Him: *shaking his head* "I feel you, doc. Losing your family ain't no joke."
Me: "That it ain't."

*silence*

Him: "You know what? I like that you let yourself be both things at the same time. Like, it can be a shitty day but that don't mean it's a shitty life."
Me: *squinting eyes* "Wow. That's a good word right there."
Him: "Yeah. Real talk though."
Me: *smiling* "The doors of the church are now open."

*laughter*

Him: "Well I think I'm gon' try to work on letting my life show more than my day whenever I can. 'Cause I think I got a good life."
Me: "Me, too, friend. Me, too."

After that we joined a crowded lunchtime elevator full of people and didn't say much else. But for that whole ride, we were both smiling and letting our lives shine. We sure were.

And the best part? That little exchange made my day better. It did.

Damn, I love this place.

***

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Barriers to caring.



"She doesn't speak English," my resident said.
"Okay," I replied. "Let's call the interpreter and then go see another patient until they are ready for us."
"We can use the phone line or the video chat interpreters."

That's what the med student said. And honestly, it was a very good suggestion considering how busy we were that morning.

But.

See, I had never met this patient. And though I am deeply appreciative of the technology that affords us easy, prompt ways to close language barriers, whenever I can help it, I like everybody talking on that first meeting to have a pulse that I can feel.

Our Grady interpreters are so amazing. They have this way of melting away during a discussion and allowing you and your patient to really, truly connect. And again--sometimes I have no choice but to use the phone or video interpreter. On this day, though? I had a choice, man. I did.

Yep.

And so. With the help of Maria, one of our exceptional Spanish interpreters, I listened to the story of this patient. And not just the story of her present illness. The story of her life outside of the hospital. Of her six children who make her very, very proud. Of the tiny details of her symptoms that only come out when feeling unhurried. I also loved that her fluent-in-English son and daughter didn't have to interpret but instead got to sit there and just do what every single other family with a matriarch in the hospital l gets to do: Love their mama, ask their questions, and worry as only they can.

Yup.

The next day she felt better. And, again, I called that human-being interpreter even though the technology and bilingual family member options were readily available. And since she didn't feel sick anymore, this time I learned even more about my patient.

Here's what I learned:

We both have a spoiled labradoodle.
We both have danced all night at a wedding in Mexico City.
We both wish we'd worked harder in school to learn the native tongue of the other.
Neither of us like cheese. (Yuck.)

She's never been to my hometown so I told her all about southern California. I've never been to or even heard of hers so I listened to her paint a vibrant picture of her hometown in Mexico--a place with breathtaking waterfalls and rivers so blue they make you want to cry. "Agua turquesa!" she said with closed eyes for emphasis. Her kids nodded in agreement. Then her English-speaking son insisted that me and his mom Google image it right then and there. Which we did. And she was right--words didn't do those turquoise waters justice. No, they did not.

And I want you to know that that human-being interpreter shared everything we said word-for-word. And none of it took long but all of it made my patient feel better. Which made me feel better, too.

Here's what I know for sure:

Barriers to care can create barriers to caring. Every single time I call and wait for an interpreter to come, it honors my patient. Now more than ever, I want to do that. And though I (always) feel slightly annoyed with myself for being a Los Angelino who doesn't hablás español and though I'm (always) impatient with the time (no matter how short) I have to wait for the human-being interpreter to come, not one single time have I ever regretted it after the fact.

Nunca.


I'm really thankful for our interpreters at Grady.
***
#mejortrabajodelahistoria #elamoresloque #bestjobever #loveisthewhat #amazinggrady #iwanttogotosanluispotosinow #herhometownisdope #nowaterfallsininglewood

From from.






“Where are your people from? Maybe Mississippi or an island?” 

- India.Arie, “Brown Skin”


Grady elevator, July 4.

Him: “Hey doc.”
Me: “Hey there, sir.”
*silence*
Him: “Hey doc? Where you from?”
Me: “Me? I’m from California.”
Him: “No I meant like, where you FROM FROM.”
Me: “Ummmm. Born in Compton. Raised in Inglewood.” *holds up hand gesture* “West syeeeeeed.”

*laughter*

Him: *squints eyes* “But where your peoples from?”
Me: “Alabama.”
Him: “Alabama? So you just regular black? I was thinking you was something else.”

Me: *shrugs and smiles* “Nope.”
Him: *still pondering my ancestry*

*silence*

Me: “So tell me, friend. Where’re you from?”
Him: “Straight out the A. Vine City.”
Me: “Gotcha. Is that where you’re FROM FROM? Like, your peoples, too?”
Him: “Yep. I’m just a regular ass n*** from Atlanta.”

*silence*

Me: “So, why are you at Grady today on Firecracker day?”
Him: “To see my grandmama. She been real sick.”
Me: “I’m sorry to hear that. Are y’all close?”
Him: “She my heart.” *eyes glistening so looks down* “I see her every day.”
Me: “I bet she’s so glad to see you everyday.”
Him *nods and keeps looking down*

After that, I asked his name and told him mine. I told him that I thought his grandmama was a very lucky woman to have a special grandson who came to see her every single day. And then I reached my floor and the doors opened. I stepped out but then turned back to face him with my hand on the door.

Me: “Hey grandson? Can you do me and your grandmama a favor?”
Him: *looks up* “Yes, ma’am.”
Me: “Please don’t ever, ever refer to yourself as a ‘regular ass n***’ again, okay? Like, ever. Because you’re not.”
Him: *staring at me while I stand in the doorway as elevator buzzer starts going off*
Me: “Alright then, grandson. Go see ‘bout your heart. She waiting on you.”
Him: “Alright then, doc.”

Me: *smiling*
Him: *smiling back*

Both of us: *fist bump*

I love this place.❤️🏥

***
#slowtojudge #hewasspecial #peopleoftenaskwhereimfromfrom #butonlymyownpeopleask #itscooltho #totallycoolwithme #dialoguestarter #amazinggrady #loveisthewhat #alwaysandinallways

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thick as thieves.





Afternoon with a Grady elder:

Me: "I heard you had a lot of visitors today. I hate I missed them."
Her: "Yeah. It was mostly good."
Me: "Mostly?"
Her: "Mmmm hmmmm."

*silence while watching TV*

Her: "My granddaughter got upset with me."
Me: "Oh yeah? Why?"
Her: "She say I ain't got no business laughing at the TV or at anything else when so much serious stuff happening with my body. She don't like me to be talking about or thinking about anything that ain't concerning my health. She feel like I shouldn't do that."

Me: *just listening*

Her: "Here's what happened: My granddaughter came in here with her friend and her friend just cut her hair all down with some clippers into one of these little afro hairstyles." *pats her head to make sure I understand*
Me: "Wait--what does that have to do with. . ."
Her: "'Cause it look a mess." *laughing hard and smacking the cover in front of her* "Oh Lord. Not cute on her at all. Bless her heart."

*laughter*

Me: "Now that's cold. Did she ask your opinion about her hair?"
Her: "When she came up in my room she did." *laughing even louder*
Me: *shaking my head and trying not to laugh*
Her: "And 'fore you say I got hate in my heart for being black it ain't that neither. Some of these little naturals look real nice. I just don't like it when somebody go and cut they hair off and don't do nothing. Just show up looking like somebody bad ass grandson."

*laughter*

Her: "I want you to pick it or put some pomade in it or somethin'!"
Me: *laughing*
Her: "And then you act like since it's a afro I can't say nothing. That's where you wrong."

*more laughter*

Her: *now serious* "But that ain't what made her mad. It was just that I could laugh period."
Me: "I see."
Her: "And I tried to tell her--'Baby, even when sad and heavy stuff happen 'round you, it don't erase the happy and light stuff.'"

Me: *staring at her*

Her: "Like, if you lose your wife, right? I can tell you I'm sorry and mean it. And then if your little next door neighbor come over and borrow a cup of sugar but want to tell you a joke he heard in school that day, I got it in me to laugh at it."

Me: *still listening*

Her: "I can be sad 'bout your wife and laugh at that joke, too. And it don't make me no less sad 'bout your predicament neither. 'Cawse, see, I think happy and sad--they thick as thieves. So I go on and let 'em live in harmony."

*silence*

Me: "I wish I could record this to play back to myself later."
Her: "Naw. You a good listener. When you listen good, you catch it all."

*silence*

Her: "I don't want nobody turning on they sad on my account. Just be you. If you see me and you feel sad, then be that. But if somewhere in there you got some glad in you, don't go pushing it down on accounta me."
Me: "I love this. Thank you--for real."
Her: "Bet it don't even make sense."

*suddenly I want to cry*

Me: "The thing is. . . it makes so much sense that it makes me want to cry."
Her: "Cry?" *laughing* "Why you want to go and do that?"
Me: "I just feel guilty sometimes. When I feel sad and happy at the same time."
Her: "Don't. Your heart would go crazy if it had to just be one of those all the time."

*silence*

Me: "Do you feel sad about everything sometimes?"
Her: "Sure I do. Sometimes I be in here crying, too."
Me: "You do?"
Her: "Wouldn't you?"

*silence*

Her: "But look here. . . .if you seent that hairdo on that child? Whoooo weeee. You woulda laughed, too. Shit, maybe even cried."

*collective laughter*

Sigh.

My patient was right. I DID listen. And I caught it all. 

Happy and sad are thick as thieves.
And, like her,  I've made up my mind to just let them live.

Yeah.

***
#agoodword #gradyeldersrule #thickasthieves #amazinggrady #loveisthewhat #lettherebelight #andlightenTFupwhileyouatit

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The town crier.



"Let her cry. Let the tears fall down like rain." 

- Hootie and the Blowfish

I used to try my best not to cry in front of patients and families. In medical school and residency, I'd excuse myself abruptly and tear out of the room and into a hallway or a bathroom when I felt my eyes stinging. I knew that if I didn't, the volcano would erupt and my secret would be out: I'm a crier.

Yeah.

One day, I didn't make it. I broke down crying while giving some bad news. And you know? The world did not end. I held it together enough to speak in full sentences but, yeah, I cried. Hard, too. And I cried because I was talking about something worth crying about.

Yeah.

Somebody was losing their mama. And that mama was a good mama, too. A sweet, sweet mama. You could see it in the way they rallied around her and rubbed her cheeks and kissed her head. Those grown kids couldn't be objective. Love had them all myopic to how bad this all was.

But not me.

Today that happened to me again. Almost exactly as it did that time many, many years ago. And it happens to me just about every time that I am on the hospital service. I step into the circle of love as one of the only ones who can see. But when they let me in, I start to feel that love, too. I do believe in miracles just like they do. Still, I owe it to everyone to be honest. To tell what I know.

"I don't know what to do," the daughter said.
"I am here to help you be brave," I replied.

And then we both cried. Hard. And I'm crying again writing this.

I'm okay with it, though. When it doesn't hurt is the only time I'll worry. Until then, I'll continue to keep two tissues in my pocket just in case.

Yeah.

***
#thisisgrady #bestjobever #humanityliveshere #letitburn #myteamsawmecrytoo #andiwascoolwithit #amazinggrady #john13v35 #loveisthewhat

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Question askers.



I love it when people have people. Like, when they are sick in the hospital and I come in to see them and there is a loved one there at the bedside? That's a good thing, man.

The ones that perk up when you walk in are my favorites. They have the steno pads with questions on them and read your badge then write down your name. These are the folks that ask the questions that the patient is too tired or too sleepy or too scared to ask. They keep you honest and on your toes.

And.

They point out those things that aren't life-threatening but are quality-of-life-threatening like:
"Can y'all do something about how dry his lips are?"

or

"Is there something prescription you can give her for those ashy elbows?"
or, my favorite this week:

"Miss Manning, can you PLEASE have somebody maybe from surgery come and see about fixing his outty?"

O_o

Um. You mean as in, the outty belly button that has been in such a state since Muhammad Ali was telling folks he wasn't fighting in no war?

Chile please.

Seriously though? I don't mind. Because seeing you at the bedside is right up there with seeing balloons, cards and flowers. It's a sign that somebody loves my patient. And somebody loving you is a positive prognostic indicator, man. You got a bunch of questions? That's cool. Bring it on.
That is, unless you start asking me about YOUR ashy elbows. Or YOUR outty belly button from 1965.

Then you got to go.

Good times, man.
***

Monday, July 9, 2018

Affection control.




Late afternoon rounds today

Me: "Hey there."
Patient: "Hey."
Me: "I just came back to check on you and--"

*notices another person in the bed*

Patient: "Oh we ain't doing nothing in here. We just cuddling." *pulls back cover* "See? We dressed."
Me: "Wow. Umm, okay. Soooo. . . that's like. . .uhhh. . . . . yeah."
Patient: *smacks lips* "You act like we in here hooking up!"
Me: "Ewww. Seriously?"

*laughter from both.*

Me: "Okay but for real. Y'all spooning in here is an infection risk. Soooo . . . .you have to get up out of this bed." *laughing and shaking my head*
Patient: "Awww man."
Me: "Sorry not sorry."
Patient: *pouts* "But that's my boo."

*laughter*

Me: "Well. Boo? You ain't got to go home but you got to get up out this bed I know that. Before the infectious disease team comes to get me."

*laughter*

Patient: *scowling as Boo gets out of the bed* "Miss Manning, you was probably a blocker back in the day wasn't you?"
Me: "Wait. A what?"

*laughter*

Me: *shaking my head* "Okay but for real. The bed is for the patient only, okay?"
Boo: "I got to leave anyway, babe."
Patient: "SEE, Miss Manning? You a BLOCKER."

*silence*

Me: "I'm sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit."

*laughter*

I love this job.


***
#nospooning #idontmakethisstuffup #yourewelcomeinfectioncontrol

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fear of dogs.



When you came in, this problem was barking like a dog. It looked like one and behaved like one, too. A few tests later, it was confirmed to be just that. A dog.

Albeit not a very nice or well-behaved one.

This is the kind of dog that requires the help of expert dog tamers. And we have very good ones who stepped right in and made recommendations. Special tricks to acquiesce the gnashing teeth of this dog.

They say what to do and we do it. I am only the middleman. And you feel fine, mostly. So I come in to see you, do what the experts suggest, and not very much more. Which can sometimes be how it is with exotic breeds like yours.

“Has everything been explained to you?” I ask.

“It has,” you reply. I confirm by pressing you a bit with questions. Your understanding is accurate. Your exam unchanged. There is nothing to do.

“I was so scared I wouldn’t see you by yourself today,” you say. “Outside the team rounds.”
“I’m here,” I say. "I'm back, okay?"
You smile and your dry lips crack. “I'm glad.” The look on your face makes me feel glad, too.

And so. I sit beside you and lay my hand before yours. You reach for it and close your fingers. And then we just sit and hold hands. I listen to your thoughts. Hear about what makes you afraid. We talk about how you are scared of dogs. Real ones and metaphorical ones, too.

I'm not the dog whisperer and no, I don’t have all the answers. And, yes, I'll admit that I have fears of lions and tigers and bears—and, just like you, those cancer rabid dogs, too. But what I also know is this: Even though I’m not the expert, I am brave enough to hold your hand and face them with you. I am.

Or to at least show up and try.

Yeah.

***

Thursday, July 5, 2018

This time.

*image shared with permission


I’ve passed you too many times to count in the last decade and a half. Our eyes always meet and the same thing happens. I wave my hand and say hello. And you offer a gentlemanly nod accompanied by a gesture for me to look at your collection of items for sale. I smile in response and, without fail, you say, “Maybe next time.”

Every. Single. Time.

This morning I woke up thinking of you. Recounting the hundreds of lunches that I’ve had that called for me to pass you and for us to have that same Groundhog Day-like exchange. I decided that today would be the day that I stopped and really, truly looked at what you were selling.

Yep.

I walked up slowly, to let you know I wasn’t in a hurry. And when you held out that flattened palm toward that rectangular cloth holding all of your goods, this time I halted, kneeled down, and gave it all a good, hard look. I asked you prices and questions. You were patient and answered each and every one.

“I like the copper bracelet but don’t have enough cash on me for it,” I said. “Maybe I could make a donation instead?”

You asked if I needed socks. Or perhaps some African oil? What about some shea butter? You didn’t want a handout. It was clear.

“What about you play me some music? And I pay for that?” I asked. You seemed to like this suggestion best of all.

And so you played. A sweet little ditty that I’d never heard before. But sweet all the same.

After that, I decided that I didn’t want us to be strangers anymore. I learned your name. You learned mine. I discovered that, like me, you love people more than you fear them and believe that we are all more alike than we are different. I found out that—no, you aren’t a Rastafarian from the West Indies. You are a bona fide ATLien—a Grady baby born and raised right in the heart of the 4th Ward. You’re a musician, an entrepreneur, a jewelry maker, a singer and, especially, a man who loves the pulse of a thriving city. You used to live in New York City for many years but found your way back home to Atlanta. You thought Dinkins could’ve done more as “the first brother mayor of NYC” and that Rudy Giuliani was decent but that he had no business running for President of these whole United States. Oh, and you like that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is one of Atlanta’s own just like you.

Yep.

I bid you adieu and went to have some lunch after that. On the walk back, you gave me that same gallant nod and gestured to your spread. “Maybe next time, Dr. Kimberly,” you said this time.

“Yes, Mr. Harun,” I replied. “Maybe next time indeed.”

I love this place.

***
#amazinggrady #ilovepeople #objectsarecloserthantheyappear #loveisthewhat #iseeyou

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Grandson.


“Where are your people from? Maybe Mississippi or an island?” 

- India.Arie, “Brown Skin”

______________________________

Grady elevator, July 4.

Him: “Hey doc.”
Me: “Hey there, sir.”

*silence*

Him: “Hey doc? Where you from?”
Me: “Me? I’m from California.”
Him: “No I meant like, where you FROM FROM.”
Me: “Ummmm. Born in Compton. Raised in Inglewood.” *holds up hand gesture* “West syeeeeeed.

*laughter*

Him: *squints eyes* “But where your peoples from?”
Me: “Alabama.”
Him: “Alabama? So you just regular black? I was thinking you was something else.”

Me: *shrugs and smiles* “Nope.”
Him: *still pondering my ancestry*

Me: “So tell me, friend. Where’re you from?”
Him: “Straight out the A. Vine City.”
Me: “Gotcha. Is that where you’re FROM FROM? Like, your peoples, too?”
Him: “Yep. I’m just a regular ass n*** from Atlanta.”

*silence*

Me: “So, why are you at Grady today on Firecracker day?”
Him: “To see my grandmama. She been real sick.”
Me: “I’m sorry to hear that. Are y’all close?”
Him: “She my heart.” *eyes glistening so looks down* “I see her every day.”
Me: “I bet she’s so glad to see you everyday.”
Him *nods and keeps looking down*

After that, I asked his name and told him mine. I told him that I thought his grandmama was a very lucky woman to have a special grandson who came to see her every single day. And then I reached my floor and the doors opened. I stepped out but then turned back to face him with my hand on the door.

Me: “Hey grandson? Can you do me and your grandmama a favor?”
Him: *looks up* “Yes, ma’am.”
Me: “Please don’t ever, ever refer to yourself as a ‘regular ass n***’ again, okay? Like, ever. Because you’re not.”
Him: *staring at me while I stand in the doorway as elevator buzzer starts going off*
Me: “Alright then, grandson. Go see ‘bout your heart. She waiting on you.”
Him: “Alright then, doc.”
Me: *smiling*
Him: *smiling back*

Both of us: *fist bump*

I love this place.❤️🏥

***
#slowtojudge #hewasspecial #peopleoftenaskwhereimfromfrom #butonlymyownpeopleask #itscooltho #totallycoolwithme #dialoguestarter #amazinggrady #loveisthewhat #alwaysandinallways

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Baby Daddy.



Him: "You got kids, Miss Manning?"
Me: "Yep. Two sons."
Him: "They grown? Like my age?"
Me: "Nah. Thirteen and eleven."
Him: *eyes widen* "Damn. Doctors be waiting to have they kids."
Me: "Ha. Some do. Some don't."

*silence*

Me: "You excited about being a dad?"
Him: "Very. But it scare me, too."
Me: "What part?"
Him: "Getting it right."

*silence*

Him: "Miss Manning? You think if you didn't have no good daddy, you can be one to your kid?"
Me: "I think there's a lot of good daddies who are the first good daddies in their family."
Him: "Kind of like the first to go to college, huh?"

*silence*

Him: "I just hope I got what it take to be a good daddy."
Me: "You do. You got love. And love is the what, man."
Him: "Take more than love."
Me: "It's a start though. That and showing up."
Him: "I can show up and love her. I can do that."
Me: "Good stuff, man."

*silence*

Him: "That's what your daddy did, huh?"
Me: "What?"
Him: "Showed up. And loved you. I can tell."
Me: *silence*


He changed the subject after that and just watched the TV. And I just sat there on the chair next to him. At first, I wanted to cry. But then I decided to go ahead and give thanks for the amazing father this young man will become.

Because he will. I claimed it.




Yeah.

***
#whynothim #hegotnext #loveisthewhat #amazinggrady #iprayformypatients #gooddadsrule #hewasrightaboutmine

Monday, July 2, 2018

Divine intervention.




A fist has hit your face. A strong hand has gripped your arm hard. Spit has flown from lips as they spewed forth words cursing you. And you took it day after day, year after year. Now your body is sick and growing older. The energy it took to be a crouching tiger from this hidden dragon is needed for other things. Except this is all you know. Or all that you've known for most of your adult life.

"God called me to this place. I am trusting Him." That is what you said to me when I asked about all of this. You explained it with such simplicity. Like, this was your lot in life. Your destiny of lumps that you would just have to take.

Like you had been taking for all this time.

When I explained that I worried about this and said I didn't believe love should hurt like this, your eyes filled with tears. When I told you that I knew it was complicated but we wanted to protect you, they fell. Onto your cheeks and in splashes on your blue hospital-issue gown.

We sat in silence for a bit. Then you squeezed my hand tight and said, "I'll be okay. I've made it this far. I will be okay. God's got me." You smiled. And when you did I saw your cheek quivering. But you nodded hard and sure. So brave and full of fight. You meant those words.

You did.

"No." That's all I said. Then I closed my hand tight over yours, shook my head and clamped down hard. "No."

And you understood what I meant. That this idea of you fighting this old fight and this new fight at the same time was not going to happen. Even if it was super complex and lumpy and scary. We can't unhear it. I can't unknow it.

I can't.

I gave you a hug before walking out of your room. And you hugged me right back. You sure did.
I didn't say anything more after that. But I hope that hug conveyed what was on my heart.

I recognize that you are scared and respect that you believe that God has called you to this place. But I need you to remember something, okay? Just maybe He called me to this place, too.

I will do my best to fight with you. I will.


Yeah.

***
Happy Monday.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Rules of Intern Year.




10 Rules of Intern Year

1. Show up.
2. Do your best.
3. Listen to the nurses. 
4. Don’t lie.
5. Put the patient first. 
6. Do fun stuff when you’re off.
7. Cry when you need to. 
8. Laugh out loud when you need to.
9. Eat lunch and take the stairs. 
10. Care like it’s yo’ mama.



July 1. One day down, 364 to go. You’ve got this, interns. And we’ve got you. Let’s get it! 👊🏽🏥 #gohardest #bespecial #carelikeitsyomama #youarereadierthanyouthink

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stick together.




"I was next!"

"No you weren't!"

"Why are you cheating?"

"I'm not cheating!"

"You are!"

Their voices escalated from down the hall. I sunk my face into my hand and groaned. I wasn't in the mood.

"Mom!"  I took a big drag of air and tried to ignore it. It was repeated with more urgency. "MOM!

Next came a cacophony of clattering plastic. I'd attempted to sit at my kitchen table doing nothing enough times to know the exact sound of a PlayStation video hand control device falling to a hardwood floor. I squeezed my eyes tight and pressed my lips together.  Next came the feet stomping in my direction.

"Mom? Isaiah was supposed to --"

"No. No, he's exaggerating," Isaiah protested before his brother could finish his sentence.

I swung my head from side to side between them. Zachary was now blinking back mad tears and fuming. Isaiah held the plastic controller behind his back so that Zack couldn't reach it. They were at a stand still. And I hadn't even uttered a word of mediation.

And wasn't going to.

Clasping my hands in front of my face, I looked straight ahead into the space between them. "Listen," I said. "You will argue sometimes. You'll frustrate one another, too. But no matter what, I just need you to always remember what I say about brothers." Both boys stared at the floor, still fuming. I cleared my throat hard, "What do brothers do?"

The answer came as a mumble. They'd uttered that response so many times that me asking to have their words repeated had far more to do with me just wanting them to speak up than not hearing. I pressed them in a firm voice. "What do brothers do?"

"Stick together," they replied in low unison.

"Solve this. You solve it. And if you don't, nobody gets to play." I turned back to my computer and let them know I was done. Because I was.



Last week at Grady, I took care of a man with an advanced cancer. He was up in age. His parents had passed several years back. The ex-wife he'd had remotely was no longer in is life and they'd never had children. He'd had a few strokes that left him with labile cognitive function. And his health issues were significant and active enough to warrant somebody thinking about him and advocating for him.

Yeah. That's what he needed.



Again--there was no spouse. No common law boo wringing hands at the bedside in woeful misery. No parents filled with that unconditional parental love and no aunties or uncles who'd doted on him since he was a child. All there was was one person: His brother.

Now. This man's brother was a grown man with a full life. He had a wife and adult kids and grandkids, too. He had a business that he ran and a church where he deaconed and a square of lawn in front of both his house and his church that called for him to mow it on a weekly basis. But the other thing he had was a brother.

Sure did.

He'd come in with a work uniform on. Soiled with a full day's work and with this little hint of masculine mustiness that would waft into my nostrils whenever he moved. Sometimes he'd wipe his forehead with handkerchief or just the back of his hand. Or rub his eyes with the heels of his palm. But no matter what, you could count on him seeing about his brother.

Yep.



Brother was only the next-of-kin for my patient. And since some days my patient was with it but on most other days he wasn't, we needed someone to step in. We did. And let me tell you--Brother was there.

"I'm sorry to keep putting so much on you," I said to him the other day.

"It's okay. I just hate I can't get up here no sooner. My wife would've come for me but 'cept she got some hip troubles and ain't driving right now. So I can't get here 'til I get off."

"I understand."

"He look a little better to me today." Now he was dabbing that same hankie on his brother's brow.

"He always seems to perk up when you come in." I realized that may have sounded negative so I corrected myself. "He does look to be a little better."

We sat and talked some more. Brother asked hard questions and I answered to the best of my ability. We discussed next steps and what he thought would best honor his brother's wishes. This was a day that my patient wasn't flying on both wings mentally. That was happening more and more frequently.

Brother signed a few papers and placed the pen down in front of him. A big yawn escaped his lips, causing his body to let out a tiny shudder at the end.

"I can tell you're tired."

"It's okay. That's my brother."

I squinted my eyes at him and twisted my mouth. "I have sons."

"Yeah?"

"Yes, sir. Two of them. Sixteen months apart."

"They fight?" Brother laughed at his question. "I know they do. You always do when you close in age like that."

I laughed. "Pretty much."

"See, our mama always told us this: 'Take care of your family, take care of your mama and your daddy, and take care of each other. I don't care what you got going on. You stay connected to your peoples.' So I hear my mama straight in my ear sometimes. I be tired but I come on down here."

"I love that."

"I'm all he got."

I didn't know what to say do that so I said nothing. Then I finally said, "He's blessed."

"We both blessed."



We sat in silence for a few moments. Brother stood up and put his soiled trucker's hat back on his head. This time he addressed my patient. "Okay then, Junior. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay," my patient replied. Brother reached down to give him a tiny hug in the bed. Then he gave one more of those big yawns. He waved goodbye to me and before I knew it he was gone.

The whole way home I thought about them. I thought about a mother infusing this idea into her children of staying united. Letting no weapon formed against them as siblings prosper.

Ever.




That night over dinner, I shared with my boys about this story. With privacy protected, I explained that my sick patient had no one to look out for him in this whole world except his brother. And that his brother worked all day long and came anyway.

"I'd come for you." Zack looked at his brother. His face was serious.

"Me, too. I'd come for you, too."

And that was that.



I felt a tiny heave in my chest. Followed by a shiver like the one Brother had. Something about my boys saying those affirmations to one another had given me chills.

Yeah.

I've probably had to ask that same rhetorical question about what brothers do some fifty times since then. But after watching those two men fulfill that duty to one another, I knew that it was an important seed to keep on planting.

I'm learning day by day that connectedness requires intention. It involves forgiveness and redemption and resilience and commitment. And it especially calls for us to fight for the relationships we value the most.



The mama who raised those two men did something right. She made love and loyalty a rule. And no--sometimes it doesn't work. But what I do know is that the kind of sacrifice I witnessed between those two brothers didn't just happen overnight.

No it did not.

Do brothers fight? Sure. And will brothers get on one another's nerves? For sure. But as for me and my house? They will stick together--and stay connected. If I can help it, at least.

"I don't care what you got going on. You stay connected to your peoples." 




Damn right.

***
Happy Tuesday.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain.



“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”

- Anthony Bourdain (1956 - 2018)


I remember watching this dude on TV and thinking, “Damn. He seems cooler than the other side of the pillow.” I dug the way he treated people the same regardless of their position. He listened to the short order cook in a Bangkok dive with just as much interest as he did Barack Obama. I always thought that was dope.




Yeah.

I met him once during those years when I used to do segments with CNN. He was good and famous by then. And though I don’t watch a ton of television, I’d seen his show more than enough times to know that fan-girling over him wouldn't be necessary. I was waiting for my segment and he walked through the room where I was. When he saw me, he was exactly the non-diva that I imagined he'd be. He paused, shook my hand and said, “Hey. Anthony.” And I nodded and said my name in return. He looked to be in a hurry but I said I liked the show. Because I did like the show. He stopped, looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey thanks.” Then he pointed at my hair and said, “Joining the silver fox club, huh? Welcome!” We both laughed and he walked out. And that was the time I met Anthony Bourdain.

Yep.



That was like 5 years ago. I had just started letting my grey hair come in so him pointing it out was pretty damn observant. And he wasn’t being even remotely fresh. He just saw me. And acknowledged me. Which was cool.



Turns out I was right. That dude really was cooler than the other side of the pillow. I’m glad he noticed people and lived so voraciously. I’m glad he got to break bread with people all over the world and that he looked at me not through me when I encountered him that day. I’m sad to hear of his death.



It's cliché to say things like, "No matter how rich or fulfilled you seem, that won't make you happy." So I won't say that. Instead I'll just say that I'm thankful that Mr. Bourdain--I mean, "Anthony"-- shared so much of his world and this world with so many people. And though he lost his life to suicide, I think his life included a lot of joy. I've learned from living and watching and listening that we all have parts unknown. Happiness is an everchanging spectrum. Sometimes light and darkness dwell together. It isn't just one or the other.

And it's complicated.

Thinking of every person I know who has ever been affected by suicide. I know this has been a tough week. You’re all in my thoughts, okay? I mean that.


***
Happy Friday. And rest well, my fellow silver fox.