Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lean on me.

When you work at the only hospital that turns NO ONE away? Sometimes it gets kind of busy. And on the busiest times of your busiest days? That means either be taking a few flights of stairs to save time OR stepping into an elevator filled to the brim with me and you, yo mama, and your cousin, too. (Somebody missed that.)


Okay so check it: I was up on the 11th floor at lunchtime today and was trying to get down to the ground floor. And OH--random sidebar--while I HAVE been known to bust out 11 flights going UP the stairs, as a rule, I almost never walk DOWN anything over 3 flights. (See: Knee replacement surgery - no thank you.)


After what felt like 300 trillion green arrow UP elevators coming and going, I finally see that luscious red DOWN arrow light up with a "ting." The doors slowly part and all I see is racks on racks on racks of people. All heights, all weights, all ethnicities. Some in Grady uniform attire, some in street clothes, some in white coats, and one dude in a hospital gown tied like a kimono with a Newport tucked behind his ear. They were shoulder to shoulder all the way to the front.

A lady right next to the key pad offered me a quasi-apologetic shrug from across the threshold of the lift. She looked around herself and said,"Pretty packed here. Next one?"

I threw my head back and diabolically laughed in response.

Okay, I didn't really do that, but she had me confused if she thought I wasn't getting on that elevator. With no shame in my game, I slid right on in next to her. She cleared her throat and pressed her back against the wall.

Sorry, not sorry.

A man in the middle of the pack said, "When you've been working at Grady long enough, ain't no such thing as a elevator too full." A lady in a Food Services uniform chimed in, "I know that's right!" We wanted to laugh but decided against it.

The next-to-the-keypad lady was looking salty especially after our little peanut gallery commentary. I decided to try cheering her up. "You looking over at me like, 'No this doctor lady DIDN'T step her behind on this already full elevator!'" Her face immediately went from aggravated to warm. "Mmmm hmmm. . .I see you judging me. Mmmmm hmmm. But real talk, I'm hongry. Not hungry--HONGRY." That made her laugh out loud.

Which made me happy.

The door opened on 7a and two more people slipped into crevices. Then a Grady elder with a platinum combover said, "Grady the only place where a crowd in a tight space don't damn near give me a heart attack. My fear of not getting to this cafeteria got my fear of this elevator BEAT!"

Everybody howled.

We stopped on 5 with a bit of jolt. A lady lost her footing and stumbled into the middle-of-the-pack man. He steadied her with his two hands. Then--I kid you not--he threw his head back and started singing in a LOUD, TERRIBLE singing voice.


I started clapping and joined in, "I'LL HELP YOU CARRY ON--come on, y'all!"
THEN--OMG--y'all!! EVERYBODY chimed in either singing, clapping or both.


We all exploded in cheers and laughter. Right after that, the doors flew open on the second floor and let out half of the people, including the platinum-combover man that was heading to the cafeteria. And a few moments later, the rest of us filed out on the ground floor. . . .offering these knowing smirks and giggles to one another as we slipped pass the folks trying to get on.

Best. Thing. Ever.

If you DON'T work at Grady, you'd think I made this up. But if you do? You know it's as plausible as rain on a Tuesday in Atlanta.

Love that this is the song he chose--especially because it embodies all that we do at Grady. I walked down the street humming and hearing Bill Withers smokey voice singing the rest of those words on my mental iPod:

"You just call on me brother--if you need a hand. 
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you understand
We all need somebody to lean on.
If there is a load you have to bear 
that you can't carry
I'm right up the road, I'll share your load
If you just call me. . . . call me. . .if you need a friend. . ."

Seriously? Seriously.

Whew. Yeah, man.
Happy Rainy Tuesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Two for the price of one.

Her: "You a extrovert, ain't you?"
Me: *pointed at my chest* "Me? Extrovert? Hmmm. I definitely think of myself as a lover of people. But I'm not so sure I'm a true extrovert."
Her: "Chile please. Extroverts feel at their best with people around. That's where they get all their energy. That's you."
Me: *shifting in my seat* "I'm not so sure that's what I am."
Her: "No?"
Me: "Nope."
Her: *eyes squinted*
Me: "I'm serious. Like. . .I like being alone with myself and my thoughts . . .like. . .a lot, actually. After that, I like the people parts. Because I like thinking with other people and hearing their thoughts on certain ideas, too."
Her: "So what's that make you? An introvert? You AIN'T no introvert. I don't care what you say."
Me: "Sometimes I think I'm an introvert with very good social skills. But I become an extrovert when I feel very, very comfortable and safe."
Her: *nodding head* "That make sense."

I crossed my legs and leaned back in the bedside chair. This interaction felt comfortable and safe. Maybe that's why she accused me of being an extrovert. That made the corner of my mouth turn up.. I propped my foot on a pulled down hand rail on the bed, slid on my reading glasses and pulled my patient list out of my pocket.

Her: "Miss Manning?"
Me: "Ma'am?"
Her: "Do you ever. . . get lonely?"


I bit the inside of my cheek and gave her question real, true thought. I closed my eyes and took an inventory of my feelings to see if "lonely" would bubble up to the top.

It did not. I realized that that was a blessing that I'd not thought of before then. Not feeling particularly lonely.

Me: "No. I don't really think so."
Her: "Even when you by yourself?"
Me: "Especially when I'm by myself. I crack myself up."
Her: "Ha ha ha . . .that's good."

The room filled again with the ambient noise of the hospital ward and the overhead television.
Her: "I ain't never been lonely a day in my life. My whole life."
Me: "Wow. Do you think it's because you're an introvert?"
Her: "Naaaaw. It's 'cause I'm a GEMINI."

I swung my head towards her and looked confused. In response, she held up two fingers at me and winked.

Her: "That's 'cause it's TWO of us. And both of us like each other."

We both laughed out loud. I gave her hand a squeeze and headed to the door.

Me: "I'll see y'all later."
Her: "You know where to find us."

That I do.  :)


Happy Monday.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

3 kinds.

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. 
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. 
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. 
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."

- Elie Wiesel

I was sitting in the bedside chair talking to a Grady elder. I'd finished rounding and had come back by to spend some time in the late afternoon. This was a practice I've had since my intern year, taught to me by one of my favorite attending physicians. "Just pick one person or two every day. And go and sit with them. That's it."

Best advice ever.

The television was on over our heads and was on "The Jerry Springer Show." I realized then that, were it not for moments such as this one, I'd not even know the show still aired. Two women were fighting. Allegedly, the same gentleman had fathered their children within like 2 weeks. Instead of being mad at him, they were mad at each other. The crowd was screaming and roared even louder when one person lost a clip on pony tail.

Me: "This is a mess."
Her: "Bless they hearts. Poor chil'ren."

Another woman came flying out of the audience like superman. Her arms were swinging like windmills and legs kicking in the direction of the woman holding the pony tail. The security dude on the show feigned some deep interest in holding her back. The only thing less believable was the quasi-alarmed and stunned look on Jerry Springer's face sitting in the chair across from them.

Poor chil'ren indeed.

Her: "You know what Dr. Manning?"
Me: "What's that?"
Her: "There's three kinds of people in this world."
Me: *turning my head toward her and readying myself for this good word*
Her: "There's the ones who wish you WELL, see. Then there's the ones who wish you HELL."
Me: *silence*
Her: *silence*
Me: *turning my head from the TV to her* "That was only two."
Her: "Two what?"
Me: "Two types. What's the third type?"
Her: ""Oh the last one? Those the ones who don't even see you. They the worse ones of all."
Me: "Hmmm."
Her: "See, they the ones that don't give a damn if you live, die, or fall off in a ditch never to be heard from or seen again."
Me: "Dang."
Her: "Worse than that. They don't even know you there. And they don't even know that they don't know, neither."
Me: *raising eyebrows* "Wow."


Things on the television got calm for a moment. But then another guy came from back stage as some kind of surprise. He was reportedly the boyfriend of the two-baby daddy. The crowd went berserk again. And, once more, Jerry Springer looked fake-stunned.

Her: "You know what? I'll take a person who wish me hell over the one who don't see me any day. I'd rather you come at me fighting, kicking and trying to punch me than just walk by me altogether. 'Cause at least THEN I know you feel something."
Me: *silence, just listening*
Her: "If you hateful to me, it just say something about how you feel about your own self. So those folks I just feel sorry for and steer clear of, you know? But them ones who don't even acknowledge you?" *shakes her head* "They do the most damage 'cause you can't even change they heart. They cold as ice."

This time I moved my whole body in the bedside chair to face her. I thought about all that she'd seen in her nearly 8 decades and all of the people she'd experienced. She knew what she was talking about.

Her: "Just 'cause you look in somebody direction don't mean you see."
Me: "Wow. I have to remember that. 'Some people wish you well and some people wish you hell.'"
Her: "And the rest you can't tell. . . . 'cause you so invisible that they don't give a shit."

So sad. But so true.


Happy Sunday.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


"I am ready to stop all this stuff," she said.

"You can, you know. You can." That response surprised her. I rested my palm over the top of her hand and repeated myself. "You can."

She smiled at me and I smiled back. "You say that like you believe it."

"It's because I do."

After that, I changed the subject. We talked about her beautiful skin that lay over her high cheekbones like a brown satin sheet. I asked where she'd left her wrinkles and pretended to look under the bed and outside the door. That made her laugh.

"Guess it's just my genes," she giggled.

"I'll say," I replied.

"The rest of this in my genes, too. Like people in my family wired for strongholds."

"Yeah. My family, too."

Her eyes widened. "For real?"

"Oh yeah."

She sat there staring out of the window after that. My hand was still on top of hers and now she was holding my fingertips tightly. I let her.

"You think I can stop?"

"I think you can do anything."

"You saying that like you mean it."

"It's 'cause I do."

That soft smile crept over her lips again. I curled my lips and nodded for added confirmation.
And that was it.

I have no idea if she will overcome this addiction after this hospitalization. But here's what I do know: The tiniest spark of belief from one person can ignite a fire of change in another. I've learned that haters and naysayers can be found everywhere. I prefer to shock the shit out of people with real, true optimism.

I do.

You are not a "crackhead."
You are not a "drunk."
You are not a "homeless lady."
You are not a "psych patient."

You are none of these things. You are your possibilities. And you are a child of God.

And no. I don't always get all of this perfect. And yes, I do fall short on empathy sometimes. But mostly, I keep trying with all of my might to find the intersection in our similarities. And what I know for sure is that it is always, always there.


Only grace separates circumstances in most instances. At least that's what I think.


Happy Saturday.

Something beautiful.

In my sweet sixteen-plus years as a Grady doctor, I have never seen it like this. I've never seen the hospital so filled to the brim with sick-sick people in need of our care.


Waiting rooms have become overflow patient areas. There are mobile units outside. Flu swabs are coming up positive and making even the healthy-healthy ones sick-sick. It's crazy.

At first, I was like, "Why not just close the doors, man?" But with each person I see, I ask myself where they'd go were it not for Grady. And since I know that answer, it pushes me to rally on. That doesn't mean it isn't tough, though.

No, it does not.

Times like this can burn you out. It can leave you walking like a zombie led by the one-eyed stethoscope, aimlessly placing it upon heaving chests. But if you pause for a second, even a second, you snap out of it long enough to see what is beautiful.

Just maybe you can.

Today one of our patients came back to the hospital. I cringed when I ran into him in the ER, thinking of all of the roadblocks it took to move for him to get discharged in the first place. The intern went to investigate it all and came back looking pretty hopeless. Given all the obstacles and low resources, there wasn't much more we saw that could be done.


In stepped one of our Grady Emergency Department senior doctors. In the midst of that busy-busy day caring for the sick-sick humans in that ER, he hit that same pause button. He thought outside of the box and advocated for this patient in a way that almost defied belief--especially for someone who has worked here a long time. He found a teeny-tiny open door and pulled it all the way open. And that patient got a safe discharge and avoided a rehospitalization.

I get tired sometimes. Tired of the list of patients growing and never shrinking and tired of seeing people hurting. But these stories over the last week have sustained me. Intentionally working at this habit of reflection allowed me to see the patient-centered tenacity of a colleague. . . in a time when I'd already given it in to public hospital inertia. I needed to see that today. I did.

Working here isn't for the eternal pessimist. No 'tis not. But for those who believe deep down that hope can float and that fighting for a life involves more than fists, cardiac shocks and medications? It's just right. That's what I saw today.

And today? I feel like going on.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018


I walked in and found her sitting up in bed with pieces of the Atlanta Journal Constitution spread all around her. Her face was hidden behind the crossword page but those elegant, espresso-colored fingers gave it away. That was my patient. And I could tell she felt better.

Me: “Good morning! How are you feeling today?”

Her: *puts down paper and smiles* Well hello, sweetie! Other than being cold, I’m fair to middlin’.” *gestures for me to sit down*

Me: “Ha! Did you say ‘fair to middlin’?’” *sitting down* “Wow. My granddaddy used to say that.”
Her: “Is that right? The Tuskegee granddaddy or the Birmingham granddaddy?”

Me: *smiling wide because she remembered* “The Tuskegee one.”

She jutted out her bottom lip and shrugged. Just then I realized how much of myself I’d shared with her during this hospitalization. Even though she was the patient and I was the doctor, she asked far more questions than I did. I reflected on what a privilege it had been to soak up her wisdom in that bedside chair each day. Listening to her stories unfold through that gravelly voice was the best thing ever.

*The dress code they used to have when she was at Tuskegee (long skirts and stockings always!😳)
*When they used REAL china and REAL silver in the Tompkins Hall cafeteria!😮🍴 🍲
*When she and her friends were giggling at George Washington Carver’s funeral because somebody had on a crooked wig. 🙊🙈

Yes. THE George Washington Carver, man. I’d be sad to see her go.

Me: “Guess what? I have something for you.” *reaching down to pull a package from my bag* “You ready?”
Her: *eyes widening* “For me?”
Me: “Yes ma’am.” *opening it up* “Look. It’s a Tuskegee blanket just for you. And it’s right on time since you feel chilly. Here let me help you.”

For the first time since I’d been caring for her she was speechless. Her eyes glistened with tears as I lay the soft fabric over her lap.

Her: “You got this. . .for me?”
Me: “Actually it wasn’t me. It was someone else.”
Her: *eyes widening again*
Me: “Remember that picture of our hands? The one with the pin that you gave me permission to share?”
Her: “You mean share on the Facebook?”
Me: *chuckling* “Yes, ma’am. The Facebook.”
Her: “Where I had all the people that like me?”
Me: *laughing* “Yes ma’am. They sure did like you a whooooole lot, too!”

Now she was holding the cover up to her cheek rubbing it against her face. My face started feeling super hot.

Me: “A classmate of mine shipped it to my home. Just for you. And he said to thank you and your parents for the legacy you helped leave for us at Tuskegee.” *clearing my throat so I wouldn’t get emotional* “He also sent you a pin just like the one of mine that you liked so much.”
Her: “He did? Isn’t that something!”
Me: “Yes ma’am.” *handing her the pin*

Her mouth fell open. Then she stared at me so tenderly and incredulously that my eyes immediately filled up with tears. She was genuinely touched.

Her eyes then cast down to the blanket and pin again. She spoke softly:

“Mother Tuskegee sure made some good ones, didn’t she?”

I gave her a big smile. “Indeed she did.”

Indeed she did.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Something to cry about.

Arm folded over his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks, and body heaving to the rhythm of a beat all its own. "I'm so sorry for crying like this," my patient said. He pulled back his arm, wiped his face hard and looked back up at me with glassy eyes.

I wasn't sure how to respond so I just reached for his forearm and held it. I sucked in a drag of breath and searched for something affirming. "It's okay, sir. Really."

"I want to do so much. I have people I love so much. That's the thing. For me, it's not so much the me parts. It's the me AND them parts."

I swallowed hard and felt words escape me again. I held his gaze for a moment in silence. To break the tension I finally spoke again. "I'm sorry for all of this, sir. I really am. But we're here, okay? And so are you, okay? You ARE here. Right here, right now. And you've got a testimony."

He pursed his lips and started fighting back a fresh wave of emotion. "I'm just grateful for. . ." He tried but couldn't finish his sentence. Up went his arm again and muffled into the crook of his arm were those same guttural weeping sounds. This time, though, they were stronger, deeper. . . almost primal. "I'm just so gr-gr-grateful for . . "

"Take your time," I told him.

"For the. .the . . .the kindness. . .just the ki-hi-hi-hndness." He erupted all over again, his body shaking so hard that he had to grab the bed rail and steady himself. He finally regrouped and tried to finish. "The kindness. From the EMS people to the nurse in the triage to the people in the emergency and now this team . . .I was just so scared and. . . everybody was just so. . .so . . kind." He took a deep breath and blew out hard. "Make you feel so much better when people are kind to you. Especially when you're scared. . . .especially when you scared you might. . . you might. . . ." He put both of his flattened palms over his entire face this time.

And again he wept. Hard.

He didn't even try to finish. And I didn't need him to.

Here's the thing:

Humankind is mostly good, I think. Even at the places where you least expect it--like a "notorious" safety net public hospital. And listen--you don't have to be a doctor caring for folks at Grady to extend unnecessary kindness to people. You don't. I'm learning that our kindness can be the difference between hope and despair. . .. which often become synonymous with life and death.

I will remember this when I am having a particularly crappy day or when I find myself consumed in all things me.


I've seen a LOT of grown men cry at Grady. And what I've noticed is that it is almost always about two things and two things only:

Family and kindness.

And you know? That's something to cry about.


Happy Tuesday.

All three verses.

"Do you know the words to the national anthem?"

That's what my patient asked just before I got ready to leave the room. Instead of answering right away, I squinted my eyes and puffed my cheeks out.


Were we about to unpack the NFL controversy? I mean, I could. But honestly? It had been a late night yesterday and I didn't have the bandwidth.

Fortunately, I wouldn't need it. My patient clarified that query: "Not that spangled one, neither. I'm talking 'bout the negro national anthem. Do you know it?"

I sat a little taller and smiled. "Yes, ma'am. As a matter of fact, I do."

Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "ALL the verses?"

"Not by heart. But I know them mostly."

"You need to learn 'em by heart. 'Specially that last one. That's the one that remind you of who you are."

"The 'God of our weary years' part?"

"Oooooo weeeee!" She slapped the blanket in front of her and sighed. "Yes indeed!"

"I actually do know that one." I stared upward and tried to make sure. Then I had to be honest. "Well--I take that back. I mostly do." We both laughed.

"See that first verse tell you to make a joyful noise from how far you come. Then the second one help you not forget the past. The last one is my favorite 'cause it tell you to give Him the glory for helping you make it over."

I sat for a moment sifting through the words and realized I was drawing a few blanks. So I did what I always do in situations like that. I pulled out my iPhone and punched in "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing Lyrics" into a Google search. Then I turned the screen to show her the words. "Want me to read it?"

She nodded. "Read it, not sing it, hear?" We both laughed again, me a little louder than she.

Then I slipped on my reading glasses and read. Speaking each stanza slowly and carefully, not caring who else in earshot could hear:

"Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land."

"That make me want to CRY!" a voice said from the other side of the curtain. It was the patient in the next bed. After that I heard a moist sniffle. My eyes were stinging, too.

"Not me," my patient said. "Make ME want to shout."


Damn, I love this job.

Happy Tuesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod--my favorite version of this song arranged by Roland Carter . .  all three verses. Always gives me chills.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Home Training.

“Not too heavy-handed, hear?” she told her great-grandson. “You know Mama tenderheaded.” She turned to look him in his eye and he froze with the comb in his hand and nodded.

Up until then, he’d been sitting in a chair, looking bored—typical of any middle school kid asked to sit in a hospital room. He had, as the Grady elders say, “good home training.” So he knew to ready himself to speak when I walked in on my afternoon rounds. His mom glanced at him and, on cue, he stood, looked into my eyes, and shook my hand. Then he sat back down, returning to his tweenaged thoughts.

I examined the patient and then sat on the edge of the bed to speak her and the family. At some point in the discussion, my patient said, “My hair is a mess.” And again, as if prompted, that same great-grandson rose from his chair.


A woman once told me that I needed to have a daughter since boys don’t see about their elders once they become men. As a boy mom, that used to worry me. It doesn’t any more. Because now I’ve seen enough to know that children do what they see. Boys included.

“Don’t worry, Mama,” her great-grandson replied as he resumed stroking her silver hair with a comb, “I’m tenderhanded.

And that he was.


Happy Almost Monday.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Good news.

"I KNOW I almost died," he said. "My chest was hurting so bad in this way that wasn't normal. It wasn't getting better neither."

"I'm so glad you came to Grady when you did," I replied.

"You know? My friend had a heart attack just like me. Just a year older than me. He died."

His brother was sitting in a bedside chair and chimed in. "And don't forget the dude from the car wash. That dude wasn't even 50 and left his wife and like 4 kids behind."

"Ahh man. I forgot about that dude. And remember ol' dude from the Sopranos? He had a heart attack, too. And died." My patient shook his head and sighed. "That was my dude, too. I used to love that show."

The room fell awkwardly silent after that. I guess something about mentioning Tony Soprano seemed to make the possibility of death seem more real. His eyes started glistening and his face cloaked over with sadness. A tear slipped out of his eye and disappeared under his chin. He turned his head away, hoping his brother wouldn't notice.

"You know what? My dad had a massive heart attack at 56." He glanced up at me, permitting me to add another sad story to the library of cardiac sorrows. "He had to have an emergency quadruple bypass and everything."

"Damn," my patient replied. "56? That's close to my age. And your dad, too? Aaaah, I hate hearing that." I could tell he meant that.

"Yeah. But that was almost 20 years ago. Now my daddy is 74 and still round here fixing stuff and talking junk" I squeezed his hand and smiled. "You know, sir? Not every story ends with bad news, okay?"

He tried his best to smile back. "But. . .is your daddy. . . like. . . sickly?" I saw him look over at his brother, both of them bracing themselves for my answer.

I took my phone out of my pocket, scrolled through it and then showed him a recent photo of my dad. "No, sir. He is not."

He stared and stared at my daddy on that screen. "Whew. Thank you for telling me that, hear? Seem like don't nobody ever share the good news, do they?"

I stuck that on a mental post it note and vowed to remember it. Sometimes the news is bad. And Lord knows the longer we live, the more bad stories we have. But sometimes? Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they do. And those stories need to get told, too.


Old School.

Me: "Are you from Georgia?"
Her: "No. I'm from Alabama."
Me: "Really? Where 'bout?"
Her: "Tuskegee."
Me: "No way!"
Her: "Yes indeed."
Me: *I lean forward and pluck my lapel for her to see my Booker T. Washington pin*
Her: "You went to Tuskegee?"
Me: "Yes, ma'am! The pride of the swift growing south!"
Her: "So you went to Tuskegee AND you my head doctor, huh?"
Me: "Yes, ma'am."

She beamed at me. And I beamed right back.

After that she asked me to take my lapel pin off so that she could see it better. I did as I was told and held it out to her in my palm. She raised my hand up to her eyes, squinted at it carefully, and rubbed her finger over it.

Her: "It was called Tuskegee Institute when I was in school there, you know. I graduated before you was even born! And probably 'fore your parents was born, too."
Me: "You know. . .all the folks who went when it was Tuskegee Institute call themselves 'old school.' So I guess that makes you old school, huh?"
Her: "Nah. That ain't old school. Mother and Daddy? Now THEY was old school. They was there when it was still called TUSKEGEE NORMAL"
Me: "Whoa. Tuskegee NORMAL? Now that IS old school."
Her: "Mmm hmmm. . . It was THE TUSKEGEE NORMAL SCHOOL FOR COLORED TEACHERS." She annunciated every word when she said that and then she let out a sigh. "Mmmm hmmm. You could be a teacher or a farmer--or do home economics. That's what I did. Mother, too."

After that she just sat there . . . first staring at the pin in my hand and then back up at the stiff lapel of my white coat. A complicated expression washed over her face followed by a wistful smile. Then she closed my fingers around the pin, patted my hand and gave it a loving squeeze.

My patient didn't say much more after that. But honestly? She didn't have to. I strapped her onto my back along with the rest of my ancestors and vowed to go even harder.

Damn right.

I love this job.


The Tuskegee Song
by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Tuskegee, thou pride of the swift growing South
We pay thee our homage today
For the worth of thy teaching, the joy of thy care;
And the good we have known 'neath thy sway.
Oh, long-striving mother of diligent sons
And of daughters whose strength is their pride,
We will love thee forever and ever shall walk
Thro' the oncoming years at thy side.


Thy Hand we have held up the difficult steeps,
When painful and slow was the pace,
And onward and upward we've labored with thee
For the glory of God and our race.
The fields smile to greet us, the forests are glad,
The ring of the anvil and hoe
Have a music as thrilling and sweet as a harp
Which thou taught us to hear and to know.


Oh, mother Tuskegee, thou shinest today
As a gem in the fairest of lands;
Thou gavest the Heav'n-blessed power to see
The worth of our minds and our hands.
We thank thee, we bless thee, we pray for thee years
Imploring with grateful accord,
Full fruit for thy striving, time longer to strive,
Sweet love and true labor's reward.