Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Life at Grady: Complexities
The following post is adapted from the blog Reflections of a Grady Doctor, written by Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP. Names and identifying information have been changed to protect individuals' privacy.
I was sitting at the nurses' station typing my notes and minding my own business. It was smack in the middle of the afternoon so there were scattered residents, students and ward teams around the area. Some were rounding. Some were teaching. A few others were just hanging around tying up loose ends from the morning.
And me? I was just in my own world typing my notes into the computer. My own team was on call so I was left to do my work while they stamped out disease in other parts of the hospital. I looked at my ratty checklist and methodically marked off my boxes with each note. I was completely in that getter-done mode; I was in that zone that others automatically know to not disturb.
"You need to go be with her ass then!"
This was what jolted me out of my note-writing groove. My head whipped up and I saw her standing there. A young woman with a hand on her hip and an elbow resting on the counter. In that hand she had a bedazzled cellphone pressed up against her ear tightly. Almost as tight as the expression on her face.
When I looked at her we locked eyes. It was my way of telling her that she was not speaking in an "inside voice" at all. And that, seeing that this was a hospital and all, she needed to.
She rolled her eyes away from me and dug back into that conversation.
"See now you 'bout to piss me off. That b---h called your phone and I saw it. You think I'm stupid. I ain't stupid."
Her voice was loud. Too loud to be standing where she was standing and saying what she was saying. I looked up at her again. Trying my hardest to communicate with her through my searing eye contact.
Another eye roll.
"I tell you what! Tell that b---h to come within two feet of me so she can see what I got for her. Naw. . y'all both got me f--d up!"
That f-bomb grabbed the attention of everyone within earshot. She ignored the glares and snickers and kept on going. More f-bombs and even the n-word. Repetitive. Loud. Unfiltered.
There were easily twenty people who heard her. And of those twenty people, I was the only one there who looked like her.
Here I was sitting there in my white coat and professional attire trying my best. After walking around and seeing patients who smiled so deeply and with such pride to see me, their doctor, standing before them. Touching the hands of Grady elders and pulling my shoulders back a little more because I know that I am representing many of them, too. By doing things that were never even options for them to do.
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Yes. This is something I have strapped to my back while working at Grady. This responsibility to provide a different kind of insight into black people. Through my actions and the things that I at least try to do. And on many days? I feel like it's working. I feel like somebody is looking and listening and thinking, "Hmm, this was not my impression of black people, but now perhaps it is." Or instead of that, just some kind of realization that we are far more alike than we are different.
And then this. This young woman with a frighteningly unnatural hair color stomping her feet and hollering into a cell phone. And as if it couldn't get any worse, when I got up from the nurses' station and walked around the counter I saw that she was gripping the hand of a very confused-looking toddler.
I thought about approaching her and saying something. But initially decided against it since the last thing I wanted was to let those twenty people witness two black women arguing in the hallway at Grady. So I walked by and cast my eyes in her direction once more. She kept on with tearing that person on the other end of the phone a new you-know-what--despite me or anyone else hearing.
I walked down the hall and then paused. Before I could talk myself out of it, I did an about-face, forward marched right up to her and then stopped. I softly touched her shoulder and also softened my voice.
"Would you be okay with stepping into the family waiting area? Some of the patients can hear you and your conversation sounds pretty personal."
I braced myself for her to say something back but she didn't. Instead she huffed away and into the corridor toward the family area. Still swearing. Still loud. And still with that baby in tow.
And everyone just sort of stood there watching but instinctively not saying anything because I think they knew not to. Perhaps they knew me well enough to know how I was feeling. Or maybe her behavior was so inappropriate that the moment was far too awkward to even comment upon.
I don't know.
I do know that this is one of the things that makes being black so complicated. There is sometimes this self- hatred that creeps up if you aren't careful. This thing where folks who have been given opportunities and guidance and parenting grow further and further away from those who don't. Chris Rock once built an entire stand-up routine on this notion. Which in some ways was very funny, but in the deepest ways was not. At all.
Especially since the whole world was laughing, too.
Over time I have learned that there a lot of folks that don't like black people. Regrettably, more of those folks than many realize happen to be black, too. Just ask Chris Rock.
So I thought about that moment a lot after it happened. I reflected on that toddler standing next to her as those expletives flew off of her tongue with out the tiniest concern for those pre-school ears or any other ears. Then I wondered whose hand she had held as a toddler and what she had heard.
Probably something identical.
It sucks that history tries so hard to repeat itself. And it sucks exponentially more that without a whole bunch of fight, that it almost always wins.
So we have to fight. But fight for all of us. Not just our own kids in our own houses.
After writing my notes, I headed to the elevators. I pushed the button to go down and sighed. It startled me when I looked over to my right and saw her still sitting in the family waiting area. Off the phone now and wiping her daughter's face with a wet wipe. An ironically mundane scene after what I'd witnessed earlier. I took a deep breath and approached her.
"Hey little sister . . .I didn't mean to get in your business like that. . .I just. . . yeah, it just sounded . . . . personal."
"Tha's okay, " she replied. Her voice was surprisingly pleasant. "I just got a lot going on. Sorry I was loud."
And I stared at her and wished that I could sit right next to her and talk to her for four more hours. About why she was even in that conversation and what it could mean to her daughter to hear and see things that could rob of her innocence. I wanted to hold her hands and tell her that she was beautiful and full of promise. And that we are no different except that I was born to William and Cheryl Draper and she was born to whomever she was born to. But, still, that we were one and the same and that we needed to fight. Together. That's what I wanted to tell her.
But I didn't. Instead I just smiled and said, "I hope everything works out for you. I really do, little sister." And I really did call her "little sister" because that helped me to see her that way instead of hating her.
Because hating her would be hating me.
You know what? I love being who I am. But sometimes? Sometimes it's kind of hard.
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