Monday, September 19, 2016
You didn't quit smoking. Nope. Not even after that big, long, drawn out discussion we'd had about you setting the perfect quit day. ”Juneteenth!” you announced with a big, loud laugh. You banged your hand on the desk and clapped your hands after. I typed it right into the chart when you did:
QUIT DATE: JUNE 19, 2016
Then you added, “Perfect, ain't it? The day of emancipation, right?” And I nodded my head in acknowledgement, loving the idea of you being freed of the nicotine stronghold on the very day that our people came up from under the dark cloud of slavery.
“That day sounds perfect,” I replied. And I said that because it was true.
But sadly that day came and went. And you didn't quit. Nope.
Your blood pressure was high today, too. You promised that you'd take your blood pressure pills but when I looked into the pharmacy history, you hadn't picked up a refill for two full months.
342. That was your blood sugar reading on the finger stick today. Which meant that you probably weren't taking you insulin either. (Even though you'd promised you would.)
And last was your weight. Your chief concern at the last visit was losing weight and quitting smoking. We'd talked and talked and talked all about it and you sounded so ready. So ready. Together we identified some simple tweaks that could be made to help you shed pounds and, I have to admit, I was just as excited as you.
But that didn't work out either. Instead of dropping a few pounds, you gained nearly 10. 9.73 to be exact. Which didn't fit the gameplan we'd discussed. At all.
So yeah. Essentially none of what was supposed to happen happened. And honestly, I'd be lying if I said that some piece of it wasn't frustrating because it was.
Yeah, it was.
And so. I creaked open the clinic room door to come see you. The undeniable scent of cigarette smoke wafted into my nostrils the very moment I stepped inside; it had found a crevice of every part of that room. I coached myself to not be disappointed in you. To not feel like you'd hoodwinked and bamboozled me into believing that this visit would be some celebratory party where I fist bumped you for your big emancipation from cigarettes and unhealthy foods. Yeah.
“Good morning,” I started. I took the seat across from you and smiled. Trying my best to not sound condescending, I added, “It's good to see you.”
I was kind of tired that morning. Isaiah had forgotten to tell me about a homework assignment he had until the very last minute which forced a late night/early morning kitchen table science combination. Zachary couldn't find his shoe and seemed hell bent on wearing only the pair that had the missing mate. Our dog decided he'd tear up a throw pillow overnight. And I'd run out of creamer that morning so had to drink black coffee which I did but did not enjoy 1 bit.
So yeah. I'd hoped for some good news from you.
“I didn't quit, you know.”
I sighed and leaned my face into my hand. “Yeah. I know.”
“I gained some weight, too. Even though I ain't had much of a appetite. I just ain't been doing so good.” Your mouth twisted when you said that and I could have sworn I saw tears glistening in the corners of your eyes.
“What do you mean by that? By ’ain't doing so good?’”
That's when those tears became undeniable, spilling over your lashes and onto your cheeks. You offered a lopsided shrug in response. And this? This was different for you. Normally you were chipper and full of happy spunk. And even though I was not so thrilled about your failure to clear the hurdles we'd pinky sworn upon, at minimum, I'd expected some funny one-liner about why it didn't happen. But not this. Not tears.
And so. I just waited. I touched your forearm and waited.
“Remember my grandson? The one who was staying with me?”
I thought for a moment and then remembered him from a visit once. He'd driven his grandmother to the clinic one day and seemed rather unhappy about having to sit in on a discussion of antihypertensives and insulin. “I do.”
“Well, he … he … “ You couldn't finish. Instead you just dropped you head into your hands and wept hard. Your ample bosom shook rhythmically along with your fleshy arms.
“Oh my goodness, did he get hurt? Is he, is he alive?” My hands covered my mouth immediately after I said that. I hated to be so direct but I'd worked at Grady Hospital long enough to know that it was a fair question. Your home address was in a rough part of town and that grandson was in your custody after drugs left his mother unfindable and incapable of raising him. The same streets that took his mama, though, preyed upon him, too. And you knew that. You'd lamented about your concerns of him selling drugs on corners and getting mixed up with the wrong crowds. So yeah. That question wasn't unreasonable.
“He got locked up. Caught a murder charge. He gone, Miss Manning. He might as well be dead. He gone for his whole life. And he ain't but nineteen.”
I felt my eyes throbbing with tears. I puckered my lips outward and swallowed hard to try to keep myself from crying, too. It didn't work. “I'm sorry,” I whispered. The tears splashed disappeared under my chin before I could wipe them away.
“Me, too,” you murmured back.
And that was it. We didn't utter another word about you blood pressure or your smoking or your blood sugars or your weight. We just sort of sat there and felt the enormity of how hard this life can be sometimes and pushed all of the rest of it to the back burner. And yes. Your blood pressure and weight and blood sugar are important. But your emotional well-being is, too. You'd lost your baby boy after losing the baby girl who made him. Your aging soul didn't deserve this pain. The streets were winning 2-0, which meant you were 0 for 2.
Later that day I thought of you. Thought of your grandson and the significance of his age--19--and that date you'd so cheerfully chosen for your quit date, June 19 or, as you said it, ”Juneteenth.” That number was supposed to be a happy one, representing freedom and a brand new day. Instead, it turned out to be symbolic of pain.
I hated that.
Here's what you taught me, though. That sometimes even when there is some pressing shit to discuss, something else more pressing should take precedent. And that sometimes the reasons that people don't follow through on things is because they physically and emotionally cannot. That slowing down and paying attention to souls matters more than slapping wrists for missing marks.
This lesson is one I need in all aspects of my life. So thank you, my friend. And know that this morning I am quietly weeping into my coffee and holding your hand. Feeling sad that nineteen hurts for you and wishing there was something I could do to fix it all. Like offer you some kind of Juneteenth to rescue you, your baby boy and his mama from the shackles of your reality.
“Let's talk about all of that other stuff next time, okay?”
“I'd appreciate that,” you replied.
I realize now that I appreciated it, too.
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, FAAP is an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches medical students and residents at Grady Hospital. This post is adapted from Reflections of a Grady Doctor, Dr. Manning’s blog about teaching, learning, caring and growing in medicine and life. It has been adapted and reprinted with permission. Identifying information has been changed to protect individuals’ privacy.
Contact ACP Internist
Send comments to ACP Internist staff at email@example.com.
- Diets, doubts, and doughnuts: are we truly clueles...
- The often murky and insincere world of physician r...
- Teaching the history of present illness
- Overtreatment and unnecessary medical testing? You...
- No way out
- Politics, propaganda, and perspective: how prevent...
- A silent epidemic affecting our hospitals
- How internal medicine attendings can incorporate b...
- We need to implement shoe decontamination interven...
- The skullcap feud
Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.
David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.
Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.
Reflections of a Grady
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.
The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.
Technology in (Medical)
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.
Peter A. Lipson,
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.
Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.
World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.
Other blogs of note:
American Journal of
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.