Tuesday, December 30, 2014

They Don't Care About Us


As much as I love the Brasil version, this one is the more powerful. No wonder it was banned in the US at the time (and still is?).

And bashed in the NYT. How can saying that "they don't care about us" be bigoted. I don't understand that. To say that such an expression is bigoted is to evoke shame in one who reveals that their benevolent leader is less than caring.

No, "they" don't care about "us," and if we sleep too long, no movement, no matter how strong will keep "them" at bay from destroying "us."

Throughout history, that is the way it is. By time, man is in loss. We have to be constantly vigilant to protect ourselves and those we love from essential slavery, whether it is physical, emotional or mental.

I hear people have been playing this during marches. Some of us just now realizing what's been going on under our noses for some time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Retrospective

As salaam alaikum,

As predicted, residency (and life) swallowed me in a way that did not allow me to post (or even write) that often, but that is soon going to be history! I am now a third year resident, and in six months time, I'll be graduating and taking a 3 month break before I start working for real. What I do in those three months are dependent on how much money I save up moonlighting in the next year, but that's another story.

Anyway, for me, the year is hardly over, as my SO is flying down tomorrow to meet my parents, which will get a little notch in my year-in-review, but I figure I may be pretty busy the end of this year so I'd better get in my retrospective now while I'm ahead.

So, this was my 2014, roughly, and maybe not exactly chronologically, but in order of things that stand out to me.

Grandfather: The last time I saw my grandfather fully lucid in this realm was around Christmas of 2013. There was a big ice storm in Flint and surrounding northern communities and it resulted in a prolonged black out. My grandparents were staying at my Uncle Maurice's place because the power was out in their house. My grandfather talked about how much he appreciated what we did for him, an old man, and he started crying. Early this year, he likely had another stroke and went into a fast decline that almost ended in his death in March of this year but ultimately ended in his death early in the morning, July 16, peacefully in his sleep. I love that man with all of my heart and I eagerly but patiently await the day when I hear the rest of his stories in Jannah, iA.

Auntie and Uncle: I met my Nigerian Aunt and Uncle for the first time this year. My uncle, who my father had not seen in over 30 years, and his wife traveled to the United States for the first time and stayed with my family. I cried when I saw the brothers together, reunited. They stayed for four months and I visited with them two weeks out of those four months. I would love to travel with my father to Nigeria one day and visit with the rest of the family. I could say much more about this visit, but that will have to be for another venue.

Sayulita, Nayarit: I still feel like we totally pulled a coup in our residency by taking this trip. For our second-year retreat, instead of the usual long weekend in Leavenworth, we took five days in Mexico with our favorite faculty member in March. It was a coup because those five days did not count towards our paid time off, it was "conference/educational time." So we were paid for five days in which we did maybe 4 hours a day of therapeutic small groups (which were excellent!) and spent the rest of the time as beach bums, wandering around this semi-hidden jewel resort town. I actually got sunburned on this trip. Yes, black people can sunburn. Skin peeled from every exposed surface over the next couple of weeks and I felt like I was molting. So those times I wore sunscreen in the Dominican Republic were not in vain. The 12 of us and our faculty member spent 5 glorious days sharing a house on the hill that overlooked the beach. It was definitely a second bonding point for my classmates and I fell in love with them again.

Jamaica: I had never been to Jamaica, and at first felt conflicting going there to attend a wedding in July, not only of people I had never met before (my SO was best man, and I was his date), but also as the only black person in the party. Yes, I felt conflicted going to a majority black country with a group of white people. This was only the second international trip (Sayulita was the first) that I've made that was not part of a service project. And then to go to a resort where I felt like I may be inherently exploiting the people who work there? It was challenging until I got there and realized that over half of the patrons at this particular resort were black, many of them Jamaican, having conferences or spending a relaxing weekend at the resort. There were also a lot of African Americans there. And I realize that supporting tourism in a country like Jamaica is probably more productive than any of the service projects I carried out in other countries the past, though I still found it polemic. At some point, I finally just let myself relax. I was welcomed by my SO's friend and his wife warmly into their wedding party and was pulled in to do some Serbian dances during the reception (courtesy of the groom's family). Minus the sand flies biting the left side of my body, it was a good time. This is another place I have to go back to. I love going to countries with majority black people!

Stevie Wonder: I attended Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" concert as he toured the country. He actually made a stop in Seattle on December 3. So many performers and performances skip Seattle (like Motown, the Musical), but he came by. I was chief on Family Medicine Service at the time, and though I tried to switch my call days, I ended up on call on the day that our service went from tame to crazy. After that day, we would continue to admit patients and eventually cap out our service. My call days usually saw me staying at least until 8:30pm most days, and this day was no exception...exactly why I wanted to switch my call day so I could make the concert! In the end, I'm glad I didn't switch my call day because Friday (the day I was going to trade out) ended up to be a busier day. The concert started at 8pm, I got out of the hospital at 8:30pm and made it to the concert by 9pm. The people next to me lamented that I had missed "so much," though I got there as he did "Pastime Paradise," and knew that he had much of the album left, though I had missed "Sir Duke." I had heard from my cousins, who went to the concert in Detroit, that it went on for three hours. And Stevie did not disappoint. Our concert went on for four hours, which means I got to jam with Stevie for a full three hours after sliding in an hour late, until midnight! And, after four hours of sleep, I got in to work the next day, saw a full set of patients during my half day in clinic, and realized that age really is just a number. I thought that my days of staying up that late and then being fully functional the next day (without coffee) were behind me. At 29, I surprised myself with the stamina of a 19 year old while working full time. And Stevie, of course, was awesome. He sang each song from the album exactly as it was in the album. And his daughter Aisha Morris was one of his backup singers! And I could go on, but it definitely made my life to see my favorite artist in concert.

Nephew: My best friend from medical school had a baby boy in September, and I got to visit him in November when he was 6 weeks old. I've never witnessed someone I'm that close to have a baby, during those very new periods, someone that I knew before she met her husband when we were both very much single young women. And now seeing her as a mother, watching the transformation she and her husband have made...all I can say is, it's real. It's the only thing that gave my baby fever a pause. Not because of the job they were doing...no, they were doing excellently. It's just that I see that the struggle is real, there is no magical transformation. I was watching them as they were learning and adapting with a newborn. That is how life is, and that is how my life will be when, one day, iA, I have one of my own. Hopefully a girl. I already have some names picked out. Okay, so baby fever was on pause, did not completely go away.

Babies, babies, babies: This was the year of the babies. I think I delivered more than 20 babies this year, most of them being my own patients'. I just delivered one a few days ago, my patient's gorgeous baby girl. I have three more of my own patients due and then my residency adviser cut me off from deliveries. It's just as well. I've more than exceeded the number of continuities I need for graduation. My poor SO is tired of me talking about labor and delivery, and babies. He states that he could probably deliver a baby at this point from my descriptions of it.

Licensed Physician: I took (and passed) Step 3 earlier this year, officially completing USMLE and becoming a licensed physician. Seriously, exam taking in medicine feels like the "Song that Doesn't End." I started medical school and heard about the boards, and then learned about what would be the hardest exam I'd take in my life, disconcertingly named "Step 1." Disconcerting because if there is a step 1, there is probably a step 2, and maybe it goes on. Each year, I learned a little bit more about the exams I was going to be in for. Depending on one's specialty and if they go on to fellowship, there are a whole list of exams besides the USMLE steps that one had to pass to become not only licensed, but also board-certified. As I've chosen family medicine, I have an every-10-year board exam that I will have to pass and certain amount of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits that I have to keep up with to maintain board certification. The family medicine boards through the ABFM is the last exam I'll take in residency, and the last exam I'll take in life (unless I lose my mind and go for more education or more board certification). But, in February of this year, I took and passed step 3, making me a licensed physician, able to practice independently (thus, moonlighting).

That Full Circle Moment: A couple of weeks ago in clinic, I had one of my first full-circle moments in family medicine. I went into the clinic counseling a pregnant woman on some cramping that she was having. She planned to do her prenatal care elsewhere, so it was going to be a simple visit. As I entered the room and began talking to her, I noticed there were tears in her eyes. She then told me that I was the doctor that told her that her grandfather was dying. Back in my intern year, when I was completing a night float rotation, I led a family meeting at 1am for a family whose beloved grandfather, who I had admitted hours earlier, was passing. It was the defining moment of my residency. I laid myself bare for that family as they looked to me to prognosticate what I couldn't with numbers. People were rolling on the floor, crying. I myself felt completely spent and cried after that interaction. I had never put so much of myself into a patient interaction in residency, and that was a great transition point for me. I actually didn't remember that woman in the sea of family members that were there, but she remembered me. Together, in the exam room, after I reassured her that there was no threat to her pregnancy at present, we remembered her grandfather. I shared with her that my grandfather had also passed that year, so I understood what it felt like to lose someone who had lived a long, complete life but who was still very beloved. We shared that moment and that continuity in a 15 minute visit. And so at the beginning of residency I saw the end of one life I was there at the beginning of another in the same family.

Saturday Thanksgiving: The last three Thanksgivings, I have been working. The first year, I was on the Family Medicine Service and served on a skeleton team that included my seniors and the chief and rounded on all of the patients of the day. My second year, I was on maternal child and covered the team's OB service. This past year, I was again on FMS, this time as chief, and I covered for my interns so they could all have the day off and me and one of the second years covered service for them. My first year, I wanted to prepare a turkey, so I made a full Thanksgiving meal on the day that I had off--Saturday. Since then, I've made Saturday Thanksgiving a small tradition for my residency class. This past year included one of the newest additions to our residency family, one of my co-resident's baby girls.

Death of a Cousin: In January, one of my second cousins lost his life senselessly. He was an anesthesia tec in his hometown in Ohio and he was paged in to work to help with a transplant. His car was in the shop so he couldn't drive there so he walked to catch a bus early in the morning and was robbed and shot dead, in cold blood, his body left in front of the bus stop where it was found shortly thereafter. This Christmas, my cousin, his father, a pastor, is celebrating his life and mourning his only son, the father of his two grandchildren.

A lot more happened this year on the smaller scale that is more tedious to recount. Overall, it was a good year, a year of challenge, growth and transition. And here I find myself.

And here I am.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long Time


It's been a long time since I've liked a popular song this much. Maybe 7 years or more. Maybe more than that.

The voice is an incredible instrument. It's also incredible how many unique melodies can be created over time.

Otherwise, I'm in a pensive mood tonight. I'm stuck on a presentation I have to make on Tuesday but don't want to do any more work on it tonight. And so many other things on my mind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reason to Go


I need to sleep because I need to be up in about 6 hours. But I did want to reflect on this.

I now have a reason to go. Not only to die, but to aim for heaven.

I want to see my grandfather again, and I know that he's there.

And while I want to live a long life, and see my own children and grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren like he did, I have no reason to want to be here indefinitely.

He's there, with his father and mother, because as he was dying he called to them. He's there, with my grandmother's parents, and my grandmother will join them. When I hear nostalgic music or remember my childhood, I remember when everything was good and that was when he was in it, when he was a constant, a given, before I knew death, or life, really.

I was listening to Luther Vandross' "A House is Not a Home" and reflected on how many people were alive for the majority of my life so far who have now passed, most of them not at all close to me, and then there was Grandfather.

I think the feeling that he is not gone, that he just exists in another realm, in another space...gives the pull of heaven a little bit more urgency.

I pray that I can be everything he dreamed of for me and more.

And insha'Allah I'll meet up with Grandfather again, someday.

And I won't just feel his essence when I'm quiet or when I listen to New Jack Swing from the early 90s or gut-bucket blues from the 1930s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


As salaam alaikum,

One of the last things about my grandfather that he lost in the months leading up to his death was his personality. Or, I'm unsure if it was his personality per se or more his unassuming nature. I'm not sure the two are the same. They could be. I'm not sure how much of this is an artifact of my grandfather's upbringing, in a small, Southern Baptist family in the South, how much has to do with growing up during Jim Crow and having to choose deference to white people or face certain death, and how much was just his gentle nature. But my grandfather, in the time I knew him, was very unassuming.

"Oh, don't worry about me, baby." "You don't have to do that." "When you're not busy, could you..." "I'm sorry to bother you, but..."

So while my grandmother, in her heyday, would absolutely dominate all conversation in the room, my grandfather was often silent. Even after his death, my grandmother confided in my mother that she worries that he won't speak up for himself on Judgement Day.

When I learned of grandfather's death, I immediately cried but instantaneously felt a nur that could only come from God, and I was blessed to feel his presence. I knew he was not far, and that he was not suffering, and that he was with God, and it was fine. And it's been fine. And though I missed him at the family gathering after the funeral, the chair that he would occupy inside the house during such gatherings empty, I felt his presence in all of us, his offspring.

And one of the things I either got from him or learned from him is how to be unassuming.

Because I am unassuming in my daily comings and goings. I sometimes don't advocate for myself. I think more than that, I purposefully don't try to stand out in certain situations. Sometimes I feel that I do the spiritual equivalent of shrinking myself as small into a corner as I can. And I don't know how much of this was left-over, learned Muslimah jeito from college, but I try not to be too loud (though I have a naturally resonant voice), too boisterous. I try not to take up too much space, consume too much energy around me.

As a result, I feel as if sometimes, people don't really know me, or that the traits they do know me for are artifacts of the unassuming nature.

Then I worry if I'm not really nice, understanding and a good listener.

I've thought about this more as I've begun to speak up more for myself, let my opinions be known, speak before getting a chance to pour over the intent of my words so much. Sometimes, I don't feel myself when I do this, although it is certainly necessary when assuming an authoritative role, like senior resident, recruitment chief, or later, attending.

I've been thinking about this as I've contemplated my career and the various leadership roles I'd like to take, and as I see that if I don't advocate for myself, few people will. People are ready to assume mediocrity, perhaps in part because my unassuming nature. People are ready to dismiss me or consider me someone not worth knowing.

I'm not bland. I'm not boring. I'm just different. And if I spoke of my interests with as much fervor and pride as some of my friends do, as if all of our base interests are universal or at the least theirs are the ones worth sharing, then I'd be in no way dismissed, ever.

But there's something to be said about humility.

I think there's a balance. One can advocate for themselves and influence their own environment while still being humble and kind. I just have to make sure that when I'm unassuming, it's not to my own detriment while being of little benefit to those around me I'm trying not to offend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Achievement

As salaam alaikum,

I was reminded of this while watching a "Key and Peele" episode in which they compared black college movies with white college movies. White college movies were all about the party and college was a given. Black college movies were all about college as the destination, as if once insurmountable.

I have two cousins doing their studies in my hometown. One is in her first three weeks of graduate school, the other has started as an undergraduate. Both of them had small meltdowns on Facebook over the course of this week, threatening (though purely out of frustration) to drop out of their respective programs.

These are two highly motivated, very intelligent young women who earned their acceptance into their respective programs but who I feel did not have a realistic idea of what they were getting into upon matriculation.

Which is fine. I certainly did not know what I was getting into when I started medical school.

But I recognize something that one of my friends pointed out about black students. I recognize that she made sweeping generalizations and that there is no data, but I found her observations interesting. My friend was a tutor at one of the Harvard residence halls and had students of various ethnicities. She was supposed to be a resource, or at least a gateway to resources for the students. She noticed students of other races and ethnicities either had their own external resources for money and mentorship or they sought her out. Black students, who were the least likely to have outside money or mentors, also did not seek help. Another of my friends, also a tutor, acknowledged the same thing. The two of them believed that this was because, for the black students, college was the destination. They did not plan for the during or the after.

For a lot of black students, college is the destination. Education is the goal, not career.

Though few of these students would admit to matriculating into a school for the sake of college, few of them actually have the tools or insight to apply their education to their career aspiration. And few have the first idea of how to get those tools.

Facebook doesn't help. Facebook for both of my cousins became a place to boast their achievements and make sweeping statements about their broad aspirations, the audience being adoring family and friends who really do admire the ambition but have little to offer. Facebook also became the place of the meltdown, where those same people offer platitudes but no solid mentorship.

I'm not saying that this phenomenon is unique to black students. I'm sure a lot of college students of many backgrounds find themselves in the same place. I'm also not saying it's true of all black college students. But there are some things that ring true for me in my own educational and career trajectory, although, alhamdulillah, I've done well.

But college cannot be the destination. Sometimes, our families, as in black families, only know how to laud college. How's school and how's your grades? That's good, baby.

And that is good, but what are you studying? What classes are you taking for that? Have you been able to shadow or get an internship over the summer for that? How are you using your summers? Who are your mentors? If you don't have any, can you get some? Is there anyone whose career path you'd like to emulate? How does your resume look?

College is not the destination. Sometimes, your first career is not the destination. We should continue to congratulate high-achieving young people, but empty praise is not going to help them when school or training ultimately hits bumps or becomes frustrating.

The destination is not the 4.0. While grades and even grade point can be important depending on what career you are in, the goal is sustainable learning and application.

The destination is not the degree. It's not even the doors opened once you have the degree or the job you ultimately get with your qualifications.

The destination is not walking across the stage, loved ones looking on, pictures cross-posted on Facebook and Instagram, the degree on display in your home.

There are no destinations, just steps along a journey.

And as long as our students continue to set premature destinations and form their study habits, aspirations and life paradigms around these premature endpoints, then yes, there will be frustration, and yes, there will be wasted time, and yes, things will feel insurmountable that don't have to.

So I'm going to try to be there for my cousins and let them know that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Body of Confessions: Long Hair


I'm on nights right now and I just squeezed by with only four hours of sleep. There is a mandatory diversity session at my residency tomorrow that I have to attend from 1-5pm, thus abdicating a full morning of sleep. I should have slept more, but I'm so excited that I have a little bit more time to write because I'm sleeping less.

Earlier this week, I decided to resume taking vitamins for hair and nails. I had taken these vitamins consistently for several months during medical school and saw some real results in terms of not only hair health but hair length unparalleled to my previous efforts. I stopped taking them, actually, only after I had lost some weight and the pills started making me nauseous. At that time, I also started doing some other hair care things that really improved my hair health overall, and I have seen more strength, health and growth than I have seen since I was 12 years old. I have had some breakage at my crown, though, so I decided it would be a good time to bring hair vitamins back into the mix.

Hair vitamins also have B complex, which is helpful for me for stress. When I started taking B complex in medical school (before I started hair vitamins), my mood improved tremendously in just a couple of weeks of resuming the vitamins.

Anyway, on the eve of taking the hair vitamins, I decided to also straighten my hair to trim my ends. I sometimes trim my ends with my hair straight so I can retain some type of straight shape, and other times when it's kinky by just clipping the ends of twists in my hair. I wanted to straighten it just to get a sense of its straight length.

After straightening my hair, I saw that my hair is actually longer than it has been probably since 2006 or so. It made me realize that I was not able to retain any length in my hair during medical school, probably mainly secondary to vitamin deficiency and stress. It's still odd to look at myself with my hair straight, not only because my hair lives in a puff atop my head for most of the year (which is actually conducive to breakage at my oft-neglected crown), but the last time my hair was straightened, it wasn't this long.

Because duh, hair grows.

And while I reveled in my new hair health, a baseline that so many take for granted, when I slept the next morning (since I'm on nights, I sleep during the day), I had a dream that I had straightened my hair and I was surprised to find that my hair was significantly longer--12 inches longer. And I reveled in having long hair just to awake and remember that though my hair is longer than it has been in a while, it is not that long.

And then I became instantly disappointed in myself.

Long hair, don't care? I feel like that is not a reality for many, if not most, black women. More like, long hair, absolutely do care.

I have lived a life that I tried to be as little about my hair as possible, in some parts of my life more than others (namely, the years where I wore khimar). After having a mother who fussed over how my hair basically dissolved away after chemical treatment, I did not to have any part of continuing that tradition, so I went natural. I stopped letting chemicals seep into my scalp every 6 weeks in favor of my natural texture, the touted "new growth" that for several years had been the nemesis to my attempts at bone-straight hair. I went natural, and all of the straight hair fell out. That was in 2003.

Years later, when the likes of Curly Nikki and Naptural85 and all of these other naturalistas came out, I had already arrived at a hair regimen of my own that mirrored popular natural hair care culture. Braiding my hair and then undoing it to have a longer puff was stretching, that thing I did to get spiraly hair was called flat twists, among other things.

I have worn my natural hair when it is only a few inches long and have struggled with it, sometimes inadvertently destroying my hair. I have not been about length, I have been about health in my daily hair care practices. The fact that I wear my hair in a puff most of the time is a testament to my favoring low-maintenance hair styles for my life as a busy resident.

But regardless of how I feel during the day and how much I am an advocate for love your body, including your hair, as it is, I have persistently had these dreams as an adult. As a child, I have not, only as an adult have I had these dreams where I wake up and my hair is significantly longer than it actually is in real life.

And I guess that's just it. At a subconscious level, I want to have much longer hair, hair that I can straighten and let blow in the wind, hair that I can let shrink and shake about my head and still have some length to it. It usually happens after I do my hair in a way I find particularly cute--invariably, I'll have a dream where it's even longer, and even cuter.

I think the fact of the matter is, subconsciously, so much of my idea of femininity is connected to long hair, and not just longer than men's hair, but long hair at base. And I've never had the length of hair that is in most cultures considered unquestionably female. And while the styles of my hair are generally more female, I have to count on the contours of my body and the way I dress to express more of my femininity, especially in those days I'm in a rush and can only do a puff.

And I wish it weren't like that. I wish I didn't have that subconscious desire to have longer hair, but it is there. It sometimes haunts me in my sleep after a day that I feel like was otherwise content. I know it's not about anyone else--it's about me. Because in the dream, each time, I'm waking up in the morning, preparing for my day, and looking in the mirror in surprise. No one else compliments me, no one else becomes attracted to me, no one else cares. It's just me in front of the mirror, marveling at my own self.

I'm usually thinner in these dreams, too, but I'll save that one for later.