The stability of the large world
house which is ours will involve
a revolution of values to accompany
the scientific and freedom
revolution engulfing the earth. We
must rapidly begin the shift
from a ‘thing-oriented’
society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., “Where
Do We Go From Here?”
I’m not Tom Brokaw. I have the
kind of cancer he has—but I’m not him. After I was
diagnosed in 2016, my GP at the time, suggested I read Brokaw’s
book. Read his book, she said, and then chuckled. Maybe, she added,
you could respond to the book, in print. You know, he’s the
privileged between the two of you, with the best of medical care this
country has to offer.
Near the end of his book, Brokaw
acknowledges his privilege: Multiple Myeloma is more prevalent among
African Americans. And, yes, he’s aware he’s white and a
male. He has clout as a personality and that has benefited him with
financial advantages not afforded many African Americans. As a media
personality, he’s sat at opposite Henry Kissenger at a table in
a swanky restaurant—working, both men, for the common good, of
course. He properly doesn’t think much about quitting.
For as long as I can remember, it’s
been suggested to me that I just quit. You know, just give up,
already! There are times when quitting is the best course of action
for survival. But there are other times when it’s akin to
drinking the Kool Aid, as we used to say. Today, it’s finding
yourself fraying, trying to escape the “sunkin place.”
My mother thought it best I should
quit before anything even begins. After I spent more time in the
hospital rather than the classroom my first go around in First Grade,
she let it be known to the nuns and priests that the child, “born
with a heart condition,” could no longer engage in
extracurricular activities. Period! I wouldn’t expect
cardiologists, in the 1950s, recommending much else to my mother in
terms of care for me, a Black girl—except maybe drugs, beta
At the end my first semester away at
college, my mother had a plan and she found a cardiology with a plan.
He had a beta blocker that would decrease the frequency of a rapid,
out-of-control, heart rate! And I could test this new drug out by
quitting school, my mother suggested. What’s a Catholic girl,
the oldest girl, doing away from home anyway?
Returning back home to attend
college would be grudgingly acceptable.
But I didn’t return home and,
in the subsequent years on this drug, I complained. And complained. I
had a plan, too. But unlike my mother, I didn’t have an ally in
the medical profession.
can I do, I’m asking this cardiologist a few years later, about
energy? I’m struggling to climb the stairs to catch the el
train in order to get from one college campus to another to teach, to
earn a living. I can’t stand too long. The label on my beta
blocker warns: fatigue and insomnia! I’m also trying to work on
a master’s degree. I’m trying to support residents in a
public housing facility by teaching literacy…
lives in a suburb of Chicago known for its residents’ wealth.
He’s an office at a major hospital and a private practice
downtown. All these years, (I’m now in my mid-thirties), he
doesn’t even notice that I always come into the examining room
carry a book as well as a satchel of student papers and textbooks.
funny, so he laughs.
fills out the prescription for the beta blocker. That’s what
I’ve come for anyway. It’s the only way to continue
taking the drug my heart has come to depend on, forcing me to wake up
in the morning thinking only about reaching the bottle in the
bathroom—the way I’ve seen people addicted to
recreational drugs do on television.
look down at the prescription: he’s added another daily dosage.
Three times a day!
his plan, I’m to remain the patient. Complacent with the plan.
I don’t have insurance. I work. Have always worked since I was
14-years old. I teach, but I don’t have insurance.
much did he receive from the pharmaceutical company? From the men in
dark suits? There’s nothing about me in his/their plan.
day, I focus on the problem, immediately at hand: I’m still
sipping on the Kool Aid if I don’t think about this too. The
heart is a muscle. Beta blockers slow down irregular and rapid beats.
The heart’s a muscle. Like the muscles of your arms, legs…
deeply. Exhale. Inhale.
have a plan, too.
month. I call the hospital to speak with someone. A patient
representative. Again. To vent. My oncologist has a plan. He’s
said he has a plan. He’s not talked with me about this plan. To
me, yes. Like, listen, little one, I’m the expert here. I’m
the one here who knows.
me see your tongue.”
at home, I have to google to see what this is all about.
been two years now. He’s been training me to quit asking
questions. Submit! He’s only allotted fifteen-minutes sessions
with patients anyway.
M Protein. The calcium level. I see the results of blood tests online
at MyChart and I
google. I google to come up with a good diet to lower my intact of
calcium. I stopped drinking two bottles of Ensure
per day. I don’t even buy the product, and I’ve cut back
still not Tom Brokaw.
I call anyway. I’m used to being in a State/state where to
speak out while Black is to be pursued for lock up, or worse. I do
understand the risks.
leave a voice message but soon receive a callback. Maybe I didn’t
record the proper amount of cheeriness. Hi, how are you today? Oh,
please, at your convenience, please, please, give me a call. My
number is... Thank you! Thank you! Maybe my voice didn’t sound
know the quick response is really for the safety of the hospital, its
patients, its personnel. I left there not long before. I didn’t
have the doctor’s attention, but now I have the attention of
the hospital’s patient representative. And, of course, she
remembers me. It’s been a few months, but she remembers.
Are we safe? She
will not say this aloud, but I hear it in her voice.
forbid I should mention I’m anxious. She’ll suggest a
doctor and he or she will have a pill for my anxiety. Black
Americans, reports tells us, are very stressed out, you know. No
calmer after a few minutes. I can hear she’s taking notes or
just moving paper on her desk. I remind her about my previous call
about the white male assistant to the GP, an employee at the
hospital, suggesting I read The Shack. I’m
only a patient at the hospital because I have cancer—not
because I’m in need of religion!
maybe, another nurse tells me weeks before, he was just trying to
recovering still! I’m not religious. And the hospital is
neither a religion-based nor is it a church! I expect this doctor’s
assistant to be a professional care provider!
patient representative on the phone asks if I would like to talk with
a nurse in patient resources, someone who could help me
with—transportation. Transportation? Did she hear me explain
how I feel when I’m in the examining room with my
oncologist—another employee of the hospital! He’s not yet
explained “the plan,” let alone explained to me what to
expect! What does M Protein mean? I’d like to hear that from
him rather than hear him report that it’s up this month and
down the next. I can read the numbers! I don’t yet (outside of
what I’ve learned by googling) understand how this disease
You without transportation to get out to Highway 94 where we’re
located as easily as others (and she doesn’t have to remind me
of what I don’t have. But I hear it in her voice and in her
suggestion). I’ll have ________ call. She’s really good.
Nice. A nurse. She can help you. I’m aware that in this
profit-driven society, where every disaster, private or public, has a
dollar signs: psychologist masquerade as police officers and
nurses... So no threat, but how can we further profit, maybe?
white woman in my ear is aware of it. She calls the next day. After
ten minutes or so, she knows I’m aware of it. We are playing a
role in this narrative. She must deflect my attention from the
problem, nonetheless. It only works for so long, however.
years in. I don’t have Brokaw’s team of care givers,
providers. My doctor is a “nice” man. Yes, everyone is
“nice.” And I walk away from my monthly fifteen-minute
sessions knowing no more than what I’ve researched on the
Internet. Time is money. Money is time. Sometimes, I don’t know
why I bother.
I leave the doctor’s office, I hear something behind me and
turn back suddenly. I catch the receptionists giggling behind my
back. I’m hilarious, I’m sure. Something they aren’t
too used to seeing. I’m not Bill, or Sue, or Evelyn, or
Allen—any of the white cancer patients I watch being treated as
if they were receptionists’ relatives.
staff isn’t sure what to do or say to me, but, from the screen
in front of them, there’s a hint on how to receive me. It comes
up there on the screen. They read it while I read their faces.
the kind of insurance that medical insurance companies, Big Pharma,
wealthy politicians, and the current man sitting in the White House
wants to gut. The haves are breeding a culture in which medical
personnel don’t care unless there’s a financial incentive
will result in no care for the nation’s children, for its poor,
its disabled and elderly.
Is your insurance the same?
oncologists, patient representatives, patient resources nurses,
receptionists seem to do well enough as foot solider. Most don’t
live in the city. There’s a hierarchy among them, of course;
nonetheless, all are rewarded for their services to Big Pharma and
other medical corporations while continuing to validate the narrative
about “care giving.” Caring. Surrogates to the wealthy
and their interests, bow to the few at the top. The surrogates
relationship with patients can’t be one about caring. Human
decency is just too costly.
is a tragedy perpetuated everyday. To confront it and call it a
tragedy is what the corporations must not allow. We can’t even
have the discussion! That repression of alternative ideas is the
violence in a so-called Christian nation.
Let a good chunk of the American citizenry believes it’s a
superhuman entity, a “devil” tempting or a “god”
testing good Americans! Deflection. And deflection is good, too. The
business of the media and institutions, too. But for others,
dissenters, laws against protesting. Jail time for insisting. Or a
pill for anti-religious or anti-American or anti-capitalists
sentiments. Anger is not good!
nurse and I talk, and we talk. I tell her how I’ve been told
for years that I don’t have this, don’t have that. That’s
how I end up now talking with her. Not because I don’t have
transportation to this way-out cancer center, but that, most
important, I don’t have the proper attitude because I don’t
have the proper insurance, and, therefore, I don’t show the
proper respect towards medical authority that’s expected on me,
a Black woman.
but you have. You do have, she responds. But we are Americans. She
knows and I know which reality between us really matters.
really is content with where this nation is headed?
not only Tom Brokaw; it’s not him, alone. It’s a culture
about having. In excess. As a result, how can we expect the health
care system in this country to be about caring?
was a “nice” nurse. I think she thought I was “nice”
enough not to warrant a “care” squad.
end the call amiably enough. I’m thinking to myself, I’m
not a likely candidate for “the health care providers” to
“care” about. In the long run, they already know I’m
not likely to submit to a battery of chemo pills with side effects
such as heart, kidney, and liver damage, to boot. They would be right
to think that. Immunization treatment would be the way to go, but I
don’t expect my doctor/insurance providers to agree.
thank the nurse for taking the time, at least, to listen. I don’t
expect the kind of change needed now. I’m just one person and
it’s a system. And attitude, if I may say so, that is inhumane.
an educator. I’m not flashing cash or appearing on Oprah or
Trevor Noah. I’m an educator even if that’s not visible.
Breath. Inhale. Exhale…
that evening, on Valentine’s Day, I look at the news alerts
beeping on my computer. Another school shooting. Seventeen dead.
Several injured. A 19-year old, former student. Trained in the use of
firearms. The NRA. The wealthy politicians. Call the young shooter,
mentally ill. And he is, given his attitude and behavior even prior
to the shooting. But call the survivors “crisis actors”!
a culture committed to violence.