Medical Dramas: They Can Educate

Medical Dramas: They Can Educate

I like reading and sharing pieces I find in the NYTimes, Chicago Tribune, WSJ. THIS IS ONE OF THEM… the title of the piece:

IN A TV SCRIPT, I CAN REWRITE A PATIENT’S FATE  by Daniela J. Lamas  

Dr. Lamas is a writer and co-producer for the television medical drama, The Resident, though her main employment is that of a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston. 

MEDICAL DRAMAS AND REALITY 

In her piece in the NYT, Dr. Daniela J. Lamas is very aware that she straddles two worlds, finding the writing gig an uplift from the death and dying she sees in her hospital’s Covid unit. When she can retreat to her messy call room, she uses Zoom to join a group of writers struggling with a scene, another medical emergency for Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czurchry), the eponymous hero of the The Resident.

Lamas never works in a vacuum, taking with her the image of the older female patient who now has Covid, her pastor having insisted she not get the vaccine. Dr. Lamas presents this situation to her writing team, hoping they will change the story line. Example: the pastor visits, sees his parishioner suffering and begins to preach from the pulpit that all his people need to get vaccinated. (But like Dr. Lamas, this story line is my creation. Will the writers group accept it?)

Dr. Lamas writes her reality: …though her lungs are slowly improving, her kidneys are worsening, and she is profoundly delirious, not waking up. We stand at the bedside and call her name, her eyelids flutter.

Down the hall, we titrate drips and manage vent settings for a man whose stem cell transplant cured his leukemia but ravaged the rest of his organs. His wife would be at his bedside, but she is at her father’s funeral.

And though the article does not say, I imagine this elderly woman did die from Covid, an unnecessary death.

STORY LINES THE WRITER’S ROOM REJECTS

Dr. Lamas writes: I used to want to show the hospital as it truly exists, to reveal the humor and tragedy and grace that characterizes my world. (She explains with the following examples.)

  • The family that came to say goodbye to a dying woman, a misplaced ID card leading them to believe, wrongly, that she was their mother.
  • A patient’s brother, with skull tattoos on his shaved head, who told us he could not be in the room when we took his brother off the ventilator. So when he left, we thought we would never see him again, but were surprised when he returned, not to sit by his dead brother, but to collect the man’s prosthetic leg. Another nurse said he spent the rest of the day in the hospital chapel with the leg beside him.

Dr. Lamas writes that even producers and writers for The Resident say such stories are simply too grim. The public does not need or want to be reminded of how quickly things can go bad, how families fall apart, how doctors do their best but patients still die.

Especially now, viewers want to see their doctor as heroes, to follow a formula that has doctors saving lives more than losing them.

IN THE WORLD OF THE TV HOSPITAL

Dr. Lamas writes: “During my first experience on the set…I learned that when things went wrong (a medical word being mispronounced) I was assured, “Don’t worry. We can fix it in post.” She underlines that she loved that phrase, one she wanted to say to her patients over and over. “…to be able to have another chance, to treat the sepsis earlier, to stop the pastor form advising against vaccination, to fix it in the post.”

Dr. Lamas reminds us that during the pandemic, her roles as a critical care doctor and a television writer are often in conflict. Though she wants to honor and remember every patient who died, she also yearns to tell stories that are hopeful, where there is always the chance for recovery, no matter how dire the diagnosis.

“It’s a tension I am still learning to navigate. How do we tell stories that feel true while also keeping viewers engaged? What kind of cheats are acceptable, and which are irresponsible?”

Dr. Lamas then makes a particular reference to the struggle that often ensues when the team is trying to save a cardiac patient. She reminds us that TV characters survive cardiac arrests far more often than people in real life do.

“…and the nurse left alone to clean up after the death…” If our viewers could see that, “they would change the channel.” She is right. I still remember during my Cardiac rotation, watching a team try to save a patient, the family waiting in an adjoining room. The man died. And yes, the floor was littered with medical pads, bottles, wipes, tubing…

IN THE REAL WORLD

Dr. Lamas is right when she stresses that medical dramas are important, that they can provide escape, but also education.

“In the writer’s room, we have a change to …offer a different ending to the story. And in doing so, we can sneak in potentially lifesaving education—early warning signs of certain illnesses, the dangers of overtreatment or the impact of inequities in access to care…television dramas have an unparalleled opportunity to educate and even to change behavior…I have come to believe that it is worth glossing over the facts IF we can weave a story that encourages viewers to trust science, to get vaccinated, to look differently at disease. When I find myself fact-checking what I see on the television monitors, I remind myself of this more important goal.”

Dr. Lamas ends her piece, mentioning a patient that she met one morning on rounds, asking him to mute the TV show he was watching, a medical TV show, as she needed to listen to his heart. He seemed surprised that he had to miss something, explained that medical dramas had been his one constant. The plots reassured him, taught him what might be ahead in his own medical story, while helping him feel less alone on his own medical journey. Dr. Lamas smiled. She understood.

(I confess that one of the reasons I became a nurse after having my three children—was my propensity to be gripped not only by books and articles about medicine, but by watching television medical dramas. I’ve written about that before. I was an avid ER fan. Now it’s New Amsterdam, Chicago Med, and of course The Resident.)

Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Things Go Wrong

Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Things Go Wrong

Deepak Chopra is a spiritual man who has spent his life helping others discover their spiritual life, and to aid them in maintaining that life through meditation and a close understanding of one’s needs and human foibles.

In one of his articles, Chopra addresses how to deal with your life when things are not as you planned. He has created THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN THINGS GO WRONG.

He writes: a setback is one thing. So is a challenge. But sometimes so much comes upon us, that we find ourselves in crisis. Panic ensues and the hole we are digging for ourselves, or the hole we have fallen into, is getting bigger.

Wisdom is needed. Impulse must be pushed aside. Decision making sometimes requires that proverbial deep breath, a pause in the panic we are leaning toward, and a better decision- making process.

QUESTIONS TO AVOID:

  1. What is wrong with me? Stay calm. You are human. Don’t blame yourself.
  2. Whom can I blame? Again, think things through, look at both sides of the problem, the argument, the situation. Breathe.
  3. What’s the worst-case scenario? Don’t go there. Don’t imagine that things are only going in the wrong direction. Look for some light, find something positive you can focus on.

Here Deepak Chopra asks and answers some questions to help you when THINGS GO WRONG.

  1. Is this a problem I should fix, put up with or walk away from?

You need to answer this question clearly and rationally, or your vision will be clouded. Without even knowing it, you will be acting under the influence of negative emotions such as fear. You will give in to impulsiveness or fall back on old habits.

CLARIFY YOUR INNER CONFUSION. First step: consider after talking to those you trust, a course of action that begins with finding a fix. And if you can’t think of a fix, ask yourself why. Perhaps someone or something (a lack of money and time) is blocking you. It is always worthwhile to search for a fix and commit yourself to finding one. When you have finally exhausted your realistic options, only then will your begin to decide to put up with the situation (using patience, not passivity) or walk away.

  1. Who can I consult who has solved the same problem successfully?

You need help to solve a heavy problem. Isolation is not good as we become afraid and depressed; we draw into ourselves. There can also be shame and guilt which gives us even more reason to completely shut down.

Best to find someone who has gone through the same crisis you are facing. It gives you an example to follow and a confidant who understands your pain, keeps you from withdrawing into isolation. Victims feel alone and helpless. Reach out to someone who has not been victimized by the thing you are now facing.

And we aren’t talking about hand-holding or shared misery, or even therapy. There are no substitutes for talking to a person who has entered a dark place and come out successfully. But where do you find such a person? Ask people; seek support groups; find blogs and forums; don’t stop until you find true empathy from someone you trust.

  1. How can I reach deeper into myself for solutions?

This is always up to you. Though your crisis is all-consuming, the world OUT THERE won’t change until the world IN HERE does. Deepak says:

The level of the solution is never found at the level of the problem. Knowing this, you can escape many traps people fall into: repetitive thinking; applying yesterday’s outworn choices; obsessive thinking and worry; etc etc. You have more than one level of awareness, and at a deeper level there is untapped creativity and insight.

YOUR HIGHER SELF: whatever you call it, soul, Atman, Holly Spirit, muse, inspiration must experience the place within where the light dawns and brings hope. Peace is possible. There is certainty that you will find a path forward.

FINAL WORDS FROM CHOPRA: You will find this place. Even in the worst of crisis we experience flashes of it. Inhabit that level of awareness that brings solutions. Know that level exists. Make a plan to get there and use techniques available to you: meditation, reflection, contemplation, prayer.

Reduce your stress. Seek others who understand consciousness. Read books that inspire you and describe what it means to go on an inward journey.

The important thing is that you take the first steps inside. Find a path out of your present darkness, and don’t submit to fear and despair. Find those who lead the world into a future full of light.

art: a cairn in Aruba

Why Do Men Want to Control Women?

Why Do Men Want to Control Women?

Charlotte Gray, while reviewing Amy Sohn’s THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN, writes in the Wall Street Journal: “In 1873, a new federal law prohibited the distribution and promotion through the U.S. postal service of ‘obscene, lewd or lascivious’ material. The legislation covered not only dirty postcards and sex toys, but also pamphlets about contraception and sexual health. A booklet about marital relations or an abortifacient powder was now considered as indecent as an advertisement for a brothel.” The question: who caused this to happen: The answer: Anthony Comstock.

Amy Sohn describes in her book, The Man Who Hated Women, how Comstock’s forceful move to pass this federal law dealt a severe blow to information that women needed to care for and understand their bodies.

The law profoundly affected women’s health. It not only supported a prudish misogyny that harkens back to Puritan history, but aspects of it can still be found in laws that prevail today in parts of the U.S.

WHO WAS ANTHONY COMSTOCK?

Certainly he was a woman hater, also a Congregationalist, who believed in the Victorian ideal of womanhood: the woman should only be “the angel in the house.” Born in 1844, Comstock went from being a store clerk to turning to anti-vice activism. He was offended by what he called the moral corruption of the Gilded Age in New York City.

WHY TAKE IT OUT ON WOMEN?

Like some of our cities today, New York during the Gilded Age was the center of huge wealth but also abject poverty. Wealthy men were eager to take advantage of poverty stricken women who walked the streets of New York as prostitutes, and who had nothing to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and the dangers of childbirth.

Sohn writes in her book: “…Comstock lumped women together with “sinful” practices.” He got the YMCA to form the Suppression of Vice committee and to make him their lobbyist in Washington. This allowed him to push for harsher penalties against obscenity peddlers. Then, to convince the male representatives in DC, “Comstock organized the most vivid exhibition of sex toys the capital had ever seen.” Congress members handled the toys and other articles, saying they would pass the law he wanted.The result: The Comstock Act of 1873. Other states went on to pass similar laws.

Don’t We Often Say: When someone is obsessed with something, he might actually like it.  

Comstock could not keep the dirt out of his own eyes. He began seeing pornography everywhere, started lawsuits that tried to subdue materials “as diverse as lottery tickets, pornography and medical books written my physicians.”

Being unable to quell his own urges, and hating women, Comstock, decided to fight EVERYTHING and everyone, especially women. Gray writes that he hounded “sex radicals” the eight women who were caught up in sex-oriented movements of the time. Those included abortion, spiritualism, atheism and anarchism.

THE WICKED EIGHT

In her book, Amy Sohn focuses on eight women Comstock went after, sexologist Ida C. Craddock getting the most attention. Unable to attend the University of Pennsylvania because of her gender, Craddock studied comparative religion and developed a passion for sex and symbolism.

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Craddock watched a belly dancer, then later wrote that dance utilized an ancient religious rite, symbolizing self-control of sexual pleasure. But Comstock was also watching. He called the performance obscenity, and wanted to jail the performer.

WOMEN AND MEN IN THE BEDROOM 

Ida C. Craddock fought for women, argued against marital rape, telling women they had a right to enjoy sex. Craddock printed business cards that read: Scientific Motherhood, Prenatal Culture, Right Living in the Marital Relation. She sent information through the mail: “putting herself right in the crosshairs of the Comstock Act.” Comstock won that battle, having her arrested in 1902 for being “lecturer of filth.” Eight months later, unable to face prison, Ida C. Craddock committed suicide.

THE AFTERMATH… The early 1900’s was a time when newspapers pulled in readers with wild tales of sex and sin. But gradually, Comstock’s harsh beliefs no longer coincided with the growing power of women. Though he died in 1915, his law continued to stay on the books for many more decades, inciting women to claim their power, speak out for their rights and needs. Year to year this fight intensified, encouraging “transformative feminist activism.” Comstock might actually have helped the feminist movement, helped women see the need for more agency in their own lives.

Ms. Sohn ends her book with a warning: “Wombs are still a battleground because of what they represent.” Then she then quotes Ida Craddock: “I would lay down my life for the cause of sex reform; but I don’t want to be swept away, a useless sacrifice.” Craddock died, was forgotten, but Sohn and others have successfully resurrected this amazing woman. 

Ida Craddock’s manuscripts and notes are preserved in the Special Collections of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her battle with Anthony Comstock is the subject of the 2006 stage play Smut by Alice Jay and Joseph Adler, its world premiere at Miami’s GableStage in June 2007. 

Amy Sohn’s book is THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Publishers. Artwork: The Gilded Age, Central Park New York City 

You might also like. https://boomerhighway.org/books-that-pave-the-way-for-lifes-journey/

JANE ROSENTHAL’S DEL RIO: AND THE SEEDS OF A FICTIONAL WORK    

JANE ROSENTHAL’S DEL RIO: THE SEEDS OF A FICTIONAL WORK

I met Jane Rosenthal during a Women’s Fiction Writers (WFWA) retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were both living in California at the time, enjoyed each other’s company, our love of writing, and discussed the inevitable struggle of getting published.  

And today, I’m pleased to present to you, Jane’s second published work, DEL RIO, a Novel. I hope you will enjoy reading about Jane’s process and how personal experience contributed to her vision for this story.

Jane’s Voice: My novel Del Rio is set in a fictional town in the Central Valley of California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Central Valley is a place made up of small towns, near where I lived, towns so accessible that they were where I went to get my hair styled, grocery shop or go to the bank. This particular town, Del Rio, doesn’t really exist, except in my imagination.

One of the best compliments I ever received for my manuscript occurred when I was pitching the book at a conference. An editor, looking over his glasses at me, pronounced: “Wow, so do you live in Del Rio?”

The place seemed that real to him. And in a way, it is. Writing is a journey, and this book took me on one.

JANE’S REALIZATION THAT MUCH OF DEL RIO WAS NORTH OF THE BORDER …

Jane says: One Saturday a few years back, something happened that changed the whole trajectory of the book. I’d gone into town to do errands. But when I got to Wells Fargo Bank, the line was out the door. That had never happened before. But I’d never been there on a Saturday, mid-month, payday for the farm workers. It didn’t take long before I realized I was the only native English speaker in the entire line.

A lightbulb exploded in my head. I didn’t need to go south, at least in the book, to be in Mexico. I WAS on the west coast of Mexico. Right then, right there. After I made my deposit, I headed to my office, to sit down and write the first sentence that would become Del Rio.

That sentence came easily: Fletcher wanted me to meet him at the Starlight Lounge, an old roadhouse set on the banks of the San Joaquin River, a few miles south of town.

This was the voice of Callie, my protagonist. And even though Del Rio starts and ends in California, Callie travels to the west coast of Mexico, to a fishing village called San Benito, a place that is Night of the Iguana on steroids. Her mission: to search for a killer.

Then Jane reminds us: You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens once Callie gets there!

FICTION THAT SHOUTS FOR ACTION

Jane’s book is a fascinating read. She tells us: I’d intended when I first started on this Mexico Trilogy to set the second book solely on the west coast of Mexico. I’d been to Mexico’s Pacific coast many times and loved its “Night of the Iguana” feel. I wanted to give the reader that atmosphere, but a totally different feel and cast of characters from the Mexico City setting I had recreated in Palace of the Blue Butterfly. (get it on Amazon)

But then she saw that the seeds of her story were literally planted in the United States.

CENTRAL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA WORKERS–WHAT THEY NEED AND DON’T HAVE: BACKGROUND INFORMATION….

  • Farmworkers are not protected under the National Labor Relations Laws (NLRA).
  • Farmworkers are exempt from many protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). Exempt from most minimum wage and hour guarantees.
  • They are not entitled to overtime pay or mandatory breaks for rest or meals
  • There are few labor protections for farmworker children.
  • Most farmworkers are excluded from federal minimum wage laws and other labor protections, including the right to overtime pay for workers that work more than 40 hrs./wk.
  • FWs are not protected from retaliation by federal law when engaged in labor organizing.
  • They are not entitled to receive attorney fees under the Migrant and Seasonal Ag. Worker Protection Act.
  • Many FWs on small farms don’t even have access to toilets and hand-washing facilities and drinking water.
  • There is a Lack of Transparency in the Food system.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is supposed to protect all workers with respect to the federal minimum wage and overtime pay, even undocumented workers.  However, workers have little or no way to enforce their rights.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Read Del Rio for a great story, as well as a look into the dangerous games being played, the innocent lives being risked. Because it is happening, right before our eyes.

And if moved by Rosenthall’s experience, the words in her book, the information I have provided here, please go to https://farmworkerfamily.org/information  and donate. For more information that conflicts with above, go to: http://www.lacooperativa.org/farm-workers-know-your-rights-in-the-workplace/

P.S. California produces over 350 commodities; including 1/3 of the nation’s vegetables and nearly 2/3 of the nation’s fruits and nuts. California produces 90% of the strawberries grown in the U.S. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all farmworkers in America reside in California, or roughly 500,000 – 800,000 farmworkers. Approximately 75% of California’s farmworkers are undocumented; 83% in Santa Cruz County. Approximately 1/3 are women, and they range in age from their teens to their 60s. In addition, there are 400,000 children working in U.S. fields;

Ella In Her Garden

Ella In Her Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following “story” which is my creation, recreates a personal experience. The nonfiction passages below that, relates back to that specific experience, which is real and more common for pregnant women in today’s medical world.

Ella can feel numbness moving into her legs. She’s been sitting in the garden for about ten minutes, feet tucked under her buttocks, gloved hands probing with the iron weed digger. Her angle is wrong. She shifts, the tingly sensation of flowing blood bringing back legs, feet.

The baby also shifts, a slight, quick wave of motion. Ella pounces on the tiny elm tree still rooted among the coreopsis. She leans another way, continues to work with the digger, her mind plotting what to do next: repot the small begonia that lies on the ground, its clay container broken by running squirrels; then deep-water the newly planted Spirea that might die in this drought.

The planting is a game of distraction, and the hot sunlight, the intense thrumming of crickets and cicadas. But she loses the game at least once an hour, sometimes every twenty minutes. The amniocentesis results are due today. Her portable phone is on the picnic table. David will be calling at lunch, talking about other things, waiting for her to break in, tell him, if she knows.

The baby moves again. Ella throws the digger to the ground, works with some effort to stand, her body no longer lithe, elegant. She’ll have Steve, who mows the lawn, dislodge the elm with a pitchfork.

Months of her life have been taken over by a fierce desire to bear and deliver another healthy child, a child to deny her aging or loss of touch with this growing world. She will do everything to keep this child, and yet living is in match step with exposing oneself to loss. “No matter what the results, Ella, with the choice you have made, there’s nothing we can do. You realize that,” the doctor had said.

Yes, she does, always certain she wants to get pregnant, know the health of the fetus. But that time is now. The moment close. And yes, the irony of testing.

She’s carrying this baby around inside her and it’s moving now, and no matter what the words are at the other end of the phone, it will still be moving around inside her. If the doctor calls and says, “Ella, you are carrying a Down Syndrome child,” the fetus won’t disappear, it won’t begin to shrink and slip away like a cloud losing moisture. The Downs Syndrome baby, the baby with neuro-tube defects, the anencephalic baby will still continue to grow inside of her.

Ella walks to the shed, hunts in its mustiness for the pitchfork. The grass is brittle beneath her tennis shoes, waves of air touching her like solid warm hands. She walks back, looking like a perfect balancing act, moving about her tasks as if every breath in the last few years has been stored up to get her to this point. Ella isn’t just pregnant. She is experiencing an amazing fulfillment of a wish.

The cicadas hum. The phone doesn’t buzz. She works at the elm seedling with the pitchfork.

“Mom…” Sarah comes around the corner, her hair springing away from the right side of her head where she has tied it with a big pink ribbon that matches her pink tank top and shorts. Ella reaches out to touch the top of her daughter’s head, the two strangely silent with each other.

Even before this pregnancy, Ella had crazy moments when she would look at her two young daughters, seeing them as her own flesh, slightly changed blueprints of herself. Touching them, her body would expand, become warm like the bodies of pregnant women. Her breasts would soften against Carrie’s chest, her abdomen balloon out to hold Sarah. The physicality of motherhood shouted at her. She needed that again, needed to make her body work again. She argued against this. Educated women do not succumb to thoughts of being “baby machines.” But Ella did succumb.

Sarah has sensed a distance in her mother all week. She knows she can use it to her advantage.

“I want to ride over to Lockwood’s and buy a pop.”

“There’s some in the house, better yet, I have fruit juice.”

“I’m kinda in the mood to ride my bike. Can I take a couple of dollars?”

“Okay. Take what you need, but watch the sugar. You know how you get.”

Sarah comes and puts her arms around her mother’s disappearing waist, buries her head in her chest—just for a moment. Ella had tried before to have this third child and then miscarried. And though she sometimes thinks about it now, it’s not as painful, this new pregnancy altering that sorrow, the pain, the hours of Ella being silent, wounded.

Waiting for the amnio results is better than what she has already been through. She is sure of this. She’s lived it, learned from it. Fear is a destructive force that can work against your joy and hope. Her doctor was firm: set fears aside. Statistics: only one fetus, out of one hundred conceived by women over the age of forty, would come into the world with Downs Syndrome. And Ella had already delivered two healthy children. The doctor also reminded her that anytime a woman conceives, there are chances that she could give birth to a child with some anomaly.

Her fertility is a gift, though modern medicine has played a part. And yes, she has walked down some dark passageways in her mind, but nothing will go wrong. She has set aside her fears. She will love this baby no matter the sex, the birthweight, the chromosomes. No matter any of it.

Back in the yard, Ella picks up the pitchfork, again works to loosen the elm sapling from her garden patch. If she is careful, and there are enough roots, she can replant it at the back fence.

And then, her phone rings.

P.S. Below is a passage by Ilana Lowy: from her Prenatal Diagnosis: the irresistible rise of the ‘visible fetus. Prenatal diagnosis was developed in the 1970s, a result of a partly contingent coming together of three medical innovations-amniocentesis, the study of human chromosomes and obstetrical ultrasound-with a social innovation, the decriminalization of abortion. Initially this diagnostic approach was proposed only to women at high risk of fetal malformations. Later, however, the supervision of the fetus was extended to all pregnant women. The latter step was strongly favored by professionals’ aspiration to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome…

Debates on such dilemmas are usually limited to professionals. The transformation of prenatal diagnosis into a routine medical technology was, to a great extent, an invisible revolution.  Read more here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24440137/

Picture Credit: Golden Light, Colleen Taylor. Thanks to FINE ART AMERICA

TALKING TO STRANGERS

TALKING TO STRANGERS

Malcom Gladwell has so impressed the reading world with his analysis of life, that the term “Gladwellian intellectual adventure” has been coined.

But though I confess to not have jumped on his bandwagon before Talking to Strangers, when I saw he had written about Sandra Bland, I had to know his thoughts.

We now go through life with cable news. And then it was July of 2015. I’m white, Black Lives DO Matter, but hearing of a Black woman who had just arrived in Texas for a new job, a new life, had been arrested for a traffic stop, and then hearing just days later, that it was assumed she had hung herself in her jail cell—I was angry, had many questions, that to this day and even beyond this book, have not been answered. Why? Because we are still living in a time when these questions challenge us to give answers we don’t want to face. 

HOW TALKING TO STRANGERS IS ORGANIZED 

Gladwell starts with Sandra and ends with Sandra. In between, he works to reveal the disconnects in society, by exploring, as only he can, history, psychology and the roots of evil in our society. Oh, he wants to come to some conclusion about Sandra, but before that, he explores how often we just don’t have the big picture. Why? Because we ARE often STRANGERS to each other, and that means there are no exact rules to govern human interactions.

He attacks the problem in sections: some being Default to the Truth where he exams in detail the Sandusky (sex with a child) Case. Another being Transparency which includes the Amanda Knox case and a fraternity party sex case.

COUPLING 

But the most interesting section is Coupling,where Gladwell makes the case that often two things that go together are hard to separate. Suicide is often coupled. Suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge; Sylvia Plath and how gas was delivered to  homes before safety measures were introduced; preventive police patrolling in Kansas City, Missouri and the interrogation of Blacks. 

Gladwell concludes the coupling section with this: “There is something about the idea of coupling–of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context–that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand some of our greatest poets (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police officers on senseless errands. (Sandra Bland.)

SANDRA BLAND Note: All parenthesis are mine. 

Then Gladwell asks, before the last chapter, when he discusses the Sandra Bland case…

“So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental misconception– (that people are going to break laws, do wrong, especially if the are Black)–and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency? (That by their very nature, police can make us feel afraid, feel wrong when we are right, liars when we are truth tellers, especially if one is a person of color) YOU GET SANDRA BLAND.”

YES, SADLY. You get that two personalities who view the world differently, should not be thrown together in a tense situation. And, unfortunately, as a reader and a human, we are left with this: “If you are blind to the ideas that underlie our mistakes with strangers—and to the institutions and practices that we construct AROUND those ideas—then all you are left with is the personal…and now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that fateful traffic strop…somehow becomes the villain of the story.

READ THIS BOOK. TALKING TO STRANGERS

Original Sketch  artist not listed

Police: And My Interactions With Them

Police: And My Interactions With Them

Traffic tickets. What did I do wrong? Wanting to immediately defend myself. Not knowing how to act, what to do. I don’t have a weapon; I’m a female driving a car!

I’ve had four encounters with police and none of them felt comfortable. Why? Well it’s the police. Okay. The police make me nervous. But some of you reading this might have fathers, husbands, sisters, brothers who work in law enforcement. So, what’s my point?

Actually, it was made this morning in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Columnist Eric Zorn writes about his encounters with police and how we can improve things. But first let me tell you about mine.

FIRST: It happened on a circular drive in a shopping center in Matteson, Illinois. A policeman pulled me over. I guessed I was going 30 in a 20-mile zone. I immediately dialed my husband on my cell phone; he actually answered. Now the policeman is at my window, yelling at me to get off the phone. So, I did. FIRST ENCOUNTER, not going well.

He told me I had gone 30 in a 20. There was nothing more to say. He wrote out a ticket. I went on my way.

SECOND: I am now an RN, working at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Around noon, before my shift, I drive to pick up my son at grade school. I pull up in my car along the schoolyard fence. Just as I do, a child FALLS of the swing that is at a great height. I leap from my car and go into the school yard to help this child. He is shaken, bruised, but he is okay. While I am caring for him, a policeman pulls up behind me and starts writing me a ticket. WHY?

He’s ticking me for leaving my car running….I am about 10 feet from my car, we are on a leafy street with no traffic. I go out and argue with him. It makes absolutely no difference that I was leaping out of my car to help a child. None at all. It would have been nice to just get a warning. But I don’t appeal the ticket. I’m too damn busy.

THIRD: In this same neighborhood, we have moved, remodeled a very old home from the 1920’s. New roof, windows, doors, newly poured patio. New gardens, not to mention every room in the house has new plumbing and we have a new boiler etc etc. BUT…

While purchasing wallpaper in the community, giving my address….the woman waiting behind me says right out: “Oh, you’re the house with the bush that grows over the sidewalk.” I look at her. Turn back, pay, leave the store. Thinking, what a b…..

We contact the village to pay for new sidewalk squares (it’s a corner house) so that people don’t trip while they are walking near our house.

But then it happens, the same policeman who ticketed me for helping a child, pulls up, rings my bell, writes me a ticket for the bush growing over the sidewalk. AND HE ISN’T EVEN NICE ABOUT IT, when I show him how we have improved THIS house, even redone the public sidewalk.

FOURTH: This last is the least of all three, yet in some ways it might have turned out to be the worst. It all depends on the person you are dealing with. 

Here’s why, and remember, no one has ever told me the rules. I am driving through the streets of Des Moines, on my way to pick up my son from his music lesson. I notice a police car is following me. Well, it’s not me, I tell myself. But when I pull into the parking lot, he does too, it’s me. I pull into a parking space, he pulls into the space behind me. So what do I do?

I do the exact wrong thing that I don’t know is the exact wrong thing, I get out of my car and walk back to him. His window is down—“You need to get back in your car.” I don’t think he yelled, but he’s angry. And it’s me, Beth Havey, who hasn’t done anything wrong. “Officer, what have I done?”

He gives me the same answer, get back in your car. I do. I wait. About five minutes later, he walks up to my open window.

“Your registration is out of date. You don’t have your sticker on your plate.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, “I must have left the notice in a pile of mail. I will take care of this immediately.”

“And he, nods, walks away, so that after I get my son, I drive oh so carefully until I can get home and hide my car. I won’t drive it again until I have my NEW STICKER.

LOOKING BACK and FORWARD 

I’ve been driving for YEARS. For my 3-11 shift at Mercy Hospital in the city of Chicago. Back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago, alone. Many times to Iowa City, alone. Across country to California, with my husband. I’ve navigated the 405, the busiest road in California. BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD THE RULES. I learned them through negative experience, and by reading the paper, watching video of others, watching police deal with Black men, Black women, young kids,  etc etc. Don’t get out of the car…Get out of the car!!

NO ONE TOLD ME THE RULES when I first got my license. And not when I renewed. The tests in California are always about SIGNS and more SIGNS. Same in Illinois.

ERIC ZORN writes that a new measure in Illinois, co-sponsored by three African American lawmakers, requires that the RULES OF THE ROAD manual include instructions on “appropriate interaction with law enforcement officers” during a traffic stop. They claim that these instructions are in the booklet. I don’t remember being tested on that point. Signs, all the tests are about signs. 

CONCLUSION: the following should be front and center:

  • If you can’t quickly pull over, activate your hazard lights to signal your intent to comply.
  • Don’t rummage for your license, etc don’t make a quick phone call about anything. These movements can alarm the officer, especially with the prevalence of guns in society. Instead, turn on your dome light if it’s night and put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.
  • When the officer asks for documents, tell this person where they are, move slowly.
  • Don’t argue with the officer. That never goes well. If you get a ticket, sign it, avoid arrest. Save your argument for the judge.

Zorn then says: But we as drivers should also know our rights. Such as:

  • The right not to answer questions about where you’re going, where you live or your immigration status as well as the right not to respond to accusations or insinuations of wrongdoing.
  • The right to deny consent to a search of your person or of your vehicle (though officers may conduct such a search anyway, if they claim probable cause.) This happened to a person I dearly love and he was arrested.
  • The right to learn the officer’s name and badge number.
  • The right to refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test if you are suspected of impaired driving (though such a refusal is almost certain to result in a one-year license suspension.)

My final thoughts are like Eric Zorn’s: courtesy and respect during a traffic stops can be and should be a two-way street. Lawmakers ought to put that in their guidelines as well.  

Also, I’ve been damn lucky! I was in a bad accident years ago. I made a bad turn. My daughters were injured. They are fine now, but it took me months to forgive myself. But that’s another blog post. https://boomerhighway.org/reclaiming-motherhood/

Please share your interactions with the police and how you handled them. 

THANKS to ERIC ZORN Chicago Tribune

photo  I Stock

 

BACK IN CHICAGO…

BACK IN CHICAGO...

The ability to love everyone starts with children. We are blank slates. We see the world bathed in equality—until, as we grow, we begin to become aware of differences. Or they are pointed out to us. Regardless, there is always hope.

In a world where we are truly now a global nation, where we could look like the United Nations, differences should not be an issue.

But there is something in an individual’s DNA that makes them cling to those first times when we see differences or feel different or are taught to claim a difference. Why? I don’t have an answer. 

EVERYONE HAS SOME PREJUDICE 

There are people on this earth who claim that they have no prejudices. That everything in their purview is equal. I say, that’s impossible. Maybe you are or have always been comfortable with the differences that exist in humanity regarding skin color. Awesome. Wonderful. But I proport there isn’t a person walking this earth that isn’t prejudiced in some way. And it may be as simple as food choices.

Because life is about choice and within each of us is some small voice telling us that THIS is better than THIS. It just depends on what we are talking about. But we must be honest.

HOW PREJUDICE BEGINS 

As a child, I lived on the southside of Chicago. But—in a neighborhood that was all white. The people of color I knew were few. There was Jenny, the Sioux Native American who cared for us when we were very young. (read here). And there were the two Black women who cleaned and ironed for us. (read: here.)

OPENING MY EYES

But what did I notice as I grew up in Chicago? (I am doing my best to be honest.)

  • That all our neighbors, the people who worked in stores, the kids in school, the people in church, our doctors—they were all white.
  • That when my mother drove me through neighborhoods to downtown Chicago (before the city built the Dan Ryan Expressway, which was geographically laid out to separate many Black neighborhoods from white ones) that the sidewalks were crowded with people walking; that there were people missing limbs, people in wheel chairs, maybe even people who had lost hope. READ: people who had to rely on public transportation; people without good healthcare. People who lived in food deserts and healthcare deserts. Please note that in certain decades THE CAR was everything. This was before we began to look on public transportation as a positive way to travel. I did live three blocks from the Rock Island train that zipped my mother into Chicago for her job. From that train, I could look out upon housing, old apartments, yards bare of grass, sometimes filled with trash… Okay—poverty.

What did I notice during my years of education?

  • Well, I’m certain I would never have looked around for a Black child in my grade school. That possibility wasn’t even on our radar. There were two girls in my class whose skin was actually tan all year long: read, darker than mine. Damn, that I noticed that. Is there something in our DNA that points that out?
  • But after high school, working in the city every summer in downtown Chicago, the variety of people along the sidewalks was fascinating.

What did I notice off and on just living and working in Chicago and its suburbs?

  • That even though I was white, there were sales women in high-end stores that were not interested in helping me return a blouse or search for a size. Because prejudice can move through all tribes—I obviously wasn’t dressed in a way that indicated my buying power. That memory still stings. But GET OVER IT, You Privileged White Woman.
  • That working in an integrated high school in Chicago Heights, Illinois and then much later working as an RN at Mercy Hospital in the Bronzeville area of Chicago, were some of the best years of my life. If there was some ignorant, leery, unsure person hidden inside me—those career choices made me push her aside.

MY FIRST JOB INTERVIEW 

“Some of our students have knives,” the Superintendent of the high school where I was interviewing told me. I needed the job. I said that was okay. I spoke out of ignorance. What did I know about dealing with a student who might be carrying a knife? I learned to be open and caring of all my students. Was I lucky? Yes. But there were so many students throughout my teaching years that showed me their humanity.

It was the same at Mercy Hospital when I first started working in maternity. I might be nervous walking into a room to help a stranger deliver her child. But the bond of the female species, of motherhood, of helping someone in pain—damn, humanity was flowing through those rooms and continued to do so.

NOTE: It is 2021, and thank God, Mercy Hospital, that will always serve minority families, was saved from the wrecking ball. But close by in Bronzeville, Michael Reese Hospital did not survive. (read: Life and Death in Englewood by Linda Villarosa, New York Times.) 

WHEN THINGS CAME TOGETHER–FOR ME

“Gresham went over night.” You would have to live in Chicago (or maybe a different urban city) to know what THE HELL that means. Translation: the white folks moved out and the Black folks moved in. THIS IS OUR HISTORY. It’s Chicago’s history and it is the history of many cities in this country. It is wrong. 

Other terms are contained in one blistering sentence (a friend said this): “Yes, for sure there is gentrification going on in that neighborhood, cause they are getting rid of the slum.”

Definition of Slum: a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization. 

Actual Definition: an area of a city where people unable to find good-paying jobs are forced to live. And regarding history, people of color are forced to live there, a place where houses are abandoned because of job loss; stores and hospitals close. When I grew up, the hospital where I was born was a quick drive away. I took that for granted. Again, from a recent article in the New York Times: Now you drive through communities like Englewood and see empty lot after empty lot…  And I recently learned that the south suburbs of Chicago do NOT have a trauma center. They have hospitals, but not a trauma center. The trauma center is   Christ Advocate Trauma Center which is three miles from me, within the city limits. 

EDUCATING MYSELF BY READING…

There was James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker. But now there is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I read BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. Then I read WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER, which wasn’t just about the Obama era, but about Reconstruction, the freedoms initially given to freed people of color and then taken away. The continuation of brutality, of lynching and home burning. The device of red-lining which is to refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk. Short version, because they are Black. 

When Black folks left the South, looking for employment and better lives for their families, white men devised ways to isolate them in run-down neighborhoods, to prevent the breadwinner of the family from getting ahead. White people have always been able to get ahead by buying a home for their family, which provides them with shelter, but also the possibility of increasing their initial investment.

Getting ahead is the key to everything, for everyone. In America, each one of us should have that chance.

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?              

From Kitchenette Building by Chicago Black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks

PS Fighting prejudice must be an ongoing but oh so worthy effort. 

Photo: Monument in Bronzeville, Chicago, Illinois. Honoring the World War I 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.

Consider History: Yours and that of Others

 

Consider History: Yours and that of Others

As we grow our bodies change. And that reference is not just to our getting to adulthood. We are constantly growing and changing until we aren’t. Until we are dust.

Every day people die. Reading the news, we become complacent, change and often death becoming too familiar.

On the brighter side, moments in our lives present us with the ability to reach out to others, learn about the wider world we live in. The pandemic has accentuated the cocoon, though it also provided a time for us to read widely, talk to people we didn’t previously make time for, look deeper into our own lives, our own health and find gratitude. “Smell the roses” I guess.

OPENING UP is a familiar phrase in the political world we live in. BUT TRULY, it should often apply to us. We need to find ways to OPEN UP to the other: people, ideas, places, vocations, to name only a few.

HISTORY, THE WORD

Looking at the word it truly is    HIS STORY.  Or HER STORY. When you first see a medical professional, that person takes your HX–an abbreviation for HISTORY. A doctor, a nurse, cannot know how to treat you without a history. So it’s not just a word that students often groan and moan about when teachers move on to that subject.

Every day, all of our actions contribute to our own history. We are living it, creating it. And what is happening in the wider world has a profound effect on our lives, whether we consider that or not. RIGHT THIS MOMENT, people are being born who could possibly change the course of our very lives. Or become part of our lives. Truly, the future is a mystery. But our own history is not.

MY INTRODUCTION TO APPRECIATING HISTORY

It wasn’t a teacher putting a book down on my desk. It wasn’t memorizing dates. I became interested in the history of the world outside my home, neighborhood, when a photo of Queen Elizabeth appeared on the cover of LIFE MAGAZINE. I started asking questions about other places, other people. That brought me to the library where I checked out books, taught myself things about English, Spanish and Russian history.

For others, the world with all of its power and frightening change, might have been a sudden death, an accident, a fire, even the loss of a friend who moves away. WHY AM I LISTING THESE THINGS: because they Shake Up the circumstances within which we live. They are CHANGE AGENTS. They force us to look beyond the bedroom, the backyard, the TV set, the public school classroom.

MAKING CHANGE

Each of us is our own history maker. Who knows who will discover another element on the periodic table, or travel to another planet, or discover a medication that will eliminate surgery as the main tool to cure certain cancers.

The world is a wide and wonder–full place. Each of us is our own combination of walking histories. With the power of communication, we have shortened the time needed to educate ourselves about opportunities and advances. That is history IN THE MAKING.

FINAL THOUGHT

I decided to write about this topic when I saw people disregarding the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, people degrading him, taking one or two mistakes in his life and deciding that was his SUM TOTAL. No. It’s not. 99 years is complex. We make mistakes and we do what we can to make up for them. No one of us reading this can incapsulate the 99 years of Prince Philip’s life. We can’t even do that about our aging parent or grandparent. What we can do is read about the span of a life to see how that person responded to change. How that person rose to do good things, better things.

WE ALL HOPE TO BE THE PERSON who uses the gift of life to become a better person, to change, to reach out and be thankful for the opportunity to do so.

WHAT IN YOUR LIFE made you realize that we are only here for a while, that we need to do good things during our lifetime. 

 

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Easter/Spring: Remembering Innocence, Beginnings

Open your life to spring possibilities…

Life is about movement, change. Spring is certainly about change, though often subtle, little by little change, green shoots beginning to flower. Time-lapse photography lets us see what is really going on, but truly, our lives are just like that. You bring your baby home from the hospital, and because you see your child every day, you accept the rapid changes that are happening right before you.

All of life is like that. I finally got my Covid19 hair cut—did it thrill me, kinda—but now I can see more clearly the changes in my face, my skin. Time works on us. But I’m still here.

CHANGES 

SPRING is awesome. Sometimes it breaks out overnight, it shouts out look at me! Any pause in the movement of our lives can spring change on us—the pause of going away; of not seeing your grandchildren. Then you come back, see them again, older, taller; you too are older, maybe shorter. The home you left behind looks at you from its front windows, whines in the wind, “You shouldn’t have left me. I have aged. The people here don’t love me like you did.”

BIRTH

In my years of raising my family, I have been a mom of the proper age, a mature mom, an older mom, every pregnancy wanted, yearned for. 

I knew our first child was a girl when I turned on the radio after dropping off my urine specimen at the lab; “Warm, touching warm, reaching out, touching you touching me, Sweet Caroline…” Caroline, our chosen name. YES!

She was a little late, but arrived healthy, eager to become our child. And though she had colic and I got little sleep, each morning I pushed myself out of bed, eager to bring this sweet child into the light. Each day I became more intoxicated with the experience of parenting, Caroline’s body movements changing, moving from unsure to agile—and her voice, her desire to talk and communicate—swift, delightful.   

NUMBER TWO

Four years later, Christine was born. We had moved into a charming older home, my husband had finished his Master’s Degree, Caroline was thriving–it was the perfect time. There were trips to the zoo, the park, Papa and Mama, each responsible for a child. Each watching as they grew.  

When Christine was six or seven, she said, “When I was three, I couldn’t ride a bike or catch a ball or turn on the lights. I thought you were magical because you could.”

We had a rather heavy discussion concerning her observations, we talked about life, the possibilities that for her would be endless, that she should embrace new beginnings wherever she found them, and that more and more the world would be opening up for her and her sister.

For both daughters, I wanted, needed to be a symbol of change, embracing the new: so I did aerobics at the local gym (different for me as I was like Janis Ian, no one chose me for basketball); then I went back to school, had even more homework than they did as I worked to become an RN. But looking back, those were all right choices not only for me, but for my daughters.

NEW HORIZONS CHANGE THE PICTURE

Certainly as you age, the broad horizon of possibilities shrinks, and you find yourself clinging to memories: when Caroline would surprise me almost every day with a new word that she not only understood, but most times pronounced correctly. When Christine would bulldoze her head into my belly, then laugh and giggle, filling all of us with joy. So of course, they grew and I would find myself kneeling between their beds as they slept, tears wetting my face. They were disappearing, growing up and growing away right before me. I didn’t know how to get on with it.

So in spring, a few years later, I gave birth to our son, to Andrew, a longed for and planned for chid. He changed the dynamic of our family, his new life awakening once again our family ties. We all wanted to care for him, teach him, but also to relive past moments while dreaming about the future. Before Andrew we were amazing loving, grateful—Andrew just made it more so.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Time moves us all forward. But despite Covid and our move back to Chicago, our family remains close, blessed, healthy, breathing.

Wishing you a Blessed Easter, a Holy Passover. And of course, a Happy Spring, the time for New Beginnings.

PS What are dreaming about today? What plans do you have for new beginnings?  

Photo Credit,  Wayfair