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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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Race

Snared by Skin

Of all the hues of prejudice that the disparities in skin tone might paint upon the psyche, the one that strikes as the most glaring is often the one that gets smudged and then smeared over; a recent glaze upon a remnant stain, as seemingly seamless their strokes may merge. 

Mr. B's diabetes flouted conventional therapy with a flourish, or so it seemed until I crosschecked with his pharmacist. He had refilled not one of his medications since the day they were prescribed. In his defense was a reason, way more appalling than the familiar ones, or at least the ones I was accustomed to; often conjured with the intent to appeal.

Compassionate Anesthesia

 
The anesthesiologist walked in with a virtual reality headset--clearly intent on distancing himself from the scene at hand--and, while ambling around the foot of the operating table, chuckled to the rest of us what a nice he would have of the waves in Hawaii.

"We should have let him die," he said. "It would have saved us time and money."

Supermarket Encounter

I was in a large supermarket in the late afternoon. At the busy cheese counter, I took a number and stood waiting in the large crowd. When my number was called, I pushed through the customers to the counter and gave my order. After I'd finished, I took a half-step backward and collided with someone.

As I turned around to apologize, I found myself facing a young woman who towered over me. I am white; she was African-American and wore the uniform of a meter maid. I said that I was sorry, that I hadn't seen her.

A Shared Language


I was waiting on a friend who had injured her arm. They entered later and huddled in the seats nearby, murmuring in hushed Korean and peering at the English signs.

Feverish and weak, the mother clutched her stomach while her husband stroked her arm. You could tell the son was anxious by the way he kept tugging at his father’s wrist to check his watch, the way he paced in little circles and rubbed his mother’s hand.

The Color of Tears

"Hey Doctor Curly!"

"Hey Hungry Hippo!"

"You still haven't gotten a haircut? Have you had one since your Bar Mitzvah?! What nice Jewish girl's gonna go on a date with you with your hair that long?!"

"Been working long hours in the hospital, Linda. Haven't had a chance yet--I will! How are you feeling? Are the steroids still helping your appetite?"

"Ooohh weee, don't you know it! I'm eatin' everything in sight! Now tell me doc, is there cancer in my brain? If there is, I don't wanna know. We're gonna run that half-block marathon next year, aren't we, Doctor Curly?"

Witness

 
I am the product of a couple hundred years of Western European immigration to the northeastern United States. My parents were left-leaning but square churchgoers who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in particular. My father began a career as a Methodist minister. However, being a rather cerebral introvert, he soon realized the ministry suited him poorly. When he left the profession suddenly, we landed in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was able to secure work through IBM.

In a few years, we were financially back on our feet. But, much to the horror of friends and family, my mother insisted that we remain in the Poughkeepsie schools. About 70 percent of the children in the district were African-American. She rightly saw the rampant de facto segregation and, due to a combination of her political idealism and plain stubbornness, kept us where we were. The fact that this was viewed as a radical act in my parents' social circle speaks volumes about race in America.

A White Girl Grows in Philadelphia

 
I grew up with my older sister and our mother in a fourth-floor walk-up in Center City, Philadelphia. Most of our immediate neighbors were gay and white, but Center City, like all of the city’s neighborhoods, abutted a diverse range of cultures, including an Irish Catholic neighborhood and a black neighborhood. South of the black neighborhood was a bastion of Italian-Americans--the home of Rocky and open-air markets. Fanning out from Center City were enclaves of African-Americans in West and North Philadelphia; Jewish, Polish, Puerto Rican, Chinese and Ukrainian neighborhoods; and several historic and hippie areas.

Race in the Advance Directives Conversation

 
Much of my work as a Palliative Care physician involves conversations with patients and their families for whom the medical outlook is bleak: to help them receive the treatment they want, not more and not less. Such discussions are best held in tandem with the primary medical team and with the nurse. Many times, both attending doctors and housestaff have said, "But it's so much harder to get a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order) with African-American families."

My experience differs.