Category Archives: Health

He Left a Playbook to Deal With This

While the context was specific to achieving racial equality and not pandemic preparation, another high-profile individual left a detailed document on how to respond to a  crisis.

 

The individual was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the document is a book published in 1967, called “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.”

 

Fifty plus years later, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” presents some hard truths and stark realities that remain relevant and demand our collective attention, perhaps even more so today. Its resonance, while centered on race relations and equality, has justice at its core.

As those of us in the fields of health sciences and healthcare seek to improve health equality and inclusivity, we only need look to Dr. King’s wisdom for insight and direction.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the answers exist in what Dr. Leon McDougle, (National Medical Association (NMA) President and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center), refers to as the  “already structured forces in the (Black) community that can serve as the basis for building a powerful united front.” Specifically, Dr. McDougle was referencing: The (Black) church, The (Black) media, The (Black) Fraternities & Sororities and (Black) Professional Organizations.

Dr. King’s message is particularly instructive:

“We need organizations that are permeated with mutual trust, incorruptibility and militancy. Without this spirit we may have numbers but they will add up to zero. We need organizations that are responsible, efficient and alert. We lack experience because ours is a history of disorganization. But we will prevail because our need for progress is stronger than the ignorance forced upon us. If we realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we will create it as we managed to create underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and the churches that have always been our refuge, our source of hope and our source of action.” –  (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, pp 169 – 170)

The “source of hope and our source of action” that Dr. King referenced is precisely my guiding north star.  We must build and foster relationships with organizations, institutions and individuals who are prominent and trusted in the community.

The objective is simple – to illustrate and demonstrate how science can save lives…specifically Black and Brown lives. In order to accomplish this, we must be active and visible participants in remedies and clinical trials that will produce cures and solutions. We are resilient and strong and realize that, while it is a part of the solution, science alone will not save us.  It is important that we rely on ourselves.

Research has proven that people who are able to exert some control over their lives fare better and experience a better quality of life. The challenge is to strengthen our self-reliance and channel it in ways that help us better cope and survive.

COVID-19 is the latest and most prominent disease disproportionately devastating people of color and under-served communities; but that is only one disease in a longer list including HIV, Heart Disease, Diabetes and a host of other maladies.

So, when your pastor, sorority sister, fraternity brother or that individual you respect talks to you about science, clinical trials and how we have to organize the power in our community to save lives, Listen. Ask questions. Become engaged. Get informed. Most importantly, do not ignore Dr. King’s playbook.  Our lives depend upon it.

 

The Enduring Pandemic…Racial Bias

The onslaught of COVID-19 media coverage, health inequity news reports, and recent personal and professional encounters prompted me to take a hard look at racial bias.

In my opinion, many of us can’t help but bring preconceived beliefs about race, ethnicity, religion and sex, among other topics, to life situations and experiences. I am not the first one to say this, but racial bias and racism are pre-existing conditions.

Many of those biases are stereotypically negative and based on ignorance and a lack of awareness about people different than ones that are in an individual’s “circle of comfort and familiarity.”

 Simply put, the pandemic is disproportionately ravaging and killing Black and Brown people. The reasons are complex, but the root cause is, at least in part, attributed to historic and systemic racism. The by-products of such bias touch every facet of racial minority life in America. Yes, the disparities that exist between People of Color and White people have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The residual effect is chilling.

 I read “Pandemic Brings out Biases Experienced by Minorities today in Philadelphia’s daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. The article, for me, was confirmation and validation of what Black and Brown people have always known to be true. Using the experience of Karla Monterroso as a backdrop, the article explains:

“Because when we go and seek care, if we are advocating for ourselves, we can be treated as insubordinate…and if we are not advocating for ourselves, we can be treated as invisible.”

 “Her experiences, she reasons, are part of why people of color are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. It is not merely because they are more likely to have front-line jobs that expose them to it and the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 worse.”

“That is certainly part of it, but the other part is the lack of value people see in our lives,” Monterroso wrote in a Twitter thread detailing her experience.”

”Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care than white patients with the same complaints or symptoms, and more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications.”

Karla’s story made me angry. It made me feel a profound resentment and disgust for what is undeniably a more devastating and enduring threat than the pandemic — racial bias.

I realize that I am blessed. I do not face home or food insecurity. I have medical coverage. Tomorrow I will go to work, turn on and sit in front of my computer.

But the kick in the gut occurs when I think about those whose means are less than mine. I think about my sisters and brothers who suffer with higher infection rates…lower paying and riskier jobs…inadequate or sub-par public services…and daily face the scourge of a pandemic that affects in profoundly disproportionate ways.

I feel resentment and disgust for what is undeniably a more devastating and enduring threat than the pandemic…racial bias in America.

The pandemic and similar misfortunes reveal the underlying dark truth of racial bias.

We can do better.

We have to do better.

Because?

Our lives matter.

 

 

“I need my friends. I need my house. I need my garden.”*

Working in my yard fuels my soul.  It always has – whether in Rydal or in the Pocono mountains. This is especially true today during the time of Covid-19. There is much uncertainty and far too many distractions and things that we simply cannot control. Time in my garden is my “go to” safe space.  It gives me hope, gives me purpose and provides a sense of connection to something bigger than myself.

Early Spring is not only a time of renewal.  In the yard, it is the time to discover things that have been forgotten or tucked away as we prepared for the Winter months.  I never really think of gardening as decoration, but as part of an evolving process – a work that is never fully completed, but always transitioning.  My garden esthetic is courtesy of my dear friend Vincent LaBella. He believed that the ideal garden “always has something in bloom…something to look forward to…a collection of instruments that are beautiful alone, but collectively make the sweetest sound one has ever seen.

In my yard this evolution comes to life in late March/early April with a row of eight Redbuds (Pictured) – clusters of tiny magenta buds that swell into showy rosy pink flowers before the leaves appear, with the blossoms putting on a show for two to three weeks. Tulips (Pictured) – classic shapes and colors, that when planted in groupings and complimentary colors provide a spectacular display of light and harmony.  NOTE: I mix early and late Spring bulbs to “extend the show.” Lenten Rose is not really a rose – it gets its name because it blooms around Lent and the flower is shaped somewhat like a rose.  I await the arrival or more “smiling faces” – Viburnum, Hosta, Fern, Astilbe, Hydrangea, Azalea, Peonies, Day Lilly and a host of other perennials.

*”I need my friends. I need my house. I need my garden.” is a quote by English actress Miranda Richardson.  I do not know the context that she was speaking of, but it perfectly sums up how I feel.  Whether through cards, notes, phone calls or Face Time; I find myself heavily relying on (and needing) a connection to the individuals who matter most to me in life.  We laugh, cry, joke and sustain meaningful interactions that are as necessary as the air we breathe and the food that sustains us.  My house is my refuge.  A place of security, calm and as Joan Armatrading sang, “...a shelter from the storm.”  Research shows that gardening can reduce the risk of stroke, burn calories, decreases the likelihood of osteoporosis and can also reduce the risk of heart disease.  For me it is a stress reduction – it lowers cortisol – the stress hormone –  and gives me a connection to the land. It is the Anti-News Media.  By “working the dirt,” I have the opportunity to focus on beauty and this inspires me to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, and abundance.