Friday, May 24, 2013

Medicine in black and white

The woman was a refugee from Eritrea. Stated age: 26. Supposedly 6 months pregnant. The old doctor looked over her file. A few lost pregnancies. One birth. He began talking to us in English. He assumed she couldn’t possibly understand that. “These people need contraception, look…” and I automatically tuned him out. I couldn’t handle the tirade. I heard it the last time we saw a female patient together. Interestingly there are very few at this charitable clinic. The only one in the world I have ever seen where men outnumber women about 5 to 1. The reasons are simple I suppose. Death or kidnapping to the bedouins. Profit hungry pimps they were sold to calculate a trip to the doctor as a loss…but I’m not sure about that.

My father used to call prostitution white slavery…and I must note anywhere in the world I have been, Caucasians seem over-represented in those poor women. It can’t possibly be the actual case…but, they are the ones out on display I suppose, and perhaps in the back room various women are available. Perhaps black women are heavily discounted. I imagine myself wearing a sign that says “50% off.” It seems pretty awful. I suppose I should stick to medicine. My train of thought is interrupted by a dramatic climax in volume and anger from the doctor. “And this, this,” he points to the 3 year old on the floor, “this is the end result!”

I look down and notice a small child with big brown eyes, and playful energy. He is perhaps the cutest kid I have ever seen . He was the kind of kid that gives any woman with a pulse childbearing or kidnapping fantasies. Old doctors can get away with anything. They are the smartest person in the room, or so everyone assumes. Years of experience have imprinted their brains with the facts of medicine no matter how obscure. Since they ask the questions, they know the answers.

I remember years ago, it was actually young doctor who burned that into my psyche. Although he didn’t know it, he was exactly my age. I was late to start medical school. It took me years to realize I had no hope as an artist. But I am black, so perhaps he thought I was younger than him. At least I hope given that he told me I “did not understand how to relate to people superior to” me and this was my main problem. Perhaps condescension was just a defense mechanism after we had a scuffle about one of his patients. I didn’t appreciate his ‘education’ of me after her visit; but mostly I feared for her--a poor black teenager with one child who he refused to give contraception. When I asked why, he told me about what would be best for her: total abstinence. 

I pointed out that offering contraception was not telling her to have sex, and that probably she was sexually active anyways considering she had a child. He reacted by kicking me out of the Pediatrics course, which he was in charge of. Theoretically without his approval I would be literally unable to finish medical school. It was one of my last experiences with medicine in the US. I packed my bags before I even finished medical school there. I have often thought of writing that doctor, just to let him know I eventually entered his cherished important profession, also became a medical doctor, and wonder if he would still say he was “superior” to me.

At what point I get awarded equality, I am totally unsure. I know I have not reached it. I could tell by the total disgust on the face of one of my mentors when I mentioned I wanted a child, soon. “How are you going to pay for this kid?” he asked. The question was ironic considering I worked more or less for him, as he was directly above me in the intellectually constructed pyramid of doctors. He was right, I was a bottom brick.  Just a few years out of medical school. How dare I, a lowly doctor of even lowlier origins think of having a child…'right, because kids are only for rich white folks like yourself,' I felt like saying.

Candace Makeda H. Moore, MD

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