JOURNAL OF A BLACK WOMAN
It’s the second week of my paediatric rotation and my final year in medical school. I’m beside myself with joy as I remember I’ll soon be done with this seemingly endless routine. I’m exhausted. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t. I look at the wall clock above my bed. It is 6’oclock already. I was up till 3am in the morning finishing my research work and final year project. It was due for submission and I was behind schedule. This is one reason I feel elated whenever I think I’ll be finishing medical school soon. There’ve been too many course works and projects. When I signed up for medical school, I also signed up for a life of unending, rigorous, nerve racking, back breaking work. It was a two for one package. I drag my worn out body from my rumbled sheets. There are books scattered on it. It’ll remain that way until I return from the hospitaI. I don’t have classes this morning but I have rounds with the paediatric consultant. I have to go over the notes of the patients I clerked the previous day and be ready to present them to the Dr. First, I sit for a few minutes staring into nothingness. I do this every day when I wake up. It’s like I’m giving time for my sleep deprived body and confused mind to reboot. I would take a cup of coffee like my friends do but I can’t stand the smell and taste drink. So, with my hand on my head and my elbows pressed against my study desk, I tell myself I’m just going to take a few minutesbefore I prepare for the day. With my blurring vision, I see some ants crawling by with crumbs of biscuit I left on the table last night when I sat on it to work on my project before decide to finish the work from my bed. I fell asleep shortly afterward. The work is still not done. I do that every night. I begin by workingor studying at the desk, filled with determination, then change my position to the bed. I sit upright at first, then lie sideways and finally, I wake up to find my laptop almost falling off thebed or already on the floor and my books sandwiched beneath me. I take a quick shower and make myself a cup of tea. I don’t have time for a proper breakfast. I haven’t had a proper breakfast for as long as I can remember but everyday around 10am, I go with my friends to the small restaurant in the hospital and take chapattis and a glass of sweetened orange juice. This is enough to carry me through the rest of the day. I’ve grown fond of this particular routine. It’s not just about the food but while I sit in that small, humid, stuffed room with little ventilation, I get to spend time with my friends. I swat at the flies buzzing over my meal as we gossip about our lecturers, other students and movies we’d love to watch if we get the time. Sometimes, we never get the time to see the movies and the ones we get to see,guilt usually tags along. We feel guilty for using precious study time for leisure. I walk down the hospital corridor, take a turn inthe medical wing and head towards the paediatric unit. There’s a pink and blue swing set close to the entrance and on the metal of the swing, clothes are swapping in the wind. Three women are bent over washing bowls, scrubbing the dirty clothes of their children admitted in the ward. We are to meet the pediatrician on ward. I find few of my classmates there. I’m early today. I’m notorious for arriving fashionably late. My classmates tease me for it.
‘Hmm…today must be a good day. You are even here before the doctor’. A friend quipped.
‘I’m only here because he threatened to close the door on anyone that comes after him’.
‘Threats, the only thing that works on you. Your eye bags are huuuuge today. Didn’t you sleep at all?’ I always have eye bags. I don’t remember a time I didn’t. His voice was laced with concern. Omar never fails to notice when something is off with me. He always checks up on me and worries about me. I know he has a crush on me but I pretend not to notice it. I’d rather have a great friend than risk a relationship with him that won’t work out. I didn’t want anything that’ll ruin our friendship. He is Indian and quite good looking too. My friends say I’m crazy for refusing to date him.
‘I was working on my project almost all night. Didn’t get much sleep’. I explain
‘Oh, I finished mine. Let me know if you need any help’.
‘Yeah, I do. I still need to collect more data’.
We are having this conversation in the nursing station. A mother appears in the doorway. Her thin hands are trembling lightly.
‘Doctor. Please help me’. She calls to us. Her voice quavers as she speaks and I can tell she is on the verge of crying.
‘Mama, what’s wrong? How may I help you?’ I ask as I rush to her side.
She ignores me, brushing past me to Omar and speaks to him. I hear her say she needs a Dr to see her son who is gasping for breath. Omar tells her I’m a Dr too. I’m not sure she hears what he says but pulls him along. A myriad of emotions flash through me as I stand there. I’m stunned and confused. Why did the woman disregard my request to help her? I wonder if it is because I’m a woman or if it’s because I’m black and Omar is neither. I know I should feel nothing about her reaction. It is actually normal behavior. Many patients refer to me as nurse and call the male nurses Drs. I wonder what belief this stems from. Is it because they imagine this as a responsibility that can’t be handled by a female? I was born both black and a woman. Everyday, I am reminded of this fact by the actions of people, some more subtle than others. I am judged by the color of my skin and my gender before my ability. This is an ordinary day in my life and I’m surprised I’m not taking the woman’s response lightly. It’s probably because I’m sleep deprived, bone fatigued and my nerves are already frayed and frazzled. I shake my head and walk in the direction they went to see if any help is needed. A good Dr knows not to let the actions of people affect the quality of care rendered. This is no special day. It is in fact an ordinary day in my life.