Why I changed my mind about Colin Kaepernick, and you should, too.

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I, as an individual, am as pretty WASP-y as you can get. I am white, middle class, Protestant, grew up mostly in the South, and come from a military family – my grandfather was in the Army, my brother was in the Marines, and I have 3 uncles who served in the Navy.  So, when I first heard about and subsequently saw Colin Kaepernick’s response to the National Anthem, it stung. 

Okay, I’m hedging. It more than stung. I thought it was disrespectful and I flat out disagreed with it. 

Yeah, yeah, my family members served to preserve his right of free speech, I get it. Now, I am not in any way going to condone his other choices, but I am going to specifically address his choice to kneel during the National Anthem. I thought what he was doing was wrong.

I now realize I am the one that was wrong, and here is why.

I have written previously regarding my feelings about the current state of our country, working alongside members of law enforcement every day, being married to a black man, and being the mother of two biracial boys. The current level of violence in this country, American citizen on American citizen, is nauseating. And we are scared – black, white, police, non-police. 

WE ARE SCARED. 

For each other, our neighbors, our friends, our husbands, our wives, our sons, our daughters. And we are letting that FEAR WIN. I have realized… even in 2016, we are still very much of country of “us” vs “them”.

I have listened to so many people talk about how Colin Kaepernick is being disrespectful by kneeling. Military, non-military, men, women…. but all mostly white. 

And that got me thinking. I started thinking about race relations in this country, and I started thinking about my own family, and my fears for my children. If I had something to say, once my children started driving and I began to pray for them to come home safely every night… not just in fear of a car accident, but in fear of them getting shot… How could I draw attention to it? How could I get my voice heard? How could I start a national conversation to actually help the situation, and make some progress?

So I had to ask myself, how do “we” (White America) want “them” (Black America) to protest? To show their fear? To demonstrate their pain? 

We complained in the 1960s with sit-ins and boycotts (“they are interrupting businesses”), we judge harshly with riots (“they are being violent”), and the church prayer meetings largely get ignored. So how, in this day and age, are we going to allow a population of people in the United States, the “land of the free” be heard? How are “we” going to allow “them” to start a conversation with “us”?

My guess is, Colin Kaepernick is scared for this country. I know I am. 

As a trauma surgeon, I am the one behind the scenes, with my hands covered in the blood of the injured. Their blood not only stains my skin, it stains my soul

The patients I have lost live forever in my mind. Enough blood has already been spilled onto our streets. With all the violence that is happening, why can’t we prioritize our feelings and support a non-violent means of expression? He is nonviolently expressing his fear, his anger over what is happening by kneeling. He’s not turning his back. He’s not burning anything. He isn’t breaking into a building, or throwing rocks at police. He is kneeling, which is still a position of respect. A man kneels to ask a woman to become his wife. People kneel to pray. And he is bringing attention to an issue that should be in all of our minds and on all of our hearts.

As Americans, regardless of race, we should be encouraging non-violent means of communication, and kneeling during our National Anthem, is one of them. I’m not saying everyone should sign up for the Colin Kaepernick fan club, but what I am saying is that we should stop focusing on the how of the protest and start focusing on the why of the protest. The only way for there to not be an “us” and “them” is to allow each other to not only speak, but also to be heard.  

So, White America, I encourage all of us to put on the hearing aids, and start listening.

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When Doctors Aren’t Safe at Work

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I walked through the double doors of the Trauma ICU just like any other morning.  But that particular morning, instead of being met by my favorite nurse or a fellow resident, I was met by two men wearing balaclavas and carrying assault rifles.

This was the first time I realized that maybe I wasn’t safe at work.  I was a second year surgical resident.  Chicago was in the middle of yet another gang war.  We were treating patients that had been involved in this urban warfare, and “credible threats” had been made not only against those patients, but also against the hospital.  The men in the balaclavas were part of Chicago PD, and they had our entire trauma unit surrounded – to keep us safe.  And for that, I am greatly appreciative to this very day.

But that is when it hit me, why does the supposedly safest place, a place where healing occurs, need assault rifles to keep it and its workers safe?

This morning I am met with yet another story of a doctor being murdered at work.  My heart goes out to his family, his coworkers, and New Orleans.  As a medical community we are again brought together – not to celebrate a stunning breakthrough in the treatment of a disease, or a patient success story – but to mourn.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the vast majority of workplace assaults occur in a healthcare setting.  In response, hospitals are locking doors.  Installing metal detectors.  Hiring security.  And allowing those guarding its doors to carry guns.  Is this the right answer?  I don’t know.  What I do know, is that regardless of political affiliation, regardless of race or socioeconomic status or religious beliefs, we have to come together and at the very least, return our safest places in America, our havens from the outside world – schools, hospitals, and places of worship, back to safety.

If we can’t do that, then will any of us ever truly be safe again?

A Surgeon’s Survivor’s Guilt

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My heart tells me I lost them.  My brain tells me I never had them to lose.

One of my mentors has said that all trauma surgeons have their own personal graveyard, filled with patients we couldn’t save, and families’ hearts left broken.  A truer statement has never been said, and this weekend, this trauma surgeon’s graveyard has increased yet again.

The feelings that accompany this increase are always varying and deep.

There is anger.  True wrath.  When the hell are we going to figure this out?  When are we going to stop shooting one another?!  When are we going to learn that drinking and driving can be deadly?!  When are we going to start respecting ourselves, our bodies, and one another?!  When are people going to stop paving a path of destruction for themselves and others that is wide and immeasurable?!

There is sadness.  Sadness over the pain and the fear that my patients surely felt.  Sadness over the waste of life that we witness.  Sadness for the families left behind, in a new world they never anticipated.

And yes, guilt.  Guilt over being able to go home, when our patient couldn’t.  Guilt for leaving the hospital to enjoy my family knowing another family has just been destroyed.

This weekend was a particularly rough one for myself, and the hospital at which I work.  Although to most people around the country, it was just another act of violence, to myself and our community, it was felt deeply.  Every person in our hospital was stung, upset, and shocked.  Everyone knew what happened – I received touches on the arm, knowing hugs, and reassuring smiles.  They knew I did everything humanly possible even when the inhuman was needed, but that knowledge is a poor salve against this type of wound.

So please, if you know someone who works in healthcare – give them a hug, a high five, or even a thank you.  I have said before how we all take you, our patients and communities, home with us at night, but please also know that our lives are never the same either.  Every patient encounter alters us – sometimes subtly, and sometimes drastically.  We are changed, and we never forget.

Stay safe.