As physicians, it is an honor to get to know the patients we help. It is one of the greatest gifts we could receive. Over the years, we have heard many stories that have helped shape who we are not only as health care providers, but as friends, neighbors and contributing members of society. One of my favorite stories is from a patient who grew up in the 1960s in South Carolina. Here’s her story:
“A good friend shared with me her initiation into integrating her school way back in South Carolina in 1968. At age sixteen, in grade ten, she attended an all-black school, but was scheduled to split her class in half for the bus ride to the all-white school three miles away. She happened to be the first student off the bus upon arrival at her new school. As she stepped to the pavement she was confronted by a blond pig-tailed girl of similar age and size. That girl spat at her and called her a dirty n____! She wheeled around with equal antagonism and grabbed the girl by the pigtail and hurled her to the ground.
Immediately there was a considerable scuffle and yelling, only to be broken up by teachers who ushered both of the fighters into the principal’s office. The parents of both students were called and they arrived shortly only to continue the war of words. When the heated discussion continued, the principal suggested and invited all four parents into the dining room for lunch. That seemed to calm the situation down considerably, and the parents with their families decided to meet together again the following Friday for supper. And that progressed to monthly meals together throughout the school year. Alternate homes were selected. Later the following spring, the two families decided to bring their harmony and friendship to the school auditorium as an example of better integration practices.”
Although we seem to have come far since the early days of the Civil Rights movement, recent tragedies have brought to light this time in our history all over again. We need to learn from our history and grow as a nation from it. Not into a nation of hate and inequality, but one of unity and strength. No one deserves to be mistrusted by verbal or physical abuse. It is my belief that we in America have reached a higher level of mistrust and tension by resorting to increased protection, arming ourselves with knives, guns and bullets!
Stories like the one from our patient seem simple, but are unique reminders that as humans, all we really want is to be happy, loved, and healthy. It is our duty as a society to help make sure that happens. Our mission at MERCI Clinic is to provide quality health care to people in need. Part of providing that care is to LISTEN to stories like this, LEARN from them and BE THE CHANGE.
Think of what our world would be like if we could all provide that level of care.
submitted by: Dr. Ralph Redding, founding partner of MERCI Clinic