I lament the industrialization of medicine with its preoccupation about costs at the expense of our humanity. I see the impact managed care has had on the healing spirit of doctors. I sometimes forget how many of my colleagues are still practicing medicine as a ministry and not an industry.
Dr. Gloria Wilderbrathwaite is a pediatrician who for the last 14 years has been providing healthcare in Washington DC’s poorest neighborhoods. She drives a bright blue van through the urban war zone that is DC’s southeast side, with it’s high rates of crime, teenage pregnancy and infant mortality. Violence has sometimes broken up her medical sessions. A drug addicted mother once pulled a knife on her, she’s witnessed murder, but she walks into public housing without security, armed only with a stethoscope and sometimes a baby scale. Asked if she was afraid, she said no, inner city poverty and desperation had been her life, and furthermore her mother and greatest inspiration, told her when you treat people well your life will be blessed.
Raised poor in the slums of Brooklyn, N.Y., she was a patient in this city’s free clinics which inspired her early in life, to pursue a career in healthcare. Though some of the doctors and nurses were kind, she felt the whole system was designed to humiliate people like her and her mom, who couldn’t afford to pay for treatment. Dr. Gloria says her mission was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King who said “of all forms of injustice, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.
One of the most powerful lessons Gloria ever learned was the day her mother gave her 100 pennies, which was all they had, and sent her to the local grocery store for some bologna and bread. Little Gloria, was embarrassed at the thought that some kids might see her hundred pennies and realize how poor she was. But her embarrassment turned to shock when the store owner whisked the pennies off the counter, and called out to one of the stockboys, telling him to fill a big bag full of groceries, including a few precious peaches, for her and her mom. As she started to leave the store the owner said “Gloria, wait up a minute, you forgot your change” and he gave her back a quarter. That moment gave Dr. Gloria Wilderbrathwaite the faith and commitment to pursue her education and give back to others. On Dec. 6, 2005, Dr. Gloria was honored with a National Caring Award, she honors her mother, her community, and her profession.
I think life is supposed to work this way; when you get to the top of your ladder, you look back and see if there is somebody else who needs a helping hand, like the one somebody gave you. This is the season to reflect and rejoice, remember where you came from, pay it forward, and bring joy to the world.
Happy Holidays, To All My Relations