My kids. My husband. What would they do without me.

I woke up in cold sweat, writhing in pain. My stomach was on fire and every few minutes, I had to go to the restroom. It was 4 in the morning, my kids were fast asleep, and my husband was overseas. This acute pain has occurred several times but something was different today. Something was wrong. I suffered until the sun rose and quickly got the kids ready to drop them off at school. Afterwards, I booked it straight to the local clinic. I lucked out with the take-a-number and got number 64, which meant that I’d see the doctor today and the wait would only be for a few hours. I sat in my seat, fearing that I would have to pay for the brand name medicine that they would prescribe. The issue couldn’t have been bad since I have been the epitome of good health. I’ve done everything that I could to avoid problems in general. Despite being an African American mother with a husband overseas, I have done incredibly well for myself. I’d had my high school diploma for a while and even passed my army entrance exam. After coming back from my station in Germany, I was pregnant with my first daughter, Semaj. I swore that I wouldn’t let her experience the childhood that I had to go through.

After four hours, my number was called. I sat down in the room, waited 30 more minutes for the doctor to show up and was privileged a grand total of 5 minutes. He asked me for my name, quickly chatted me up, asked me where the pain was, and went on to do his medical talk. He said it was a simple stomachache and if I took the medication he prescribed, it’d get all better. So I went home, took my meds every 4 hours, and waited for the pain to subside. I waited for a week until the pain had rendered me useless. It was impossible for me to even get out of bed, forget about going to work. I went back to the clinic and requested to be checked as soon as possible. After a two-hour wait, the same doctor came by and looked at my case. He once again, asked me for my name, talked to me for a few seconds, looked at where the pain was, and went to work. This time, he told me that the issue I have is out of his area of expertise. After all, the clinic didn’t have a stomach doctor, just a 4th-year internal medicine resident working here to log in his clinic hours.

I got mad. Very mad. I was skeptical at first, and thought that he was a prick that didn’t want to treat an uneducated, black lady. There was an article in my favorite newspaper, Atlanta Black Star, called “7 Ways Black People Are Mistreated by Doctors and Hospitals” which talked about how white doctors don’t like black patients. The doctor pulled out some medical paper called the “Comparison of a community clinic with a hospital out-patient clinic in rheumatology” and started talking about how clinics don’t have money because of some government gibberish which is why the quality of care in clinics is lower than that of a hospital. He also claimed that these test were too expensive, but I didn’t trust him. I’ve dealt with discrimination my whole life and I wasn’t planning on letting the likes of him take advantage of me. I wasn’t going to leave the clinic until he wrote me a referral to the hospital.

The next week, I went to the hospital the internist had referred me too and met with a nice young gastroenterologist, Dr. Warren, who put me through several tests. After a few days of testing and a waiting period to see the results, she told me that I something called “chronic painful inflammation of the GI tract”. I was relieved. I had thought that this issue could last years but it sounded temporary. After all, I’ve had inflammation on my knees before and it’s never been more than a minor inconvenience. Just as I was getting ready to do my victory dance, the doctor quickly destroyed any and all happiness I had by telling me that this issue could be persistent for years and that I should be in bed for the next two months.

Despite killing all of my joy, this doctor performed their job significantly better than the internist. She consoled and sympathized with me, and even went as far to tell me that she would cover me for a week worth of medicine. Dr. Burke knew that I was having trouble with the bills and changed out one of my more expensive medicines for a cheaper alternative. She understood that my kids were starting to feel my pain, so she sat with me and helped me talk through my issues. She even informed her next patient that she would be seeing them late. Right before she had to leave, Dr. Burke also referred me to her friend, Dr. Jones, who ended up being someone I could talk to about my issues. Dr. Jones was the director of Healthy African American Families. Anyways, Dr. Burke finally prescribed the medicine to me and I was on my way of taking three pills a day for two months. As I slowly started registering what had happened, everything hit me. How could all this happen to me? How was I expected to leave this cycle of poverty? How am I just going to stay above water?

The next day, I requested a leave of absence from my job. I soon lost my income and the money that my husband was sending just wasn’t enough to support a family of three. I had lost my savings and everything that I had worked for in the last 23 years. Over the next four years, rather than working, I became a chauffeur. The only issue was that I didn’t have a car since mine broke down. Oh, and I didn’t get paid. Instead, I spent 5 dollars a day, which was out of my budget, to spend 6 hours on a public bus to drop off and pick up my kids. I didn’t have enough money to pay for my prescriptions at all times so I often split the medicine in half or skipped it altogether whenever the pain was tolerable. In fact, my friend who was a medical assistant read somewhere that 3.8 billion prescriptions are written every year yet only 50% are ever taken correctly or taken at all. If only 50% of the patient population took their meds properly, why did I have to hold myself to such a high standard? I decided that’d it be fine to skip my dose once or twice. Dr. Burke always claimed it was dangerous and even though I trusted her, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for more free drugs. Not taking the medicine once here and there wouldn’t make much of a difference. Eventually, I had to move out of my house and start living in what was essentially a shoebox. With the constant stress of living in such a dangerous environment, traveling back and forth to drop off my kids, and having no steady source of money, my life started closing in on me. In fact, I realized that life shouldn’t be this hard and if it didn’t want me, I shouldn’t be here. I was placed in a ward for a short time to “stabilize”, but when I got out, life went on as it had for the last 4 years.

I always hear chatter of people saying that if you work hard enough, you can become anything or go anywhere. I don’t believe this is true. I had several issues with how my life played out in the last 4 years. Not receiving disability aid for my obvious disability made it almost impossible to get out of this cycle of poverty. The court told me to get a lawyer to represent me, yet they didn’t even understand that I was having trouble buying a bus ticket on a daily basis. How do I plan on hiring a lawyer? The crazy thing was that the government didn’t help me find a lawyer. They didn’t provide support of any kind. All I had was my welfare for a family of three, which might buy us a few lunches and dinners but what about utilities? How about rent? The structure of the economic system in America coupled with governmental policies makes it very hard for people like me to break out of the cycle of poverty. My socioeconomic position was of no assistance to me either. My race and gender put me at a disadvantage in numerous ways. I came from a poor family to begin with and I was one of the first to finally get out of this cycle until injury took my job and my money. Taking care of my kids took a big toll on my body. It’s not as if I didn’t want to make sure my kids succeeded, but it came at a cost. I had simply become my children’s servant, dropping them off, picking them up, and most importantly, keeping them on track. My house was a mess and the doctors were always yelling at me for not taking my medicine. They didn’t understand that I didn’t have the luxury of buying all of my medicine. I was always anxious, suffered from depression, and experienced suicidal thoughts. Dr. Burke was there, but even then, I only saw her once every 4 months. I did everything a human could do. It just wasn’t enough. It won’t ever be enough. 

Posted by Rushabh Doshi

Rushabh Doshi is a senior studying Public Health Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. Motivated to facilitate medical dialogue between healthcare experts and the general public, he founded the Hippocrates Med Review to establish a platform that intersects the humanistic, political, technological, global, and clinical avenues of medicine. As he continues to expand HMR’s influence in the Hopkins community and other top universities, Rushabh is collaborating with the Public Health Studies Department to create an accredited course called Public Health Change Teams, which offers students an opportunity to partner with Bloomberg School of Public Health faculty to lead projects on pressing health issues. He has passed legislation to place brand-name female hygiene products in restrooms and desks all over campus at Johns Hopkins, engaging the university in a dialogue to address the stigma behind menstrual hygiene products. Outside of HMR, Rushabh is the executive secretary of the Student Government Association, an advocate for Healthleads, and is currently leading the effort to make the Johns Hopkins University a smoke-free campus. A devout believer in the relationship between those in authority and those affected by decisions made by the authority, he is interested in learning the role of different governmental sectors on healthcare and how this affects key stakeholders in medicine. When he’s not eating at Pizza Studio, Rushabh loves to jam out to Drake, Shakira, Prince Royce, and Blackbear.