This book by Damon Tweedy had gotten on my radar several months ago. One day I was between audiobooks and scrolling through my OverDrive when I found this gem and downloaded it on impulse.
It’s a really good audiobook and it didn’t take long to get through. Tweedy narrates it himself and he’s a really good narrator. Tweedy is a black man and this book follows him through med school, his residency, and finally parts of his career as a medical practitioner (he ended up becoming a psychiatrist).
Tweedy starts by talking about the fact that some diseases (such as hypertension) are higher among African Americans than other races and he gives a story of a teacher singling him out for this fact since Tweedy “of all people” should know the answer. Shortly after that incident, Tweedy himself had a scare in which a routine checkup showed his blood pressure was climbing. He managed to get it under control with diet and exercise, but it was definitely a wake-up call for him and made him think about why some of these things are more prevalent among men with his skin color.
Tweedy also talks openly about his experiences with racism in his job, both in the form of microaggressions, as well as more overt expressions of racism, including at least one patient who used the “n” word and multiple patients who just assumed he was on the school’s basketball team. In their defense, Tweedy was quite tall and did play basketball in what little free time he had, but that’s another thing about this book I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.
Tweedy spends a fair amount of this book excusing white people’s racism. The patient who used the “n” word ended up sticking around for a while and he and Tweedy got to know each other pretty well and even formed a mutual respect for each other. Does that excuse his use of a racist slur? I don’t think so, but Tweedy appears to think so, or at least he wants us to think so. I understand wanting to show that people are multi-dimensional, but personally, I’m getting pretty sick of society’s efforts to show that white people are multi-dimensional while people of color are either criminals or “a credit to their race.”
But maybe that’s just me.
Other stories in this book were more scary, particularly when the doctors were the ones exhibiting racist tendencies. It’s well documented that black people don’t receive the same level of care as white people and that income disparity is only part of that problem. Tweedy has a couple horror stories that cover this problem, including a black patient who was diagnosed with a mental disorder without consulting a psychiatrist, simply because he refused medication in favor of a more holistic approach – an approach the hospital was actively recommending at the time. Apparently only white people were supposed to choose that option.
Another story involved Tweedy as the patient when he went in to get someone to look at his busted knee. The doctor barely glanced at it before telling Tweedy he would be fine and advising him to take some pain pills. It wasn’t until Tweedy revealed that he was also a medical professional that the doctor took a closer look at his knee (the diagnosis was the same, but that doesn’t make the story any less scary).
And of course we’ve all heard about Serena Williams’s recent scare. Tweedy briefly mentions that all women have similar struggles getting doctors to believe them, making black women worse off than anyone else. It gets no more than a passing mention, which is fine because that’s not the focus of this book.
But Tweedy does mention a couple times when he volunteered at a free clinic and saw women with symptoms similar to what I had been suffering at the time I was listening to this audiobook. He diagnosed them with fibroids and recommended surgery, which few of them could afford. For my own part, I will say listening to that part of the book prompted me to finally take action to deal with the pain I had been suffering. I chose not to go to a doctor, but to my acupuncturist who solved my problem right away. Tweedy’s colleagues would probably diagnose me with a mental disorder for choosing to go that route.
Finally, Tweedy addressed his own biases as a practicing medical professional. He gave examples of two patients he was seeing around the same time, one was a smoker and one was overweight. Because he had never been a smoker, he couldn’t identify with his smoking patients. He would briefly mention they should stop smoking (which they already knew) and then leave it alone. But because he had experienced his own issues with food and weight gain, he could more easily identify with his overweight patients and so he would pressure them to start eating right and exercising. It may not have seemed like much, but the constant reminders to eat right finally had an effect and prompted his patient to lose weight. The patient who smoked had a major stroke and was left little more than a vegetable. In a sense it’s fair to say he brought it on himself, but Tweedy also takes responsibility for the part he should have played in helping his patient quit bad habits, and I appreciate that. If I were a doctor, I would get frustrated with constantly giving advice that patients ignore, but Tweedy was able to see that he could influence his patients more than he may have initially thought.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that shed some light on a common issue?