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Knubia Locker Room: Corti-Soul

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Adversaries are concerned with the power of your vote. However, others obsess over captaining something more critical: your mind and soul. You hold dominion over all three. 

COOLIO 

Recently, brilliant Howard University Professor Dr. Greg Carr displayed his genius again. In a session of In Class With Carr (episode 134), he dissected and anatomized a few bars and lyrics from Coolio‘s “Gangsta’s Paradise” with well-nigh neurosurgical precision. Coolio provided us with many hits over his lifetime. One of my favorites was “Ooh La La,” released in 1997. But another on that same album has also stuck with me over that 25-year interval. Hip-hop artists have often allocated skits and interludes on compilations between tracks, and Coolio‘s “Intro” (My Soul) –a mere twenty-six seconds–was poignant. 

In it, Coolio is being pursued in earnest by something from beyond this human dimension. Whatever the entity, it is mindful of its coign of vantage at the moment and its ability to “walk down” its prey–Coolio–through a labyrinth of streets, alleys, and pathways. Cornered and in stark terror, he shrieks, “What ‘chu you want, man?!? What you want from me?” 

The being replies in the most deadpan yet sinister tone: “Your soul.” 

THE PLAYGROUND 

Physical workouts are necessary, but more is required. Striving earnestly to create a regimen to expand and enhance one’s psyche is paramount. One should aim to manufacture an impenetrable fortress consisting of close confidants (not constituents), think tanks, outlets, hobbies, and professional assistance when warranted. When it comes to wellness, every pillar must be examined and cultivated. Why? Because the mind is a virtual playground where one may repeatedly reexamine both positive and adverse phenomena. With the latter, rehashing and rewinding can eventually depreciate one to its lowest common denominator. 

Life is not linear.

It is laden with crests, canyons, plateaus and summits. Briefly encountering the doldrums is par for the course; evolution, development, wisdom and knowledge often engender during a rejuvenation phase. Anyone suggesting otherwise is either patently misguided or deliberately less than forthright. No matter how strong one is, adult life is not a trek to embark upon in cavalier fashion, reluctant to enlist the abetting of one’s chosen inner circle.

To procure your utmost potential, you must not consider this alignment a defect but an investment in yourself. Over my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve witnessed the best of them step into a kaleidoscope of vices, including drugs and alcohol. In addition, I saw colleagues and other professionals fall into severe depression, generalized anxiety, and (over a dozen) suicide. 

ZERO TOLERANCE 

Occasionally, one must draw unambiguous margins in the sand. Yes, that carries over into the workplace, no matter how uncomfortable. Over 15 years ago, I was in my residency. There were about 25 instructors and over three dozen resident physicians present. We had many exceptional teachers, and most were very good people. However, as in any domain, some had issues and would tote them to work. It was a fusion of cultures, beliefs, cliques, and egos. More than a handful were “tenured”; most had never been called out or corrected for substandard behavior. In my initial year, despite excelling, I pondered transferring or quitting. Politics ruled the roost, but two individuals put me up “on game.” 

The first was an administrator in the executive offices of our division of the hospital. She was a sharp Sista who knew the ins and outs of the department. 

“Doctor…come here!” 

“Yes.” 

“Come here,” she whispered sternly, eyes narrowed. “Look at me. Look at me! Don’t you let them take this from you! You hear me! This s*** happens every year! You’re a good resident. Don’t leave!” 

Have you ever been chastised by someone who cannot whup your a**? An elder, grandparent, great-auntie, or old ashy coach? You stand and take it. At that moment, I was unsuccessfully dueling with a grin, not from amusement but because I felt her love. 

Almost as if on cue, minutes later, my advisor, relatively new but with many scepters, saw me in a hallway about four floors below my previous encounter. He told me, “There are a bunch of instructors in this program. About 15 of them sit on the curriculum committee. None of them have a problem with you. Of the 15, about nine are ‘shot-callers’ and truly determine who graduates and who doesn’t. If two of the nine disliked you, you’d be gone! Every single one of them likes you. I see a lot of stuff that goes on around here, and I can tell you that you [and anyone else], as long as you do your job, you won’t have to deal with any extra-curricular bulls***. I’ll see to that.” 

This notion of departing—before graduation—never infringed on my mind again.

The medical education system is ideally a nidus for excellence. Nevertheless, particularly within the rubric of the surgical realm, it can be a cesspool of unbecomingness. One must set boundaries upon entry. Correction, constructive criticism, hierarchical arrangements and protocol adherence are sovereign.

Cruelty under the guise of candor is not. 

During my final year, an incident occurred during which a junior resident was unknowingly called a “gorilla” by a non-Melanated instructor. The individual remarked in what was considered safe and shrouded company. In actuality, it was stated to an anti-racist ally who promptly recounted it to the residency director and eventually the dean of the college of medicine. The response was swift. Within three weeks, an outside entity was canvassing and anthologizing statements from everyone within the department. Their actions peeled many layers, and much was promulgated. The higher-ups at the dean’s level wanted heads

One full professor/instructor, in particular, was sweating oceans. His name had arisen frequently in resident complaints; most often, the offenses were due to misogynistic comments rather than the concept of race. Nevertheless, his commentary and wisecracks along those last lines were, in fact, legion. His mantra–stated publicly–was to fulfill his aim to “make each resident cry at least once.” He may have possessed a more solid fund of medical knowledge than any instructor in the building. His boorish behavior easily offset that. 

Approximately three months before graduation, I joined his service with another African-American senior resident. For expressed purposes of anonymity, let’s call him Gary. 

Gary was an intelligent, hard-working, and well-read physician who was excellent at his job. He was also the son of two prominent African-American PhDs, activists of the highest order. We shared more than similar skin tones and work ethics. We hung out together, and additionally, we were both outspoken, avid weightlifters, martial artists, and a little swole. From a clinical performance standpoint, we were both beloved and respected by our colleagues, instructors, nurses, techs, ancillary staff, patients, and those with the final say regarding promotion. Professional plaudits aside, neither of us (to this day) would ever be depicted as having long fuses if disrespected. 

Three months is a long time to be “locked in” a clinical rotation with someone who subscribed to the concept (in their mind) that they preside over your destiny. One of our professor’s colleagues had infamously quipped two years earlier, “We own your ass for the next three years.” At the zenith of the investigation, authorities summoned our instructor to a meeting late one morning. After about half an hour, he returned to his office looking as pale as a ghost. His name often came up in resident testimonials, albeit for the wrong reasons. For the first time, they served him notice. 

Barely audible, he muttered, “They’re trying to ruin my career. This is the only way I know how to teach.” 

Seizing the moment, I turned to my colleague, “Yo Gary, shut the door.”

At that juncture, it was only the three of us standing in his (barely) 8 x 12 clinical office: the professor and the two Brothers. After five seconds of deafening silence, I looked at him directly and spoke, “Man-to-man, you’ve been known as one of the best clinical instructors in the program. I’ve heard some things, and you’ve never said anything crazy here. We’re about to graduate, and as long as you don’t bring up any of that n***** or ‘boy’ s***, you’re good with us.” 

He was trembling as he replied, now crimson-faced, “I would never do anything like that. You guys know me.” 

“Good. Then just teach.” Gary was quiet but nodded in approval. 

We had no discord from that point on. There would undoubtedly be no crying. Blunt? Yes. Necessary under the circumstances? Definitely. Furthermore, speaking up and establishing parameters served two functions: (1) protecting my colleagues in a potentially hostile environment and (2) putting others on notice not to infringe upon our Brothers and Sisters in upcoming classes. Navigating through this prepared me for the real (professional) world. 

Ask any physician from within the diaspora. We all have similar anecdotes. Some repress and internalize them. Many will reflect privately. Others are more than willing to discuss and spar with antagonists. Either way, habitual line-steppers must be handled immediately within the workplace in any realm. The act of assertion is obligatory. It is also a rudimentary tenet of leadership, for which a title is only sometimes required. 

Sanctioning specific incidents to marinate overnight is potentially hazardous for one’s health. 

CORTISOL 

One could acquire the services of the best personal trainer and work out three times a day. In addition, one could employ a private chef to assemble the healthiest meals seven days a week. However, if one does not take time to regulate their mindset, thus keeping stress levels to an absolute minimum, then it’s all for naught. 

Cortisol is one of the body’s stress hormones (acute, chronic, or traumatic), and if not kept in balance, it can cause significant harm. Workplace tension will cause this hormone–vital for homeostasis–to soar into the stratosphere. Combined with a few consistent nights of tossing and turning, when under most circumstances it’s time for slumber, being a perpetual night owl, or working shifts without adequate recovery will lead to health hazards. 

“When stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressor.” [1] 

A correct career choice can fulfill one’s dreams; without guidance and strategic blueprints, it can also lead one to a frontier where aspirations come to expire. One must always be aware of inevitable hindrances which lie ahead. Occasionally, a change of scenery is the best option; tumbling into a sense of diminished essence is not. Everyone has a finite number of gifts and talents. In addition, if one builds the necessary network–community–they can thrive in settings short of utopia. Better yet, developing marketable skills can enable one to forge a tailor-made pathway devoid of adjacent cubicles, daily microaggressions, and overseers. 

It all commences with a positive mindset, a plan, an unwavering (warrior-like) spirit, and the abatement of internal and external negative influences, both real and imagined. Genetic makeup and environmental circumstances notwithstanding, you must take the essential measures (dietary, sleep, exercise, relaxation techniques, etc.) to keep this hormone under control. As you ascend, remember that time spent–and learning–in the valleys is part of the journey. There are ebbs and flows. 

Atop all else, remain vigilant that someone or something covets your mind and soul. Don’t let ‘em take this from you! 

Words by Dr. Eric Hawkins (“Dr. Hawk”) 

REFERENCES 

The Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Take steps to control your stress.” Healthy Lifestyle: Stress Management. (mayoclinic.org). July 8, 2021.

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