Member Submission: Black History Month

Black History

See I've been toying with the idea of what to write for 22 days now and there's only 28 days in this short month. There's so much I could write about but, so little time to get my thoughts to paper in a way that one can receive it. So I'll start like this; I trust medicine, and the science behind it but, I don't trust you. I didn't always feel this way you see. But over time with my symptoms down played, noting things in my chart before discussing it with me, and the lack of empathy. My mistrust for you has gone and as I sit on this cold waiting table waiting for you. I hold my breath and think back to the Tuskegee syphilis study. Where African American men who suffered from syphilis were deceived by the US Public Health Service. They lured the man with the prospects of free medical care and meals, and then withheld treatment and as a result, hundreds of men died slow, painful deaths.

I also think of Henrietta Lacks; she was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Her cells were cultured in 1951 from a tumor biopsy, and as no consent was required to culture the cells obtained from Lack’s treatment. Her family knew nothing of the cells until the 1970s. The Lacks family has had limited success in gaining control of the HeLa strain. For this reason in August of 2013, an agreement between the family and the National Institutes of Health granted the family acknowledgement in scientific papers and some oversight of the Lacks genome.

Furthermore, the mistrust for my people didn't happen overnight. More than four centuries of biomedical Enterprise designed to exploit African Americans is the principal contribution to the current mistrust. So as I now exhale that breath I remember I trust medicine, and the science behind it but, I don’t trust you. I realize that the only way for me to heal from the trauma that has been associated with the care I received from you is to let go and realize I deserve better. For me, better is in the form of going back to a physician whom I felt listened to my symptoms and helped me navigate a better quality of life. As I write this I take into account this may not be an option for many of my black and brown brothers and sisters. But I know we all have hopes of a more diverse medical workforce in the future; that can provide culturally competent care.

One, two, three… breath in our past. Ten, nine, eight… exhale the future because I trust medicine, and the science behind it, and I now trust you. Happy Black History Month!

-D’Sena’ Warren


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