Dear Doctor, Do U DPC?

Dear Doctor,

I am sitting in my home office on a sunny Thursday afternoon, as I write this letter to you.

In the past year since I quit my full-time job as a pediatrician to start speaking on child, teen and young adult depression and suicide, (read about it here and here). I have discovered a different side of me. The side that loves to write, and speak. The side that is an activist for a cause. The side that was lying dormant until the passion to actively save the lives of children and teens through creating awareness was ignited when my then 7-year-old patient attempted to hang himself in May of 2018.

I have always known that medicine, pediatrics, in particular, is my life, and public speaking is second nature, so it was sort of a natural progression for me. I have never had any trouble speaking in public to air my opinion, so when this opportunity to practice medicine in the most preventative way picked me, I had no hesitation to say, a resounding…yes! As the good book says, “many are called, but only a few are chosen”.

Though I don’t know when it will get published, I couldn’t think of a better day to write this letter than today, the 12th day of September, two days after September 10, which is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. This week marks National Suicide Prevention Week 9/8 to 9/14. A week which eerily includes September 11, a day suicide bombers set our country on a never to be forgotten path, a day that will forever go down in infamy, in the month of September, suicide awareness and prevention month.

backlit beautiful clouds country
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This letter is, however, not about suicide days and suicide bombers. It is about a path that has led me, a Nigerian-born mother of three, a board-certified pediatrician, to become a speaker, bestselling author, and activist on youth suicide. It is about how finding a new way to practice medicine is allowing me further my cause. Every time I tell people what I speak about, it never fails, they look up, and suddenly get interested, no matter what they were doing before I started speaking. Some look at me with concern, some look at me with disbelief, and yet some look at me with sorrow, especially when I tell them my story, my why, which you can read here. Usually, by the time I am done, a majority of my audience wants to know where they can find me, where I practice.

For the past year, my response to that line of questioning has been a combination of the following…” nowhere in particular”, “I don’t have a practice”, or “I quit medicine to speak publicly”. To which even more eyes look at me with a mix of wonder, pride, gratitude and amazement… and then after a brief thought, pretty much everyone says a combination of “that’s such an important topic” or “that’s so needed” or “wow, thank you for the work you are doing”, etc.

As I have continued to speak locally, around the country and internationally, and as the questions have continued to come in, I have had to finally admit to myself that I have missed practicing medicine. I have missed clinical practice, but most of all, I have missed having physical contact with my patients. Those who know me, know my patients are my “anti-kryptonite” (if that is a word). That been said, I have known in my heart that I did not want to go back to traditional medicine (what I call “assembly line” medicine). The kind that is run by CEOs with little or no knowledge of what it’s like to have boots on the ground. The kind that has enslaved us doctors and caused burnout to now become a household phrase. The kind that puts profit and the bottom line before patients and providers. The kind that you, me, we, did not sign up for. The kind we did not dream about in our days in medical school. The kind that has unfortunately driven too many of us (400 per year at last check) to early deaths through suicide. 

I knew that kind of medical practice was definitely no longer for me. So, I tried out Locums, but with my son still being in grade school, I am unable to travel out of town as much as most locum gigs would require, plus, I am only licensed in Texas so that limits me as well. I know the hospitalist route is not for me. So, while I was still pondering my next move, I happened upon a facebook group called DPC Docs. A two-thousand strong community of doctors practicing medicine on their own terms. I had actually heard of DPC about 2 years ago. Direct Primary Care. Three words that are turning out to be life-changing for those of us who care to look closer, look further and farther, think outside the box, and dare to be bold enough to say “enough already” to the big bosses and take back our lives.img_2524

I happily jumped in with two feet. You see, Direct Primary Care is exactly what Dr. Universe ordered for me. A spin-off of Concierge Medicine, DPC seeks to allow doctors to practice medicine the way it was meant to be. I had heard about it through a podcast that featured one of the true pioneers in DPC practice Dr. Josh Umbehr of Atlas MD in Wichita, Kansas. I remember excitedly running to find my spouse to tell her all about it that evening. I was so intrigued by the model, I was immediately hooked. And even though I knew the traditional medicine model I was in as an employee at that time was toxic for me, it still took me nearly 2 years to act on it. Not because the process is hard, but because I needed the right mindset and star alignment to get over the voice in my head telling me to stay put.

As soon as I decided to start back clinical practice, I knew it had to be on my own terms. My first order of business was to call the Texas Medical Board and enquire about my idea to only attend to at-risk youth aged 8 years to 18 years who are the exact population that I speak and write about. When the lady on the telephone told me I could, that was one of the happiest days of my life! Her words were something like “ma’am, as long as you are licensed to practice in this state, you can see only those born on the 5th of May if you like”. That essentially spun off my dream to open my own youth health center that would cater to the children that had picked me those many moons ago!

Do you know that it took me less than 6 weeks and cost me less than $10,000 to set up?     I have a micro DPC practice model, that means I have no front or back office, no fancy equipment, no staff, and an expected patient panel of less than 300, compared to nearly 2000 which I had at my last place of employment. The way my practice is set up, I shall see only 6-8 patients a day for up to 1hour or more per visit, three days a week, compared to 35-45 patients at my last multigroup practice employment. My monthly overhead is far less than I had when I owned a traditional practice, my EHR is user-friendly and convenient, my stress level is low, my patients are happy, and so am I 🙂

While this might not work for many, it works for me and others with a small niche. My friend, Dr. Amber Price of Willow Pediatrics up in Chicago, Illinois’s niche is only newborns. She incorporates home visits as part of her practice. Yet another friend, Dr. Sara Sultz of the DOC group up in College Station, Texas does home visits as well as telemedicine as part of her pediatric DPC practice. She even gives vaccines and IVF right there in the patient’s home! Such is the new way to practice medicine, and I am proud to be a part of it, and to announce that I am the first and only pediatrician in Texas and the US with my specific niche in this particular model.

So, what exactly is DPC? And why is #yourstruly so elated about it? Ironically, many of the doctors that I speak with have never heard about it. A few have heard about concierge medicine, but not many, much like I was a few short years ago.

In the Direct Primary Care practice model, the emphasis is on affordable care. In its purest form, no insurance or third-party payer is accepted. That right there puts the first nail in the burnout coffin! I was like “whaaat?” No insurance means; I. Get. To. See. My. Patients. For. As. Long. As. I. Want. To! Yassss!! We do encourage patients to keep their health insurance, and some practices will even generate invoices that might be reimbursed by the patient’s insurance after each visit. The model is based on a flat monthly fee in exchange for services, longer times spent with the patient, more intimate doctor-patient relationship, overall lower healthcare costs, direct access to patients both virtually and in person, improved work-life balance for physicians; thus drastically reducing burnout,  reduced patient load, and reduced administrative costs and overhead burdens. The increased intimacy with patients is a huge win for me, especially with the niche I see. Like any business, the fees vary depending on location and market competition.

The key here is; it is a membership model, much like Netflix or your gym membership. My patients have access to my cell phone number to call, text, email or facetime me whenever they need to, and they can be seen, as many times as they like to, each month! My question to you is; when was the last time you had that kind of access to your doctor? Let’s take for instance a 14 year old who is experiencing a depressive crisis at 2pm in the afternoon while at school, they would have the ability to call or text me right away, and not have to wait until they get home, inform their parent, who calls the next day only to get an appointment for the next week, take time off from work and school to arrive at the appointment, only to wait for one hour in the waiting room, and the doctor spends all of 10 minutes seeing them. Then wait another 2-3 months to get an appointment with the psychiatrist who may or may not accept their insurance, or is very likely to charge them 2 or 3 times my monthly fee for only one visit! Get it? #aintnobodygottimefordat!Placeholder Image

Some DPC doctors are set up like traditional practices with office staff,  laboratories, X-ray equipment, EKGs, and whatever else they need. Depending on state laws some also dispense medication in their practices, (Texas aint one of them…:) all for the same flat monthly fee. It’s just like a gym membership or Netflix for your doctor! In my case, for less than a cup of coffee at #Starbuxx my patients can see me everyday. Oh, and they don’t need to live in San Antonio Texas, I also have telemedicine included in the practice, so I can consult with patients virtually. Other services I am so proud we offer are a teen-2-teen support group (because teens speak teen, they don’t speak adult) and parent coaching, both of which I facilitate.

For now, I am loving DPC. It affords me time in my week to “mother” my children the way I want, be an awesome spouse to my Beloved, make time in the week to blog, work on my speaking gigs, record and edit my podcast; Suicide Pages with Dr. Lulu, The Podcast, you can subscribe, download and listen to it here and everywhere you listen to podcasts. I am finishing up my second book, a chronicle about Teen Life (my first book; a Parenting Guide, can be bought here). I have many more tricks up my sleeves in the coming weeks, so #staytuned.

In conclusion, I believe I have found my happy place in medicine again. While DPC might not be for everyone, it is for me, and it might be for you too, think about it. You never know. Here’s what you do, first start by conquering, silencing or banishing that voice telling you you can’t do it, the rest will fall in place. Ultimately, Happy Patient: Happy Doctor is what we all seek, right? Keeping it simple is what our mom’s taught us, yes?

So, I ask this time, dear doctor, will you DPC?

Me, Red Dress

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as the sea, or an ocean. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something that is better.”
― C. JoyBell C.

BB

#Becoming

The month of September is the halfway mark for the 50th anniversary of my birth.

Today, I am reminded that I am #Becoming a new me, a more fulfilled me, a more conscientious, mindful, freer and more productive me.

As I look back at the past 6months, I see a lot of change, a lot of progress and a lot of challenges that have been on my path, and I see myself as a woman conquering.

As I look into the future, I see my dreams on the verge of fulfillment, it is going to be a mix of uncomfortable, inconvenient, uncertainty, pain, and who knows what more.

My ever-constant companions, fear, and doubt, still rear their ugly heads from time to time. Tugging at me, distracting me, taunting me…all the way.

Have I accomplished everything I set out to do this year? No.

Do I still believe the future I dreamed for myself is attainable? Hell Yeah!’

Am I going to go forth, afraid? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Isn’t that the definition of courage? Going forth…albeit afraid?

One kid is a senior in college; the other, a sophomore in college; the baby in high school. A blog, a bestseller, a parent and teen workshop, speaking engagements, a podcast  (another in the making), two brand new side gigs and a brand new private practice, all in the space of one year, ain’t too shabby if I might say so myself.

For once, I refused to listen to the bully inside my head. The one that goes about telling me lies, telling me I am not good enough, not girl enough, not woman enough, not man enough, not Black enough, not White enough, not… simply put, I am just not enough.

I also refused to listen to those that said I couldn’t do any of these things successfully, what more doing them all!

I quickly realized this past year that friends and family are sometimes worse than strangers and foes, and strangers are sometimes better than friends and family.

Many still think me a fool for helping others along the way…for free. Many think I have the formula wrong because I am not charging $$ for “every small thing”.

To them I say, was it not given to me freely? Is money really the heart of everything? When do you then use your heart to help? Only when you get paid? Ha!

Neither one of us can take that money with us. None of us can add one single day to our lives with all the money we (shall) acquire.

So, what’s the fuss?Me, Red Dress

I shall go forth, loving myself more, caring for myself more, even daring to praise myself more. I am, and should (after all) always be my own self’s best cheerleader.

It has been a long hard road to that realization…so…

Never again will I critique myself negatively. Constructively? Yes.

Never again will I allow my inner bully to convince me I am not enough. I might not be good enough at somethings, but I am darned great at many things.

Never again will I allow others to dictate my direction for me. Guide me? Maybe.

Henceforth, I will allow myself to fail as often as is needed because failure, to me, is now nothing but fuel for success.

It is a chance to say to myself “maybe things weren’t supposed to end that way”, “maybe we should regroup and retry”, “maybe just maybe”. After all, none of us can see the future.

We are all work in progress, but we must get out of our own way.

In the end, I have realized that… I was good enough yesterday, I am good enough today, and I shall be good enough tomorrow, as long as I continue to believe in my process of #Becoming.

“If you want to go somewhere you have never gone before, you must be prepared to do something you have never done before” ~ Lisa Nichols

BB

 

The Making of My MD/MBA

Dear Blog,

 “Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!”… Dr. Lulu

Last Friday as I found myself finishing up the last day of the last week of my 27-month journey into the land of a Masters in Business Administration at UTSA, my heart was a mixture of all sorts of emotions, the strongest of which was joy! Since I couldn’t keep it to myself, I did an impromptu FB Live and literarily broke into song and dance on screen! I no longer have to stay up late studying and doing homework EVERY NIGHT. I can now stop using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to do). I get to add those coveted three letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much-needed rest (umm, say what?) Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed at 11pm every night (yeah right!) I finally, realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the black gown and black “crown”, and as an added treat, I get to wear VA cords!

In September of 2016, my 4yr term as a Lt Col. in the United States AirForce came to an end. In deciding what to do next, I realized I had multiple options to pick from; join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school and get a Masters Degree, or get a regular job as a pediatrician. I decided to go for the last two options. And no, I had no specific “why”, I simply wanted to use the VA educational funds I was entitled to, it was more like a “why not?”. The decision was met with a combination of gasps, shock, surprise and some reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste too much time chewing on a thought, I jumped in with two feet (before I lost my nerve) Coincidentally, my first son was about to go into college at the same time and my spouse had also decided to get her Masters degree as well…so, I was in good, no, great company! (That sh** just about cost us our union, but that’s another day’s blog, LOL)

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Later that month, as I was walking out of my job interview at Communicare Health Centers, I remember wondering to myself how I would manage a full-time work schedule and a full-time school schedule. I had initially wanted to do the combined MPH/MBA program, but FEAR and its close friend DOUBT, proceeded to discourage me and talk me out of it, so I settled for just the MBA. I was as excited as I was anxious! My colleagues, (after getting over the initial disbelief) quickly got on board and started cheering me on. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija Igbo Woman foot forward (as per we no de eva carray last) and started the regular MBA at UTSA. Not online, in person, albeit, nearly 30 years post graduation from medical school, owning my own private practice for nearly 15 of those years and doing a brief 4yr stint as a Lt. Col in the US Air Force! I was going about mine backwards.

The first semester went like a breeze (or did it?) I now only remember that I had a hard time getting used to not only going back to school but also going back to school in the tech age! Just like my initial shock when I first came to the USA which I shared here in this earlier blog, going back to school, in America, was FULL of new experiences…!

Crocs store-1.jpgFirst off, I was one of, if not the oldest student in that regular MBA class! I was not happy about that at all. I hated the fact that I was in class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds. Their mannerisms were a total lack, they were disrespectful, noisy, lackadaisical, and sometimes rude to the professors(s). What struck me the most was their tendency to not do the work! They were very content with not showing up for class, joining in class discussions or even doing their portion of the school work at all… (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that after that first semester, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. Luckily, she was kind enough to understand my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I was really lucky because I literally made the interview on the last day! Reminds me of a similar incident with Howard University Hospital Residency interview, I also talked about here. Thankfully, I got in! Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intradepartmental transfer. She hit the jackpot with that suggestion because once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I TOTALLY LOVED the idea! However, a couple of my “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it all…”make sure it is not a watered down version of an MBA”, is it an E-MBA as in online/electronic? “are you going to have a real MBA degree when you get done?” and, “why de heck are you even going back to school, aren’t you tired?” Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love?IMG_0818

At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap was not nearly as much. The youngest in my class was 31 yrs old. They had all seen life and lived it a little. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were much more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their school work. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. A few were veterans like me, a few were foreigners like me, a few were mothers of kids in college like me, a few were divorced like me, and one was not only the other one Black person, he is also Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! I believe I lucked out!

In spite of all that, the school work was still a huge challenge for me. I had to get used to school the American way. Folks actually call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the very early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were really black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of the word office-hours, luckily, my son who was then a freshman at Stanford University explained what that meant to me. I had no idea what it meant to access library books online, and be able to “check them out” virtually? What de? As shocking as these findings were to me, there was more to come.

IMG_0841As the only physician and one of 2 Blacks of the lot, 33 of us to be exact, I had no one else wearing my exact shoes, hmmmm. I had no one to hold on to when Statistics got tough (yea, I know, I did biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, but certainly not Anova or Covariance Analysis) I had no one to hold on to when Accounting reared its ugly head, or when Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, who was visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints from me). As a self-proclaimed hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account) I loathe Excel…still do! First of all, I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting, and Finance, WHY!? All of which made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ office. Every now and again, I did feel lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win the little battles.

IMG_0800Economics was good as long as it was Macro Economics and the professor who worked for the FED was a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. Still, I spent too many afternoons in his office at the high-security Federal Building downtown San Antonio. Corporate Restructuring was okay at the start until we got deeper into the mathematical aspects and calculations, then it ceased to be fun. Since I love words, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy for me because I had no numbers to worry about, furthermore, I LOVE reading and discussions. Looking back now, one of my favorite subjects was Leadership. Not only was our professor really cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting, intriguing and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned about myself and my own flavor of leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed the final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class. Oh, my talk was on the power of the word, NO.

One of my favorite experiences during my business school was Executive Coaching. As a matter of fact, I owe my executive coach, my entire career journey today.  She is one cool Chica. She used to work for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge and she helped me figure out who I am/was, and what I wanted to do with my life after school. Truth be told, I only signed up for the MBA partially because the VA was footing the bill, and partially because I used to counsel my subordinates in the Air Force to take advantage of the GI Bill and Post 911 educational grants and go back to school and further their education. I never even thought I could do it, but I had to heed my own advice.

Singapore 4.jpgI must say the highlight of our entire MBA experience was the 12day international trip to South East Asia! A trip that cost me the attendance of my youngest brother’s wedding in Nigeria, which just happened to have been scheduled for the exact same day. We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning and went through LAX. The 17hour flight both ways was no match for the excitement I felt in finally seeing the world famous Singapore and Vietnam! I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember listening to the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. It is an example of how hard work pays off no matter what. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit (one of my faves).  After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!

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I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern Singapore 2.jpgarchitecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously in spite of differences in religion, language, customs, cultures, etc. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing old Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut…her smell, her heart, the essence of her being my Nne Akuobu.  As unbelievable as the trip was, I topped it up, by finishing the final edits of my first of many Amazon bestsellers on the plane ride home! BTW, get your copy on Amazon or on my website, it is the best parenting book ever! 😉Singapore 3.jpg

I shall miss school. I have always been studious. I have always had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not quite as good as it used to be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA 🙂 I earned it. Considering I got the degree after I have already been in private practice for nearly 30yrs, and considering I have no idea what I am going to do with it…yet, I am still thankful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had NO WHY, I simply did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still gat it after all these years, or simply because…

In ending, I would like to say; just like that, my 27month program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! If I could do it, with my schedule, you can do it too! Peace still.

My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD/MBA, and I approve this message.

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UU

#neverforget #alwaysremember

 

Dear Blog, as Black History Month comes to an end…

I want to say this to you, to my people, the Black Butterflies, and Black Bees, and Black Hornets out there…

You know who you are, you know yourselves,

stand tall, stand proud, take a knee, take a bow, be strong, but whatever you do…

 

 

#neverforget

#alwaysremember

 

They came from the African coasts

from the Motherland…

from the belly of the seas, the depths of the ocean

My people,

My ancestors,

Aunts and uncles, yours and mine.

 

Look closely,

See the furrowed brows?

Hear their anguished voices?

Listen to the wailing from the depths of their hearts;

the unborn, the children, the youth, the grown, the aged.

 

Their pain, oh, the pain!

I feel it, fresh as it were today.

Our wounds, still hurting from yesteryears,

…and fresh ones today cut deep

Our scars, never healing

Different, yet same.

 

The anguish in her furrowed brows

The cramps in his tired limbs

The cries from babes at the breast

The wailing from youth in pain

The torment that knows no end

Suffering and wondering, where is God?

 

Praying, asking, is this life?

Lives still in limbo

Thoughts still displaced

Hearts still bleeding

Minds still unknowing…questioning,

…wondering and wandering

 

Ashamed, confused, scared, angry, sad, dejected, unhappy but believing…

 

Today like always, we remember, we never forget.

 

Happy BHM

Black history museum pics

BB

 

 

I am a Doctor, Phenomenally.

Still on the matter of whether I am a doctor…

I have had quizzical looks.

Someone just told me today, on LI… “MD, yeah right”, she wrote…

They have walked past me in the clinic, up to my nurse and asked her if I AM REALLY the doctor.

They have told me they “love” my accent, and they have a neighbor in the projects, who looks just like me.

They have told me just “how young” I look, and how I am not old enough to be the doctor.

They have asked me how come my English is so good and wondered how I got to America…

They have even told me to go back to my country and “stop taking” their jobs…

But still, I stand.
And walk with an exaggerated swing to my hips and a killer swagger…

I AM a doctor, phenomenally.
I AM a pediatrician, a good one.
Yes, I AM.
Dare to walk in my heels?
#health #girlpower #naijanimi

BB

 

4 Airmen, Diego and Megan

 

Dear Blog,

Howdy? Long time! Just wanted to touch base and check in with you. I am having a fabulous life, you? So, after about one month off from my Rideshare seat, I returned to it today, and as usual, I was pleasantly delighted to meet my clients. The beautiful thing about Rideshare is you never know who you might pick up next. My clients are often so different from each other. Each one teaches me a new and different lesson about life. Again, that is why I do this. The story goes like this… I am writing a book on teens, depression, and suicide. I woke up this morning and as usual, I worked on a couple of chapters, but I just didn’t feel like it was flowing the I wanted, I was having a hard time getting into my characters’ minds to tell their stories, so I declared to my mother “I NEED a depressed and suicidal teen in my life right now!”. I proceeded to explain why, when I saw the puzzled expression on her face. We both shrugged and concluded that-that was going to be a tough one to pull off. So, I go about my business for the day.

Later on, since my numéro très had a birthday party to attend for 2 whole hours, I decided to seize the opportunity, take a break from my preparation for my Executive MBA midterms next weekend, and go online on my UberXL/Lyft apps to see if anyone was interested in a fun ride with Dr. Lulu! Unbeknownst to me, the Good Lord was going to use my clients today to show me yet again that He alone is Lord and King and more importantly, the Author of the universe.

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My first client, whom we shall call “Joe” was picked up less than a mile away, he was going in for his night shift at the “Howl at the Moon” downtown San Antonio. We exchange pleasantries, and I decide on a whim to give him one of my brand new business cards and inform him that I am a Public Speaker on Teen/Young Adult depression and suicide. He, in turn, gives me two free admission coupons to HATM, with discounts on happy hour drinks etc, and proceeds to sign me up for their email list for more (free) Happy Hour goodies! I am elated, accept my coupons graciously, thank him, and self-declared it would be a good shift for me today because I had started my day literarily touched by an angel. I inquire about his choice of music vs my audible book. He says he doesn’t really care, he would rather watch “Sex and The City” on his phone, and he would have his earbuds on. We both settle in for the ride downtown, and I proceed to continue listening to my “Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris”. As we approach downtown, I shut the audible off to focus on the traffic and the people, I ask him if he heard about the 12yr-old boy who had committed suicide in a nearby town lately, his response almost knocked me off my seat! “Oh yes! my co-worker’s younger brother is his best friend, they are from Jourdanton” was his immediate response! I had never mentioned the name of the town, but he knew the right one… At this, I am completely speechless at the smallness of this world! What are the odds? How could it be? But it sure was. Sitting right behind me, in my car, was someone who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew the 12-year old that had been bullied on to taking his own life at a local middle school yesterday! Wow! I LOOOOVE doing this!

Next, I pick up a (two couple) party of 4 baby boomers at the Westin. One of them is disabled and has a wheelchair. Though my Sasha is a 7/8 seater UberXL-ready 2017 Toyota Highlander, they had the hardest time getting that wheelchair to fit in her trunk. They eventually did, and I sensed they were a bit flustered with the entire process. When I asked my usual icebreaker question “so how has everyone’s day been today?”, they all grunt and puff and reply “it has been a rough one”. Trying to cheer them up, I gingerly quip, “well, at least we are on our way to fun now”, to which one of the ladies retorted, “well, we are late to our event”. I think to myself, I had nada to do with it, then I hear myself say “well this Saturday evening downtown traffic is not going to help that”… an awkward silence follows. Then I change lanes and perk up by sharing a bit about what I do as I distribute my business cards. Front seat guy now informs me that they are from Florida, but he would certainly keep my card and keep me in mind…I am like, YES! We have some small talk about hurricane Michael and its toll. Things get a bit worse when the address that he had put in as their destination on the Uber Navigation, was in the middle of the nowhere! not Shuck Shack, on Grayson and Broadway as they had wanted. Turns out all that initial frustration I had sensed was because they were with a food tasting party and had missed their bus! A couple of phone calls and a couple more U-turns later, they are safely delivered to their destination. “Bon Appetit”, I think to myself as they say their thank yous and I drive off.

I hop over to Nueva Vista, an enchanted and quaint neighborhood tucked away next to the Pearl to pick up a couple who right away complement me on Sasha. I thank them and start my usual icebreaker questions. He quickly responds, “we are doing fine, but we are interested in this your car, we are looking for a multi-seater vehicle”. I happily tell them everything I can about my Sasha, as he tells me to ignore the Uber navigation system, and proceeds to guide me through their wonderful enchanted streets instead. I note the air is different there. I inform him that I am officially in love with his side of town. We make a right turn into San Pedro on our way to the movie theater on Route 410 and he points out Alta Vista a sister neighborhood on the left, another whimsical looking part of town. As I drop them off, I note to myself (be sure to bring the wifey here for a “romantical” drive someday) Ironically, his wife or rather, lady companion did not so much as utter a single word throughout the ride, and I can’t even remember if she said goodbye. But before I could process that thought, I got a chime to pick up my next client.

Handsome “Diego” joins my space at North Star Mall. He is an energetic, mid-to-late-twenties sweet smelly, colorful young man, getting off his shift at Michael Kors. He gets in the front seat, acknowledges my white LV Neverfull which I pick up and place on the floor in the middle row, thank him for the compliment, and tell him to get comfortable, as we start our ride. With a megawatt smile, he shares that he is “dog tired” because even though he had known he had to be at work this morning at 0900hrs, he had proceeded to go out last night, and got back really late. I go into mama-bird-mode and we talk a bit about growing up and taking responsibility for actions and such. We talk a bit more about his dreams and somehow get to the topic of his roommate with whom he had had a recent fight, he gently adds that he had bought him a small (make-up) gift from MK because he “hates the energy in their apartment when they argue and fuss”. I am full of admiration for this young man, who wants to make the world a better place, one gift at a time. I like him. We arrive at his apartments shortly thereafter, but he remains in the car because he is telling me all about the recent shooting at Pegasus downtown. Apparently, he had been there that night. He recounts how his mother had unusually texted him up to three times that night, the last text coming just minutes before the shooting. He says he suspects his mom somehow sensed something bad was going to happen and had been trying to reach him. I share my own mama-bird story about me and my son at Stanford, the night I had seen him in a dream reaching out to me, I had woken up with tears in my eyes, and when I called him, it turned out he was burning up in a fever and needed his Mama. An instant friendship is born. Diego left my car after earning one of my world famous warm hugs and promising to text me his employee discount code at MK…another satisfied client.

To pick up Ms. Megan, I had to make several U-turns, drive into the gated apartment complex, and wait for almost 2 minutes. As Uber starts charging her for my wait, I note a tall slim female approaching the car. As she walks up to me, wearing the latest millennial garb of a black mid-section-revealing-cropped-tee, on black double slashed jeans and tousled hair, I note that she is easy on the makeup and I think to myself with a corner smile… “that is exactly what my daughter would be wearing if I had one”. She greets me pleasantly, apologizes for her lateness, gets in the middle row, I move my Neverfull back up front, and she gets comfy. Right away I sense she has had a sad life. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.comShe has an ever so slight air of melancholy. I note that unlike most teens her age, she is not on her phone. She is not texting, she is not talking, she is looking straight ahead, both hands resting on her thighs and deep in thought. I remark on that, to break the ice, and she smiles ever so slightly. I know I am right. I start telling her about what I do, give her my business card. She asks for more cards and the next 23 minutes fill me with more awe than I could have ever imagined. She opens up and says the words that every parent of a teenager or everyone who is acquainted with one would give money to hear… “that is pretty cool that you are doing that”… I smile as I say, “thank you”. Then she not only proceeds to tell me that at her high school, they have had 7 suicides in the past 5 years, (the last two in the past year, one of which its anniversary is today!), but that she herself has had not one, or two, but three attempts at suicide! I CANNOT believe my ears! Earlier this morning, when I had asked the universe for a suicidal teen, I had absolutely NO IDEA this was in store for me. I thank the good Lord immensely, reach back with my right hand and take her right hand, she grabs it with both hands. and holds on, and I simply let her hold it as long as she needs to. I take a long deep breathe after she gets off at the LongHorn Steakhouse on I-35 South, shake my head slightly, and vow henceforth, to only speak out, that which I know I really want because it will come to pass.

Last stop for the evening was about a mile up the road on I-35 south. I pick up four Airmen from “the best tattoo place in town” according to front seat guy. They are young, late teens, early twenties-ish, full of life, and bright expectations for what the future has to offer in the best Air Force in the world, the United States Air Force, “first in flight”. After back row seat guy curses twice, I clear my throat and proceed to tell them I am a veteran of the USAF and ask how they were doing. Front seat guy tells me they are recent basic training grads from Lackland AFB, and currently at Camp Bullis for Security Forces training. Then comes a barrage of questions from all of them at the same time; “did you go through OTS?”, “did you ever get to deploy?”, “what do you think about Tyndall AFB?”, “would you do it again if given a chance?”, “what’s life like on the outside after a brief taste of the inside?” “did you do your 20yrs?” “what did you do while you were in?” etc. I smile and try my very best to address all of their concerns. One tells me he is from Kansas and would love to be stationed at McConnell AFB after I mention my brief manning-assist there. Another wants to know if I know anyone at Robbins AFB in Georgia, yet another asks me what I think about going in the reserves afterward, and then another wants to know about Alaska and if I could confirm that it is truly considered an overseas deployment. I marvel at all of this. It turns out to be such a fun trip, but I made sure I still got time to squeeze in a quick note on depression and suicide and the need to ensure they formulate good relationships and stick to the straight and narrow. By the time I drop them off at Top Golf I feel truly fulfilled and thankful for a fairly eventful and awesome shift. In a little under 3hours, I feel I have gained much more in knowledge than the nearly 80usd I have earned in cash today.

“if you want light to come into your life, you need to stand where it is shinning”

                                                                                             ~Guy Ginley~

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4 Teen Girls

Dear Blog,

After a month-long hiatus from my Rideshare seat, I finally got to do some Uberizing this past weekend.

Oh, you didn’t think a doctor could be a Rideshare driver? Dude, I have heard about company executives doing just that, try it, you just might like it. You can thank me later.

Dr. Lulu’s Rideshare began as some sort of a dare. My eldest son at Stanford was spending so much money on Rideshares at school, that I was like, “son, with all this money you are spending on Uber and Lyft you should probably be driving Uber to help your mama out when you come home on your vacations”. He agreed in theory, but in the end, since he was too young to sign up, he said, “mom, you are over 21, why don’t you sign up?” you love to meet people, and you love talking. One thing led to the other, and I found myself driving Uber/Lyft, and totally LOVING it! The “funnest” part has been the facial expressions I get from most people when I tell them what my “day job” is. It is so different, yet similar, to my life in a white coat. I ask questions, I listen to stories and I give feedback. And with all the talk about physician burn out, this has indeed been a much-needed stress reliever for me personally, I can go incognito, or I can go as myself, but in the end, it is has been about the people and their stories.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride… my Uber tales.

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After class that Friday (I am currently getting my executive MBA at UTSA), I picked up a family headed to the Alamodome for the UTSA vs Texas State game, go RUNNERS! As it turned out, they were from out of town and were going to watch their first ever live college football game! I was delighted simply to be their preferred mode of transportation. Their excitement was palpable. And in the 18-20 minutes, it took for the ride, I got to listen and learn from one of them basically breaking down the game of football to all of us; from interceptions to fumbles, to 6-point touchdowns to Hail Marys and field goals, and everything in between. I gladly shared that my sons played instruments in their respective high school marching bands, so I have heard those words often thrown around, but never really knew their meanings. I thanked them for the free lesson. First clients for the day… that, went well.

Next, were about 3 short trips around the downtown area, mostly to the game or to hotels around town… I was so glad to finally pick up clients headed out of the downtown area… all those one-way streets, road closures, and human traffic can give a girl a slight headache. The passengers, 2 girls both dressed in black skimpies, destination, Still Golden, a bar on Broadway Street. They appeared irritated and annoyed about something. They spoke in Spanish to each other in short sentences. They were either not in the mood for banter, or had had enough for the day, I was only too happy to leave the downtown area, so I was totally cool with their demeanor. After one wrong exit, and a U-turn, I eventually made it to their destination, they got out and said their thank yous. I kind of sensed that wrong turn did not help their moods too much, but oh well, it was all good by me. Next, I picked up a very happy group of middle-agers going only 1 1/2 miles up the road but didn’t wish to walk. I said, “hop in, and I will gladly take you”. During our short but interesting convo, they were very content to encourage me and my side-hustle and blessed my day with their presence. The main lady has just moved to San Antonio and is wishing to learn as much about the town as she can. We exchanged similar stories about raising teens in midlife and memories. Her, two boys and a girl, are about the same age as my tres hijos. Driving down Broadway, I mentioned that the Witte museum was actually around the corner from their destination. As soon as I said that, we drove up to it, and I pointed it out, to which she eagerly exclaimed… “I have been meaning to go there and visit!”, and I laughed aloud at her reaction as I responded, “so now you know exactly where it is, you should”. We bade each other a joyous farewell, and I drove on.

Next, I went back to the apartments across from Still Golden to pick up a young millennial couple heading up to the Japanese Tea Gardens. Ironically, I had observed the male of the pair earlier while dropping off the girls in black. He was walking back to his apartment building, his little dog trotting behind him. I don’t know why I singled him out in my people watching exercise, but I did. He was dressed in a well-ironed or maybe wrinkle-free white collar shirt, turn up blue jeans and a pair of loafers. He looked fresh and clean. Something about him reminded me of my eldest son…was it the turn-up jeans, the little dog he was walking or just the air of LGBT about him? I will never know, but when I picked him and his woman up, I shrugged and let the thoughts go. They informed me that the annual San Antonio Jazz Alive festival was going on at Travis park downtown. I exclaimed and offered that my eldest son and his Jazzy friends the “Four O’clock Five” had performed there only 2 years ago, I had noticed evidence of activity at the park earlier while driving through the streets of downtown, but did not know what was going on. This mention of music playing by my son sparked off keen interest from Mr. White-collar-shirt.. He eagerly asked me what instrument my son plays, and that led to a lively discussion about Flutes, Trumpets, rival football games between Brandeis high school and O’Connor high school, state competitions, marching band competitions as well as the Battle of the Band competitions in San Antonio etc. He joyfully shared that he had played the Tuba at Reagan high school. I smile and ask him if he still plays, sadly he said he hasn’t “in a while”, and I encourage him to start again. In hindsight, I guess it was the musical-instrument-playingness of him that I had sensed earlier while he walked his dog…

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Driving people to and from their various destinations always gives me a mix of emotions, but every now and then, I pick up the occasional unlikely ally… like the older couple that I picked up from the airport. They offered that they haven’t been to San Antonio “in a while” and are here for what they described as a “long weekend”. I enjoyed watching the excited energy with which they entered my car, they made some nice comments about its cleanliness and nice smell and thanked me for picking them up. During our very light-hearted discusses, it came to light that the lady works as an assistant program director of a family practice residency program in Virginia. When I explained that I am a not only a Pediatrician, but I lived in Northern Virginia during my residency training at Howard University, she excitedly wanted to hear more about me. I smiled and shared a very truncated version of my story to date, she was so happy that I am following my passion and not letting anything stand in my way, that she promised to get her program director to invite me to speak to their residents about physician burnout and of course, depression and suicide in young adults. Wow! I smiled widely, looked up to the heavens, offered a wink, and whispered: “thank you”.

I believe the highlight of my night, however, was the young teen couple I picked up to take home from the game. Though San Antonio dwellers, the young girl, and her beau attend Texas State University at San Marcos. They were leaving early because according to her, the game was “pretty much over, and UTSA was pounding Texas State. She, however, cheered up when I asked her about school, and she, in turn, asked me if I had any children. I informed her that I have two in college, and one in middle school. She probed further. Wanting to know what high schools they had attended, and what schools they attended. My responses started an avalanche of excited exclamations from the two of us! She, a junior was glad to know my eldest is also a junior. However, her joy settled in when she realized he not only attended Brandeis high school, but he is at Stanford where her very best friend also attends school! She exclaimed that she was on her way to visit with him in October for her annual game day visit. I told her I might even know the kid a few moments later, it turns out I described her friend to the tee! This tickled her pink as she declared that was him! Right there in the car, she texted him and told him all about it!! Teens, what a breath of fresh air. I ended the trip by giving her young heart a hug and wishing her all the very best in life.

My last clients were 4 teenagers that had requested UbeX, all girls. I figured their ages were between16 and 19 years. One of them is in college, the other three are in high school. I enjoyed listening to their excited banter about who was coming to the party, who wasn’t, how they planned to crash another party after the first party and so on. Luckily, their destination was at The Dominion, a huge neighborhood on my side of town, home to some of the San Antonio Spurs players, their coach, and a host of other crème-de-la-crop. Prices of some of the homes begin in double-digit millions. One of the girls complimented me on my car, another complimented me on my hairpins, both made me smile, and renewed my faith in the younger generation of women. We somehow started talking about the need for us women to always uplift each other, and naturally, that was a golden opportunity for me to talk about teen depression and teen suicide. I ended up making them promise me they would always be kind to each other. We arrive at the neighborhood gates, and I discover, none of them had their IDs… what? I shook my head and smiled. Luckily, the security detail at the gate noticed my Air Force Veteran plate and shared that she had been in the Navy. We bumped fists, I gave her a knowing wink, identified myself as the Uber driver, showed her my ID, she thanked me for my service to this country, and the gates opened up. Phew!

Hopefully, you have a smile on your face, as you finish reading this piece. Hopefully, now that you know a little more about Rideshare driving, you agree with me that, indeed, life is always about the stories, the faces, the beating hearts, the people…

 

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BB

“Be proud of who you are and not ashamed of how someone else sees you”

 

PS : Happy to announce that my blog was featured on the Top 40 Women Lifestyle Blogs in 2018, check it out here