On a hot summer night almost thirty years ago, I fell in love at an inner- city hospital. My desire to lead a more fulfilling life led me into the emergency room to work as a volunteer. I had begun taking premed courses with the thought of applying to medical school but was insecure as to whether I could really become a physician. Although I had graduated from Columbia University School of Social Work three years earlier, my beloved alma mater had prepared me for a job that did not exist.
Summer heat and unrelenting humidity brings out the worst in inner- city residents. Tempers flare, patience is short and the slightest human infraction turns into a brawl. It was Saturday night, and the ER was jumping with wheezing asthmatics, women in pain, babies with spiking fevers and inebriated men speaking in tongues — a kaleidoscope of the human experience under duress.
I shadowed the resident physicians but also tried to stay out of their way. “This is not true medicine we’re practicing down here,” said a freckled face, dreadlocked female resident from D.C. “We’re just putting out fires.”
“What’s the chance that I can see an ob delivery?” I asked as the night wore on.
“Speak to the ob chief resident. He might give you a shot.”
About 2:30 a.m., the ob chief finally came down to the ER. He was intimidating but drop-dead gorgeous. After much interrogation and negotiation, I followed him to the fourth floor, changed into scrubs and entered into what would become my future. A young woman was in labor, pushing as hard as she could, and then a few minutes later, the curly hair of a baby’s head began to emerge. It was love at first sight. I had witnessed a miracle — and was never the same again.