Killer Heels

By Lillia Cherkasskiy, MS4

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Alex was about 5’2’’, including her endless parade of dangerous-looking heels, which she drove determinately into the floors of the busy hospital where she was a resident. I never saw her take the elevator, even when she needed to get to the 10th floor in 2 minutes and we were walking with a group of colleagues, including some with legs as long as she was tall.

As a team leader, she was stern but fair. Always the first person to arrive at the hospital and the last to leave, she expected nothing less from the rest of us. Her pride in her work and leadership was palpable and I could tell that she had worked hard to get to where she was.

Over time, I learned that she immigrated to the US as a teenager with her parents, who poured their last dollars into getting her the education that would support her ambitions to be a world-class doctor. She worked her way through college and medical school as well, mostly at minimum wage jobs, and graduated nearly debt-free.

I saw her as a competent and accomplished leader who always put her patients first. Sometimes, however, I could see how some of her patients viewed her, and it broke my heart. To them, she was Dr. Ethnic Barbie, fiercely stomping around the hospital in her too-tall heels and her too-long white coat with elbows that did not quite bend enough to get the job done.

Day after day, I watched patients talk down to her. They asked her to go get their “real” doctor, to fill their water glasses, and to give them a sponge bath. She would laugh as if they had made a funny joke and then proceed to treat them. As far as I could tell, she never became upset or said a single unkind word about any of her patients. Only a few times over the whole month did I see her shoulders start to slump after particularly vicious onslaughts of sexism and racism. I cannot begin to imagine the endless compassion she must have for her patients that gives her the strength to treat them all with such kindness. As I move through my training, I often find myself wondering what she would do if she were in my shoes.

Her first order of business would surely be trading my Dansko’s for some killer heels.

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