“Oh, will you look at those numbers, they’re terrible. I’m so sorry, doctor. I’m not your model patient, anymore,”  she said, as she perched on the edge of my exam table in her flimsy gown, her dark eyes bright with the sheen of tears.*

“Goodness, don’t berate yourself, let’s problem-solve this, okay?” I was surprised, not only by the numbers, but by her reaction. Here was an educated, dignified woman with several medical issues whose ‘numbers’ (i.e. things like weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar) had been under good control for some time, and now, were not. “What do you think is going on?” I asked.

“I know what it is. I haven’t been walking, now, many months.” Though she worked long hours at a bank, she loved to walk. She walked from her home to work and back, and at lunch, and on the weekends.

“Well, why not, what happened? Are you in pain?” I asked.

“No, no, it’s not that.” She paused, and looked at me like she was wondering if I would understand. “I’m afraid. You know I’m Muslim, and I wear the hijab-” she gestured to her veil, folded neatly on the chair. “People say things, they’ve always said things. But now? Now, it’s worse. It’s not under their breath, it’s not when no one else is around. Now, they’re loud. Now, they will hurt you, throw things at you. And there are not a lot of people who would come to my aid if I needed help.”

I didn’t know what to say.

Of course, it’s true. I can see how she would feel unsafe. The ignorant equate an entire people with a subset of extremists, because they dress similarly. It’s insane, colossal stupidity, and it’s also very dangerous.

My heart went out to my patient, and I had no good words to reassure her.

I shared this story with my medical students at our last meeting, not realizing that one of them, a Muslim, had written this excellent op-ed for the Washington Post: Walking In Fear As A Muslim. I had no idea what to say to my patient, and I will send her the essay, because the author has said it all. Mubeen Shakir writes:

“If we truly believe in liberty and freedom, the time has come to defy hateful rhetoric and immediately begin to make America great again on our own terms.

I don’t know how this story ends. Each night I pray that there will be no more attacks in the name of Islam. I pray that all Americans can come to realize that Muslims are not, by definition, terrorists. I pray for the day I don’t need to pray for these things.”

And I pray as well…. We all should.

 

*Patient and clinical details omitted or altered to protect privacy