SHAFAQNA – It’s sometimes astonishing how people can keep their cool in moments of stress, upset, anger or prejudice.
Just earlier this week we marveled at Saffiyah Khan who smiled in the face of a member of the far-right English Defence League at a demonstration in Birmingham when he shouted racist and threatening abuse at her.
And now it’s the turn of Sara H Rahman, a medical student studying at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, who just shared her heroic story of how she remained calm in the face of racism, while on duty.
Writing about a recent interaction with a patient for Pulse Voices, an online blog written by members of the medical community, the Muslim-American explains a situation which saw her examining an elderly patient before her attending came to treat him.
After reviewing his medications, Rahman describes how she asked the patient – referred to as Mr Douglas – about his back pain.
‘It’s been getting worse for the past couple of months,’ he says. ‘I’ve been under a lot of stress with my business. And there’s so much else going on–I’ve been feeling angry a lot lately….’,’ she writes.
When questioned about why he’s increasingly feeling more angry, the patient told the medical student: ‘It’s the news. ISIS and those Muslims. These Muslims think they can blow up our country!’
Explaining on the blog post how she is a Muslim-American, whose parents immigrated from Pakistan 30 years before, she revealed the patient gave her ‘an expectant look’, waiting for her to nod in agreement.
Describing her childhood growing up watching the 9/11 terrorist attack on the news in school and seeing hate crimes towards Muslims frequently reported on social media, the student explains how even her mother has made her promise to stop going for runs on her own. ‘The fear is palpable,’ she admits.
She continues: ‘Now, as I listen to Mr. Douglas, my pen slips from my fingers and falls to the floor. He keeps talking, but I can’t take in his words. I need to escape…to calm down and digest this shock.
”Excuse me a moment’, I mutter, blinking back tears, and walk past him, my legs heavy,’ she notes.
‘Before, when confronted with this kind of prejudice, I’ve known exactly what to do: speak up. I’ve revealed my religious identity and have tried to show that I’m ‘normal,’ in hopes of changing the person’s mindset. I’ve done this countless times.’
‘Still, how can I deny the sting of his words? My mind races: As a medical student, where are my boundaries? Should I tell him that I’m Muslim? Should I tell my attending?’ she explains.
In the end, Rahman decided to respond to the patient’s words ‘with kindness and care’ and, following his treatment, helped him to understand his treatment instructions, organise another appointment and lead him out of the faculty.
”Good luck! See you at your next visit,’ I say, smiling and waving goodbye,’ she writes.
Having later shared her experience with her professors and colleagues, the student admits she received ‘conflicting responses’ about whether she was correct to remain quiet.
She has come to the conclusion, she says, that if a colleague disrespects her Muslim identity, she will say:
‘I am Muslim. But I am also a doctor. I can offer you my skills to the best of my ability, regardless of how you feel about my identify. It’s your decision if you’re open to working with me.’
When it comes to a patient, she remains unsure how she would respond in response to racist language.
‘I don’t have all the answers–but I do know, now, that I can keep my emotions from derailing my patients’ care.
‘I may not have changed Mr. Douglas’s perceptions of Muslims, but I fulfilled my duties as a physician-in-training. Perhaps someday he’ll find out that I’m Muslim. Maybe I’ll have a chance to change his opinion–and maybe I won’t.
‘Either way, right now I don’t regret my decision to respond not with wounded anger but with my best attempt at compassion,’ she concludes.
Fight hate with love.