In Conversation: a Black ER Doctor Shares His Stresses and Struggles With a Therapist

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He is a board-certified emergency room doctor, a New York Times best-selling author, and helped create The Three Doctors Foundation, which has given back his Newark, New Jersey community for more than 20 years— and Dr. Sampson Davis is still apprehensive of the police.

“I was pulled over by a police officer last week, and literally it was like a detour to get off the exit because of construction being done on the highway," Davis told Inside Edition Digital. "So I took a detour and pulled off and the police officer pulled me over and he said, ‘Well, you exited too soon. The sign said 500 yards ahead.’ I was like, ‘Okay, 500 yards ahead.’ So I was 500 yards early and you're pulling me over for this.

"Luckily I had my uniform on and showed I was a physician and he let me move on. But, it's just those type of things I think are the racial acts that I've felt in this country over and over again."

Davis has also been working 12-18 hour shifts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, witnessing its gruesome impact on individuals and families, including his own.

“I lost my brother from coronavirus. He passed away on April 23 from the virus. I lost two physicians that worked very closely with, from COVID,” Davis said.

“Then you take George Floyd and what has been happening in this country over 400 years, is the racism that exists," he continued. "And so you add that sort of pandemic within a pandemic, and then just your own personal life of survivability, and then businesses shutting down and trying to survive financially for you and your family. It's a lot to take on."

Handling a medical pandemic and one created by man takes its toll on Davis. "And I think what we have seen specifically with George Floyd is that enough is enough, is enough, is enough. There's no more wiggle room. There's no more excuses."

So how does one cope? Inside Edition Digital was there as Davis met with Licensed Master Social Worker Rondell Johnson, who works as a therapist with the Community Healthcare Network, based in New York City. There was a safe space where Davis could emote and discuss his experiences as both a Black man and a healthcare professional battling COVID-19. Here's an abridged version of Johnson and Davis in conversation:

DAVIS: "Even the other day, I received a phone call from one of the hospitals where I work and the director of the department said, ‘Well, they're saying that you're outside on your phone.’ Okay. I'm outside on my phone. But he said, ‘I don't know how true this is because your numbers are better than the standard in our department. Your production is better than the standing in our department. Your patient satisfaction is better than standing in the department." 

“So I walked outside to get some air, so whether I'm on the phone, meditating, sitting quietly, or just talking to a stranger, what difference does it make? I took five minutes to go speak on the phone. I went to school for 12 years to have this autonomy to do the heck I want to do in those specific moments and not be questioned about that. So it's an issue because I did that, or is it an issue because it's me in this position of power that I don't belong in, and the thought of it all that made it an issue?” 

“And so these are the questions that are always coming on in, and that's this type of discrimination of racism I have experienced in this sort of undercut, very covert racial undertones that I feel, which it makes no sense, like my productivity is above the average. So why are you even coming to me with this sort of energy that has nothing but negative [connotations]?”

JOHNSON: “I think there's a couple of things that's there. And before I start and say anything, first, I want to offer my condolences for your losses." 

“And for us, a lot of us, the incident that occurred with George Floyd unfortunately was pretty much the tipping point for us. I think Will Smith kind of said it best, that racism, discrimination, those things, they aren't new, but they're being filmed a lot more. And it's sad that it took for a global pandemic for the world to now take notice, because now you're forced to see it."

“And just kind of backing up a little bit and just speaking directly about some of your experiences. That there's also that dual consciousness that develops. That there's me as the professional and then there's me as a Black man, that's going through the day-to-day. And sometimes those experiences don't align with one another. It's like, I have an oath for this and then I have an oath for that. And which one do I nurture during this time? But it should also be both,” Johnson said.

DAVIS: “Yeah. I agree, I agree. It should be both. And I think the challenge that we have is that we're not allowed, especially as black men, we're not allowed to have any moment of weakness. We're not allowed to be vulnerable in any particular moment. We have to show strength throughout the whole process. And it's just, I think at a point I'm just exhausted."

JOHNSON: “Right. And a lot of that thing that we're carrying on our shoulders is that trauma. Hence why our responses are so immediate and quick. That, to someone else of say, a different background, they're like, ‘well, was it that deep’, but it's all of the different things." 

“And while this one incident may not have been that deep, so to speak, there are multiple other ones that were. And now I'm at a place where these things are now all assimilated. So I can't tell the difference between the difference in them. And it's how do I undergo that process to where there's more of that balanced view that I can say things like, you know what, and this incident is isolated incident that, okay, this wasn't something but more, it was this.”

“Then for you, Dr. Davis, there's also that aspect of being an ER physician who is encountering death on such a high scale. So of course you're going to feel tired, feel heavy and feel as though there's nothing more that I can do, but do my marching orders. That I'm just trying to get through the day the best way that I can.”

At one point, Davis shared he may be experiencing some form of PTSD.

DAVIS: “I think it's there, but I don't think it's there in a way for me because of what was mentioned, the mindfulness. It's like, I'm mindful and I know that I am, you have to know yourself. So sitting here with cabin fever for the last three months. I can't wait to be back out there, but I know I'm not alone, and that brings a sense of satisfaction and camaraderie. And there's that feeling of having, like I'm not alone in this struggle that makes you feel a sense of comfort.”

JOHNSON: “When we think about mindfulness, they're in different categories. There's relaxation. Then there's also the ones where we distract and those coping skills. Those things where, how do we get involved with activity that pulls our attention and [keeps us] fully immersed within it. And then sometimes for some of us, there's that aspect of the physical coping skills where we're trying to just rebalance ourselves. And those are, or decrease some of that excess energy that we have. We see them sometimes with stress balls or dancing, shredding paper, walking, or even exercising,” Johnson said.

“And then lastly, there's also those aspects of just processing coping skills, where trying to reframe and restructure those challenging thoughts situations. And sometimes we do them by just drawing or journaling. Lastly, what do I have control over right now versus what don't I have control over it. And orient ourselves to the things that we do have control over you.”

DAVIS: “I exercise, I meditate, I do a lot of reading, when the country was open, I traveled a lot. So I do all those things to sort of and it's the mindfulness of it all. Again, and optimism. I really feel with hope and optimism that this too shall pass."

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