Listen Closely

When your body talks, you need to answer

by George M. Johnson

stethoscope[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s September 18, 2015, about 2 a.m. and I am tired as hell. When this day started, I never thought it would end with me sitting here in a hospital bed. Waiting for results after a gambit of tests have been run. Blood tests, urine tests, and the unfortunate prostate check that is not as fun as the American Pie movies make it out to be. Although nervous because I am not sure what is going on, I can’t help but think about how this could’ve been avoided. How. if I would’ve taken the time out of my day to check on this issue when it first occurred, I may have caught whatever is going on. I then realized that this problem is part of a larger problem I witness occur in black families every day, and that it was time for me to address it.

Call it a myth, a theory, or an unspoken truth, but when it comes to African Americans and checking on our health, we often push it to the limits of physical manifestation. Meaning, we let a little pain become a small pain, and then don’t react on it until it becomes a major pain. For myself, I witnessed this very thing happen with both of my parents this year. In January, my mother had two brain aneurysms. The problem was she had been having symptoms for an entire year but just passed them off as old age. My father had open heart surgery in March. Doctor tells us he probably tore his heart valve almost eight months prior and was just living in pain. Now you have me, sitting here in this room as I’ve pushed off the pain for ten days until I had to do something about it.

What is it that keeps us as African Americans from going to the doctor? What is it that keeps us from taking care of pain, or being willing to push off illness until it is damn near life-threatening? This type of thinking and family pathology is something that I witness on a regular basis when dealing with HIV prevention. Many of my black clients who come in for testing, push this inevitable truth off until they physically get sick or can actually start to see changes due to the virus. Rather than getting tested after the initial window period, I have had people who have waited months, or years to get tested subconsciously knowing they are HIV-positive.

As African Americans, we are predisposed to many illnesses and conditions simply because of who we are and where we live. High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer to name a few affect us at much higher rates than other races. When you add to that the fact that the socioeconomic status of many people within our community only compound these health conditions, you get a perfect storm of health issues that never leave certain neighborhoods and areas. For instance, a person living in the “projects” or “underdeveloped area” will walk past Chinese food stores, unhealthy fast food places, and liquor stores before ever getting to a place that may have healthier foods. These situations continue the family history of poor medical care and added complications to our health.

Now this in no way is to make light of the fact that there are barriers to healthcare for many of the marginalized groups. Poor health insurance or lack of insurance plays a major factor in the way African Americans interact with medical providers. Most of us fear the bill before we ever get any treatment. That fear alone allows us to stave off pain until there is no other choice but to go seek treatment. Add to that the lack of cultural competency in many clinics and Emergency Rooms and you create this culture of passed-down traditions of poor healthcare in the black community.

So if nothing else, this is a call to action to the black community. If you are sexually active you should be getting tested regularly for HIV. Regularly means three to four times a year. You should also be getting full panels done regularly if you are having unprotected sex to check for any STIs you may have contracted. Furthermore, if you are having other issues going on you need to listen to your body. Your body is sending you signals all the time that something is wrong and waiting only makes that problem worse.

Fear of a bad diagnosis can no longer outweigh the danger of living with something that may be killing you. The value of a hospital bill can be worth more than the value of your life and staying healthy. So as for me, it is finally 4 a.m. and I am being released. No kidney infection. No swollen colon or bladder. A simple lower abdomen strain. So yes I am $30.00 poorer, and six hours past my bedtime, but none of that compares to having the peace of mind that comes from knowing that I am okay.


George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living located in Washington, D.C. He has written for,,,, and Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.