Monday, March 06, 2006

Misplaced Aggression

Another window of our office was broken this morning when we arrived. Actually, the on-call nurse received a call from the alarm company late last night with the information that a window had been smashed and the (very loud) alarm activated. Since moving into this office five months ago, we've had at least four similar incidents.

On the other side of the health center building is a Latino-run grocery store which serves the community surrounding the clinic. Actually, the medical director of the health center fought hard to have this little store remain here for the sake of the neighborhood and its residents. It's run by people who are of the community and provides access to staple groceries without having to get on a bus, very important for many of the local elderly residents as well as mothers with young children. Filled to overflowing with affordable Spanish bread, avocados, plantains and many of the things this population likes to eat, the store is a frequent stop for dozens of schoolchildren and housewives alike. The windows of the store are smashed almost weekly and there is almost never a window or door not in the midst of being repaired. I can't imagine how much money the proprietor spends on glass repair each year. How long can he tolerate it?

The clinic has served this neighborhood for more than twenty years---ten of them in the current building---and the culturally appropriate care administered there is a lifeline for thousands. Last year, when landscaping was done to spruce up the grounds, the bushes were dug up and stolen over the following weekend. One day, the VCR and TV from the waiting room vanished in broad daylight. Surprisingly, the windows of the actual clinic have not been broken in ages. Thanks for small victories.

Misplaced aggression surrounds us, and there are myriad reasons for its existence. In our neighborhood, the assumption is that disaffected youth, bored and angry, lash out indiscriminately and leave graffiti, broken windows, and other damage in their wake. This is not the place where I choose to pontificate about the reasons for such behavior and the social ills that exacerbate those conditions. It's widely accepted that lack of resources, a feeling of disenfranchisement, and lack of opportunity---whether seen as perceived or actual---all contribute to such situations. Vast tomes have been written about what to do about it. I'll leave it to the social theorists to explore these issues with their expertise and insight.

My place here is simply to acknowledge that our office is regularly targeted, and while it's rather disheartening, it's an accepted risk factor which is part and parcel of our chosen situation. We all could choose to work in the lilly-white suburbs, but the call to work in this community is strong. Being a city with a very high violent crime rate, while I have not felt overtly threatened when making home visits, I do occasionally wear my stethoscope around my neck to identify myself as a healthcare worker. Perhaps this would lead some observers to think that I carry drugs in my bag, but I've never been directly challenged or hassled, only silently stared down with less-than-friendly glances.

We all have occupational hazards. My intrinsic hazards are not directly threatening to my physical health---like carbon monoxide in a mine, for instance---and I acknowledge that smashed windows are not something about which to become overly upset. It's simply a symptom of wider societal ills, and our chosen place is to work amongst the community, ameliorating at least some of the physical and psychic infirmities that debilitate our patients, smashed windows be damned.

As Bugs Bunny once said so eloquently, "It's a living".
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