UIHC staff nurse: We can say ‘protest better,’ or we can be better

Eric Kusiak, staff nurse at UIHC

Not what I expected when I came into work at the hospital tonight.

We are starting our night shift, when we learn that the movement many of us have thrown our complete (well, almost complete) support behind is outside vandalizing our building.

A peek at the graffiti applied to several University of Iowa symbols during protests Saturday evening.
(Photo credit: Lindsey Loy)

We gathered for George Floyd, put out statements of solidarity, shared support on social media– I know nurses who even served as medics during Iowa City protests.

We were confused, some of us angry. Many still are. Healthcare workers who otherwise are allies to the movement asking: “What did WE do to deserve this? We are the helpers! Our patients did not deserve this. This time, they went too far.”

I get it. I was mad for a hot second, too. I felt like we were personally attacked. I don’t condone vandalism. But. BUT. I ask my fellow healthcare colleagues who feel personally attacked to keep an open mind. And heart.

The Nile Kinnick statue in front of Kinnick Stadium was hit with graffiti Saturday evening.

This was not personal. This is the result of a deep collective pain that, whether we like to admit it or not, resulted from systems we not only work within, but directly benefit from.

Healthcare racial disparities are outrageous. I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear of law enforcement any more than I know what it is like to be a pregnant black woman who knows she is four time more likely to die at childbirth than a white woman. Nor do I know what it is like to be a black man with abdominal pain who is sent home and accused of drug seeking.

Black people receive lower quality care; are more frequently uninsured; have more co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma; have less access to treatment; are not believed; and die of preventable diseases more frequently and faster than white people.

A look at some of the graffiti applied to UIHC during Saturday night’s protests.

Was this a perfect expression of that message? I don’t know. Was it directed at the right people? Maybe yes, maybe not. But I’ve come to understand that anguish, despair, hopelessness, are many times raw, messy, unpleasant — even ugly.

Kinnick Stadium and parts of UIHC look terribly ugly now. But expecting people to package that expression as anything else is demanding they only express themselves so long as WE don’t feel uncomfortable. If, as doctors and nurses, we are more offended by the ‘F word’ than the gross racial inequities in our healthcare system, then we are the problem. We need to do better.

And for those mad about Kinnick Stadium, I have to ask: have you seen Kinnick after a football game? I would much rather explain to my child why a crowd of people are defacing property demanding racial equality, than why a crowd of people are defacing property, puking and pissing in the bushes.

You’re mad about the ‘F word;’ talk to me about obscene. The increased number of sexual assaults and rapes that occur on drunken game days. Talk to me about obscene. The fistfights, assaults, indecent exposure, overdoses, in broad daylight. Talk to me about obscene.

More views of the graffiti of the University of Iowa Saturday evening.

Some also are voicing concern that these protestors blocked traffic to the hospital. First of all, the official reports are that no hospital functions were disrupted, and cars attempting to enter the emergency room were let through.

I once again ask: HAVE YOU SEEN THE TRAFFIC ON FOOTBALL GAME DAYS? It is socially acceptable to *completely* block hospital traffic every weekend for *half a day* for. almost. half. a. year.  But a crowd demanding racial equality can’t walk through once? You’re not concerned about patient safety, you’re concerned about football. Talk to me about obscene.

Yes, this sucks. Due to COVID-19, our hospital is financially in the hole. Cleaning this graffiti up is going to cost money. Nurses and staff are already looking at salary cuts. This doesn’t help. There’s undoubtedly collateral damage here.

I don’t condone vandalism. I’m still a little confused. But I’m trying to understand.

It’s okay for you to be mad about it. It’s okay if it doesn’t sit well with you because, yes, it sucks. But what also sucks is that, compared to a white man, a black man who walks into the hospital is more likely to leave in a body bag.

So as nurses and doctors, we have two choices: we can point the finger outwards and tell them to “protest better,” or we can point the finger inwards and just be fucking better.

Eric Kusiak, guest columnist, is a staff nurse at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. This column is reprinted from Eric’s Facebook feed with Eric’s permission. Photos courtesy of Lindsey Loy.

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