Certainly, the spirits of my grandmothers, who were both nurses, looked down on us.


by Rann Miller

As a parent, I’ve had my fair share of hospital stays. However, for our family and specifically for my oldest child, the most recent visit was very different from previous hospital experiences. We experienced a level of care that had not been present prior.

During our stay, it was confirmed that our son was a type-1 diabetic (T1D). Meaning his body no longer produced the insulin needed to live. In that moment, all of it came together: why he was thirsty all of a sudden, the bedwetting and his weight loss. 

The initial diagnosis was devastating. We were overwhelmed with fear, shock, anger and confusion, and with that, I began to ask myself questions: How did this happen? Was it something we did? Why didn’t I know the signs before? Could we have prevented this

Though all it was difficult to process, our family was attended to by numerous Black nurses. The way they showed care to our son was comforting. The doctors assured us that none of this was brought on our parenting and I began doing some research to try to understand what was happening. What I learned in that late hour was jarring but not totally unexpected. 

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According to the CDC, between 2002 and 2015, T1D cases among Black children increased by 20%; an annual rate of 2.7% compared to less than a 1% rate among white children. Only 20% of people diagnosed with T1D have a known family history of the disease; rather the disease stems from specific genetic markers that determine its progression.  

The progression of T1D occurs in 3 stages determined by the cell destruction of the pancreas. Early manifestations of T1D have little to no symptoms until substantial loss of cell mass occurs during stage 3, which can bring about diabetic ketoacidosis (acidic blood). 

My son was close to experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis. Thankfully, we got him to the doctor in time but the lack of symptoms explains why prevention is almost impossible. 

Racial disparities exist with respect to youth with T1D; Black (and Latinx) children are less likely to receive the best treatment therapy, as opposed to whites, which can lead to health complications later in life – resulting in death. The reasons include socioeconomic factors as well as racial bias of medical professionals.   

Racial bias and disparities in health care is a real thing; I believe that lack of regard for our concerns, translating into a lack of care, is what resulted in the loss of our first child. Being seen and heard by those caring for our children matters.

I benefited from a present and very hands on father and model my parenting after my dad in that way.      

A stranger, nurse or not, wouldn’t know that, but I would expect they’d assume the best. Too often, I was on the receiving end of the opposite. Maybe they assumed the worse of Black fathers; I doubt the truth would matter to them.

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But during this hospital stay, the Black nurses’ presence provided the sense of calm and assurance that a person feels when being attended to by someone who knows them. I never met those nurses before, yet the experiences of being Black in a hospital was something we all shared an understanding of.

My child felt seen and so did I.      

When we arrived in the room, Tiffany, a nurse, spoke to all three of us, and made it a point to include me in the conversation. 

There was no question as to whether or not I was a friend or the father. She didn’t assume that I didn’t care to know what was going on. In fact, they expected my participation as a listener.

Another nurse, Stacey, who taught us how to use the glucometer and how to dispense insulin, could sense that my wife and I were overwhelmed and she assured us both that we were in good hands. She knew exactly how to get my son to engage and feel assured in his ability to use the glucometer as well knowing how he is to receive an insulin injection, when to receive it and how to calculate how much insulin he should receive.

She took her time and was patient with each of us, while offering him some playful pushback a.k.a. “act-right” when my son got fussy. She had a level of cultural competence that made her and us comfortable and responsive. Stacey, and the other Black nurses, through their bedside manner, reminded us why representation matters. 

As a former teacher, I know what it means when a Black student and their parents see me, because I see them.      

It’s why when I see my brotha on the street, we nod

A Black face is familiar because the person caring for your child, and you by extension, carries the weight of being Black and understands that weight in white institutional spaces, such as hospitals and schools. 

Certainly, the spirits of my grandmothers, who were both nurses, looked down on us.

It’s likely that Tiffany, Stacey and the other Black nurses had sons of their own and a Black father; biologically or otherwise. It informed their practice and we, along with other Black families, were the beneficiaries of it.