Gbama Mbayo: I'm Scared, Too

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In the face of hopelessness, its common to feel useless and afraid. But Gbama Mbayo finds a beginning in human connection.

Last year, I was called by my clinic staff to attend to a homeless Black man who was looking for help overnight when the clinic was closed. I was the first responder, but he was unresponsive, and I froze for what seemed like an eternity. I thought of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police while calling for his mom. I stood there and watched the next responder pump his chest once, twice, three times…Nothing.

I was later told he was gone before we got there, but like George Floyd, I believed I failed him. I could not answer his call for mama. Afterwards, in our debriefing, I expressed concern for freezing when he needed me. A physician said I could not have helped him but my inaction went far deeper than a lack of clinical skill. I felt hopeless. I felt like I was him.

A few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe, my daughter reached out for answers. She wanted to know what the ruling meant for Black women. I froze again and could not speak. I wanted to tell her:
• That abortion rights are economic rights, and that this decision means a potential loss of economic security, and independence for her.
• That as a Black woman, she is four times more likely to have an abortion than a white woman.
• That these relatively high rates can be traced to disparities in healthcare access, including the lack of health insurance and contraceptives.
• That if more Black women are forced to carry pregnancies to term, there will be a disproportionate increase in deaths of Black women in childbirth.

But I froze and could not speak. This time however, was different. This time, what I could not do for Floyd and my homeless patient, I did this time.

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I held her hand and said, “I am scared, too.”

With a Perspective I’m Gbama Mbayo.

Gbama Mbayo is the nurse manager for the Complex Care Management program at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. She is originally from Sierra Leone.