My friend and mentor Judy Dothard Simmons died over the weekend. She was a good person who happened to be a great writer. A poet, she was a pioneer of Black news-talk radio (New York’s WLIB-AM) and national magazine journalism (Essence, Ms. ).
I thought I’d share a couple of her (group) emails from last year. They say a lot about her.
It’s Saturday again. The week has flown by since you stopped here and graciously brought the Noni juice. I’m so glad you did that. It not only restored my basic support to me, but it also warms my heart that you are generous and understanding in your wonderful way.
I have decided not to have a laparoscopy. The second thing Dr. Huh said after introducing himself was that he didn’t want to do surgery on me because I would probably die on the table. Only one person, a doctor in Anniston who had never examined me before, raised the specter of ovarian cancer. That set everything rocketing off like crazy.
Then I arrive at UAB and nobody can see through the calcified fibroid tissue all over the place to discern where the womb is, what shape it’s in, or what kind of tissue the “mass” is. This takes us through cat scan, cat scan with liquid (not the dye, something else for contrast); vaginal echo, and ultimately MRI, which was supposed to give the one true answer for where to insert for a needle biopsy.
Meanwhile, when they finally take of a couple of liters of fluid, within thirty minutes I have a fully formed stool, which hadn’t happened for a month.
The fluid that was removed does not seem to be coming back, and my bowel (with colace) is working two or three times a day. I have no pain, and my breathing is not labored. I do not have cancer.
Why go looking for a disease I show little sign of instead of looking at the disease I clearly have—congestive heart failure—which is known to produce fluid and symptoms of the sort I’m displaying? So, since surgery is surgery, laparoscopic or otherwise, and the doctor said in my hearing that maybe he could get in and out in 15 minutes and that wouldn’t be so bad, cutting me (invading the envelope) seems more of a risk than the possible diagnosis is worth.
Bear in mind that any mass, cancerous or not-cancerous, would sooner or later require surgery to remove, and it was made clear to me that no responsible practitioners are going to put me under general anesthetic and do the two- to four-hour (or more) operation to remove mass.
Who’s to say that where he goes in for the laparoscopy is going to be any more productive of non-fibroid tissue than all the other tests that showed him he can’t see what’s there anyway?
He talked about needing to find an anesthesiologist who was willing to take a chance on a heart in the shape mine is in, even for a spinal and sedation.
He said that even if it were cancer and he treated it with chemo first, it would eventually boil down to needing surgery and that isn’t an option.
So, basically, I would be submitting to a life-threatening procedure so the doctors can be certain about something that can only degrade the quality of my life by causing me risk, discomfort, and a healing procedure that, right now, my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it is not up to. And since this good body has always risen to the occasion, no matter how I’ve jeopardized and neglected it, I’m listening now that it says, “Judy, I just can’t make this one. It’s asking too much.”
My Anniston cardiologist had a full-fledged two-year-old temper tantrum yesterday because I told him I would not get a pacemaker (for the ninth or tenth time; by the way, the UAB teaching hospital flower-of-the-south medical-center cardiology gods said a pacemaker would do me no earthly good, as I suspected). Then my cardiology said he didn’t think I had cancer—which is why I was sent to UAB oncology on the say so of a gynecology who had never examined before he stuck is finger into me in the hospital bed and opined with deep seriousness that I really, really, probably had ovarian cancer.
The cardiology told me yesterday he thought the fluid in my abdomen was consequent to right-side heart failure, but he refused to treat me for that unless I had a laparoscopy (which would never have occurred to him if this other guy hadn’t raised the cancer issue).
So, my cardiologist turned me back over to my primary care physician and refused to give me the benefit of his cardiology expertise on how to manage the excess fluid
collecting in the abdomen from diuretics and heart failure. There are medical manipulations he can do—he told me that—but unless I consent to a tissue diagnosis (which, again, we have no guarantee they will get, all other tests having shown no markers for cancer, he won’t help me any further.
There was more stuff he vented which showed he thinks he has made me live, and that I have had no part in making decisions that resulted in his being able to help me, and preventing him from injuring me.
I grasped his hand in a shake and told him I was grateful to him for his help. Badtemperedly, he shook off my hand and snapped, “Don’t be grateful to me.” I took hold of his hand again, said again that I am grateful to him, and he basically threw me out of his office.
I’m listening to the fine classical jazz collection I’ve amassed over the years, putting my affairs in order, loving my dog and my friends, and generally having a good time for the first time in fifteen or twenty years. I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death and feeling damn good about it. I fear no evil, for I AM always and ever living.
So, for more info, call.
Sixty-two doesn’t feel the same as thirty-three, and I think folks who say it does are lying. These great Indian seers who don’t breathe earthly air and put on and take off bodies like togas—I guess I’m ain’t one uh them. Also I just figured out that some of the unaccustomed sensations I have been thinking are ill health are signs of a body used for six decades.
I’m sittin’ up here in the house following the U.S. Tennis Open on tv. I listen to these people rattle on—the anchors, pundits, and hosts—and I’m torn between shooting them all with my high-vibration consciousness death ray or plunging back down to the depths where they don’t swim, sharks though they are. The death ray hasn’t worked so far, and being under water has its own drawbacks.
So, here I am, missing my radio show after twenty years, and without any media outlet for my spleen. I really liked being on WLIB AM, NY when it started the news-talk format in the 1980s. Then Philippe Wamba, the chief editor who made Africana.com an engaging web stop, put up with me from 2000-2002. He hired me as staff writer, editor, columnist, and insecure egotist. We both found out I was too old a dog (mid-40s) to do any corporation’s stupid pet tricks. He was kind, and kept me going for two years until he left and died some months later in an automobile accident in an African country. (If it were Europe, I would know it matters which country things happen in, but since it’s the Dark Continent, it’s all the same.)
Okay, so clearly I don’t have enough social life here, so when I want to party or converse, I’m just realizing, I send off one of these mass mailings. I figure the delete key is handy enough, so you shouldn’t get too annoyed, and a few people tell me they like getting what I write. For me, I’m realizing, it’s doing my radio show, which was very extemporaneous. It’s whatever it is that makes me need to be a public communicator (writer, broadcaster, contributor of information and sometimes knowledge).
Why don’t I do a blog? Because I don’t expect people to come to me. I have to be where they can catch my drift, as it were. And besides, this is personal in an immediate way. Feedback comes quickly as people are moved to give some—it’s not required—and I imagine how some of you look while reading this. It keeps me off the streets, and it’s about all the effort I’m up to giving.
And, I’m developing my communications skills. Language keeps changing. Plus, as I enlarge my understanding of how we people operate, I keep an ear out for the rhythm, cadence, and tones of the times. It’s about the gestalt. The way images move nowadays has so much to do with what people see and hear. When I was in psych school back in the day—(I could have said “school a million years ago”) but I think the “back” phrase has a more satisfying crunch; what do you think?)—anyway, when I took psych we talked about gestalt. As I understood it, it meant getting a whole picture that’s more than the separate pixels, stimuli, responses, actions, and so forth put together like a jigsaw puzzle. The individual pieces say “sky,” “grass,” “cloak,” or whatever, but the whole picture calls out emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual responses that are more than cardboard interlocking on a table.
Another question people ask me is why didn’t I stay in media and become an internationally famous personality. Well, seldom is one allowed to do such things on one’s own terms, and refuse to or can’t do them on any other.
So, those are some of my reflections this day. I didn’t rave on about how I can’t stand the most of what’s going on in our culture, given that the sole raison d’etre for much of it is the mindless and soulless pursuit of material wealth. There’s a difference between being the master of money and the servant of it. Guess which most us are.
May 10 UPDATE: Here’s the official death announcement.
Judy Dothard Simmons
Judy Dothard Simmons, a noted poet, journalist, author and broadcaster, died on Sunday, May 6 in Anniston, Alabama from heart complications.
Since the 1970s, Judy’s thought-provoking writings and broadcasts had won her national acclaim. She had been a senior editor at Essence and Ms. magazines. Also, she had been managing editor for the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, a columnist for Harvard University/Time Warner’s Africana.com, and an editor at Black Enterprise. During the early 1980s Judy had a popular radio talk show on New York’s first Black commercial talk station WLIB and also on Pacifica’s WBAI. Her articles had appeared in The Village Voice, American Legacy Woman, and others. Also, she had been a guest on Donahue.
During the 1990s, Judy returned to Alabama and was a columnist for The Anniston Star. A celebrated poet, she was a Revson Fellow at Columbia University and did graduate work in poetry. Judy was the author of several books of poetry and essays including Decent Intentions, Judith’s Blues, and A Light in the Dark. She was also a contributor to the book Wild Women Don’t Wear No Blues. Her vibrant voice will be sorely missed.
Arrangements are being handled by Ervine Funeral Home in Anniston, Ala.: (256) 237-1717.