How the hell did this happen to me, is the first thought that came to my mind as I stared at the ceiling from my hospital bed with an in IV in each arm being wheeled off to surgery.
This was not what I had signed up for.
When people hear the words "international travel", they often conjure up images of beautiful people smiling and sauntering through sun-drenched locales, wearing white bikinis while nursing an exotic primary-colored drink in their hand. What people don't consider is that sometimes things go horribly wrong and instead of languorously lounging on a beautiful beach, you find yourself like me.
Sick and confused.
Don't get me wrong. I'm no international travel rookie. I've lived and/or worked in over 30 countries and traveled for fun to even more. As part of my job in international development and relations, I'm overly familiar with all of the precautions that one must take for their health, as I've certainly had my share of shots.
Through all of this, there is nothing that could have prepared me for what I was now experiencing as so many questions flooded my mind (unless you count the time I had food poisoning so bad in the Caribbean, I begged to die. Luckily, my request was denied). As the questions flooded my mind, I began to evaluate the decisions I had made over the last several weeks.
You see, a few weeks earlier my job sent me to Indonesia for a series of meetings and presentations. After just a few days, I started to feel strange (you know the feeling where you know something is off but you're not willing to pay the co-pay to go because you can't quite describe how you feel? Yes, that feeling).
I should have just went to the doctor when I first started feeling bad.
After much contemplation and fear that I was going to die in a country where the only people I knew were my co-workers, I ended up in an emergency clinic in Bali where I had to very nicely remind my doctor to put on gloves before removing my contact lenses. Major red flag, right? Well, when you're in another country, you don't have the option of being picky. I just needed to make sure that I wasn't going to die.
As a result, I was relegated to wearing my glasses in a humid tropical climate and could barely see because my glasses were almost constantly fogged because of the humidity. Eat, Pray, Love this was not.
Soon, it was time to go back home. Midway through my second flight (out of a total of four), my lower back started to feel strained. I chalked it up to having to sit in a tiny seat for a long period of time. By the time I arrived back in NYC, my back was hosting its own small internal bonfire. I got a heating pad and went to sleep and made an appointment with a doctor for the next day who gave me antibiotics and casually misdiagnosed me in a five-minutes-or-less examination. #Goingtothedoctorwhileblack.
The next morning, I woke up and could not move without excruciating pain and my pain tolerance is actually extremely high, given that I survive violent menstrual cramps every month. If I can survive that, I should be able to survive anything, right?
Boy, was I wrong.
I looked in the mirror and saw swelling that was so bad, it looked like I was hosting a tiny alien in the small of my lower back. The pain was so intense that it took me about 45 minutes of tears and biting pillows just to get out of bed. It was at this point that I decided I had to go to the emergency room. There was no way in hell that first or second doctor had gotten my diagnosis right and I needed a third or even fourth opinion because I knew something wasn't right.
After realizing that both my blood pressure and temperature were abnormally high, I was sent straight to the surgical unit. This was bad. Very bad. Before I knew it, I had an IV in each arm and a woman standing over me whilst I writhed in pain.
Pain meds are not my thing so when I'm asking for meds, you know it's real.
The nurse practitioner, a Black woman like myself, told me that because I was a "strong Black woman," I didn't need all those pain meds. If I had the strength, I would have drop kicked her right there. Even in my pain-induced fugue state, I did have the wherewithal to tell her that what she said was tantamount to medical racism, and if I was blonde and blue eyes and 5'3'' instead of Black and 5'10'' with braids, she would have never questioned how much pain I was in, which spoke to her own self-hating issues. I had a morphine drip and another doctor shortly thereafter.
Thank God, I'm vocal. If I hadn't been, I would have never known I had contracted a serious illness in Indonesia that might have killed me if I waited a few days longer.
So here I am now and, although I survived this ordeal of #travelingwhileblack, I hope I can educate other women to not ignore the warning signs of being ill. Especially when traveling internationally. I've also learned a lot about going to the doctor while black:
If something hurts, go see about it immediately.
I was lucky in that I had medical insurance and travel insurance that allowed me to be seen, both in Indonesia and at home in NYC. Do not travel without it. Your life literally depends on it.
It's not enough to just have travel insurance.
You've got to be bold about advocating for yourself. After all, it's YOUR body and you know it best. Every medical professional failed me to varying degrees in some way. From the Indonesian doctor who forgot to put on gloves, to the doctor in New York that initially saw me and casually misdiagnosed me, to the nurse practitioner in the ER who essentially said that because of my race I should feign imperviousness to pain. And had I not spoken up, I likely would have been sicker or dead.
Advocate for yourself.
Your health matters and it is up to you to advocate for it. Ask questions, demand the basic standard of care and comfort, and if you are not satisfied, say why. Additionally, when you know something is amiss, call it out. Too often as women, we try not to rock the boat and, as a result, end up drowning under it. Don't let it happen to you.
The most important part of your recovery process is you.
Would I travel to Indonesia again? In a heartbeat. This could have happened anywhere. In fact, I'm looking forward to it. And I'll make sure I have great health insurance and my spirit of self-advocacy when I do return, just in case.
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com
Tricia Callender, PHD is a sociologist that writes about all things pop culture, sports, and politics. In her free time, she enjoys obsessing over all things politics, tennis, and pro wrestling.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
What would you do if you just got laid off from your corporate job and you had a serendipitous encounter with someone who gave you the opportunity of a lifetime? Tamara Taylor was faced with that decision in 2013 after she was let go from her sales profit and operations coach job in the restaurant industry and met a then-up-and-coming stylist, Law Roach, on a flight to L.A. She and Roach struck up a conversation, and he shared how he was looking for someone to run his business and was impressed by her skills. While she took his business card, she was unsure if it would lead to anything. But, boy, was she wrong. Two weeks later, after packing up her home to move back to her hometown of Chicago, she called Roach; he asked if they could meet the following day, and the rest is herstory.
Taylor founded Mastermind MGMT, an agency that represents some of Hollywood’s best “image architects” like Roach, Kellon Deryck, and Kollin Carter, who are responsible for creating unforgettable style and beauty moments for celebrities like Zendaya, Megan Thee Stallion, Taraji P. Henson, and more. Taylor and her company possess an array of functions, but her biggest role is to be her client’s advocate. We hear endless stories about how creatives aren’t paid or underpaid in the entertainment industry, but Taylor ensures that her clients get their piece of the pie. The entrepreneur opened up about her company and her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, in an exclusive interview with xoNecole.
“I always say that I'm an artist advocate first, deal closer second. So my primary focus is to just make sure that the artist is getting everything that they deserve, whether it's compensation or, you know, certain accommodations, but just making sure that they have everything that they need to be able to show up and provide the best service that they're hired for,” she explained.
“So you know, in the beginning, it was hard because I didn't have any experience, and the artists who I was working with at the time–we were learning together, meaning neither of us had assisted anyone. We didn't have mentors in our specific fields. So every deal was like a new learning experience for us from the styling side and also from the business side, and so it took, you know, doing some research, using some very creative tactics, to find out information in the industry and just starting to request accommodations that I knew other artists were granted, who maybe didn't look like my artists.”
Photo by Christopher Marrs
Ten years later, there’s still not many people who are doing what Taylor is doing. However, things have gotten easier thanks to the research and connections she made in the beginning. During Mastermind MGMT’s ten-year anniversary celebration, she announced her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on helping young entrepreneurs through a 12-week program. The program is divided into “two routes.” The first route is for aspiring creative artists who want to start a business from their talent and all the things they need to learn about business, such as taxes, life insurance, etc. The second route is for practicing creative artists who are already in the industry but need resources such as how to plan for retirement or how to sustain themselves if they can’t work for a short amount of time, i.e., the pandemic.
“I just feel that I'm able to have a business and be successful because of their art as well. And so there are things that I know, I tried to teach it to them but understanding that I can only do so much because I'm not a subject matter expert in those fields,” she said. “So I at least want to be able to provide the resources, and then if they make their grown decision not to do it, then that's on them. But you know, I could be guilt-free and taking advantage of the resources that I'm also providing to them.”
Taylor continues to be an innovator in her industry by always pushing the boundaries of creativity and thinking one step ahead of everyone else. The Chicago-bred businesswoman is moving into the tech space thanks to a new invention created with her clients in mind, and she is looking forward to bigger collaborations in the future. Follow Mastermind MGMT on Instagram @mastermind_mgmt for more information.
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Feature image by Christopher Marrs