“Never ask what’s wrong with someone. Ask what happened to them.” — unknown
What happened to Dr. Schubert should not happen to any human being. But it does every single day in this racist, sexist (fill in the blank) cult known as the United States of America. This country is exceptionally SICK because it prides itself on being founded on ideals of equality, liberty, and justice which was reserved only for elite white men.
“Give me liberty or give me death!” — Patrick Henry, slaveowner, 1775
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL. . .” — Thomas Jefferson, slaveowner, child rapist, 1776
“O’er the land of the free. . .” — Francis Scott Key, slaveowner, 1812
But I digress.
Beth was a brilliant, compassionate woman who practiced medicine “like a GIRL.” She started her practice Just For Women in Newark, Delaware I believe in 2000. She became my GYN/OB in 2002. Beth always made time to talk to her patients and catch up on what was happening. We hit it off immediately. Sometimes we would talk and laugh so much that she’d have to hurry out of the room because she was late for her next appointment. I watched her medical practice grow until she had outgrown the smaller office at Christiana Hospital and moved to a larger facility offsite.
In a disciplinary letter she received in 2016, a few months before her passing, the report stated that she was an “employee” for the practice from 2012–2014 then afterward began her own practice. No, that was a lie!!!! Just For Women was HER brainchild, was Her baby, was HER practice. She did not leave that practice in 2014 to start her own practice. She was pushed out of her own practice by her male colleague and business partner whom she brought in, I think, 2009. It could have been earlier but not much earlier.
Anyway, in 2013 when I found out I was denied tenure, I left campus and went straight to her office. I did not have an appointment. A staff member who went back to consult with her came back to me and stated that I would have to wait a bit but the doctor WOULD see me. She escorted me to an examination room where I waited for Dr. Schubert. Sometime later Beth came through the door and almost snatched me up from my seat. She held me so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. I cried, spit, and snotted all over that woman. When I finally got a hold of myself she helped me to the chair and asked “What happened?” She did not leave me or let me leave her office until she was sure I was not a threat to myself and could at least drive myself home which was only 5 mins away. A year later, when I visited her “new” much smaller practice, she confided in me that her male partner had robbed her of her practice.
The last time I saw Beth was for a pre-surgery appointment right after the new year scheduled a few days before my hysterectomy in 2016. I could tell she was not 100%. The month before she had had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. I swear as I sat across from her that day it was like looking at a mirror image of myself. She seemed her normal self, but the light in her eyes and smile were gone. I still believed I was in good hands and agreed to move forward with the surgery. Beth had performed a minor surgical procedure I needed a few years back. I remember teasing her while I was in recovery. I called her a “mean doctor” because right as I was about to be put under I could hear the song “Hey Ya!” by OutKast and hollered out, “Wait, that’s my soooooooooong!” The next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. I playfully scolded her for not letting me finish listening to the song. In the end, we agreed that it was the fault of the anesthesiologist although I could swear I heard her faintly say, “No, put her to sleep. Night.”
But Beth did not perform my hysterectomy. The day following my pre-surgery appointment her receptionist called to inform me that I would have to reschedule the surgery or have another doctor perform it because Christiana Hospital still had not cleared her for surgical duties. I did not want to wait since we had gone back and forth about the surgery for the past eight years; so I went with another doctor, a charming white male who I met 30 minutes before I went under anesthesia. I told him before I was put to sleep, “Hey, don’t you think for one minute that I am easy. I never do this on the first date!”
I don’t know. Maybe God stepped in and saved my life, and hers, that day.
I was sad that my professional relationship with Beth had ended so abruptly, so unceremoniously. But I assured myself we would both be fine and that we would catch up with each other during our inadvertent meetings at the supermarket, drugstore, or clothing store. We would hug each other like old friends and run our mouths and laugh so loud that other shoppers would look our way as if to say, “What in the world?!” We would snicker like two little girls and huddle closer still laughing and not caring that we disturbed polite society.
But that never happened. I’d been under my own fog as a result of my shattered academic career, a casualty of systemic racism/sexism. Thankfully the fog is starting to lift. To borrow from Bill Withers, I am beginning “to see clearly now that the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me down. It’s gonna be a bright bright bright bright sunshiny day.”
On Monday, April 12, 2021, when I Googled my friend to find out where she is now, I learned that she is no longer here. Beth passed away unexpectedly on June 3, 2016, just six months after I last saw her. She has gone where God and the angels live. Where the sun always shines and where nothing or no one can ever hurt her again. I am beyond heartbroken to learn of the tragic end in this life to such a beautiful soul. But I am not surprised. I know first-hand what this white supremacist capitalist patriarchal system can do to you. Beth is no longer here. I am thankful that I am still here and I am honored to tell her story.
I will end with the words of my own daughter poet Julienne LaFrance who like me knew and loved Dr. Schubert. “I am so very sad to hear this. She had such a wonderful, refreshing presence.” Rest in peace Beth. Rest in peace my sister-friend. I will see you on the other side, in the land of the Son. xoxoxoxoxoxo
Postscript: This week I also learned how close Beth and I were in age. I was born in ’61; she was born in ’65. My career ended in the academy when I was 52. Her medical career ended when she was 51. While anyone can start over again, being a woman at 50 forced back to the bottom rung will drive anyone mad. Perhaps the only difference between us was that I had a creative outlet to sustain me. I don’t know. I do know exactly how she felt when she read that eviscerating report about herself from the Delaware medical board. It read just like my letter from the Dean who denied my application for tenure. The letter that she received, like the letter I received, was intended to devalue, denigrate, and dehumanize. It was a hit piece. A public assassination of her character from which she never recovered. Shame on the folks in power who do this and all those who are complicit in such inhumane acts.
All funds from this article will be contributed to the Beth R. Schubert Memorial Fund.