For the past couple of years, India Marshall has been contemplating getting another surgery to have bone growths in her head removed. She had already undergone one operation when she was about 20 years old.
Now 29, and working as a manager in a primary care clinic, Marshall was experiencing more growth from her osteomas. While not dangerous, they can be painful. Several had started to grow on her forehead and between her eyes, making it uncomfortable and annoying when she wore her glasses. She met with a few surgeons about getting them removed, but she didn’t quite feel comfortable with their surgical plans.
That changed when she met with Jewel Greywoode, an ear, nose and throat physician who specializes in cosmetic and functional facial plastic surgery. He was the only surgeon who mentioned going though Marshall’s nose, so she wouldn’t be left with scars on her face. The other doctors told her she would need an ear-to-ear incision on her head, and hair might not grow back over the scar.
Marshall underwent a successful surgery on June 9.
Aside from being pain-free and lacking a visible scar, Marshall says the experience drove home the importance of having a black doctor.
Marshall didn’t restrict her search to black doctors — Greywoode was the only black surgeon she consulted, and the one she said made her feel most confident about her surgical options.
In fact it would have been hard to limit a search to only black physicians. In 2018, just 5 percent of active doctors in the United States identified as black or African American, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The majority were white (56 percent), 17 percent identified as Asian and almost 6 percent identified as Hispanic. (The race of close to 14 percent of those surveyed was unknown.)
Just ahead of her operation, Marshall washed and detangled her hair, arranging it into two braids. She didn’t put a lot of thought into what would happen afterward.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do with that — I have a lot of hair,” Marshall said. “I had no clue how he was going to get those incisions done and have my hair not be in the way, especially being natural and really big.”
For the first couple days after the surgery, she went in and out of consciousness, her head wrapped. But when her mother and husband took off the bandages to clean the incisions, Marshall noticed that she had more braids in her hair. She went in with two loose braids, but woke up with four or five smaller ones.
“I remember waking up and there were two black nurses helping me get myself together, helping me get my clothes on to go and I just assumed they did it. I was like, ‘Who else would have known how to braid?’ And they had rubber bands, so I thought, somebody had a plan and did this.”
“It was very convenient, I loved that whoever did it had thought of it because it was very easy to get to the incisions and clean. My hair wasn’t matted or in the way, and it was just easier for the recovery process,” Marshall said. “It was perfectly separated and parted along the incisions.”
On Wednesday, she went in for her last post-op appointment.
As Greywoode removed her staples, Marshall says he noticed that she had redone her hair with smaller braids and commented, “Oh your braids are better than mine. I hope I didn’t do too bad,” she recounted. (Greywoode was unavailable to comment for this story.)
“That was a plot twist,” she said, adding her mom was also shocked.
Greywoode told her he has two little girls and he braids and twists their hair. That he participates in the maintenance required for his daughters’ natural hair really moved Marshall.
“Natural hair is a lot of work,” she said. “I know a lot of people say, ‘Well dads should do that, it’s their kids,’ but to be honest there are not a lot of dads that do and can help with hair. That’s just the reality. But he does, and he clearly brought that into his patient care which is very helpful.”
“It was a very nice gesture and it just spoke to my bigger point of having black doctors and them being able to identify with patients.”
Greywoode also told Marshall that he chose to staple the opening over suturing, because when you remove stitches, you often have to cut the surrounding hair.
“He didn’t want to cut my hair. That was another part that showed me that he gets it.”