"BLACK PEARL - LIFE HISTORY OF A SUCCESSFUL BLACK WOMAN MEDICAL DOCTOR"
ELAINE PEREIRA DA SILVA
version ARIOVALDO M. SANTOS
version ARIOVALDO M. SANTOS
My name is Elaine Pereira da Silva. I was born in 1963 in São Paulo city and I am a black woman. My mother, who passed away in 1989, was a maid; my father, a bricklayer, and he died in 2005. As of the age of 10, despite my poor financial conditions, I had a dream to become a medical doctor. My mother had always encouraged me to study.
I have worked since I was 14 and when I concluded my high school degree, I then realized that my dreams were not a “direct passport” to be admitted to medical school. I did try to accept the idea by studying Biology and I got my bachelor’s degree in 1985. However, my desire to become a doctor was stronger and persisted. One of the sentences that guides my life is this fragment of a Brazilian song by Lô Borges called “Clube da Esquina nº 2”: “Because they were called men, they were also called dreams, and dreams never get old”.
When I concluded my Biology course, I started teaching at night and, during the day, attended a university preparation course. It was the year of 1986 and such course lasted six months. I was not admitted to medical school! In the following year, I extended the duration of the course for a whole year and finally I was approved in two private universities: PUC – SP and PUCCAMP. In order to get enrolled in the first university, I had to sell an old car I had acquired with my salary as a teacher. I ran out of money and twelve days later I reluctantly had to suspend my registration in the university and come back to the “cursinho”. After a whole year of this preparation course, I was approved at Santa Casa, UNESP and UNICAMP, being the latter the university of my dreams.
From this moment on, I stopped teaching and started making my dream come true: to study medicine. It was the year of grace of 1989. I was living in the students’ dorm for free at UNICAMP and as I had won a small scholarship from an agency that supports students called SAE (“Serviço de Apoio ao Estudante”, Students’ Support Service), of course I was striving to do my best in my studies. In 1993, when I was in my 5th grade year, I was admitted in the ICU of UNICAMP on account of a negligence of a professor of mine who did not provide my diagnosis on time.
As a result, I stayed 4 days in the ICU in coma, intubated, breathing with the help of a machine, near death. Another important saying in my life is: “if error comes from doctors, the grave will bury their mistakes”. But it would not be in this moment – as it was neither in other two occasions in these years where I faced death so closely – that land would dig me in! Why? Because I had made a promise to God when I was studying in the preparation course that I would help people, just like me, with no money, in case I ended up becoming a doctor. I firmly believe that it was this promise that saved my life years later.
My diagnosis is neurocysticercosis (NCC), a parasitic disease of the central nervous system (CNS) caused by an accidental ingestion of Taenia solium (ie, pork tapeworm). Throughout these last years I suffered as a result from this illness the following events: two comae, a brain lesion which would cause me a mental infantilism (excessive joy), lack of recent memory for 3 years, excessive somnolence (daytime sleepiness), and fortunately all of such health disorders were reverted after months of real fight. It is worth commenting that I faced during this period of time three brain surgeries, wheelchairs, crutches, eighteen admissions to hospitals, uncountable visits to emergency rooms, three years missed at the Medical School, and I also suffered prejudice and discrimination in all possible levels: in all imaginable and unimaginable ways! However, I always cite a Brazilian old saying: “God is father, not stepfather, and He is not racist!”. He wanted me, after this turmoil in my life, to conclude a book telling 300% of victory on a brain lesion and the implications in the society, which is racist and sexist, classist and ageist.
What are the outcomes of such fight?
1. Since 1997, I hold a Medical School diploma, which was obtained with blood, sweat and tears in one of the most important Universities in this country: UNICAMP;
2. I am registered in the CREMESP (Regional Medical Council, in my country) under CRM-91194 (Regional Medical Board #);
3. There is a clinical examination report which attests my good mental health (sanity). It was issued by the then Head of Neurology Clinic at UNICAMP – the very same professor who witnessed my emotional disarray in 1993;
4. I have always kept my promise since I graduated: I do volunteer medical work in the poor community of Vila Brandina in Campinas city, São Paulo state;
5. I have worked for 5 years as a General Practitioner, as an in-house staff physician, at the City Hall of Campinas. I was approved in the pre-employment health exam without hiding my disease. There were 160 applicants for this position and only 65 of them were approved. I was one of them, being classified as number 30;
6. In 1998, I was submitted to my sixth MRI (Magnetic Resonance imaging) of the head and finally it was shown that my cysticercus was dying. That being said, this health problem of mine is about to come to an end;
7. For a very long time, I carried sorrow in my heart on account of the many aggressions I suffered in our society for being black, poor, ill, and because I had a strong desire to become a medical doctor. When I technically won – on the exterior side - the most important fight of my life, God came in and took away a good portion of such sorrow because He wanted my victory to be in the most important place: my inner feelings. This was essential once what stood me up was not the indifference of 500 people but the LOVE of half a dozen, chiefly the best friends of my life: Dr. Fabrício, student from my first class, who did not leave me as the great majority of people who left me in the worst moment of my life, and Professor Dr. Jamiro, who is a father to me and has assisted poor people for over 30 years in the same shantytown I also have helped these poor families;
8. And to top off the story, the majority of my patients – both the ones from “favela” and the Community Health Clinics – really appreciated my assistance and did verbalize it to make me feel happier.
This fairy tale is published on my autobiographical book entitled “Black Pearl – Life History of a Successful Black Medical Doctor”.
The book flap was written by the Brazilian writer Rubem Alves.
The book ends here. Let’s go now update this story.
I have worked in the Brazilian Public Health System for seven years and I was discriminated during all this time because of my history of life as well as my way to act, slowly and judiciously, in order to avoid mistakes.
I worked as a medical doctor, being a staff member in the Town Hall of Campinas for five years. I was sued and won two dismissal labor lawsuits, which were unfair and even criminal! Exhausted, I decided to leave Campinas. I worked for three months in Mato Grosso do Sul state and then I found another job in Taquarituba, a town in the south of the São Paulo state, where the salary was very good. However, I was still the very same person, ie, black and honest, which imply a lot of bad consequences in a doctor’s life who works for the Public Health System in my country. I stayed there for eleven months, being fired on account of a real monstrosity in March 2005.
Weary of struggle, I came back to Campinas to be closer to my friends. I was on a sick leave from INSS (National Social Security Institute) for 2 ½ years. I resumed doing my volunteer medical work in the community of Vila Brandina. My book was launched in April 2006 and since then I have delivered motivational lectures to general public. This story has been broadcasted in both spoken and written means of communication, including TV, at national, regional and international levels. In January 2008 I was admitted as medical doctor in the Public Health System in the city of Monte Mor, São Paulo state, where once I had delivered a lecture. I worked there for almost three months and then I lost my job for not being able to assist all of my large volume of patients with the minimum technical quality requirements they deserved. I had suggested hiring one more doctor to help me out and I was fired some weeks later…
I was invited by a political party (PMDB) to be a candidate for Campinas town councilor and I had neither money nor time to spend with the campaign - the result was a fiasco…
From 2008 to 2010, I worked in the private practice as an examining doctor for the Occupational Medicine when I had to stop working due to worsening of my health status (Psychosomatic sequelae of this story).
I am available for lectures wherever it is possible and I have a dream to make a documentary and feature film from this story! I also have plans to provide another edition of the book, which was published by an independent production company (I have the book in CD form). I am currently attending a postgraduate course in Medical Expertise.
My website is www.draelaine.com and you can see via broadband my TV interview with Jô Soares (Globo TV) in 2006, with a reprise in 2007, and another one for EPTV in 2009. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone numbers are: +55 19 9-9718-5095 (Vivo), +55 19 9-8361-2618 (TIM) and +55 19 3225-9569 (home).
A new member has recently joined our project. The Congolese-French filmmaker Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, internationally renowned, with professional experience in Europe, Africa and United States (see Google for more details) did appreciate our project and embraced the cause. He will be the filmmaker producer of “Back Pearl”. As soon as we have the sponsorship, we will hire the film crew.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Dra. Elaine Pérola Negra
Elaine P. Silva
 Translator’s Note: In Brazil, such courses are called “cursinhos” whose objective is to prepare students for Brazilian top universities’ very competitive entrance tests.
 Translator’s Note: The proper term in Portuguese is “favela”. According to the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition, it is “a settlement of jerry-built shacks lying on the outskirts of a Brazilian city”. The Concise Encyclopedia explains with more details: “In Brazil, a slum or shantytown. A favela comes into being when squatters occupy vacant land at the edge of a city and construct shanties of salvaged or stolen materials. Communities form over time, often developing an array of social and religious organizations and forming associations to obtain such services as running water and electricity. Sometimes the residents (favelados) manage to gain title to the land and then are able to improve their homes. Because of crowding, unsanitary conditions, poor nutrition, and pollution, disease is rampant in the poorer favelas, and infant mortality rates are high”.
 “Globo TV” (TV Globo, in Portuguese) or simply Globo is a Brazilian television network, one of the greatest television networks in the world. Jô Soares hosts a talk show (similar to David Letterman’s) at Globo and he is also a comedian, author, theatrical producer, director, actor, painter and musician.
 EPTV is an affiliate network of Globo in the region of Campinas city, where Elaine lives.
 The names “Vivo” and “TIM” found just after the telephone numbers are trademarks and refer to some of the telephone operating carries in Brazil.
 “Pérola Negra” is the Portuguese version for Black Pearl.