Many in the Minneapolis American Indian community are coping with the news that Dr. Carol Krush, a trusted doctor who has practiced in the community for nearly forty years, is struggling with cancer.
On June 11, 2010, Dr. Krush was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a disease that starts inside bone marrow, where new blood cells are made, but can quickly move to the blood, where it can kill red and white blood cells.
Dr. Krush has been undergoing chemotherapy this summer. In August, she learned that the cancer was in remission, but she will continue to need care, and for that reason she has chosen to retire from the Native American Community Clinic (NACC), where she has worked since she helped start the clinic in 2003. Dr. Krush said she has chosen to retire because she doesn’t know when she would be able to return to work, and can’t afford to lose her health insurance with her mounting medical bills. Retiring, Dr. Krush said in an interview, was how she was going to cover herself financially “and not hold the clinic on a string.”
Dr. Krush, who of European heritage, said that it was partly by accident and partly by choice that she began working with the Native American community in Minneapolis.
Her father was a psychiatrist who worked with Native Americans, and she’s always had a curiosity and desire to learn about other cultures besides her own. After she completed her medical school coursework, she travelled to Africa, where she was exposed to different values from the ones she grew up with.
When she returned, she finished her residency work at Hennepin County Medical Center and found the job posting for the position with the Indian Health Board of Minneapolis (IHB). “They liked the fact that I had worked cross culturally,” Dr. Krush said. “They wanted me to know that this was a different culture.”
Many in the community know Dr. Krush as someone who loves to dance, who loves to laugh, and who is not afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something. Through her caring nature she has earned the trust of her patients.
Pat and Myron Rosebear have been seeing Dr. Krush since 1977 when she was working at the IHB. Even though they’ve moved from Minneapolis to Circle Pines, they continue to drive into the city to see Dr. Krush. “She is a wonderful doctor,” Pat said, “She never rushes you. She has a caring for her patients.”
Pat considers Dr. Krush a friend, and believes it was because of Dr. Krush’s diligence that her husband Myron was able to get early treatment for his prostate cancer, and beat it. Dr. Krush also helped him with his diabetes. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without her,” she said.
The Rosebears were among many in the Native community who picketed the IHB in 2002 when Dr. Krush, Dr. Lori Banaszak and Dr. Lydia Caros were fired for questioning the administration at the time, which has since made changes. The three doctors, along with community members, eventually helped form the Native American Community Clinic.
For some in the community, Dr. Krush’s willingness to take a stand during the IHB controversy earned their trust. “She had a lot of backbone,” said Debra Kamimura, who has been seeing Dr. Krush since she was 19 years old. “She gained so much respect from the community,” Kamimura said, by standing up for patient’s rights, and showing leadership in helping to form the new clinic. “I’ll continue going to [NACC] because of Dr. Krush.”
On a personal level, Kamimura said Dr. Krush has helped her through not only health issues, but personal issues as well. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to the doctor as much as I have if it hadn’t been for Dr. Krush,” she said.
Pat Bellanger, a board member for NACC, said she’s known Dr. Krush since 1973 when Bellanger and others from the American Indian Movement pushed to form the IHB.
“She is awesome,” Bellanger said of Dr. Krush. “As a doctor her work load is heavy, but she takes time going to a lot of community meetings.” In addition to being a dancer herself, Dr. Krush is always pushing others to engage in a healthy lifestyle. “She got the elders out of their chairs – walking, running,” Bellanger said. “She used to grab me and say, ‘Let’s Dance!'”
Clyde Bellecourt, a community activist who took part during the IHB protests in 2002, said he has always admired Dr. Krush. “She’s served the Native American people,” he said. He says he admires her for being active, for eating healthy food, and exercising all the time. “She’s always told our community to improve our diets, to exercise, and deal with the diabetes that was crippling us,” Bellecourt said. He was devastated when he learned she was in the hospital. “She’s a great person,” he said. “I love her.”
Dr. Krush said that she has mixed emotions about accepting her role as a patient, when she has been a doctor all these years. “It is a shock,” she said. “I always considered myself fairly healthy. It’s probably good for me to see what it its like to be on the other side. I don’t know if there is a way to teach a medical student that. I don’t know if it can be taught.”
Dr. Krush had planned to continue working until she was 70, but she said sometimes you can’t foresee what’s going to happen.
“There’s a relief,” Krush said about deciding to retire. “The job is fairly demanding.” At the same time, she feels it’s so abrupt for it to happen so quickly. “I’ve known these families for many years,” she said. “To suddenly say ‘okay I’m gone’ seems rude.” Dr. Krush hopes to eventually have a gathering where she can say goodbye to everyone.