By Jenny Song
Service With a Smile
Bladder cancer survivor Elizabeth Cropper finds similarities between effective ushering and a good bedside manner
By Jenny Song
Photographs by Alex Webb
On a typical Sunday morning, Elizabeth Cropper, dressed impeccably in a white nurse’s uniform, with a red jacket and red gloves, warmly welcomes guests to Ezekiel Baptist Church in Southwest Philadelphia. Cropper, an usher at Ezekiel, is one of the first faces congregants see upon walking into the church. As she hands out the Sunday bulletin, she smiles, flashing her bright white teeth, and directs people to available pews. But an usher’s job, Cropper points out, involves more than passing out bulletins and finding seats.
To help the service run as smoothly as possible, ushers must pay close attention to small details. For instance, an usher makes sure there’s water by the pulpit for the pastor. If a member of the congregation looks hot and flustered, it’s the usher’s job to gesture to the other ushers for a fan. If someone looks parched, the usher signals for a drink of water. During the course of the worship service, if a person becomes emotional, “two or three ushers stand and make a circle around the person so he doesn’t fall over and hit his head or fall on another person.” In short, Cropper’s job as an usher is to anticipate others’ needs.
Cropper has been an usher since she was in her 20s. Now the president of the usher board at Ezekiel, she often tells her ushers, “Let your first impression be your best.” She equates ushering skills to a doctor’s bedside manner. “If you don’t have good ushering skills,” she says, “you can send somebody away that came there for a reason, and they’ll never come back.”
As a nurse’s assistant at a nursing home for 40 years, Cropper knows a thing or two about bedside manner. “When I was taking care of patients, I didn’t neglect them,” she says. “I could sleep at night knowing I did all I could do for them.” But it wasn’t until Cropper was diagnosed with stage II bladder cancer in 2007, at age 64, that she came to understand the full value of a physician’s bedside manner. Retired and uninsured, Cropper had gone to a public health center after noticing blood in her urine. The health center referred her to a urologist, who conducted an exam. “He basically said, ‘You have cancer and I can’t do anything for you until you get health insurance,’ ” recalls Cropper’s daughter Tyra Artis. The urologist advised Cropper to hold off on treatment until she turned 65 several months later, when she would be eligible for Medicare.
Not willing to wait and wanting a second opinion, Artis scrambled to find insurance for her mother. She and her brother agreed they would pay the monthly premium themselves if they had to; having their mother wait until she turned 65 was out of the question. Artis wrote a letter to Medicaid, explaining her mother’s circumstances and applying for medical coverage. Medicaid agreed to cover Cropper, and she underwent treatment at a large city hospital. After doctors removed the tumor from her bladder, a biopsy revealed that the cancer had invaded the bladder’s lining. One of the hospital physicians told Cropper she’d need to have her bladder removed, and then begin chemotherapy. But his bedside manner rubbed her and her daughter the wrong way.