I picked up a chart and prepared to enter the room of an elderly patient presenting with pain, in the Vertical unit of our ED (so called because our patients generally are able to walk in and out instead of requiring a stretcher). I overheard the nurses near me commenting on how “cute” this patient was, so I was looking forward to seeing what awaited me.
Walking into the room, I met a spectacular person. Dressed all in royal purple, she sat like a queen in a low tech wheelchair, with a napping husband in the corner of the room. She was expertly coiffed, and had on a full face of stunningly done makeup. Her lashes were long, dark and curled; her cheeks had concealer and blush, and her eyes were lined and dark. Her full lips were warm and red, and her nails were newly manicured. A full head of soft white hair pulled back in a bun, sat under a purple bonnet. A fur collar on a purple peacoat added to the already opulent picture.
I have never seen such a gorgeous lady in my examining rooms of my urban tertiary care ED, or even in life.
She radiated a presence, a glow, a light of life and beauty. Her youth must have been something, if at 96 years of age she maintained such character.
My mind spun with questions, ones I could not ask. While I ran through my litany of Emergency Medicine related diagnostic queries (where does it hurt, how long, any trauma, any fever, have you had this before…) all I wanted to ask was “did you dress yourself, did you do your own makeup and hair”? I wanted to know, why did she come to the ED looking so incredible? Sadly, in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was her only way to impress the world. Yet I spun tales for myself, backstories, as I do with many of my patients if not all. Was she an ex-ballerina, still mentoring young girls as they move through their training? A Holocaust survivor, making herself beautiful until the day she dies, as a way to spit in the face of oppression and evil? A blushing young bride now living with an old, doddering husband, but still feeling 18 years old, with a young admirer or two, or a torrid affair? Perhaps she was a fairy godmother, quietly inhabiting our world mysteriously.
When you work in the field I work in, it is often easier to imagine beauty rather than face reality. Likely, this lady before me took the opportunity to make herself gorgeous because she was coming to the hospital. Perhaps this is the only time she gets out into the public eye. Perhaps an outing to the ED for pain control is her only social life. But when I think this way, it makes me sad.
Better to fantasize, imagine the incredible life she lived and lives still. Better to take the purple she offered me and paint her into a tapestry of joy and warmth, to colour my days with loveliness.
Queen of Vertical, I wish you the remainder of your days filled with bright hues of purple. Thank you for illuminating my life even for a few moments, and opening my mind to the possibility of magic.