Friday, April 09, 2010


Think not I am what I appear.
Lord Byron

She is in her tenth decade of life, closer to 100 than to 90. Her body has aged more than her mind and she fights to overcome the illness that landed her in the hospital. She heard that two friends from the Polish Legion were on another unit and asked if I will take her over for a visit. I pushed her wheelchair and she whispered, "Do I look OK?" I saw an old lady with a lined face and shrinking body but there was nothing amiss so I told her she looked just fine.

I pushed her into the ward where two old men, also in their nineties sat in wheelchairs by the window. She patted her hair, smoothed her top, and I saw the same thing in her eyes as I see in the eyes of a teenager who is trying to impress someone of the opposite sex. I looked at these three friends as they were half a century or more ago and observed the remnants of youthful beauty. I could not understand their mother tongue but watched them reminisce, interact and even flirt with each other just like men and women who were half their age.

Another lady sits in a wheelchair crippled by arthritis and missing a limb. She has beaten back her latest physical demon and is regaining her independence. Her costume jewelery is on a stand beside her bed and she selects a piece to wear each day with her carefully chosen outfit. She worries that the hair on the back of her head may be flattened by resting in bed and I fluff up the section she cannot reach. She is only in her 80's and appearances are still very important.

I remember a lecture given by a professor/ physician when I was a student. When he noticed a woman put on lipstick after surgery, he thought she was well on her way to recovery.

One of my stroke patients appeared in the common area with lipstick smeared unevenly on the affected side of her mouth. She did not notice the uneven application due to neglect and decreased sensation on her stroke side. One of our male staff members asked me to help her fix her face without embarrassing her. I remembered the words of the professor and saw my patient's attempt to enhance her appearance as a sign that she was getting better.

We all judge by appearance and know we are judged by others according to our looks. I would say this never changes. Some will philosophize and dismiss this attititude as superficial and wrong, but we will cannot alter our social human behaviour.

Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.
Samuel Butler


  1. How Beautiful! Age shouldn't matter a bit.

  2. Nicely captured. We are truly as "young as we feel". I turned 62 this year. And when I look in the mirror I see my grandpa the way I remember him. But I keep motoring along. Staying busy is the key.

  3. What a beautiful discovery you made. :)

    This realization, that age inevitably besets us, is really one that I have been contemplating as well. For me though, unlike the patients you have written about, the trouble is a bit different and yet the same. Different because I'm always striving to mature and grow (as opposed to reminiscing) - but the same in the sense that I always feel like I'm supposed maintain an appearance (including actions) that represents to other people who I am. But your quote from Byron is great: Think not I am what I appear.

    How grateful I am that we are much, much more than what people see us as. And God knows that. :)

  4. My daughter works in a seniors residence and claims that all sorts of m/f shenanigans go on. I think they're mostly younger than your lot though.

  5. I think this is so refreshing,to see someone who by our standards is old,yet still wanting to look good.I hope I can keep that attitude as I age,gracefully.

  6. Mexico Mom11:42 am GMT-4

    What a beautifully written post!
    Isure don't feel my age inside. I entered a room with many mirrors and the type of lights that show every defect. These lights should be banned. Grandma Devins will always be my inspiration. There is a poem - Let me be lovely growing old.- or something to that effect.
    We have several wonderful and inspiring friends that are almost ninety or over.

  7. When we get Mom a new outfit, she eagerly puts it on, then comes out and twirls around to show it off as though she were a kid.

    My sister, as sick as she is, will always put her "face" on and if she goes out will dress up. Somehow, looking better seems to make one feel better. Who wants to look at a sick, sallow old woman is her motto ... she is only 63 but her face is thin and drawn because of her illness.

    We were never allowed, as kids, to wander around in our night clothes. We got up and dressed, ready for the day ... Dad wouldn't allow otherwise. He said he didn't want slouches.

  8. Beautiful post. My mother-in-law (at age 86) spent hours every morning putting on her makeup and choosing her clothing. She dared not keep her "real" jewelry at the nursing facility, but she came to enjoy loads of costume jewelry. She had her ears pierced on her 80th birthday.

  9. Nicely written...Feeling the urge to flirt when I'm 100? I sure hope so! I am the same person inside now in my 50's as when I was in my teens...yes I look different, and am older, hopefully much wiser...but the essence of me is still here..and I suspect, should I be lucky to live long and well, will be here when I'm much older. And I too will want to look my best when meeting people.
    Good for you for fluffing her hair.


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