Be Human Nurse, a memoir

About clothing.

AD was a spry, ninety-something. She had a terminal illness and agreed to hospice because she did not want to be troubled to go the doctor or the hospital any longer. Her primary care doctor wrote the referral. She lived in a white colonial home with black shutters and a black door. Very traditional. The hedges, grass, and trees were perfectly maintained. “Just the way I like it,” she would tell anyone who asked (or didn’t ask for that matter). She had opinions on everything and shared them with reckless abandon. “I’m too old to bother caring what anyone thinks,” she would tell me frequently. Sometimes followed by commentary on my appearance that day, “black is not your color, please don’t wear it again dear.”

AD’s house was maintained to perfection on the inside as well. Every carpet aligned and squared up with the walls. Every book lined up, alphabetized, and sorted by genre, some even by color. Pictures were hung with precisely. Plates, bowls, and flatware were stacked and centered on shelves. When I washed my hands prior to doing my exam, AD would wait for me to finish, then straighten the paper towel roll, regardless of how carefully I tore one off or lined it up. She was not apologetic about any of it. She would tell anyone who listened she was “particular.”

The first time I met AD she answered the door in a perfectly tailored black suit with a white blouse and black pumps. She wore pearls on her neck and wrists, gold balls in her ears, and bright red lipstick. Her black patent leather heels clicked on the tiles as she walked me through the house to the back patio. We discussed goals of care, I did her exam, and we agreed on our next visit. She told me I was “satisfactory and could visit again.” Then she showed me how to get into her house from the side door. She asked me not to come to the front or to expect her to answer again. Odd, but alright.

Over the next months, prior to her passing, AD and I talked about anything she felt like discussing on a given day. Politics, tea, cakes, WWI, WWII, the great depression, Hawaii, Havana, her former husbands, the president, the circus, wildfires, wildflowers, and so it went. She was fascinating.

There is one additional thing I will always remember about this woman and it had to do with her clothes. Or her complete lack thereof. After that first day, when she opened the door of her immaculate house in her perfectly tailored outfit, I never again saw AD in clothes. Ever again. She much preferred being nude.

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