What I Learned From a Patient Yesterday and a Tree Today

As an addendum to my post: Why Make Art? A New Answer Arises, Stitch by Stitch, I want to let you in on what the crocheted tree made me think about.

First though, I need to start with a really cute three year-old. She came to see me yesterday with her mom and big brother. He was actually the patient, in for an earache or rash or… something. But when I opened the exam room door his sister completely stole the show. She had big blond bouncy ringlets, gorgeous blue eyes and a great smile. She was very proud of herself, and for good reason! She had chosen absolutely the most stunning (blindingly?) outfit I have seen in a month. It was a great sundress with polkadots and flowers in one color palette and twisty hair ribbons in another. The shoes, obviously, were pink. Her ensemble made me smile and it made us both happy.

What we wear has power. We’ve discussed this concept often in my house. Several years ago we had a good friend whose teenage son chose to dress in goth (or emo) attire. Black everything, lots of piercings, unusual hair. My kids found him scary-looking.

I encouraged them to be open-minded and non-judgemental. After all, how you dress is nowhere near as important as how you act, right? If he avoided drugs and alcohol (check), if his grades were good (check), if he treated the people around him with respect (check) then, what did it matter what he wore?

But we decided around the dinner table that how we dress does matter. It can either open or close doors. Dressing in a way that closes figurative doors does not seem wise for a kid headed to college or to the workforce. An obvious point, or perhaps a bit of parental brainwashing on my part.

Another point came to mind today. How we dress also affects the feelings and mood of those around us. Dr. Brain Vartabedian makes this point in part, in his blog post Doctors with Purple Hair:

The argument is always the same: ‘I can be a good doctor with purple hair.’ Of course you can.  But this isn’t about you. …A career built on the privileged relationships shared with patients requires consideration of what will make them most comfortable.

In my closet today I surveyed the muted array of clothing colors with a certain sense of boredom. No happy polka dots and clashing ribbons for me. Sure, I could dress to make the parents of my young patients trust me. But where was the happy-inducing outfit? I stood there wondering why adults can’t dress more like three-year old children. Why couldn’t we dress like crocheted trees, decked out in cheerful stripes from head to toe? And in doing so make everyone around us a bit better off. Think of all the happiness that would follow us around through the day!

And, if I dressed as a tree at least my patients would approve. Maybe I need to go shopping. ©

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