A Splendid Cover-Up
by Frank L. Iber, MD
I was a fortunate fourth year medical student in 1952 in being assigned for my senior six-week Internal Medicine experience to a brilliant woman doctor totally committed to the welfare of our assigned new hospital admissions. Our leader was a big-boned, tall woman with boundless energy and enthusiasm. She was responsible for four students, yet made a habit of being with each of us from beginning until our initial evaluation was complete with every patient, 24/7.
At all hours, she was neatly dressed, hair combed and very well put together including makeup. All four of us had the highest respect for our leader who was there if we needed her, but was unobtrusive in allowing us to perform largely independently. Over the many hours of working with her, I observed that her heavy makeup concealed some sort of deeply pigmented birthmark on her face, but never mentioned this to anyone. After this, her final year of training, she joined the permanent faculty of our department.
Some four years later, when I returned from my Army service and was then completing my training, our team was assigned the care of a 19-year-old woman who was rescued from a fire with major burns on her face and neck. Before the burns, she was very pretty and proud of her beauty. The plastic surgery team participated in her care, and she healed with almost no scarring but total loss of hair on one eyebrow. She asked to be followed in my clinic because she believed I would help her as her burns healed.
After two months, garish red blotches remained on one side of her face and neck. These blotches were impossible to overlook. Plastic surgery readily restored her eyebrow with punch biopsies from her scalp, but there was nothing they could do for the disfiguring redness. This did not change after six months, and my patient was becoming withdrawn and depressed and reluctant to appear in public due to her disfigurement.
I recalled the excellent job my earlier teacher had achieved in covering her birthmark, and I wondered if she might be willing to help this young lady. I approached my doctor colleague privately and with some trepidation, for I had never let her know that I knew of her concealing makeup. I told her concisely of my unfortunate burn victim and her now deep depression over the red blotches. I then asked if she would be willing to see my patient and guide her with covering cosmetics. She smiled at me and said, “Of course.”
After some thought and planning, she met my patient and me on the next visit in a private room borrowed from the nursing staff near my clinic. After introductions in this private area, displaying her well made-up face, she wiped all makeup off her face, revealing a massive and highly discolored red/brown birthmark that occupied most of one side of her face. She told my patient that she had had this since birth but was helped at age 7 or 8 with makeup lessons to successfully hide it. She then proceeded to apply her regular makeup, and in under ten minutes, her defect disappeared. She then applied her skill and her tubes of makeup to our patient. To the young lady’s amazement and delight, her red splotches completely disappeared. They worked in front of a large mirror so the patient could see just what was done. My colleague then gave the patient reasonable amounts of the two different products that she had used and advised the patient where to buy them at the lowest cost.
Over the next three months, my doctor friend held two further training sessions on cosmetic use. With the successful cover-up, the patient’s depression disappeared, and she emerged from her cocoon of despair, a renewed lovely woman. I was forever grateful to my associate for this priceless and selfless gift to this bright young woman, turning her life around.
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“Abstract young lady portrait in a wide brimmed hat,” www.123rf.com
“Sketch of girl covering one eye,” www.themighty.com
“Girls makeup vanity illustration – makeup brushes in a pot,” www.pinterest.com
This essay first appeared in The Broadmead Journal of Poetry and Prose, Cockeysville, MD: BRA Writers Group, Spring 2018, pp. 26-27.
Dr. Iber is a retired gastroenterologist, a specialist in diseases of the liver. He has written widely and taught extensively. He maintains many active interests in addition to his profession, including the travels of Lewis & Clark. He loves dogs, woods walks, and flowers. “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” He is a riveting storyteller. He and his wife live in suburban Baltimore MD.