Elspeth shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other; a serving tray clutched close to her chest. Fidgety, she waited for the action to begin. But action wasn’t the norm, on Jasmine.
A shock of reddish-brown hair fell heavily around Elspeth’s face, partially shrouding the delicate features. And freckles - she had large freckles surfacing through the mask of concealer cream, rapidly being dispersed by perspiration: ‘The kid’s nervous,’ I remarked to my colleague. ‘They shouldn’t allocate young learners to a ward like this.’
‘The kid’s a patient Sue.’ She said. ‘She was admitted last week, to Cedarwood.’
‘Cedarwood.’ The acute admission and assessment unit for a mix ‘n’ match of mental health problems; alcohol and drug related psychosis, failed suicide attempts. The list was endless. But Elspeth surely didn’t slot into such a debilitating category: ‘She’s a child.’ I repeated.
‘She’s seventeen.’ Sue replied. ‘She’s here to be occupied, stock trolleys, help serve meals and such.’ I watched Elspeth fiddle in her pockets, glance repeatedly at her watch, then the kitchen clock.
‘Fancy a coffee Elspeth?’ I asked later. ‘Ok.’ She said tentatively. ‘But I prefer water.’ I laughed. ‘So you’ve sampled hospital coffee.’ We headed for the staff room. ‘You’re young to be on Cedarwood.’ I said, offering one of my home-made scones. She shook her head. ‘Go on, have one. They’re not the rubbery hospital issue.’ She politely declined.
‘I have to be back by two.’ She told me. ‘The dietician’s coming to see me.’ She slipped off the oversized smock. I gasped at the sight of the child-like torso. ‘Thank you.’ She murmured before scurrying away.
I didn’t see Elspeth for a while. Apparently she’d contracted a virus that had taken its toll on her body. One hot afternoon I was walking an elderly patient in the grounds. We stopped to rest by Cedarwood conservatory.
‘But Elspeth, we love you too much not to care.’ The accent was familiar. I peeped over my shoulder. Two women, big auburn hair swept back to reveal high cheek bones, perfectly shaped brows - and freckles. They had to be mom and sister.
‘You’ve put me in here.’ Raged Elspeth. ‘You’ve done this to me.’ She thrust an accusing finger toward the IV feed that deposited total nutrients, methodically, drip by drip into the emaciated body. Big sister choked back tears. Mom buried face in hands and sobbed unashamedly.
A surly looking man strode into the room: ‘Elspeth - you are a beautiful woman, like your mother and sister.’ His tone became sharp, commanding. ‘Stop this idiotic blame game now. Accept the body God gave you.’
Elspeth’s cheeks burned with fury and indignation: ‘God hates me. God made me fat. She’s not fat.’ She glared and pointed at her sister. The man sighed, steering shy of yet another irrational argument.
End of shift I felt compelled to see Elspeth. I didn’t anticipate a welcome but I had to visit. The afternoon’s explosion of repressed emotion had flattened her. She was subdued and unresponsive.
‘Elspeth,’ I began hesitantly. ‘It’s not my business, but could I ask - do you want to die?’ I took hold of her hand. ‘You see, I know the answer to these jumbled thoughts of yours. You believe you’re huge and ugly. That’s not the truth. It’s a lie. You feel that you’re worthless, an even bigger lie.’ She lifted her head and looked at me in a cold, detached way. ‘I’ve a very special friend I’d like you to meet.’
I called by daily to chat about my friend. Through medical intervention and close supervision, Elspeth became stronger. The week-end arrived when unsupervised, she would spend time at home with family. All parties were delighted.
Elspeth didn’t return to hospital. She was reported missing and found in a squat two weeks later. She died having contracted a flu virus, exacerbated by a weakened immune system.
Thankfully, my friend had become hers too and she understood that He didn’t make mistakes. She was living in the body, designed exclusively for her, by Him. The tormenting misperceptions that she’d held for so long were slowly unravelling and giving way to wholesome, healthy thoughts.
We can’t know why God called Elspeth home so soon, but as she accepted the Truth and rejected the lie, so must we. ‘For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’*
*Romans 8:28 NIV
Fiction based upon factual memories 1974
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