She was silver-haired and weepy-eyed, with bluish gray bags under he lower-eyelids. Her grandson sat staring at his ipad. He looked like an Irish bartender–with a red beard and a toothy smile. He was patient and spent over five-hours at her bedside, with nowhere specific to go.
She spoke perfect english with a slight european accent, but the more I listened the more familiar it sounded. Taking her full history, I asked extra questions as an excuse to listen to the pleasant sing-song voice. She stressed and drew out her ‘S’ sounds with a soothing tone that reminded me of the Kaa, the crafty, sly snake from Ruyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Satisfied that I had her work-up sorted out in my mind, I finally asked her where she was from.
“Nuremburg,” she said, swallowing the “em” syllable and turning the city into two syllables instead of three.
“Ich kann auch Deutsch,” I carefullly replied.
“Ser gut!” she said, smiling.
I dared not go any further with my German…it’s been 25 years now since I lived in Keil, but at one point I was fluent in High German.
I glanced at her birthday on my patient sticker sheet, and realized she was a “tween” during World War II. Nuremburg was at the center of Allied bombing raids between 1943-1945. During the age when my step-daughter is just getting acne, wondering if boys are creepy or a little bit cool and running for student council, my patient was hiding from Allied bombs with over 90% of her city destroyed in just 1 hour during one of those raids.
Her parents moved a total of 3 times during the war because their house kept getting destroyed. It’s a true miracle that she survived and that she was here in my ER, with her Irish themed grandson and a red-headed granddaughter as well.
I admitted her without fully knowing what was causing her pain, and hoping it was not a life-threatening spinal infection. I would have loved to spend a few hours getting to know her better and understand what her life was like…when did she finally escape the war and did she ever enjoy the freedom of running for school council instead of running for her life? And how do you treat acne during a war?