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Martinsville, Indiana 46151
Rhoda Gradwyn, is the character who is identified in the title of P. D. James’ great novel, The Private Patient. Rhoda is an investigative reporter for a prominent London newspaper. Rhoda’s striking beauty is spoiled by a long, thick, deep scar down the side of her left cheek. Encouraged by her mother, Rhoda decides to make her first appointment with Dr. George Chandler-Powell, the best plastic surgeon in the United Kingdom, to have the scar removed. Here we listen in on part of their conversation as the good doctor finishes his examination:
Without speaking he came up to her, turning the desk lamp so that its bright beam shown full on her face. His fingers were cool as they touched the skin on each cheek, pinching into folds. . . . There was a moment in which, not touching the scar, he scrutinized it in silence. Then he turned off the light and sat again behind the desk.
His eyes on the file before him, he said, “How long ago was this done?”
She was struck by the phrasing of the question. “Thirty-four years ago.”
“How did it happen?”
She said, “Is that a necessary question?”
“No, not unless it was self-inflicted.”
“No, it wasn’t self-inflicted.”
“And you have waited thirty-four years to do something about it. Why now, Miss Gradwyn?”
There was a pause; then she said, “Because I no longer have need of it.”
He didn’t reply, but the hand making notes in the file was for a few seconds stilled.
Looking up from his papers, he said, “What are you expecting from this operation, Miss Gradwyn?”
“I should like the scar to disappear, but I realize that’s impossible. I suppose what I’m hoping for is a thin line, not this wide sunken crevice.”
We find out earlier in the novel, that Rhoda’s facial fission came from a broken bottle that her abusive father wielded, slashing her with it in a fit of rage. Now after thirty-four years she felt the scar had served its purpose. The scars we carry may not be as obvious as Rhoda’s, but we all have them. Some are deep and life-defining. Others heal with the passing of time and the work of God’s grace. Some can be modified or even transformed through behavioral or spiritual intervention. Others remain as a reminder—a legacy (positive or negative) for future generations. Still others lose their scarring power simply because we find we “no longer have need of it.”
It is now pretty common knowledge that some 70% of the ailments that people present with in our hospitals have their origins in or are exacerbated by stresses of all kinds: grief and loss, over-work or under-rest, the pressure to succeed, the weariness that comes from living in a perpetual state of chaos. No surgeon is about to make scars like this disappear. Not even the great Dr. Chandler-Powell could do that. But perhaps we all have a role in helping, through our deliberate care and compassion, to shrink the scars that people carry—one interaction at a time—from a crevice to “a thin line.”
So, what happened to dear Miss Gradwyn? Well, she didn’t manage too well. She was murdered at the clinic a few chapters later. Oh, I forgot to tell you, The Private Patient is a murder mystery. Anyway . . .