Collaborating Over Lipstick

I was asked to give a talk recently, in front of a large crowd of female entrepreneurs. The topic was ‘collaboration‘.

When I sat down to put my thoughts in order, I asked myself how collaboration fits into my day-to-day affairs, and *voila*, the first thing that popped into my head was maybe what pops into yours, too, and that’s the collaboration between doctors themselves.

But, although important, my reflexive collaborative example seemed, to me, a bit mundane, if not played out and just plain boring. Why don’t I spice things up a bit, I thought, and bring out a story to show how a collaboration works, when the patient is involved. Besides, the patient should fit into this collaboration and take the front and center role.

I set myself down at my writing desk (it’s quite simply a mess, but a good place to pull up a chair to) and thought about my earlier day’s work at the office, seeing patient after patient.

And then, lo and behold, one particular interaction stuck out. As I played the details over in my head, a smile crept up on my face and I felt that a-ha moment you get when you solve a puzzle, or find something you lost some time ago. I had found the story.

The Story.

The encounter stuck out to me because of one interesting detail – an innocent comment about my patient’s lipstick.

She sat in front of me, all 89 years of her, and she opened up about feeling down.

Her eyesight was going, thanks to a condition known as macular degeneration, and she had a hard time coping with that fact. As I got up to examine her and stood to her right, I noticed just how beautiful she was, from close-up. I noticed also that she had tended to her lips- painting them a bright red hue with care; albeit with some of the lipstick color drawn outside of the edge.

It was due to her worsening sight, I assumed.

I told her how beautiful she looked and how much I loved that she took care of herself. She valued a feminine touch, and it showed, despite grappling with the worsening sight.

She lit up and chuckled to herself. It seemed she was recalling something, thinking it through in her mind. Then again, she chuckled, more audibly this time. It was clear that she wanted to share.

Upon seeing a mutual interest from my end, she opened up to me on the source of her laughter, and subsequently agreed that I share it here, when I asked if it would be ok.

The Lipstick Mishap. 

The other day, she tole me, she had joined some of her neighbors in the elder care living where she resided. She had gotten through an entire breakfast and a suspenseful game of bingo, when another elderly woman approached her, pointing at her face.

“Margaret, you drew your eyebrows in with lipstick,” she told her.

Indeed, her eyes had tricked her, and she had mistaken her lipstick for the eyebrow pencil, resulting in bright red brows. 

She finished the story and burst out in laughter, and I joined along too.

The Making of a Collaboration.

What I loved about her story was the way in which she managed to turn an embarrassing situation into a comical one, and felt no hesitation with reliving it.

It loosened the air, put smiles on both of our faces, and allowed us to connect on a level that put us both at ease. She had opened up, and we had formed a collaboration.

A collaboration had been created that was the most important one in the delivery of good patient care- the doctor-patient collaboration.

That would be the one. That was the collaboration I would focus on in my talk.

Ultimately, the relationship that’s formed between patient and doctor is the absolute most important one. We make a team- the patient and I- and we move forward together in a unified collaboration – like a marriage, we hope to collaborate both in happiness and in health.

* edited to add: patient name and other identifying factors are fictitious in order to adhere to HIPPA.

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