It has been said the clothes make the man. And of course we all know better. How frivolous, how old-fashioned, how superficial.
But when I brought a new T-shirt in to show Vernon today, (thanks Trevor) he couldn’t wait to get into it. He raised his eyebrows in silent approval at the design and reached out for it. Then he started to tug on the snaps of his hospital gown as if he was trying to undress himself. He had been tugging at the front of the gown for weeks, but it was hard to tell if he found the fabric uncomfortable or if he was just agitated in general. I wasn’t sure if Vernon could even wear a T-shirt yet, what with all the tubes and IVs connected to his body.
But we gave it a go. In all my experience with a post-accident Vernon, I’ve never seen him so willing to help us do anything as he was when we were putting on that tee. Not only did he try to tear the gown off his shoulders, he bent his head low to get through the collar, and lifted his strong left hand for the sleeve before we even gave directions.
In his new shirt, he seemed a little more confident when he was placed in his chair and he received a few compliments from the staff as he was wheeled to the gym. I suppose just getting out of the hospital gown gave him a slightly better sense of identity, as if to say: “I’m different. I’m not just one of these patients. I’m not here to stay.”
“Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”
I’m actually quite glad to know that Vernon doesn’t recognize himself as an old man in scrubs. That has got to be a good sign of his mental awareness. Even in the above picture, he looks more like the man we know and love.
Vernon was a self-employed designer, he’s never needed to dress up much, he is most comfortable in tee-shirts and corduroys or jeans. But where I get a thrill over finding two for $20 tees at H&M, Vernon takes a lot more care into choosing his basics. They have to feel right, have to be cut right. Lets just say he spends a lot more money on a single clothing item than I do, even though most people wouldn’t know it. He has never been showy, but personal style is important to him. His is a subtle, understated classiness. He must have felt terrible wearing that hospital gown, seeing all the other patients wearing the same standard-issue cloth.
And it isn’t frivolous. A little bit of self-respect, personal choice can make a huge difference to a rehabilitation patient, trying to make sense of everything in his new surroundings. Perhaps its the beginning of recognizing the person in the mirror he wants to get back to.
“Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.”
– Charles Hix