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November 4, 1983

The Shakespearean Lady

JAMA. 1983;250(17):2295. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340170029022

My resident asked me to care for a Shakespearean actress who had had a pelvic exenteration for vaginal cancer. In her room I found Mrs Phelps sitting up in bed, a bony lady with short straight hair, deep-set eyes, and regal posture. I introduced myself and asked how she was feeling.

"Not very well, thank you," she replied with a pronounced British accent. When I asked if I could take a look at her abdomen, she closed her eyes and said it was fine, as long as she didn't have to look at it. True, it wasn't a pleasant sight. The bandages were soaked with clear, draining fluid that oozed from an open, infected wound. A urine-collection bag was attached to the skin near her umbilicus, and the area around it was red and tender.

Each time I came in to look at her incision, she would close her eyes