“How to Share a Hospital Room With an Angry Lesbian…and Live”


Many years ago back in Chicago, I had to be hospitalized for a brief period for some physical malady and was given a particularly unforgettable roomie. Her name was Liz and she was a hot mess, bedecked with numerous body piercings and venom spewing epitaphs in the form of some in-your-face tattoos. She was quite sullen and immediately shared with me that she can become violent at times and was prone to inappropriate outbursts. I thought “Is that all ya got, chickie? That sounds like any given evening at my childhood home in Lyons, IL!”.

I was reading this quote by Rose Kennedy and for some strange reason, thought of Liz. Liz was a big old bull dyke with the typical angry lesbian haircut. And she had a real tough time in her life, poor darlin’. Her first impression of me (once she sobered up, for she had arrived drunk and high on heroin) was that she was sharing a room with Ivana Trump. Yes, admittedly I had a stockpile of beauty products and also had impressively accessorized the hospital gown and IV pole (doesn’t every former Junior Miss?), but as I was a practical sort of gal, I forewent a towering heel in lieu of a “kitten” height slipper for fear of slippage in my weakened state. No big surprise there, but to be compared to Ivana Trump? That really hurt! “The Donald’s” then wife was known to wear her eyebrows no less than two shades too dark in relation to her coloring…a faux pax inexcusable with all her dough, in my humble opinion. Obviously, Ivana had never learned “The Art of the Frame”…Anyway…back to Liz…

But Lesbo Liz (which was not an affront to her…it was the pet name I gave her after she kept calling me Ivana) and I worked through our differing opinions on styling and she discovered that I was more “wacked out” stone cold sober than she had ever been on “horse”. And she had some major issues. Besides her obvious drug problems, she had just been diagnosed HIV positive and had been sexually abused by her daddy. She came from “money” and had led a privileged life…all the best of everything. And “La Liz” was very sad and tragic and indeed, larger than life in her depression and mania.

One cherished memory of our time together was her stubborn refusal to give a urine specimen.–anything to give grief to the nurses there and be contrary to conforming. I love a good challenge though and when the nurse again reminded her to “produce” or be catheterized, well, although I would have enjoyed the cage fight that would have ensued had the medical team even TRIED to contain this little sister of Sappo, I figured it was time to intervene.

So, as Lizzie reluctantly disappeared behind the bathroom door–cursing loudly and I might say, impressively, I sprang into action and did a perky “urine” cheer (“gimme a U….”), complete with regimented arm motions of which any Village Person would be proud to have executed (no gay pun meant there). My stint as a Morton West Cheerleader (Gooooo…Falcons!!!) prepared me for these epic moments in my life. Let’s just say that my efforts were met with compliance by Liz and our little “golden” mission was accomplished.

Liz also revealed that she acquired HIV from sharing needles with her lover…and that her lover had taken her life a few months before. And she cried on my shoulder about this. Now this was in the late ’80’s and AIDS was an epidemic that was sadly misunderstood and it’s victims were much maligned and discriminated against. I knew first hand about the treatment of infected individuals as my children’s Grandfather (my then husband’s father) was also dealing with the ravages of this devastating disease (he acquired it from a  transfusion before the blood supply was tested for this virus–he, like so many others, eventually succumbed to his illness).

It also bears mentioning that an “Aids” house had opened in my neighborhood and had been picketed against by some small-minded and stupid members of the community. This perplexed and angered me…what threat did this presence present to our little pocket in Chicago? If they had cancer or Alzheimer’s they would be welcomed and supported and donations made. This really pissed me off.

I had made it a point to be properly educated about HIV once it struck in my family and knew how it was acquired and spread. So I called on the Aids House and made these fine folks some home-made Chicken Soup (all good Croatian girls are fabulous cooks!). Might have seemed a rather stereotypical offering at the time, but my efforts were met with appreciation and warmth…and there were hugs for/by everyone and yes, a few tears. I left there feeling quite verklempt…and made a mental note to make an addition to my Christmas cookie drop off list that year.

I was devastated when cowardly neighbors began to throw rocks through the windows and threatening notes were left on the porch of the house, and soon, the place was vacated by its residents virtually overnight. It was all so unfair…weren’t these people already facing an uncertain future as they battled what was then a death sentence? Where was their soft place to land? My heart broke and someone said to me “Well, you can’t save the world, ya know”. I remember thinking how flippant that statement was and dismissive and if everyone thought that way, shit, nothing positive would ever be accomplished, for why bother?

So my beefy bodyguard LIz and I sat up late at night and talked about everything…both important stuff and insignificant silly things. I remember her saying “You’re pretty f’ing cool for an insane girly girl, Ivana…and you do a mean cheer too”. She told me she had always hated cheerleaders for they were shallow and represented everything she abhorred in this world, but that I had changed her view…just this once (and swore me to secrecy). I assured her that I had long ago retired my pom pon’s and that I was also playing in a rock band at bars on weekends while simultaneously cheering my happy ass off at Morton West (Berwyn, IL, Class of ’76). She felt better about that and not so ashamed to know me.

And I guess that Liz changed my point of view too on Lesbians. I had known many gay men in my dealings with theater productions (and received many viable beauty tips that I implement to this very day)…but I was lacking in my life experience file on lesbians. So I guess I passed some sort of “Lesbo” test when, as I was checking out of our luxury accommodations–it was with fingernails that I had painted “Windsor Rose” that Liz removed the nose piercing she was sporting and offered to pierce my nasal cavity with it. I was positively “misty” in this gesture, but secretly threw up in my mouth a little at the very thought. Hell, I hadn’t even pierced my ears for fear of needles–even after two Cesarean sections…you would think I would “buck” up and bite the bullet? And don’t think I hadn’t given ear piercing serious consideration (but that notion was quickly dismissed after inventory of the fabulous clip-on earrings in my jewelry armoire). No matter how tempting the proposition to pierce was, I politely declined this strange ritual of sisterhood.

And back to Rose Kennedy’s quote. I have a few additional comments to add to Rosie’s word of wisdom. When time creates wounds, don’t pick at them or the scar will never heal. And to hide those scars, a good cream-based make up with a non-smudge formulation will work in a jiffy…

And it was when Lizzie complained to me about the unsightly track marks on her arms that I did not miss a beat and recommended liberal applications of cocoa butter…and oh yeah, Les Liz…how ’bout NOT SLAMMING HEROIN ANYMORE? How ’bout tryin’ THAT fix? Jeeze, already!

My work was done here…next.


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