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Neat, clean and dead

31 October 2013

An old joke has it that Mexicans don’t make good hippies, because their moms won’t let them out of the house in wrinkled jeans.  Despite adopting a more “relaxed fit” to sartorial standards in recent years, proper Mexicans still have the attitude that one should be not only neat and clean, but unsullied by wrinkles… a matter of respect and the preservation of dignidad…  a value that transcends not just the introduction of wrinkle-free fabrics… but mortality.

Since at least 1947, patients and staff at Mexico City hospitals, notably Hospital Juárez, have spoken of a mysterious night nurse, who sometimes simply sits with patients who have been isolated or are in private rooms… occasionally assuring anxiety ridden patients that they will recover… , and sometimes simply walking the halls of less visited wards.  While she doesn’t seem to provide any particular nursing function, dispensing drugs or physically assisting patients, at times she has been a  life-saver… like the report she pressed a call button for a patient in distress, before simply vanishing.  What all patients, and the hospital staffers who have seen the night visitor all agree on is that her uniform is out-of-date, but is immaculately pressed, without a wrinkle to be seen… something only Mexicans would notice when describing a person… and something only a Mexican ghost would consider important when out haunting.

The ghost is that of a young nurse of the 1930s named Eulia.  At the time, a nursing career was considered more a “calling” than a job, and for the beautiful young Eulia, a vocation.  As with nuns, her special planchadaclothing marked her as one with a special role in society, with an utter devotion to a higher calling.  Alas, like some nuns, Eulia’s devotion to her calling left her ill-prepared to deal with the more carnal instincts of man in the singular, rather than mankind in the plural.  She’d fallen in love with a young doctor, but, with her well-known dedication to her calling, wanted to avoid any gossip about her affair, and … in an attempt to be the perfect nurse… made something of a fetish out of always appearing on duty in a perfectly turned out uniform.

Ghosts are usually tragic figures.  Eulia’s doctor was, as you’d expect, a cad.  Claiming he was going to a medical conference for two weeks, he left for Monterrey.  Eulia pined for her swain, the pressure to maintain her own impossibly high standards beginning to crack when two weeks stretched to three… and three to four.  She had a breakdown when another nurse… in complete innocence… mused about the intern and his new life in Monterrey… with his new wife.

Eulia … depending on the story, either fell into a lingering illness and died in Hospital Juárez… or hanged herself in the corridor (after, of course, making sure her uniform was in perfect condition).  But… dedicated a nurse as she was, though unlucky in love, she still serves. And still keeps her uniform in tip-top condition…

… and making her the neatest ghost in Mexico — La Planchada:  the Ironed Woman.




One Comment leave one →
  1. 1 November 2013 12:33 pm

    That’s my favorite post of yours. It’s charming, and even explains some of the reactions I’ve had here–for when I don’t leave the house, I prefer to wear old, crumpled clothes, which are NOT ironed.

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