It’s two weeks today since the operation. The District Nurse came today to change the dressing, and remove half the stitches. One of the aspects of Ehlers Danloss is that it results in thin, stretchy skin that’s easy to tear, and slower to heal. The surgeon decided to do everything he could to make the wound secure so it wouldn’t tear open. He used the usual dissolving stitches, then on top of that a row of nylon stitches, then glue, then sticky tapes on that, followed by the dressing. So the Nurse needed to peel off all that before removing half the stitches (3 out of 7), and will come back next week to remove the remaining 4. She says the wound’s healing very well, and it certainly feels less bulky and easier to sit on now it’s just a few stitches! I did think I’d take a peak at it, but couldn’t quite manage it in the end.
Over the past few days, I’ve been feeling much more energy, and my mind is getting clearer. This is all good, and pushing me on to do more every day. The other side of this is an increasing impatience – my usual state of being. Each day’s improvements are very small, and I haven’t been out of the house yet, and am feeling stir crazy and wanting to just be well again, and able to fend for myself, and go out when I want. This has made me think about the word ‘patient’, and what it means to be ‘A Good Patient’. Yes, you need patience! Time moves differently in a state of healing, days drag on with the same routine, and little sense of achievement. I’m used to getting things done. Now, I just have to be patient.
This sense of patience reminded me about some of the books I’d read as a girl, where patience is a virtue, and all good girls are expected to be patient, which equated with modesty, quietness, tidiness, and qualities that were painted to us as necessary to be ‘a good woman’. Reading ‘What Katy Did’ (Susan Coolidge, 1872) and ‘Little Women’ (Louisa May Alcott, 1888), what I actually related to was the wild, tomboy, untidiness of Katy (pre-accident) and Jo (pre-carer). This is how I was! Untidy, careless, losing and breaking things, and very unladylike. This was in complete contrast to my mother, and remained a cause of conflict between us throughout her life. I really wasn’t the daughter she expected to have, and despite wanting me to be the quiet, obedient and docile child (she definitely related to Meg rather than Jo in ‘Little Woman’), I just wouldn’t be that. What got to me in the books was what happened to Katy in particular through her accident and recovery process. In both stories, women are tamed through suffering into morality, being the kind of women that (patriarchal) society demands they should be. Though I rejoiced when Katy was able to walk again, I also mourned for what she had lost in what she became. She was just, well, a little boring in her virtue in comparison to the girl she’d been. And although Jo still held on to much of her character, she was praised for being more sober, mature, and softer due to her looking after Beth. And of course Beth is the embodiment of ‘A Good Patient’, suffering in silence, doing good for others, and being everyone’s favourite.
The last two weeks have definitely made be – forced me – into being more patient than usual. But I’m not sure that it has transformed me into being that way forever. No matter how well I can walk or move in the future, the inner me will still be impatient and careless – it’s forged too deep for me to conform to my mother’s hopes now. When she was dying last year, I sat by her bedside when she was asleep, and said many things to her, quietly, that I needed to speak, but at that stage, she didn’t need to hear. The phrase I kept saying was: ‘It’s sad you never really knew me’. Perhaps it was her strict upbringing in India that made her try to impose this on me, to be the good girl sitting quietly in the corner, but this also meant I was a constant disappointment to her. Thinking about those books I read, and Hans Andersen’s version of fairy tales that relentlessly have women being disfigured and dying as an act of redemption for their transgression of society’s rules, made me write the poem below. I still like Katy, but wish she’d believed her younger self to be as much of a role model as she saw Cousin Helen to be. Women are more than pure goodness – the ‘dark side’ is also who we are, and who we need to be, no matter how much we’re told to be patient and good girls.
What Katy Did and Didn’t (and Oughtn’t)
A fall from a swing
Leads to smoothly brushed hair.
Pain develops love,
Suffering creates patience,
Lying flat shapes morality.
How does a girl learn
To be a good woman?
An asset to society?
To care for her family?
To be educated, upstanding, responsible?
Ah, but where is the tomboy?
The wild, rebellious spirit
That runs amok,
Makes up games,
Hates to tidy up.
If pain and disability maketh the woman,
And this is the lesson to learn,
Then sobriety and patience are valued above
Independence and speaking out,
Tying shoelaces neatly is more important
Than freedom and play.
I loved reading that book as a child,
But even then felt sorrow for the loss of
Katy’s Katy-ness after the fall.
Why do women need bodily suffering
To cure their soul?
The mermaid’s bleeding legs,
The chopped off feet wearing the red shoes.
Redemption comes through pain and loss
To overcome the woman who transgresses.
The fairy tales and books for girls tell me to transform,
To be purged into purity,
To be good, patient, kind,
To sit quietly and suffer in silence –
It’s good for the soul.
It’s good for everyone.
Be good. Be quiet. Sacrifice.
Living in pain, moving so slowly, relying on others,
I smile and am patient,
Dress nicely, brush my hair.
But I’m yearning to run,
Needing to shout and play,
To be as untidy as I like,
To kill the dragon of ‘Thou Shalt’,
Desperate to forget the labels and scars
And feel human again.
A woman again.
The sea witch and evil step-mother are still
Part of who I am.
And I’m glad of it.