The Perfect Lady


Two or three days ago my sorry ass was dragged back into a room in St. Joseph’s Hospital, suffering from back pain, depression and uncontrolled diabetes.  I was suffering from those things; what the room was suffering from was a Lady from Dewitt.  Dewitt is a Syracuse suburb where there are two cars in every garage and no sidewalks.  Another Lady from Dewitt stated that there were no sidewalks “because we like our privacy.”  The Lady’s message was “stay out of my business.”

So I’m in the bed by the door and the Lady is in the bed by the window.  When I was in this room six weeks ago, I was in the Window bed.  This matters to me a lot because I live and breathe by the sky.  At home, my bed faces the window.  I watch the sun rise, the clouds cover, and the trees change color.  This time, I got no window.  In fact, I haven’t even got a glimmer of the sky because my roommate has the curtains fully closed.

When I arrive, she’s got visitors, later determined to be a daughter and granddaughter.  They move me from the stretcher to the bed, which involves a lot of screaming from the back pain, which the Lady has to listen to.  I feel sorry for her.  Listening to a human being who has lost all personhood and been reduced to animal status is very disturbing.

Decades ago, I learned about the voice of pain.  I was working as a temporary admitting clerk in the Emergency Room and two patients were admitted.  One was a middle-aged man who’d been hurt in a car crash.  The other was a sorority sister from the university.  The man was laid on a gurney in the hallway; the sister was ensconced in a treatment room in the back.  The sister yelled and screamed her pain, and cursed the doctors and nurses who were trying to treat her. 

Turns out she had PID, pelvic inflammatory disease:  “Most cases of PID are due to the bacteria that cause chlamydia and gonorrhea. These are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most common way a woman develops PID is by having unprotected sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted infection.”  So she was screaming from something that was her own stupid fault.

The car-crash guy, on the other hand, didn’t scream—he just laid there and moaned.  From this I deduced one the Laws of Life:  When you are really in pain then you can’t make words.  If you can still make words then, babe, your pain level is low enough that you can shut up and not inflict it on those around you. 

Well, my little trip through back injury and pain this week has taught me a new level of pain:  animal pain.  That’s when the pain is so severe that you lose all human control and just whimper and gasp like the animal that you are.  Most of my pain is of the moaning sort but when they try to move me then it hits animal gasping.   The nurses have to come in every few hours to turn me over.

My roommate’s response is to completely ignore me.  She doesn’t introduce herself.  She doesn’t offer words of comfort.  She doesn’t acknowledge that I’m in a good bit of pain.  When I ask the nurse if the Lady would be comfortable having the curtain between us open so that I can see out the window, the Lady tells the nurse, “Oh, just to here would be fine”—“just to here” being barely distinguishable from “closed.”

Okay, so I lay in bed in virtual darkness for two days, alternately screaming, crying and enjoying morphine-induced naps while the Lady has multiple visitors, frequent phone chats, and watches television till after midnight.  Trust me, my morphine level was not high enough to block the pain of the presidential political debates.

There is absolutely nothing to be gained by keeping the curtains closed:  sound travels.  As she must hear me, so I listen to her.  She is a Perfect Lady.  She always says please and thank you, politely inquires about everybody’s health and is oh, so nice.  All the staff love her.  What is wrong with me, I wonder, that I am a cussin’, moanin’ bitch and she is oh, so nice?

The Lady is flawless in her discourse, except . . . except.  She didn’t like the noise and commotion of the grandchildren so she stopped sharing Christmas with them.  And she is stoically accepting the fact that she can’t eat for the next six months.  Say what?  Really, she has some weird gastro thing and instead of surgery she’s going to have feedings from a bagful of liquid that she has plugged into a vein.

So here is this Perfect Lady, whom I see only when she passes the foot of my bed on the way to the bathroom, and she’s not speaking to me.  I thought she was about eighty but it turns out she’s only sixty-ish, and she’s decided that the way to deal with me is to ignore me.  That’s Dewitt, ladies and gentlemen:  shut out anything that you don’t like, even if it’s human and in pain.

Well, yesterday evening they gave me two shots of morphine and three shots of insulin, then I slept ten hours.  Woke up feeling sweet and hopeful.  Turned on my music at 6:00 a.m.  . . . boy the Perfect Lady so didn’t like that and, somehow, even though I very helpfully pointed it out, she didn’t see any resemblance between her television late at night and my music early in the morning.

And when I didn’t follow her orders to turn it off, she got really, really angry at me.  The Perfect Lady bawled me out like she was some kind of cussin’, moanin’ bitch.  So then I put Crefo Dollar, the black preacher, on television.  He shouted at her about “being in the blood!” and I’m guessing she didn’t like that one bit, but what could she do?  A Perfect Lady can’t object to the word of the Lord, now can she?

I’ve always found it useful to accept reality, my own and others.  You’ve got to swallow life, and you’ve got to swallow it whole.  Otherwise you end up not being able to swallow anything for six months.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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4 Responses to The Perfect Lady

  1. Rachel Porferer says:

    It seems you are angry at the world, I would never profess to judge anyone from where they live or how they act under the stressful situation of being hospitalized, yourself included. It seems you have different rules for her than for yourself. I read one of your previous blogs about you being in a room with someone you knew from your past and how you chose to ignore her though she reached out for contact with you. Your writing skills are excellent I must say, I enjoy reading your discourses, but the judgmental tone and quality of some of them is apparent. Judging all women from Dewitt to be like this one is rather slanted and harsh it seems to me. I just wonder about the snap decision that suburban women are all like this one. I do thank you for your writings, they help me keep a perspective of the world that helps me to continue with my own philanthropic activities. May you be relieved of the pain you are experiencing that has caused this current hospitalization, as well as the emotional tumult that has ensued for yourself. Gods blessings upon you.

    Rachel Porferer

    • annecwoodlen says:

      I do not judge anyone “from where they live.” Rather, I judge where they live based on how they behave. A lot of arrogant, hypocritical women live in Dewitt. I chose to ignore the other woman who “reached out for contact” only after I made repeated efforts to get her to tone it down and respect my privacy. I was not angry at the world; I had a glucose over 350 and I do believe I was not judging. I was reporting behavior. I tell you what happened and then you make the judgment. My glucose is now down below 190 and life is much better, thank you.

  2. Kel says:

    Quite amusing, as are all of your posts… Too true abt when you are really in pain you cannot talk-at all! I don’t know if everyone in DeWitt is a snob but I have known a few that are; but I am sure there must be some nice people there; for whatever they own!

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