The Iron Duke’s Courtesan

I saw the orthopedic surgeon on Tuesday hopefully for the second last time. After a twenty-minute wait in the confines of his consulting room with nothing to do and read during which time I analysed yet again my inability to wait for anything unless I can occupy myself doing something else, the surgeon stuck his head from around the door.
‘How are you he said?’
‘I’m good.’ No niceties. I could not give up my annoyance too readily. But there was no point in telling him off for keeping me waiting for so long. This is the way the man works. The people who come to see him, although allocated an appointment, must generally first go for an x-ray. The receptionist recommends we allow at least an hour for x-rays as in x-ray people are assisted on a first come first served basis. You can wait a long time in x-ray or you can be lucky and hardly wait at all.

I operate on a fairly tight time frame in my work and home life, except perhaps for social events and find it difficult to tolerate this procedure, but I can see that it works for the surgeon. With him too, you can be lucky and be seen almost immediately or be unlucky and wait as I did on Tuesday for what feels like far too long.

As is his custom the surgeon looked at the x-ray first.
‘You can take off the brace from now on.’
How could I maintain any anger with such good news?
‘Take it off now,’ he said, ‘and we’ll have a look.’ At last, a chance for the laying on of hands.
I peeled the brace off awkwardly and as I hobbled towards the surgeon’s high bench to climb up I talked about my attachment to my brace.
‘You can wean yourself off it, if need be. You can wear the brace when you go out for walks. And you’ll need physio.’
I hopped up onto the bench with the aid of a footstool and sat with my legs in front.
‘Stretch out your leg,’ the surgeon said. ‘There. ‘ He pulled on my ankle. ‘Stretch.’

I found it difficult to understand even his most basic instructions. I try every time to get it right but I cannot understand why when the surgeon says stretch, I am likely to bend my knee or turn to the left when he asks me turn to my right.

He put his fingers onto my hamstrings above the knee and pressed in, first on my good leg and then on the other.
‘Now you have a go,’ he said. I squeezed as he had done before me.
‘They feel the same to me.’
‘No way,’ he said. ‘This one’s not nearly as strong. Muscle wastage,’ he tapped on my knee. ‘The good one’s much stronger.’
‘I’m not good on bodies,’ I said, by way of apology. It seemed an odd thing to say, but how else could I explain my ignorance when it comes to things a surgeon or doctor would know instinctively. How the internals of a body feel, and whether or not things are in working order.

After I had replaced the brace and sat in the chair opposite his desk, the surgeon took up his favourite position against the windowed wall. He stood with hands behind his back, and asked to which doctor he might send a request for physiotherapy for me.
‘There must be heaps of physiotherapists to choose from in your part of the world.’

He asked then about how many hours I worked.
‘How can you spend all those hours listening to other people’s misery?’ he said. Bear in mind, this man’s wife is a psychiatrist.
‘It’s not all misery,’ I said.
I told him of my PhD in literature.
‘Oh that’s okay,’ he said. ‘That’s different. I have a cousin. She’s French. She’s written a biography of Casanova and a book about cleaning out her father’s house after he died. It’s a bad translation but it’s interesting. She learned a great deal about her father.’

I told the surgeon my thesis topic, ‘life writing and the desire for revenge’. His eyes lit up.
‘You’d have heard of the Iron Duke’s courtesan’.
No, I had not, I told him, daring once more to air my ignorance.

The surgeon then proceeded to tell me how all those monarchs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had their own favourite courtesans and there was one in particular, a woman of some calibre who eventually wrote a memoir about her life with various dignitaries, including the Duke of Wellington.
‘He’s the one who coined the term, “Publish and be damned”,’ the surgeon said. ‘The Duke said it when they told him about the memoir. He wasn’t going to be held to ransom.‘
‘He’s my hero,’ the surgeon went on. ‘The Duke of Wellington – what a man.’ He then listed the Duke’s achievements, none of which I took in, amazed as I was to be having this conversation about someone’s courtesan.
‘I want to see you in six weeks,’ the surgeon said finally. ‘In the meantime go to see a physio. Physios have compassion.’

I went home and took off the brace. No weaning necessary. I have not worn it since.

What shall I do with this brace? It stands like a strange and lonely skeleton against the wall in my spare room.

Make it into an art installation? Plant it in the garden? We cannot recycle it. The orthotics folk do not want it back, although I offered. We cannot re-use it for hygiene reasons. Besides it was individually tailored to suit my leg.

It has served me well.

I walk with a limp and must try hard to remind myself not to, whenever I revert to this old style of walking, as if I am still dragging a brace. I must remind myself that I can walk normally now, no need to limp. But my body has much unlearning to do. My body has been used to leaning these past several weeks once weight bearing and now I must learn to walk freely again.

Six to eight months the surgeon says before I can regain my old form, but already I can see that I have moved more into my usual state except for the tell tale limp, and a bit of swelling around my left ankle at the end of each day.

And as for the Iron Duke’s courtesan, I could not resist Googling her. Writing can be one way of assuaging a desire for revenge, but I suspect there was more involved here. See for yourself.

42 thoughts on “The Iron Duke’s Courtesan”

  1. Dear Elisabeth, glad to hear that you are doing well enough to part with the brace. And that you did it so swiftly.
    I enjoyed you recount of your orthopedic surgeon visit and will now visit that interesting link;)
    Have a lovely Sunday,

  2. After I had a stress fracture in my foot and could not walk or put weight on it for four months I found that I had suffered in addition to massive weakness that I had developed problematic balance on the affected side. Be careful while rehabbing, falling is a bad thing.

  3. Love this juxtaposition of 'topics' things happen in the most unlikely places don't they? I often think if we put these things into a novel, no-one would believe us. It is often the same with coincidence.
    Glad you are feeling strong on the leg front. Keep up the walking – hope you are soon able to walk without thinking about your injury – that is surely the first step to recovery.

  4. Congratulations on the removal and subsequent freedom from the brace, Elisabeth. Knowing you can move forward, learn to unlimp again, and even take that spin with Lorenzo on the Rumi dance floor, is a beautiful prospect.

    I do like so very much how you weave in the story bits and pull me through to the next line. That doctor sure is an interesting chap.

    I'm off to the courtesan …

  5. Strange, my daughter and I were talking about that only yesterday, not Harriet Wilson, but what she would do with my things after I died. My daughter is a hoarder and there was a time she would hang onto everything that might have the slightest emotional resonance right down to bus tickets. Although I never brought it up it was where my current book started out, with a daughter having to clear out her father’s flat during which time she learns how little she actually knew about him. Although my own daughter and I talk quite openly about everything there is simply no time to talk about everything and so there will be much she’ll come across after I’m gone that we’ve never got round to discussing. This is not the first time we’ve talked about this. The last time she said the first thing she would do is check out my computer. I think she would actually be a bit disappointed there; there's not that much hidden away in its drives that she’s not read in some form. Paul Auster wrote a memoir, Portrait of an Invisible Man, which opens with him clearing out his father’s house after he died. What he was struck by was the lack of, for want of a better word, evidence of his father’s existence; any old man could have lived there, there was very little that was uniquely him. I suppose that’s the problem with someone who’s not a materialist. I’m not but there are enough knickknacks and odds-and-sods lying around that even someone who never knew me would learn something about the kind of man who lived there.

    I’m pleased to hear you’re getting better though. Personally I’d toss the brace but that’s just me. My wife would hang onto it insisting that she’d think of something cool to do with it but probably never would.

  6. I wish my surgeon had talked to me about courtesans.
    I like he idea of courtesans much better than the idea of braces and physio and limping progression.

    Have you heard the one about stairs?

    The bad foot goes to hell, the good foot goes to heaven:
    good foot first up the stairs, bad foot first down the stairs. it helped to remember that.

  7. elisabeth – a bracing tale. nice to be able to let it go but then i think if it were my body i'd wear it for decreasing amounts of time. as much for my body as for my mind. it's intriguing meeting people who share something of themsleves – or the surface of themsleves – as they deal with physical or mental intimacies. steven

  8. Your old form and maybe beyond your old form: better!

    Do you know about the Indian goddess of revenge?

    All the best from Boston

    PS: A surgeon who chats! Patients may have to wait but he doesn't limit his visits to 10 minutes, right? How long were you with him?

  9. This man seems odd…when I was weaning myself from my splint for my wrist I was scared I would injure myself and was very protective of my arm. Then as the days went by and the stiffness reduced I wore it much less. I was most reluctant to give it up at night thinking would sleep wrong and it would hurt. Now…so nice to not wear it ever again! I have it in my closet…what to do with it, I thought the same thing! Recycle?

    I detest being left waiting…especially in the exam room. With my surgeon I waited maybe 5 minutes. Never wait at PT unless I am early. PT has been the cure for me…each day better and better…it will still be many more months till I can put full weight on it though. Hope you find a great office and therapist!

  10. Sorry to hear about that broken leg, Elisabeth, but I'm delighted that you are finally on the mend and almost back to normal. By the way, I'm delighted to meet another Australian. In June, I trekked coast-to-coast across England with eleven other people, including four Aussies. Great people, great company, great friends. Have a good week, and thanks for stopping by "Transit Notes."

  11. So pleased that you are now shed of the brace. Walk walk walk, and yes.. stretch.

    I so embrace the Iron Duke's position on criticism. Recently a member of our Home Owners Association embarked on a campaign to malign the HOA board, of which I was a member. Our attempts to silence him with legal action from our attorney only brought on an escalation of the abuse.

    Then we tried an new tactic… we ignored him. He then became more egregious in his attacks to the point where our ignoring his fanatical rhetoric made him look like the neighborhood Nut Case that he truly was.

    He garnered the attention of the local newspaper and got front page coverage. But.. all news becomes old, and in three days, everyone but him forgot about it. His rantings only served to heap more question on the guy's psychological condition. He eventually faded away in disgrace. And all we had to do was sit quietly on our hands.

    I hoe the Iron Duke would have approved.

  12. What to do with the brace? Make art with it, of course! I might break it into symbolic bits, just like your broken leg, then put it back together somehow.

    Please be careful walking. I know from experience that even after things feel perfectly alright there's more healing die to happen. I wouldn't want you to fall again. Bone reconstruction is not yet complete, and I bet your muscle tone on that side is uneven and needs work. (Like I said, experience speaks.)

    I love it when odd conversations happen in odd places. I had a long talk with a bookstore clerk last night about Hiroshige and Hokusai, the Edo-period woodcut artists in Japan. All from buying a book of poems.

  13. First of all hoera yippee Free in the end No brace anymore. That must be a relieve. Now slowly getting thse muscles to work again. Interesting conversation with the surgeon. I find most medical people very distant, except for one I knew.
    I also like the take and checked out the article and completely agree. A part of the people wants attention or they put their fear on somebody else by saying nasty things. Mostly says only something about the accuser and not about the accused. Hurts your ego but not worth chewing on it better spit it out and ignore it.
    You have a PHD in literature as well. You are a pretty clever.
    I never was very academic but I would have loved too. You go girl, you are doing well.

  14. Braceless now Zuzana, and loving it. I'm intrigued that people heard the conversation with my surgeon in such a positive light. I had my misguivings, but maybe that's too harsh of me.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

  15. I'm working hard not to fall, Laoch. I find, like you after your injury, that my balance has been affected. the other day I developed a blister on one side of my left foot after wearing shoes that I've worn many many times before.

    It is as if I wear my shoes differently now and they are rubbing on places on my left foot where they did not touch before.

    Thanks, Laoch.

  16. I still have to remind myself, Weaver, that my leg has healed mostly and that I need not limp anymore. It is easy to go back to old ways that developed over such a short period.

    The body's memory is as amazing as those conversations that can seemingly spring up out of nowhere.

    Thanks, Weaver.

  17. Off to the courtesan, Ruth, and what did you think? Feisty woman I imagine and good on her, living in those times, which of course we must not judge by today's standards, though it's tempting to do so.

    I think I could even manage a dance now, although in reality I am a mediocre dancer. In my imagination I am not.

    Thanks, Ruth.

  18. I haven't tossed the brace out yet, Jim. I can't bring myself to do so, in part because it cost so much money, a little under $1000.00, a great deal of money, and although it has served its purpose, to simply chuck it out because I'm done with it seems wasteful and yet…

    It is of no value to anyone else either. I try to tell myself that the brace is not so much an object as a service. You pay for a service and in the end you do not have an object but something complete in the abstract, if only in memory.

    Like your daughter, Jim. I'm a hoarder.
    I have an old tin trunk under my desk and it's full of memorabilia, from my adolescence mostly, including those old tram tickets, all the cards I was given at my 21st, and at our wedding, and many more bits besides. You'd be appalled. the letters probably say the most about the person I was. I've kept them too.

    Thanks, Jim.

  19. An Occupational Therapist friend told me recently about the good foot up to heaven and the bad one to hell, Friko.

    I applied it all the time when I first became weight bearing. Now I have to unlearn it. Now I must tell myself to put my worst foot first rather than the other way around simply so that I stop favouring the good over the bad.

    It's a tough task all this unlearning, and the surgeon's stories help. They amuse me, if only to share them on my blog.

    Thanks, Friko.

  20. It is strange Steven that someone as 'buttoned up' as the surgeon should reveal so much of himself however indirectly.

    That's what I find most fascinating. It applies to all of us.

    If we try to hide, even the fact of hiding reveals so much, not necessarily accurately.

    Even silence and absence communicate a certain presence. As you well know, Steven.

    You examine these discrepancies in nature so beautifully in your blog.


  21. Thanks, Ms Moon. I can tolerate a wait if there's something worthwhile at the end, and despite my reservations, I am grateful to this surgeon who has helped me through a broken leg in the end with a minimum of fuss, including the decision to avoid surgery.

    I appreciate his conservatism in this regard. I have a scar on my bone but at least my leg is not full of metal.

  22. So Ellen, you too see the surgeon as odd.

    Eccentric I'd say, but he means well. He's top of his field and around my age, so he comes with heaps of experience.

    I seem to be doing well without the brace despite my initial fears. I can't imagine putting it back on now. It's like an old skin I've shed. I'm so glad to see the last of it.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  23. Hi George from Transit Notes.

    I'm glad you have had the opportunity to enjoy the company of Australians.

    To generalise we are supposed to be an easy going group, but we are multinational and mottled.

    I enjoy my life here and I must say that most people I know value the lifestyle, too, as much as we might occasionally grizzle.

    It's good to see you here, George. Thanks.

  24. Three are times when silence is the best course of action, Robert.

    I agree with the Duke here, but equally I'm with Harriet, the courtesan.

    There are times when it serves one's purposes and the purposes of justice to make a loud noise about whatever might be considered an injustice or a valid complaint. Sometimes silence can be cowardice.

    It all depends on context I suppose.

    Thanks, Robert.

  25. Jim says chuck the brace out, Art and you say make art.

    I'm with you here, though I'm not artistic. One of my daughters is and I might yet hand the brace over to her if she'd like it. Her husband, a graphic designer asked me the other day for some of my x-rays. He says there are patterns in the bone when shown enlarged that are truly beautiful and he'd like to play around with them.

    Like you, Art, he sees beauty everywhere.

    I shall take care with my walking. So far so good. And yes, Art, like the discovery of beauty in all sorts of odd objects, we can also have great conversations with people when we least expect.


  26. I'm still working on my PhD, Marja, but hopefully I'll finish mid 2012. I'm working part time and I'm now in my seventh year. It's a work of love and joy and play with a lot of frustration rolled in.

    Thanks for your good wishes, Marja. It is a joy to be free of the brace, and even though I still occasionally limp, at least now I can wear trousers and stockings again.

  27. wonderful post Elisabeth.
    Is this the moment to mention that calcium goes from our blood to our bones via muscles moving against the bones? Moving your leg is the key.
    and get some sun = Vitamin D without which calcium cannot be absorbed completely.
    no charge for that.

    I did love –
    "she learned a lot about her father"
    No shit Sherlock. But the screaming thing about that, is all the subsequent QUESTIONS she must have then wanted the answers not available due to him having died.

    and yes, as he said
    "physios have compassion". frequently, people who have been saved by physiotherapists, are inspired to study and become one.

    Thanks for sharing your leg's journey with us

  28. Too long absent from your blog, it is good to know that you are free of the brace (well, at least for walking support, it seems to be hanging around) and further along the road to life as it once was.

    I enjoy a doctor who can speak of other matters. It helps take one's mind off of what may be scary parts of the visit and indicates he has a life elsewhere. Too odd a topic, however, may raise more questions.

    The tip about heaven/hell with the strong leg/weak leg was helpful for my stair climbing, though the weaker leg is not always what one needs to help push up the stairs. I will work on this.

    At least you have reached the next station on this long, strange trip (as the Grateful Dead would say), waiting to see what's next. My best.

  29. My leg's journey is almost over now, Helena, my broken leg that is. If i mention it too much my kids accuse me of seeking solace after the event. I don't blame me. The leg's still a bit fragile though daily it gets stronger.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the journey. Thanks, Helena.

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