First, a note on this series. When FosterAbba encouraged me to turn A Child From Holland into a blog series I had no idea where I would continue to find material. As it turns out, everywhere.
I also want to acknowledge that this series does have a particular slant, focusing as it does on the differences in citizenship between Holland and Italy. This is only one piece of my own story, let alone the stories of other children from my country. It`s just this is what is coming to the forefront to be blogged about.
Border Strip Search
Occasionally I browse Hopeful Parents, searching for further answers to my continuing citizenship dilemma. My own mother has never talked about her feelings about my experience, so the parents who blog there amaze me with their words...actually, now that I think about it, my mother`s difficulty with expressing how it was to raise a child from Holland may have had something to do with why I found many of my beloved "Blogger Folks." But that's another post entirely.
Julia Roberts's Bodies of their Own was the inspiration behind this installment of "A Child From Holland." I, too, was a child who was often required to disrobe for medical professionals. My earliest physiotherapy sessions were conducted in a diaper only, doctors examinations were semi-annual at least, and these were doctors who, unlike my family doctor who would only look at the throat that hurt or the ear that ached, wanted to see all of me.
I don't remember having a problem with it, or with having an army of people change my clothes. My mother changed me, my grandmother changed me, occasionally even my grandfather changed me before I went to school. He even usually did so with a cheerful exclamation of "Let's skin the bunny!" (Perhaps that's a Newfoundlandism.) When I *did* go to school there were paraprofessionals who took over the job of putting on my coat, taking off my winter boots, changing them for my braces and shoes, even changing me when I had accidents. It was a set of the same four parapros, usually, but there were occasionally substitutes, and I don't recall refusing to change- or even thinking of refusing to change- for any of them.
I had been taught, of course, that my "bathing suit area" was private, and that any touch that made me feel uncomfortable was a bad touch. I had been read all the right books, like The Secret of the Silver Horse and Tom Doesn't Visit Us Anymore. But somehow I knew that medical things were different, that medical touches were to be borne even if they were uncomfortable, that the stitches had to come out or the catheter had to go in, or the stretch had to be held until the count of ten, and I could scream and make it difficult or I could giggle helplessly and it would be over faster.
I didn't realize that some people- people with that magical Italian citizenship- could say no to their doctors- until one day I saw my specialist on the other side of the border.
It was the summer I was eleven, and I had had major surgery on my femurs and hamstrings and hip flexors. I was being very closely followed, every week or so, I think, and I was in a day treatment program. One particular week there wasn't space for me to be seen in Cerebral Palsy clinic, so I was seen in a general Orthopedic Clinic alongside Italian children who had had the bad luck to break bones in the summertime. I was alone, under direction to return to the Recreation Therapy room when I was finished, but the girl on the other side of the curtain was Italian, so she had her mother with her. I still remember that she had surgery for her knee, and she was refusing to take off her jeans so Dr. James could look at where the healing surgical sites were.
I remember thinking that jeans were never supposed to be worn to an orthopedic appointment and feeling a bit superior in that knowledge.
Her mother asked her a second time to take her jeans off, and the girl on the other side of the curtain still refused, Dr. James asked very nicely and explained that he needed to make sure everything looked okay and she still refused. Surely now, thought my little, medically-conditioned brain, someone would *make* her take the pants off, say that they were very sorry but some things had to be done, but it didn't happen. The next thing I knew, Dr. James was outside the curtain, in the little tunnel between her curtain and mine, taking notes on his little handheld tape recorder,
"Patient ambulating well, but due to intense modesty I was unable to fully examine her."
I know now that that girl's medical appointment was private, but at the time I didn't know much about medical confidentiality. We all had our therapy in a big gym and it was common for older kids to encourage younger kids or for peers to cheer each other on or pressure each other into compliance, so when Dr. James came around my curtain, I demanded,
"How come she didn't have to take her pants off! If I wouldn't take my pants off you'd laugh at me and get someone in here to do it!"
Bless Dr. James, he sat down on the examining table with me and admitted that he probably would laugh if I refused to take my pants off and that he probably would call someone in to do it, but he knew I wouldn't refuse to take my pants off because I was working so hard to get better. Eleven year old Rolladyke was satisfied with this answer.
Now, at twenty five, I still don't know what the real answer is for parents on either side of the border, let alone children. We need to teach children, regardless of nationality, to respect and own their bodies, but we also need to instill that it's important to be honest and open with the professionals that help them, and that part of that honesty means taking off clothes when appropriate and showing the right body parts, like teeth to the dentist and eyes to the eye doctor. But what I will probably never forget is the difference between that girl from Italy and me.