Daily Archives: August 21, 2011

Chop Off Her Head er Leg

“Now, I give you fair warning, either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time! Take your choice!”
from ‘Alice in Wonderland’

When I read Monica’s Tangled Web blog today I was taken back 62 years to a similarly, frightening experience.

On Saturday morning I woke with a sore knee. It felt hot but mother put a cold compress on it and told me all would be well.  The next morning I awoke and could hardly put my foot to the ground.  The knee was red and swollen.  Mother decided then that it needed attention.

We had no car so I had to hobble with her to catch a bus to the hospital some half hour ride away.  She obviously deemed it far too serious for the doctor’s office.

I don’t remember much of the ensuing hours while they tried to find out what was wrong with me.  I told them how I had fallen in the school playground earlier in the week and the staff had bathed and bandaged the knee.  The doctors determined that they hadn’t got all the asphalt chips out and so started poking around looking for the chips that they were convinced must still be in the leg.  I don’t remember, but hope that they gave me a local anesthetic prior to the digging.

Some time later and after much discussion among the doctors and then with my mother, it was decided that I had osteomyelitis an infection in the bone.  At the time there was no cure and my mother reluctantly, I hope, agreed that the leg could be amputated to prevent other bones being infected.

Can you imagine the terror  this 11-year-old girl felt when she was told by her mother that this is what was to happen, and fairly soon.  Fortunately, the surgeon came into the ward and told mother about a new, untried drug that was being tested.  Would she give permission for this drug to be used on her daughter.  She agreed and there began a six-week course of Streptomycin every three hours.

So my leg was put into a cast to keep it from moving and the cast was attached to a hoist.  As I have grown I have never worked out why it had to be attached to the hoist, but anyway..

So every 3 hours, night and day my poor little skinny backside was injected with this drug.

It was a scary and lonely time for me.  I was in a room on my own, maybe because they thought the infection was contagious (although that could not have been the reason) or the most likely reason was that they had to disturb me every 3 hours and wouldn’t want to wake any other patients during the night.

Mother, father and my sisters came to visit each day but at that time, visiting hours were very regulated and the staff really didn’t give much thought to a scared young girl laying there alone after the family had left.

I have no clear memory of any of the nurses – hey we are talking 60 plus years ago – but I am sure they all took care of me in ways they knew how.

But I do remember the night that the doctor came into the room.  Mother and the rest of the family had gone for the night.  In a kindly tone he asked if I would like him to release the hoist for the night.  Up until that time, the hoist was released only for short periods, bathing, lavatory trips etc.  I was overjoyed.  And then he told me that the plaster could come off the next day and they would then determine how well or if the treatment had worked.  So  although I was delighted that the hoist was released I was left alone with more scary thoughts.  I am sure that I spent most of that night in trepidation wondering what they would discover when they removed the cast.

I was in a fever the next morning.  Each time I heard footsteps coming towards my room I thought they were coming for me.  But they waited until mother could be there before removing the cast.  I remember looking at her and feeling that she was worried about the outcome too.

They removed the cast and apart from the look of  this sorry, wasted right leg, they pronounced all was well.  The Streptomycin had cured the bug infection and I could go home later that day.  Of course, I had a series of exercises to strengthen the leg and they had to be done several times a day.  I couldn’t go back to school until I had recovered some strength in the leg.  And so I spent some of the only days alone with my mother.  Always the other girls were there needing attention but here I was the only person she had to attend to in the hours in which the girls were at school.  I really enjoyed that time and look back on it with gratitude.

I had to take care not to knock the leg for a while, but I quickly forgot about it in the days when I went back to school and then there was the excitement of going to the grammar school and moving house.  Osteomyelitis, the possibility of losing a leg, six weeks in hospital were all forgotten as these things should be when one is only 11 years old.

I will always be grateful to that surgeon who offered the alternative to losing a leg.  I have not thought of him for many, many years and I never knew his name.  Obviously I thanked him when I left hospital but in later years, I could have made the time to find out his name and thank him properly.

And I have not often thought of it in the intervening years, with one exception.  My husband was seriously ill in hospital and I met a young couple with a child of about 11.  They had just been told that she had osteomyelitis and though they now had drugs with which to treat the infection, there was still a lot of dread connected with this disease.  I was happy to be able to assure them that the disease could be cured and told them own experience.  I like to think that I helped them in some small way.