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.


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37 responses to “Chop Off Her Head er Leg

  1. That sounds terrifying. Great you were able to share your experience with the younger couple as I am sure that was very encouraging for them. I love how you tell a story Judith!

  2. What a wonderful story. Just a century ago, people would die stepping in a rusty nail. Measles, chicken pox and mumps killed half the childhood population too. We are so lucky to live in our time with these medical miracles. I remain astonished surviving open heart surgery in 2006.

  3. Wow, that’s an incredible story! You dodged a bullet, thanks to that doctor and his medicine. Plus, nowadays he probably would not have been able to give it to a patient, just like that, without FDA approval. Thanks for sharing!

    • I hadn’t thought about it for such a long time that is until I read your blog.
      Aren’t we lucky to survive some of these things that happen to us.
      Love your blog and reading about your journey. And thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. Yes, such an incredible story ~ Grateful for that doctor ~ Medical Profession is still lagging ~ thanks for sharing your story ~ Hope all is well with you.
    namaste, Carol ( A Creative Harbor and Share the Creative Journey)

  5. Wonderful outcome. Thanks, Judith!

    • I can’t imagine little children being left on their own to deal with such a thing today, thankfully. When my 11 year old grandson was in hospital we were allowed in at all times of the day. Thanks for the comment. :

  6. Pingback: La~La~Land and ENOUGH! « Spirit Lights The Way

  7. Oh gosh, what a nightmare it must’ve been for you. As someone who spent too much of her childhood in hospital, I can understand some of what you would have been feeling. Thank heavens you were around when Streptomycin was available.

    • Fortunately this was one of only two times I was in hospital. The other was during a scarlet fever outbreak. But I do wish I had gone back when I was older to thank that surgeon. Oh regrets..
      Thanks for the comment. Hope you are back to your usual self. 🙂

  8. What an amazing story. It makes me sad to think of children alone in hospitals. It’s nice to know that in addition to new treatments and medication there are new ‘visiting’ hours in place.

    • Yes the hours laying there just wondering what was going to happen were the worst. Imagine a frightened 11 year old being left alone. Of course, it wouldn’t happen today when we are so much more aware of children’s feelings. Thanks for the comment:

  9. jacquelincangro

    An amazing story, Judith! Times sure have changed in medicine and patient care. It’s lovely that something good came out of a terrible situation.
    How wonderful that you were able to “pay it forward” and give hope to those other parents.

    • Now of course, streptomycin has been superseded by some other great drug. But I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. 🙂

  10. What an amazing story and, YES, you helped the couple with their 11 year old daughter… Judith, you should write your memoir as you have such wonderful stories that tie in well with events that were typical of certain periods in our lives… Go for it! 🙂

  11. I started to write my Memories book for my grandchildren and that led into running courses on the subject. Not a life story per se but a series of memories as they surfaced. And then I found blogging and that has taken over from writing my memories.
    Thanks for the comment and the suggestion. I now have plenty more memories written in these blogs and today I may just transfer them into my Memories book.

  12. Sounds horrifying, I’m glad to hear you made it through and it’s good that you can offer advice and comfort to others who may be going through the same thing today.

    • Very scary for such a young child to be left to deal with on her own. Remember that 11 year olds were still very much children then, not like now when they appear to be so worldly. 🙂

  13. Judith, your memories are so vivid and poignant…my mother had polio as a girl and spent several months in an iron lung. I cannot imagine. So glad the doctor (and the drug) were what you needed, when you needed it.

    • Thanks for the comment. My elder sister had olio and spent several months in an iron lung also. She wore calipers on her legs for quite some time.
      My poor mother must have been beside herself when it appeared that she would have another daughter with major health problems.

  14. We’ve come such a long way with medical technology. Back then, it must have been just as scary to be trying out a new drug. Who knows what it could have done to you! But everything worked out and you lived a long healthy life!
    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  15. I guess I was lucky in that the drug had the desired effect. Thanks for the comment. BTW I am trying your amaretto slushies tonight. 🙂

  16. Great story Judith, glad to hear everything worked out well for you. We live in a world of miracles, but there is so much more to be discovered. Great post !!

    • Thanks Penny. It was such a big thing in all our lives for a while and then just quietly faded into the background fabric of our lives. Just as it should.:)

  17. Christine in Los Angeles

    Our Motherr was a very strong woman – I guess all Mothers are, when the need arises. As you mentioned, only seven years before I had polio (and Rheumatic fever at the same time) and fortunately someone mentioned the work done by the Australian Nursing Sister who proposed massage and hot.cold water treatments, rather than putting my legs into splints, to straighten them/ Fortunately, our Mother was open to ideas that seemed viable, and eventually I lre-earned the process of walking. But then, she had Marianne in hospital, for an extended stay, then your problem — and where did the iceskate-in-the-head come in this timeline?
    Love you much.
    God bless, Christine

  18. Oh that ice skating episode was later and do you know I had completely forgotten it until you brought it up. The subject of another post maybe?
    Are all mothers as strong as ours was do you think? And have you wondered why we were beset with these health problems:
    Luve you too sister. 🙂

  19. What an amazing story! I’m glad the alternative treatment worked because losing a leg would be so traumatic.

    I couldn’t imagine having to leave my child alone in a hospital – especially for six weeks. Luckily they have lightened up, though. (Last year, my younger son was in the hospital for several days for treatment of meningitis. One of us was there around the clock.)

    I’m sure your story did help the couple who faced the same circumstances…

    • Yes when grandsons have been in hospital for a few days for various ailments, we were allowed in to see them at any time up until about 10pm. And their mothers were allowed to stay overnight. So different from when I was 11.
      I hope your son has completely recovered. 🙂

  20. Well-told story of a frightening event. We’ve come such a long way in the field of medicine, haven’t we? But we still have such a long way to go. Yes, I’m sure telling your story to that couple gave them comfort. How wonderful that you were in the right place at the right time.

    • And looking back on the actual event I wonder how I really coped with the thought of losing a leg. Later we put these awful things out of our minds, but I picture that little girl laying in the dark thinking, thinking…
      Thanks for the comment

  21. So glad to read this story had a happy ending for you. Hospital visitation has come a long way from what it used to be. Thanks for sharing your story with us, and the young couple who must have felt much trepidation.

  22. In the world of medicine, I must say “we’ve come a long way, baby!” I can only imagine the fright you went through as a child during this ordeal.

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