Post

1974

First, some background is necessary to show why 1974 was a special year for me.
I was diagnosed with Perthes disease of the hip when I was 7 years old. That was 1971. I was placed in the children's ward of our local hospital for 8 weeks. My bed was raised at the foot end, with elastoplast tape running a large U from the top of my thighs, under my feet, and back up the inside of my legs. This was to hold in place the board, rope, pulleys and weights hanging off the end of the bed. Both legs were then bandaged over the tape. They got itchy, they crept down and rode up, and were a pain in the ***! Any time I hitched my self up or down in bed, the weights would also rise and fall - I felt like a crane. The whole idea was to keep the diseased joint out from the socket, so the bone could not wear away. These days they realise it makes no difference whatsoever, and don't bother with this treatment any more.
After 2 months I was transferred (by ambulance - Big Thrill!) to Margaret Reid Orthopaedic hospital in St. Ives, NSW. I was again placed in traction ( after I'd had a bath - ahh bliss!)  I was in a large open ward with other kids with the same condition, and others who had different bone complaints. I was the only girl with Perthes - not surprising as it predominantly affects boys around the age of 5.
Our beds were wheeled from the ward to a school room every morning. This room was massive, with beds lining 3 sides of the room. We had desks that pulled across our laps, and the teacher taught from a large blackboard on the 4 th wall. I learnt to tell the time while I was there.
I was lonely and missed my family terribly. Mum came to visit every day for an hour in the afternoon, and longer on the weekends. Some weekends my brothers and sister and Dad would come too. I had Christmas there, and received a really cool present.
18 months later I was removed from traction (given another bath!), and plastered from foot to thigh. My legs were placed apart in a large A shape, my knees turned in, then plaster applied. My legs were held apart by two metal bars, one above the knees and one across the ankles. In this way I could go home. Mum placed a mattress on the floor of the lounge room, and that's where I stayed. I had correspondence schooling.
When I was 9, in 1973, the plaster was substituted by fibreglass splints, in the same shape as the plaster. These however opened at the sides, and were closed with velcro strips. The beauty of them was they could be removed when I wasn't standing, and I could stand and walk with the aid of crutches! I must have looked weird, placing crutches then swinging between them! I did get some speed up though. I was now able to accompany Mum and my siblings on outings on the train and into the city. It was fantastic, but I still longed to have the normal freedom of just running and jumping, riding a bike, bushwalking. I think it was at this time that I really began to think seriously that I would always be in some kind of splint. Every time I asked Mum how long (in hospital, in plaster, in traction, in splints) I always received the same vague reply: "Not long". She didn't know either.
One hurtful moment was when I was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, and Dad was going to the shops. I asked if I could go too. They said yes, and I started sliding towards my splints. Dad turned to Mum and said : "Cant she go out without those things?" Mum said "No!" Dad humphed and fidgeted, and when we were out he walked ahead of me, and I realised he was ashamed to be seen with a daughter in splints. Poor Dad - he had some strange ideas about others' opinions. But at that age it hurt.
I recall fun times though. Like when Mum took all three of us, plus a friend each, to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. I looked on in envy as the others went on rides I couldn't go on, so when it came to the giant slide, Mum decided to take me down it. With my splints, and our combined weight, we FLEW down that slide, sailing over each of the bumps and gaining more altitude with each one. We finally sailed off the end and collected an attendant on our way, but man did that make my day!
Another disappointment was seeing my brother and sister board the train at Central for a trip to Cairns with a holiday programme. I felt extremely sorry for myself, and made life miserable for my poor, long suffering Mother. Any sour grapes have been long forgotten with the realisation of how much they had had to miss out on growing up because of the demands my condition made on our parents.
Having a child with a disability affects the whole family.
And so, we get to 1974.
A routine visit to my orthopaedic specialist. He and Mum talked, while I zoned out. Mum got me to show him how, with the splints removed, I would shuffle along on my bum, heels and hands. Then I zoned out again. Next thing I knew the specialist stood, held out his hands to me and pulled me to my feet.
Whoa! After 3 years I was back on two legs with nothing but skin around them. I stood there self-consciously; obediently walked around the room, then out the door and to the car. I had suddenly 'grown' a couple of inches too! Amazing! I felt very strange and also dizzy, but unbelievably excited too.
I must have looked hilarious - after having my legs held apart for so long, I now walked as though wearing a full nappy! But I didn't know, and I didn't care. When we got home I ran inside, yelling for all to hear. I ran upstairs, I ran downstairs and around the kitchen table. I went outside and rode a bike. What a high I was on!
And it didn't fade for a long, long time. You have to lose something then have it returned to truly appreciate the beauty of it. To be able to walk to the bus stop for school. To look like normal kids, not the one who stands out. To be able to walk outside unencumbered. To be able to go to the toilet without difficulty. To not have to ask for help from everyone, but to do it for myself.
Now I was unfettered and active, I began to lose the excess weight I'd piled on during my years of inactivity.
The other memorable thing about 1974 was just being 10 years old. It was a wonderful age to be - that of an older child, not yet pre-teen- given unlimited freedom to roam outdoors in those days of comparative social safety. I explored the bush, built cubby houses, played football and cricket with the kids on our street; and I RAN. I wasn't that fast, and have never been athletic, but I was incredibly active.
Our family had problems, but at that age I was still largely unaware of the mechanisms of adult relarionships. I was just a kid. Outside as much as possible, away from dawn to dusk having fun and playing all through a long hot summer. Creating wonderful memories for myself.
So there you have it! Thanks for tagging me Perserverer.
nellkellicus nellkellicus 46-50, F 5 Responses Aug 28, 2011

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Thanks for such a poignant post. It reminded me of my older sister's treatment for polio. It sounds like you had a real champion in your mother! <br />
Having a child with a medical problem can have an impact on the family - it did with mine, but it can also demonstrate why families are so important - when they pull together to support.<br />
Imagining myself in your father's place made me wonder if his reaction was one of frustration that he couldn't do anything to protect you from your condition, as much as fearing others' reactions to the crutches. I would have been proud that my daughter wanted to accompany me to the shops.

Thanks for your comments Prof. Unfortunately Dad definately did not feel frustrated at his inability to protect me from my condition, but he did have his good side.

Thanks for such a poignant post. It reminded me of my older sister's treatment for polio. It sounds like you had a real champion in your mother! <br />
Having a child with a medical problem can have an impact on the family - it did with mine, but it can also demonstrate why families are so important - when they pull together to support.<br />
Imagining myself in your father's place made me wonder if his reaction was one of frustration that he couldn't do anything to protect you from your condition, as much as fearing others' reactions to the crutches. I would have been proud that my daughter wanted to accompany me to the shops.

I know nothing about the disease that you suffered from. But the names and desc<x>riptions of places around Sydney are some rare on this EP site.... I live about 5km from St Ives....

Thanks sis, you're the best:) . Yes I remember Peter the gardener. And the wardsman, he was a hero on the ward with the kids. Remember Charlie climbed the light poles outside the ward to get the tinsel off them?

Nell, you're a star, my biggest hero! Through all those long years of this futile treatment you were as sweet as pie, the most determined funster. Please don't ever feel that we missed out on anything because of your illness. We didn't. We loved the trips to the hospital, especially as it was fun playing with all the kids on the ward, not to mention the gardner, Peter Cairn. Remember him? He found a metal block in the garden with the Our Father engraved on it. And we loved taking it in turns to sleep out on the sofa to keep you company. Remember the night we had an earthquake and everything shook out there?<br />
<br />
I still have a photo of you in splints at the Royal Easter Show, autographed by an Indian chief. That ride you had with Mum down the giant slide was one of the funniest things I have ever seen!<br />
<br />
Wonderful story, capturing the exhilaration of something most of us just take for granted.