I knew that other children had different things wrong with them and my diary is chock full of everyone’s medical notes. ‘Going to Leeds’, X-rays at Seacroft, ‘pots’ and ‘walking pots’ coming on and off, calipers, traction, Balkan beams (for suspending limbs high above the bed), physio, operations, splints and crutches. There are lots of wistful comments in my diaries such as, ‘Susie is going home on Wednesday’, and ‘I might be coming off my frame in three weeks’.
Time passed, marked by regular celebrations like Christmas, Bonfire Night and a succession of birthday parties which Dad said the parents were expected to organise and provide for. And every July there was the Summer Garden Party in the grounds with stalls, Punch & Judy and one year, a fancy dress competition. I had a lemon net butterfly outfit - a top with wire & plastic wings and antennae headress - made for me by what must have been a bemused dressmaker in Armley (“Has got to go on from the front, waist up only and wings not to be crushed by frame”).
Eventually, I think in March 1964, I came off my frame and some calipers were made for me. This is where the bad memories start. The calipers, exactly as described by Fred, were horrible things and the leather rings upon which all my weight rested, rubbed up painful blisters despite a ton of talcum powder. Also, I spectacularly failed to walk in them despite having physio and trying to walk between bars. You were supposed to fling each caliper forward in turn, the bits of useless jelly that were your legs hanging down inside them, all the while attempting to maintain your balance. I remember being made to feel that I should have just been able to hop out of bed and walk and that I was failing because of my own idleness or lack of application. By leaving day I still couldn’t walk and Sister Lodge had to carry me out to my uncle’s car.
My parents had moved house (to a ground floor flat) since I’d been admitted, and once home, I just dragged myself around the floor or got lifted around by Mum. I immediately started at Potternewton Mansion School (along with quite a few ex-MHH patients), travelling by taxi, and at some point I abandoned the calipers and learned to walk with a mini-Zimmer frame. I was at Potternewton for a whole academic year before moving to my local primary school.
I’d been told by Mr Clark to, “Go and be normal”, but I felt I never quite achieved this. I had a shorter left leg, a slight limp, restricted movement in my hip joints and little strength or stamina for school sports or long walks. Despite my treatment, my femoral heads were mushroom shaped instead of spherical, and I developed osteoarthritis at 25 (imagine what Dad said) and had hip replacements at 42. (I loved Jane’s comments about learning to walk for the third time! I never thought of it like that before.) The replacements have mostly been great. My gait is shocking and I use a stick but I’ve done a hell of a lot of walking with my husband over the last 10 years and that’s been fantastic.
Personality-wise, I don’t know how such a long hospital stay at such a young age could not affect you. After MHH, I always wanted to go on school trips etc, but once I got there I suffered terrible homesickness and was deeply miserable. Now, I like my own company and have mainly solitary interests - art & crafts, reading and writing (thanks for everything, Mrs Cooper) - and I don’t feel that I mix well with groups of strangers, being hopeless at small talk. I’m also a complete homebody - my home is my refuge from the world and whenever I leave it I’m always secretly wanting to come home.
Oh, and I became a medical ‘ghoul’ of sorts - a State Registered Chiropodist - and spent 20 years trying to relieve my patients of their pain.