What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so they say. My stay in a children’s orthopaedic hospital certainly proved to be very character forming.
It was in 1959, very soon after sitting my Eleven Plus exam, that I was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary for ‘investigations’. I had been diagnosed with Stills Disease, a form of rheumatoid arthritis that affects both children and also adults, as a baby. I had been getting progressively unwell and struggling with very stiff and painful knee joints every morning, and after school. They told me I would be in hospital for a few days. They lied! After taking some kind of sample from my right knee whilst I was under a full anaesthetic in Leeds General Infirmary for a few days, they then dispatched me to the Marguerite Hepton Orthopaedic Hospital for children where I was to be an inmate for almost a whole year. When I was finally discharged I was able to join my friends at Roundhay High School in the September as we all began the second year.
I recently found that this blog exists, which has contributions from various people who were patients and staff at the hospital from the opening in 1910 to its closure in 1985. The most recent contribution on the blog at the time of my writing is by Susan Lee who was a patient there twice in the 50s and I too recall singing the same song.
Seeing this brought back a few more long forgotten memories as during my time on the girls ward a couple of years later we too used to sing this same song. Many of the things mentioned in other people’s posts also were familiar to me, despite the fact that many recount experiences from an earlier decade!
I remember feeling quite betrayed when they took me off to Thorpe Arch, but I don’t remember arriving there and settling in. It must have been quite horrible though. We were only allowed visitors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. I was probably more fortunate than many since my parents had a car and could visit more easily than those who had to travel by bus. But my dad worked at M&S and so I doubt they came Saturdays. I was under the care of Mr Clarke and I remember groups of suited men descending and making rounds of their patients once a week. I had my right leg up in traction by then and was well and truly tethered to my bed. The doctors used to put their hands on my knees to feel for inflammatory heat. This continued for several months until one day they decided that the right knee had improved, and it was released from traction, but that same day they strung up the other leg! I was almost suicidal for a while.