When I was nine years old (like way back in 1966) I had osteomyelitis in my left ankle. This is a severe bone infection which causes pain, swelling and fever. I just woke up one morning and found myself limping. Fortunately, my father was a doctor and he got a surgeon friend to diagnose me and within days I was operated on. Normally, the treatment for osteo involves antibiotics, and we did those, except cleaning out dead bone tissue is also usually necessary.
As I was only a child at the time, there was some fear that my left leg would stop growing and I would now be an adult with an under-sized leg. This didn’t happen, mainly because Dad’s friend got to it in time, for which I am eternally grateful.
It wasn’t a pleasant time for me. I was in hospital for what seemed like forever, then at home in bed with a cast on my leg for more months. I missed most of that year of school. My teacher supplied me with work so I could keep up. But it was a lonely and painful time. I became intolerant of people, I quickly grew tired and bored when friends came around to play – after all, I wasn’t in any position to run around the backyard with them. My family was great and caring and loving, but I still remember that time vividly. I still also have a scar on my left ankle that is very sensitive. It is directly over a nerve that still occasionally tingles and if I bump that area the pain is excruciating and debilitating for a while.
One night in hospital the nurse refused to give me pain medication (morphine) even though I was in desperate pain, and despite the doctor having ordered the nurses to give me medication as I requested it. She said I just had a broken leg. I have nothing against nurses: quite the contrary, they are an amazing (and under-paid) branch of the medical profession. But this nurse didn’t do me any favours. The doctor found out the next day and made sure I had as much medication as I needed.
Not everyone appreciated my condition. When I did finally go back to school I was on crutches for a while. My teacher was under orders from the principal to ensure that I wasn’t jostled or bumped trying to go up or down the stairs when class was let out. He didn’t. Mum arrived one day to see me trying to limp down the stairs with other kids crowding around me. I remember one day the principal (who had the delightful name of Mr Death – true story) carried me down the stairs himself.
Other kids could be unthinking, too. I was bullied, hassled, laughed at because I was weak and on crutches for most of that year. Not everyone can understand these things, especially at nine years of age.
Still, I got over it all – physically, at least. I still feel some of the mental anguish of that time. It wasn’t easy being the bookish kid in the class in the first place, but to be the bookish kid on crutches with a box under the desk to put my foot on and having the principal carry me down the stairs was asking for trouble. I didn’t stay at that school much longer and went to another one where I could make a fresh start and no one knew about what had happened to me.
So if you know a person who has been ill for a long time, give them a hug and ask them what you can do to help. My family was great, but not everyone is as fortunate as I was. Try to see things from their point of view. The world is just that much harder when you are fighting just to be normal.
If you yourself have a long-term illness, I empathise with you. Stay strong and try to find thing sto make you smile. Every little triumph is a major step forwards.
Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com