Monday, 27 April 2009


‘My foot still hurts, Mummy.’
We went through the motions once again, carefully examining first his sock, then his shoe, and lastly his little foot. There was simply nothing there that was out of the ordinary. I honestly thought that whatever it was, it would be gone by the morning. But it wasn’t. I kept an eye on him all day, and when Arthur came home from work I said that we ought to take him to the doctor. We both felt a little stupid, as it seemed such a minor thing to worry the doctor with. All that John would say was that his shoe hurt him and, of course, he was still limping. The doctor examined him very carefully, and asked us if we had a car. Puzzled, we said yes.
The doctor looked at us and uttered the words that chilled us to the marrow.
‘I think that this could well be Poliomyelitis. The quicker you get him to the Isolation Hospital the better.’
I don‘t remember where Lynne and Philip were. We must have left them with aunty Minnie or Ruby. I thanked god that we had just bought the car.
We put John in the car and sped off to Coppet’s Wood Isolation Hospital, Finchley, as fast as we could. The medial staff did all manner of tests on him including a lumbar puncture, which was very painful. We could hear him screaming and crying out for me. Our hearts were breaking.
The part of the hospital that John was in looked like a row of holiday chalets, with a wooden verandah running along it’s length. He was all alone in his little chalet. This wasn’t too bad if you were an adult but for a little three year old, who had never been parted from his family, it was very traumatic.
It was with great foreboding that we said goodnight to him and left the room. We walked away, turning to look back one more time before getting into the car. There, to out horror, was John, running down the verandah, looking for us and screaming ‘Mummy! ‘Mummy!’ We didn’t know what terrible contagious diseases the other patients had, and there was our little baby running up and down outside their rooms, nothing on his feet screaming and crying for us.
We ran back, scooping him up in our arms, just as a nurse appeared. She scolded him for getting out of bed and took him back with a ‘He’ll be aright now’. But we were very worried and afraid that he might get out of bed again, and come into contact with a contagious illness.
The next day we went back and were told that the doctor wanted to see us. We sat in her office while she gave us the results of the tests.
‘John hasn’t got Polio,’ she said. ‘That much I am sure of. There is, however, a rare disease that I have only come across once before. It’s called Perthes disease and I have a strong feeling that all the symptoms point to this. We are not equipped to deal with it here, as it isn’t a contagious illness, so I’m going to give you a letter for The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.’
We were so relieved to get John out of Coppett’s Wood and into Great Ormond Street. There, they confirmed the other doctor’s diagnosis. How fortunate we were that the very doctor on duty at Coppett’s Wood, had actually come across Perthes disease once before. We blessed her, and confidently handed John over to the staff at Great Ormond Street, where I knew he was in the very best of hands. This was to be the second occasion that I was to be eternally grateful to Great Ormond street Hospital, and feel that I owed them a debt that I could never repay.
The surgeon, Mr Lloyd-Roberts, who was the father of the TV news correspondent, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, explained that, as a result of the Perthes disease, the ball of the ball and socket joint of John’s hip had softened. He said that it would harden again, but in a flattened shape, which would prevent John from walking properly. At best, if untreated, it would mean leg irons, at worst, a wheelchair. However, Mr Lloyd-Roberts said he could cut through John’s thighbone, twist the ball joint, and then plate it back together again. This would take the pressure off the joint and enable the bone to grow again into the proper ball and socket joint. Unfortunately, the disease had attacked both his legs, so it was to be a double operation.
John was only three and a half years old and such a brave little fellow. The only thing that upset him was the ‘prickit man’. This is what he called the technician, who took blood samples. All the nurses on the ward loved John. He was so easy-going and never complained or screamed to be with us, as lots of the children did.
To be continued….


Babs-beetle said...

Oh poor little John. He was such a brave boy. Great Ormond Street is a marvelous hospital!

weechuff said...

How frightening for you both. I remember the Polio epidemic. As Babs said, he was certainly a brave little boy, and it must have been so difficult for you with two other little children at home.

granny grimble said...

He was a very brave child as he had so much more to bear before the story ends.

There can be nothing worse than having your young child in grave danger, as you well know with Chris. Things were complicated beyond measure by having two other little ones to re-assure as well.

Croom said...

How very scary for both of you, did you ever find out what caused John to contact this disease?

Bless John, he was so sweet and brave. He is a fantastic person. I have always admired John and still do to this day.

granny grimble said...

Something happens to the small blood vessels which supply the femoral head with blood. So, parts of the femoral head lose their blood supply. As a result, the bone cells in the affected area die and so the bone 'softens', and can fracture or become istorted.
We feared it might have some effect on his character as he grew up. Make him clingy or scared of taking risks. Quite the opposite. He's the one that likes to do dare-devil things!

Jay said...

Oh, poor little fellow! I hate that they used to do that to children. I myself was put into hospital - isolated from my family for weeks - to give my mother a rest. I remember standing in the iron cot and crying for Mum, and how starchy the nurses were. They are so much more compassionate now, thank God.

My MIL had polio when she was four and always limped. I don't know much about Perthes, but it sounds terrible for a little one to cope with. John sounds as if he was a brave little chap.

Swubird said...


That's certainly a sad, and scary story. I have never heard of Perthes disease until now, but it doesn't sound too pleasant. Poor little kid. It's just awful when innocent little kids contract something so drastic and disabling. Thank goodness you found out about it early and could do something about it.

I had my own polio experience and it's in one of my stories. In fact, it's a story all by itself. I posted it last year, but I'll get around to posting it again. Pretty scary stuff - especially way back in the late forties and early fifties.

Well done. Looking forward to the next segment of your life.

Happy trails.

granny grimble said...


Poor you, you must have been so unhappy being parted from your mother. Thank God John didn't have Polio, but it did get very 'hairy' nt only for him, but for the whole family.


I had never heard of Perthes Disease either when John contracted it. I have heard of it in latter years though. I bet it's treated in a different way now-a-days. Still we got wonderful treatment then and it was over forty years ago. Please post your Polio experience when you can manage it. It would be very interesting I'm sure.