Monday, 3 October 2011

An Unlucky Break

My sister, Betty and I, 1948

My schooldays in Peterborough were interrupted in 1947 when I was thirteen.  I had just finished a PE lesson in the gym and was running along a path towards the changing rooms located in a separate block.  I tripped on a concrete step and fell heavily on my left side.  The result was a broken leg above the knee, towards the neck of the thigh bone (femur). This put me into hospital for several weeks.  My leg, together with half of the other leg, was put in plaster but because the bone would not knit together properly, I had to have traction to keep it straight. For a few more weeks I had to lie on my back with a splint attached to an overhead pulley and my leg sticking out of the bedclothes.

The weeks extended into months and the autumn into winter. During those weeks I became used to hospital routines; the nurses, doctors, cleaners, porters and miscellaneous hospital staff. Daytime started at 6.30am and lights out was 9.30pm. I was in a men's orthopaedic ward with 19 other patients, the only young boy among men. There were no serious illnesses on the ward, although pain and discomfort were common enough. Patients came and went but I was never alone during the day and never bored as the atmosphere was friendly and I had a constant stream of goodies from visitors. Visiting times became a welcome interruption from the outside world; 'real' people with normal clothes - all I had was a pyjama top!

In due course I was put back in a plaster cast and allowed to go home before Christmas. Snow was on the ground as I returned home.  I had a bed made up for me in the living room and I stayed there for a few more weeks with daily visits from a District Nurse. I had regular visits from friends and homework was brought to me from school. Every month I had to go back to hospital by ambulance for X-rays and a general check-up and then, much to my relief, the cast was replaced by a more flexible bandage. I started walking on crutches and began physiotherapy. By this time winter had turned to spring and then to summer.

Hospital visits continued until it was decided I should spend a few weeks at a rehabilitation centre, located in a fine Georgian manor, Thorpe Hall, just outside the town. The building dated back to the mid 17th century and became more significant to me later on when my interest in architecture began.  It is mentioned in the History of Architecture by Bannister Fletcher (I have a copy of the 1950 edition).  Every week day I used to cycle to the centre, although my leg was stiff around the knee because of being in plaster for so long.

The daily routine included electrical treatment, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, physical training and gardening; all intended to strengthen the wasted muscles. I really enjoyed these days. The adult company helped me grow up and be accepted by older people from various backgrounds. The two things I enjoyed most were the hot lunches and playing football in the grounds under the supervision of an ex-army PT instructor who used to play professional football. I also managed to make a couple of woollen scarves and a small rug on the hand looms in occupational therapy!

A few weeks at Thorpe Hall made me very fit and I was able to return to school after almost a full year off. It was now autumn 1948 and I was kept back a year which actually put me in an age group where I should have been in the first place. Life went back to normal at home and school. Betty returned from her two years in Manchester and began work in a fashion shop in town. Family life reflected the steadily improving post-war economy.


  1. Oh no, it did get worse! Interesting how the healthcare sounded a lot more thorough in those days! Emma

  2. That must have been a he** of a fall, for him to break that bone! It seems unthinkable to me that it took almost a year for him to fully recover. These days, they would have patched him up and sent him home as soon as possible, with maybe a little PT. I agree with Emma - the healthcare sounds much more thorough!
    On a side note, can you imagine the youth of today being kept in bed for months without TV/iPod/gameboy/DVD/internet entertainment? Boggles the mind.

  3. @Emma - I know, poor boy! And yes, sounds quite interesting all the extra follow-up and rehabilitation. Made me laugh that he had to bike there, though!

    Ms Caroline - Can't imagine my son at the same age sitting making rugs and woollen scarves. I bet my dad got through plenty of books.

  4. It seems such a long time to be in hospital, glad that Thorpe Hall got him back on track.

  5. @Suzanne - it does seem ages, doesn't it. I think part of the problem was that it didn't knit properly to begin with, so they had to start again after a few weeks.