My Early Years

According to a letter I saw recently while researching my early life medical records, my Orthopaedic Consultant, Mr. C. C. Michael James stated I had a “stormy passage” through the first 10 years of my childhood.

I was born on 19 May 1953 to Joyce and Tom Wilkinson in The Green, Wallsend, which is on the banks of the Tyne. I think that makes me a genuine “Geordie”. I had a condition known as Spina Bifida, although they didn’t know it at the time.

After an intial unknown period of time as a baby in the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children in Newcastle after I had burnt my little toe on a hot water bottle, doctors started to diagnose my condition and decide upon a course of treatment. It began when I was admitted to Newcastle General Hospital on 31 October 1957 under the care of Neurological Consultant, Mr. L.P. Lassman.

In November 1957, Mr. Lassman performed a Laminectomy, a common yet complex operation for Spina Bifida.

I had several other operations during a lengthy spell in the General. On one occasion I am aware that my parents were told I may not survive the surgery. However, the “can do” attitude and determination to succeed attitude of Mr. Lassman and his medical team prevailed and I am forever grateful to them.

This left me with an left foot that was turned inwards as well as other lower body muscle weakness generally associated with Spina Bifida.

Mr. James, an Orthopaedic Specialist working at the Sanderson Orthopaedic Hospital in Gosforth, Newcastle, was working closely with Mr. Lassman and he was next to operate to straighten my left foot and get me up and walking.

I was admitted to the Sanderson on 21 July 1959 and on 18 September 1959, Mr. James operated to straighten my foot. I wore a plaster for several months, although they got me walking on it with “mobility aids” on 14 October 1959.

When the plaster was removed, my foot was still twisted  in wards. Further surgery would be necessary, but for now I was discharged on 12 February 1960, after spending nearly 7 months in hospital.

For the remainder of 1960, I attended the Sanderson 3 times each week for physiotherapy and in January 1961, I was re-admitted for further surgery on my left foot. It was another lengthy spell there, but I can still recall the elation I felt when the plaster was removed and my foot was straight!

I was discharged from the Sanderson for the final time in June 1961, although I continued to attend for physiotherapy for several more months and to see the specialists periodically for many more years.

I had received some basic primary school education while I was in the Sanderson and at home during my 1960 “sabbatical”. At the age of 8, it was now time to embark on full time education. Despite living some 8 miles away, I was ferried each day by taxi or minibus to Pendower Hall School in the west end of Newcastle.

I spent 3 productive years at Pendower and passed my 11 plus exam, which entitled me to a Grammar School education. The only major medical set back during that period was when I broke my left leg. It started as a hairline fracture that the specialist thought would heal on it’s own.  But my medical condition had other ideas and a gap opened up! The consequence of this was I had to wear a splint for 3 months and was unable to go to school.

During my rehabilitation when the break had been fixed, it was suggested I may walk better if I used walking sticks, which I have used ever since.

A blog about my Grammar School years will follow soon.

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