Kimberley, South Africa


Bernard, Gail (nee Levinsohn)

Perthes Memories: posted August 2018

Gail is in the centre with Jeff Hammerschlag and Geraldine Auerbach at 'Klezmer in the Park' 2015

My parents were Stella (nee Goldberg) and Harold Levinsohn (a chemist in Beaconsfield – brother of Louis) . Stella was a larger than life character full of fun with a great voice. She acted in plays in the Kimberley Theatre. Stella was a niece of Mr and Mrs B Goldberg, the diamond digger and dealer. She had been married before and I had a stepsister Pamela Orkin. We had a younger brother Brian Levinsohn. Sadly, both Pam and Brian have died. I now live just outside London.

When I was five or sixI had Perthes Disease, and had to be in bed for a year (or maybe 9 months) with my leg in traction, then I wore a caliper for nine months.  I have many memories of this time and have written about them below.

(Perthes is not really a disease, it is a rare childhood condition that affects the hip. It occurs when the blood supply to the rounded head of the femur (thighbone) is temporarily disrupted. Without an adequate blood supply, the bone cells die, a process called avascular necrosis. This causes pain and limping. In those days (1940s and 50s) in Kimberley the treatment was really drastic – as you will read below, with bedrest to immobilise the joint for months on end to enable the blood supply to restore itself, which it usually did.  (Today many doctors don’t recommend any active treatment like this – just swimming and no jarring movement to the hip and the condition usually rights itself.)

I can remember being at the Goldmans' house in Egerton Road, and being fetched, probably by Gussie, our nanny, to come home.  I was then installed in a hospital bed.  I remember Sybil Perel being there.  I loved her, and called her Sister Sunshine.  Stella was very upset and I think Sybil kept her from hysteria!  I had my left leg bandaged.  I cannot remember what the bandage was made of, but it was soft so it was not Plaster of Paris.  My leg was in traction.  There was a beam over the bed and my leg was attached to it.  There was a type of hook at my foot which was attached to weights at the end of the poles.  I kept sliding down the bed because of the weights.  The weights were removed.

I wore tops, and pants that were specially made with press studs to open and close the sides as normal pants could not be taken over the bandaged, in traction, leg.  I had a bedpan.  

After a while I became very strong and climbed on and over the beam on the bed.  When they decided to put the weights back on the bed and attach my leg, I was so strong the weights had no impact at all.  Rule strong five-year-olds!  I was taken into hospital because I apparently was not making any progress.  I have no idea when into the treatment this occurred.  I know that I was miserable and cried all the time. I went on hunger strike and would not eat anything, so Stella used to bring in Royco Chicken Noodle Soup in a Thermos, little meloned fried potatoes, tinned peas and lamb chops.  That was the only food I would eat. My (great) Auntie Sarah (Goldberg, aka Mrs B) visited me and told my mother that if she did not take me out of hospital she would.  At the same time Stella and Harold were told that I was disruptive, and asked them to take me home.  I was delighted.  I was going home.

We had visitors all the time.  I actually don't remember a constant stream, but Stella told me that Lorraine David popped in one day, just as another visitor was leaving.  She asked Lorraine to wait while she saw whoever it was out.  When she came back Lorraine was icy.  I had told her that my mother had said that if another person arrived she would scream.  I apparently also repeated a few other things to Lorraine that was said.  I am glad that Lorraine did not bear a grudge.  I became fond of her as I got to know her as a young adult.

I do remember getting lots and lots of sweets and comics.  And a home tutor, Miss Weaver.  She was elderly, very gentle and sweet, and I may have bullied her.  I remember her vividly and called her Miss Weavil.  She taught me to read.  She must have taught me arithmetic (as it was called) but I only remember reading.  To this day I am a total reading addict.  If I do not have at least six unread books by my bedside I panic.  I read anything - posters, notes for the milkman, signs on the Underground, newspapers, anything.

There was also a birthday party held for me in my bedroom.  I thought I was six, but could have been five.  Marion Lusman lifted Michael up to kiss me.  I took a long time to forgive her.  I was mortified.  I remember balloons, and lots of children, but not much else.  I wonder of anyone remembers my birthday party.

A porch was built on to the bedroom so I could get fresh air on the porch or even go into the garden at the side of the house.  I remember playing with cats, not ours, and I got ringworm.  Stella was constantly embarrassed when people asked what illnesses I had had and I told them mumps, measles, German measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, and ringworm.  

Julie Jacobson often came with Ralene after school. Ralene had burnt herself on a kettle of boiling water, and she showed me her bandages.  Luckily she recovered with no infection.

I would be interested if anyone remembers me in traction.  I have some vivid memories of being in bed but vague memories of who visited, and what they thought about the whole thing.

Another memory is that the orthopaedic surgeon (Dev Minaar, maybe) and the orthopaedic technician said they have never worked with such difficult people as my mother and I and they never wanted to see us again as long as they lived.  I did see Dev Minaar years later and he was very charming.  He may have said the same about me as I was no longer this spoiled brat trapped in a bed.  Jeanne Tidbury was the radiologist, and I had to have my hip x-rayed every three months.  My father also took me to the circus when it was in town, but I was told that we could not go until the animals in the big cages (lions and tigers) had performed.  I was terrified and would not go.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who remembers me in traction.

Gail Bernard   August 2018 London UK