Note from Kristin: It was difficult to make the three-hour trip...emotionally and financially. The trips from Perham to St. Paul were usually two or more weeks apart when Judy spent any lengthy amount of time at the hospital. Her first stay was four months. Her parents were told it would be one month before she could come home.
The three-hour return trip from St. Paul to Perham was especially grueling to Vi. She suffered from migraine headaches and usually had to stay in bed the first day or two after a weekend visit.
Wally and Norris, ages 11 and 9, usually stayed at their grandparents, Albert & Elsie Flatau, so that they could be taken to the farm to care for the animals. Kristin and Debra usually stayed with relatives.
Judy stayed in a crib from August until November in 1958 when other almost-two-year-olds were running around exploring the environment around them. Judy's crib was at a slant with her feet higher than her head. She could only move her arms and head. She remembers rocking her head back and forth for long periods of time.
It is difficult to imagine leaving a child alone in a hospital without being surrounded by their loving family.
That's just the way it was.
She doesn't pick up her feet when she runs
Judy's Mom wrote: In July of 1958 we noticed she didn't pick up her feet when running but walked very fast.
When getting shots at the doctor's office, I always held her so the doctor didn't see her walk (he said he should have noticed something was different at her 6-week check-up). Judy walked when almost a year old. She was very active and looked, walked and stood like any other-year-old.
We took her to the family doctor in July of 1958. He discovered the problem and we made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor in Fargo, ND. After x-rays, they said both hips were dislocated. They had never heard of anyone that was able to walk with dislocated hips.
Not Coming Home for Christmas
Judy's Mom wrote: At the hospital, they told us it would be a month or so before she'd be able to come home for a little while. Walt and I went to the hospital every two weeks (after realizing she would be there much longer). The other children were left with relatives and we could see Judy one-and-a-half-hours on a Saturday and one-and-a-half-hours on a Sunday. Our other children were not allowed to come.
Her first surgery was pins put in on each side of the left knee--right leg in a cast that extended to her armpits. On these pins was a clevis and cords attached to a weight to pull the leg down. She was always on her back in a crib and strapped in. When going for a visit, it would be forty-five minutes of our one-and-a-half-hour visit time before Judy would look at us and play a bit.
After about 6 weeks, the procedure was done on the right leg and the left leg was put in a cast. At the end of November, she was put in a cast with her right leg straight and her left leg bent at the knee. The cast came up to under her armpits. She could sit in a cast-chair (a specially designed chair for this) with a tray. She was much happier in the chair. Christmas at the hospital was a fun time as many organizations brought gifts and entertained the children who couldn't go home for Christmas.
Out of the cast and into splints...and finally home for good.
Judy's Mom wrote: March 1960 Judy came home with splints that kept her feet 36" apart. The splint could be taken off for a short time, but she could not stand on her feet.
Judy realized where she was going when she was the only one in the backseat of the car. She cried and cried.
It was a very sad time for us and we always thought of how wonderful it would be when she could stay home and WALK.
Finally, in June 1960 she took her first steps with help!!!
Judy had to have her hips replaced when she got older. She now has 4 children (no one with the same problem). We thank the Gillette Children's Hospital (or the State of MN) as we never received a bill.
Judy came home but had to go back
Judy's Mom wrote: It was January 1959 the first time she came home--very sad, not knowing who her two brothers and two sisters were. It took a few days before she started remembering and then about 6 weeks later it was time to take her back. She was put in the same type of cast and could be out of the cast-chair and on the floor to play when she came home.
At this time she got the chickenpox. She stayed home a couple of weeks longer to be sure she was over them. When she got to the hospital, she was put in isolation. With a complete cast, the pox stayed moist.
During the time at the hospital, casts would be changed and we had her home a little oftener and could stay a little longer.
Let's name her Judy
Judy Kay Johnson was born on December 8, 1956. She was a healthy 9# baby born into a family of four siblings. The parents, Walt and Vi, let Judy's siblings name her. No special reason for choosing the name Judy. Her brothers and sisters just liked the name.
Note from Kristin: It wasn't easy for Judy's young siblings to understand why she didn't smile at them or why she looked afraid when they all gathered around her. She was their little baby sister. They talked about her all the time. Her name was included in their mealtime and nightly prayers. How could she possibly not know them and love them as much as they loved her? It was always a grand time when she finally liked them.
Judy was usually dressed in a pair of coveralls that protected her cast and a long-sleeved top that protected her elbows. She was then able to use her arms to scoot across the wooden floor to keep up with her very active and protective older sister, Debra.
Getting the chickenpox when wearing a full-body cast was undoubtedly a difficult time for both Judy and her parents.
Judy had been potty trained prior to going into the hospital. The cast-chair was designed as a potty chair as well as a type of high-chair with a tray. The cast had an opening covered by the diaper and therefore, the potty training was not all lost!
It was too bad that siblings could not go to the hospital so that Judy wouldn't go through the process of trying to remember if she knew her siblings or not when she was able to come home.
That's just the way it was.
Note from Kristin: When my children were young and we were ending a swimming lesson at the YMCA I noticed a young mother with a child in a stroller with a brace similar to what Judy wore. I asked if her child had dislocated hips and she responded that she did. I asked if she was treated at Children's Hospital in Seattle and the answer again was yes. I asked if she was able to stay with her daughter. Yes, her husband or she was with her daughter most of the time. I started to explain the story of my sister who had to be left at the hospital, but I was so overtaken by the thought of leaving one of my own children alone in a hospital that I couldn't finish telling her more about my sister. I apologized to the young mother for my sentimental crying state and she understood. I then took my wet headed children home to snuggle.
Judy was admitted to Gillette State Hospital in August 1958. She was 20 months old. The first time she came back home was four months later in January 1959. She was 2 years old. Throughout 1959 she went in and out of Gillette State Hospital. I do not know how many times or how long each time she stayed. Judy took her first steps, again, in June 1960. She was 3 years and 6 months old.
Our mother's comments came from an email she sent in February 2002. I had asked her to tell the story about what she and Judy went through. She was 82.
I spoke to my parents a few times about the time Judy was in the hospital as it affected us all in different ways. My parents were grateful for the financial help that the state provided them and for the care that was given to Judy. I asked how they could bear to leave their child and live through the anguish of not knowing what was happening to her every moment of the day. With misty eyes, they said,
"That's just the way it was".
That's Just the Way It Was
A story about Judy Kay Johnson and her first few years.
Note from Kristin: It was August 1958 and Dr. Bigelow recommended Gillette State Hospital where the state would pay for Judy’s medical expenses to treat her dislocated hips. Judy would become a ward of the State of Minnesota. All medical decisions would be decided by Gillette State Hospital. Dr. Bigelow advised Walt and Vi to NOT make an appointment.
Dr. Bigelow said, "Once they see her they will not let her go".
The staff at Gillette State Hospital scolded Walt & Vi because they didn’t have an appointment and that they had arrived in the afternoon. The staff did not send them away, but they were unhappy that they had another client to schedule and it wasn't being done according to their rules and regulations.
The appointment at Gillette State Hospital lasted a half hour. Walt and Vi were then told to leave. They could come back the next weekend during visiting hours which were an hour-and-a-half on Saturdays and Sundays.
They were told to just walk away while the nurses placed their hands on one-and-a-half-year-old Judy to hold her still while she lay in a crib. Her cries for her Mommy and Daddy could be heard as they sadly left the building.
That's just the way it was.
Gillette State Hospital for Crippled Children
Judy's Mom wrote: The family doctor said this would cost thousands of dollars and suggested going to Gillette State Hospital for Crippled Children in St. Paul, MN, 200 miles away. We went without an appointment and they examined her and said they could help her. I was told to put her in a crib and they strapped her in. She was already toilet trained and they put her in diapers. There was nothing to do but walk away hearing her cry for me.