Chapter 7: Osteomyelitis
"Ormal won't be alive many more days...."
It had been a normal day at school followed by his usual chores in the evening. As he mounted the stairs leading to his bedroom, a sharp pain cut through his right knee. Ormal stumbled. Surprised, he sat a moment gripping the leg, but he assured his parents it was nothing to worry about and went on to bed. The sudden ache had gone by the time he crawled into bed, so he thought no more of it. About midnight, he was jerked awake by another burning spasm and he discovered he had a fever. After several hours of writhing in agony and sweat, he called out for his parents. The throbbing knee had swollen, and his temperature continued to rise.
The next day being Saturday, Lester and Lena took Ormal to town with them on their weekly shopping excursion. Their first stop was Dr. G.T. Myers, a general practitioner, who diagnosed the knee as badly sprained and prescribed a liniment. The pain and fever subsided somewhat but returned with greater intensity after a few days. Ormal’s uncle Joe Bonner, who had a car, took him back to Dr. Myers, who prescribed a series of hot and cold poultices, which did nothing to ease the suffering.
Lester happened to mention Ormal’s condition to some men from Springfield who were working on the highway near Macks Creek. One of them said the symptoms sounded like a disease suffered by someone he knew, and he referred Lester to a bone specialist in Springfield, Dr. E.M. Fessenden, who was a doctor for the Frisco Railroad. Lester went back to Dr. Myers with this information. “If we do not do something soon,” Lester told him, “Ormal won’t be alive many more days. He is delirious most of the time. I’ve been told he may have osteomyelitis, and I’d like to take him to Dr. Fessenden in Springfield to find out.” Dr. Myers agreed that it probably could be osteomyelitis, but assured Lester that the only treatment Ormal would receive would be more hot and cold poultices. Since Lester was adamant, Dr. Myers agreed to drive Lester, Lena, and Ormal to Dr. Fessenden’s office on Monday.
They arrived at the Woodruff Building, then one of the tallest in Springfield, and found Dr. Fessenden’s office before lunchtime. By mid-afternoon, Ormal was being prepared for emergency surgery a few blocks away at St. John’s hospital. The operation verified what the doctor had known immediately on examining Ormal’s knee: osteomyelitis, a severe infectious inflammatory disease of the bone and bone marrow, commonly known in those days as white swelling.
What Dr. Fessenden did not know was whether Ormal’s leg could be saved, or whether Ormal would survive. Large pieces of infected bone had been removed and holes drilled to allow drainage, but there was little improvement in pain or swelling. Ormal required two more painful operations in the next two weeks, as x-rays revealed more bad bone. The pain could only be slightly alleviated by morphine, but any relief was a victory, and Ormal would cry out for another shot at night.
Lena stayed with Ormal during these long days, and she was able to lessen some of the suffering her son endured by talking to him when he was conscious. The big talk of the time, a terrific shock to Ormal and much of the world, was Charles Lindberg’s solo flight across the Atlantic, which Ormal read about in the Springfield newspaper. Lester would visit as frequently as he could, his only means of transportation being produce trucks that traveled to and from the city each day. He would go see Ormal while the truck made it’s rounds to wholesale houses, then be back on the street in time for the trip home.