I’ve got one leg longer than the other. I’ve evidently been this way for years, since I stopped growing in fact, so I haven’t simply worn out the short one. I didn’t find out until I went to a physio for help with a backache.
He told me repeatedly that it was very difficult to measure legs, although I think he meant compare them. He proved equal to the task and suggested that my left leg was 0.3cm shorter than the one next to it. I was told to wear a wedge in my shoe. He, luckily, had a selection of wedges and was able to supply one that was just right, which oddly enough was marked as 0.25.
It came in a pack of two. This bothered me, to an extent that now appears unreasonable but at the time seemed quite important. Why, I thought to myself, would anyone need two wedges? I could think of no circumstance where both legs would be shorter than the other.
I had a school friend who had a leg stop growing. The difference was apparent to me. He’d had an illness, one of which in those days was never mentioned, and as it was never mentioned, I have no idea what it was. The solution that was felt best for the lad was to stop his other leg growing until it was equal in length to the other.
This was effected by mystical means which included an operation. It left a massive scar around his knee but it did its job. Then came the difficult bit; at what stage would it be best to kick it into action again? They got it spot on and his legs were declared equal. They were, unfortunately, shorter than they would have been and so were a little out of proportion to his body length. Not by much, but enough for him to feel hard done by.
Even he would have rejected an increase in height of just 0.25cm. So why two?
I was told my problem was probably due to growing ‘too fast’. This phrase was never explained to me and must forever remain obscure, but there was a certain sense to it. I was 6’1” when I was 12 years old. There was talk of strange concoctions to be ingested that would stop me becoming a giant, but these were far from trustworthy my parents were informed. I was told to exercise more.
Unable to run without each leg trying to occupy the space of the other, I took up cycling and it seemed to work as I topped out at 6’3” by the time I was 15 and there I stopped. In the meantime, however, I experienced some socially unacceptable consequences.
I was clumsy. It wasn’t a lack of hand/eye coordination, or at least not mainly, as mine was pretty good, especially given my speed of growth. I used to fall over when walking fast, hit people I wanted to pat and miss the vertical poll on the open bit of London buses when attempting to grab it, falling in a heap too often to be ignored. I was taken to hospital for surgeons to peruse me.
This resulted in a contempt of doctors that lasted for some time. Not so much contempt I suppose as a distrust. I reckoned that they had no idea what they were talking about. Around that time, an aunt had died whom doctors were treating for an illness which was not the one which killed her. No one seemed surprised.
I was put through a short and repetitive series of tests which included closing one eye and picking up a cup. Then I had to shut just the other eye and do the same. These exercises proved easy even for me. The final test was to hold the cup, which was still on the table, with both my eyes covered. Then, remaining blind, I had to let go of the cup, move my hand away and then try and take hold of the cup again.
I used to trip up stairs when my eyes were open so you can imagine my success rate at this test. The doctor nodded a few times. He seemed self satisfied, apparently correctly anticipating the outcome. Just like I did come to that. Then came the denouement.
“Mother,” the doctor said, obviously to my mother. “There’s nothing to worry about. The cause for the boy’s clumsiness is simply that he is growing too fast. It is manifest when he places the cup on the table.”
In case she, and presumably I, had not understood this, he put the cup on the table. Or rather, he just picked it up from the table where it had remained and moved it to a new spot adjacent to where he’d discovered it.
“So when he goes to pick it up again, he has grown so quickly that in his mind he has to reach further than he needs to. Hence he knocks it over.”
Being a bit of a drama queen, the doctor knocked the cup over.
He smiled, problem solved. We left.
On the way home I thought about what he’d said and realised the fail in logic. I refused to accept that my arm and hand had grown sufficiently in the few seconds between me letting go of the cup and then attempting to pick it up to be the cause of me knocking it over. I was firmly of the opinion that it had more to do with being blindfolded.
So you can see why I had, and nurtured, my healthy, and probably fairly reasonable, distrust of doctors.