Tatum Adams


Tripping over a rusted steel pole in the ground and injuring her leg, cost Tatum Adams (17) an emotional and physical investment in her recovery, which included confronting the possibility of losing her leg.

Tatum was born in Cape Town and has an older sister and younger brother. She lives with her siblings and parents in Hanover Park.

“My childhood was good, we always stayed together as a family. There was plenty of love, even though from time to time we were struggling financially. But overall I can’t complain, things were ok.”

She was 15 years old when she tripped and fell one day while on her way to school.

“I was travelling to school in a taxi when the accident happened. It was a private taxi for a group of children from my school and I asked the driver to stop on the way so that I could drop off my grandmother’s ID book at her house.”

Tatum made her way out of the taxi but tripped and fell onto a rusted pole in the ground. The pole was the remnant of an old netball post that had been discarded, but not fully removed.

“When I fell I only felt a small sting in my leg. I stood up and felt a burning sensation but I kept on walking. The taxi driver hooted at me and pointed at my leg. And when I looked, I thought I saw my bone.”

The taxi driver rushed Tatum to the local day hospital and she was immediately taken into the emergency room.

“When I was looking at my leg I saw blood flowing and I got upset. I just saw blood. I just told myself I was going to die. I was hysterical. They put 30 stitches in my leg.”

Tatum went home to recover but couldn’t put any pressure on her painful leg.

She also found it difficult to comprehend what had just happened.

“I couldn’t understand how such a small fall could have made such damage. My leg was painful and I couldn’t walk on it. For me, it was all still unreal.”

Tatum’s recovery process meant that every second day, she needed to have the dressing on the wound changed.

“The Sunday my mom cleaned the wound, but the whole day she noticed that it was not smelling nice. The wound started to rot. When she opened it again to clean it, she vomited.”

Tatum panicked.

“I started crying because it was not getting better. My mother started praying and then she began to clean it the best that she could. The next day the wound was even worse.”

Tatum and her mother returned to the local day hospital and it turned out that the cause of the infected wound was the result of the initial stitches having been left in for too long, and the incorrect type of bandages applied by the nurses.

“The new doctor that looked at my wound was shocked at what he saw. My wound was smelling because of the egg cells of worms in my leg. The doctor told me that they now had to cut part of the flesh away.”

Tatum recalls the horror of seeing her leg in such a bad way and the fear she felt at whether it would ever heal.

The doctor who not only reprimanded the nurses for their shoddy work in treating the wound also confirmed to Tatum and her mother that had they waited any longer in treating the foul-smelling wound, Tatum would have lost her leg due to the severe infection.

Tatum was transferred to Groote Schuur hospital for further treatment.

Her general state of mind about her recovery started to decline.

“I just questioned why this was happening to me. Why now? I was feeling very negative. I was also scared because you don’t see a lot of young children at Groote Schuur Hospital.”

Tatum underwent surgery on her leg.

“I was confused at the time. I never experienced something like this in my whole entire life. I remember my mom was worried but she tried to stay calm for me.”

She remained in the hospital for two and a half weeks.

“At the beginning, it was strange to be in the hospital, my mom brought books for me to read and it helped me to get busy. Opposite my ward, there was a ward with men and they kept on looking at me. This made me uneasy, but I really got scared with this one man that would enter my ward and stare at me. I ended up telling my dad and he confronted the guy who then stopped.

Overall, Tatum felt comforted by the care she received in Groote Schuur. Her mood improved as she gained more confidence in her ability to heal.

“It became normal to me being in hospital and being treated. I just had to accept it because that’s the only way I would get better.”

After Tatum was discharged from hospital, she had to continue travelling to the hospital several times a week to refresh the dressing on her recovering wound. She would travel to the hospital either before the school day or after the school day ended.

“I kind of enjoyed travelling to hospital. I told myself that this is the only way it’s going to heal. “There was nothing else I could do about that I just had to accept it.”

Despite the time lost at school while travelling to the hospital several times a week, Tatum passed Grade 9. It was no easy task and in order to catch up with the classes that she missed, she would stay at school late on the days that she didn’t need to go to hospital.

But once Tatum’s leg had completely healed after several months, she was not prepared to deal with the radically changed appearance of her leg.

“When the wound healed I had a really bad scar. I would cut up my socks and make a band to cover the scar on my leg. I did it because when people saw the scar they would ask what happened there and I didn’t want to tell them. I felt the scar made me different and less than others. It negatively affected the image I had about myself.”

It took Tatum a few years and lots of determination to finally overcome her self-doubt.

“My new year’s resolution is that I’m not going to worry about what people are going to say. “When people ask about my scar I will tell them what happened and feel okay with it.”

“Most of my peers tell me I should do a tattoo over my scar but I tell them that this is my story. “I’m not going to do anything about it. I am not going to take my memories away. Before this happened to me, I would judge others for having scars. Now I would tell others with scars, you look nice. I want to boost their self-esteem. I definitely judge people less now.”

When Tatum was asked her final thoughts, she concluded, “We should be kinder with each other and with ourselves. I can’t believe I made the scar on my leg so important to me that I ignored all the other things that were okay with my body. I think as people, we should begin looking at things with a better perspective. I have a leg with a scar which is definitely better than not having a leg. Let us value what we have.

Tatum Adams is a Leaders’ Quest participant.

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