The nurse came to get me ready at 6AM. I had been awake for about two hours, alternating between dozing and staring at the bathroom door, groggy with morphine. She filled a basin and I did as much as I could: shuffled my underwear down to my ankles, washed my arms, torso and upper legs. She cleaned my back and called me darling. I have noticed that nurses always call me darling. I wonder if it is part of their training; it seems to be their honorific of choice. I put the wrong gown on, and then the nurse took it off and put the right one on.
Then I lay in bed dozing, staring at the door, and waiting for the porter. I am told that no new emergency patients were matriculated in the night; however, it appears someone must have jumped the queue nonetheless, as I’m not wheeled to theatre until about 10AM. For a while I was left in the middle of an empty preparation ward. I am not very good with blood, needles, or medical situations, but by this point I had squeam-fatigue, and in any case I had since had another morphine shot, so while I made a point of worrying about my predicament, it was half-hearted.
People die getting voluntary cosmetic procedures, I told myself. I worried about what it would feel like being put to sleep. I have often worried about this, and assumed the sudden loss of consciousness would be scary. What happened was this: one man attached a series of electrodes to me, took my blood-pressure, and made small talk about bikes. Another man filled me up with various liquids via the stent on my wrist. Then they encouraged me to draw deeply on the oxygen. With each breath I thought: I’m still awake, I don’t feel sleepy. But of course, I don’t remember anything after that.
I came around very slowly, several hours later, with a dry mouth and a feeling not unlike the worst hangover I’ve ever had (exactly a month ago; thankfully, without the cluster-bomb headache). I got travel sick as I was wheeled back to my room in the ward. Apparently I continually requested water, downing each cup in one, before dozing back off. A nurse was in the room with me, taking my blood pressure repeatedly. There was a device on my leg which inflated and deflated in a similar manner to the blood pressure monitor, and for the entire day I believed that this was part of the same process. (I think it was actually to prevent blood clots.) After I drank a cup of water, the nurse told me that I’d drank a whole jug. I couldn’t remember drinking any other cups of water. I then puked up a jug of effulgent yellow water.
The planned route was about sixty-five miles, from Glasgow out to Galston, then to Muirkirk, Strathaven, Eaglesham, then home. My longest ride of a fairly decent winter’s training – this would take me to over 400 km for my two weeks’ Christmas holiday. The weather was excellent, by far the best cycling weather since autumn. The air was very calm, temperatures low but comfortably above freezing, and the sun was out. About half-way through, we stopped for a drink and some food and watched some Grouses goose about on a lawn.
We took an unfamiliar road into Strathaven, and headed from the town up towards the Airfield, to take the quiet farmers’ roads to Eaglesham. We were about twenty easy miles from home, and were already discussing the ride in the past test, and giving it a very favourable review.
I slowed as I approached a junction, prepared to bear left, and the bike disappeared from under me.
I lay on the ground, in a puddle, for about five minutes, I think, although my perception of the passing of time was indubitably impaired. For a while the pain was so intense that I couldn’t move any part of my body. I felt like crying, which I haven’t done in response to physical discomfort since childhood. Eventually I managed to get myself under control such that I could talk to my companion and to another cyclist who had stopped to help. I made a series of minor muscle movements, and established that my injury was to my left leg.
At this point, I was thinking that I could lie there for a little while more, then I’d get up, walk it off, then cycle up the road. The two men with me helped me to my feet, and it was immediately apparent that I had lost the ability to walk. They supported me as I hopped over to the sunny side of the road, and I think at this time a man who lived by the junction came out and talked to us. I think I told him I was alright and I’d be able to cycle home, and I think I still believed this. Then his wife came out, and she invited me in to her house for a cup of tea, and her son pretty much carried me there, my left leg dragging along the ground.
Over tea, I eventually accepted that I wouldn’t be able to cycle home, and my mind turned to how I was going to get home for a bath and some much needed bed-rest. My host, a practice nurse, decided instead to drive me to hospital. Getting into her car was perhaps, to that point, the most painful experience I had ever endured. Getting back out and into a wheelchair was the experience that usurped it, being exacerbated by the fact I was expecting it.
I thanked my torturer profusely, and was parked in A&E to wait for several hours. This was probably a high-point; a cheerful time of innocence. My brother arrived to keep me company, then my girlfriend presented herself with some supplies. There was a sound supply of winsome chat. After about two hours I had a shocking realization: I needed to micturate.
Lacking any more dignified option, my girlfriend pushed my wheelchair into the disabled toilet, and helped me undress. Unfortunately, I was wearing cycling shoes with a complicated ratchet, bib tights, three pairs of socks, and multiple upper layers. Undressing and redressing in joggers and a tee-shirt ended up being so sore and so time consuming that I didn’t have a chance to use the loo. In any case, I had no idea how I could get from the wheelchair to the toilet.
On exiting the toilet, I was taken in for examination. The first test was to get from my wheelchair into the hospital bed. This took several attempts, and I screamed out in pain a number of times. I then spoke to a consultant, who told me that I had probably bruised my hip, or had maybe chipped the bone, and I would need some bedrest and painkillers; however, they were going to take an x-ray to be certain.
I was then x-rayed, by which time my parents had arrived and were waiting outside. My girlfriend went to get them, and they arrived just in time to hear the consultant tell me that I had fractured my hip. I was told that this was a very rare injury, with a normal recovery time of about a year, and that I would need to be operated on to have a plate and screw installed. I was told that I had been very unlucky. I decided to wait until I had a moment alone to cry about this.
My family were shooed away so I could be prepared for the ward. When the stent was inserted into my wrist I almost fainted. I produced so much sweat that I had to change my tee-shirt, and I turned yellow. I had to lie on my back for ten minutes to recover, and when the nurse took my temperature she found me to be feverous. For the next few days, things will only get worse.
I spent the first day after the operation in a private room. For twenty-four hours I was unable to pass water. I made several attempts, fully utlizing the manoeuvrability of the hospital bed to try and create an angle from which I could pee while lying down. I spent a lot of time partially exposed worrying someone would enter my room unexpectedly. Every couple of hours the nurse brought me a skoosh of morphine. My vision was too blurred to read most of the time, but I didn’t feel too bad, and I wasn’t in need of entertainment particularly. When my vision wasn’t blurred I attempted to read Cosmopolis by DeLillo, but I was unable to get into it and eventually abandoned it in favour of The Rules of Attraction by Ellis, which is more immediately engaging.
My parents and girlfriend visited in the evening, but I think I spend most of the time sleeping as I can’t really remember any of it. Every time they visited they brought me more clothes, food and things. I had about five plastic bags of supplies but I couldn’t reach anything and I wasn’t sure where anything was or what I had. I felt more clear headed in the evening and the nurse who knows that I am an accountant asked me questions about personal tax payment dates on behalf of her self-employed husband, and I enjoyed this as I felt a bit more useful.
The next morning the physiotherapists visited me, and got me out of bed for the first time. This was very painful, and exhausting. The worst part was the nausea and light-headedness. My urge to use the toilet was my main motivator at this point. I used a zimmer frame (!) to traverse the few metres to the toilet, and sat and tried to pee. After a few minutes of nothing happening, I had to try standing up. I wasn’t well balanced, especially as I had to hold my gown out of the way while also steadying myself on the support bars. The experience was very stop and start, and I almost vomitted while washing my hands afterwards. But overall this was a success. I managed to repeat this act a further three times that day, getting progressively steadier.
I was then moved to a different ward, and it is a something of a culture shock. I was no longer in a private room, and I had lost my morphine privileges. No longer could I forget my pains and woes with a swift injection!
The next morning I saw the physiotherapist first thing, before receiving my medication. I walked a while with the zimmer frame, before trying the crutches. I managed a wobbly ten or so metres on them, before trying some exercises at the bar. One of which was to raise my injured leg forward and up. I was unable to do this at all, and I started to cry. I attempted to hold it in, but failed completely, and stumble back to bed sobbing in front of my fellow inmates and the therapist. This was my mental nadir. For the first time I comprehended how fucked I was and how long I could be fucked for. I moped in bed for while, before deciding to get up and practice moving about. Once the painkillers kicked in I managed to get the knack of it.
The occupational therapist visited me, and I showed off my prowess by getting on and off the toilet for her. She told me that if I could: manage a set of stairs, make a cup of tea and a slice of toast, and if my wound looked alright when it was redressed the next day, then I could go home the next day. My mood at this point was transformed from my earlier despair. My dad arrived to see me in the afternoon, and we walked a half-mile to the hospital café and back, without too much discomfort.
Sleeping on the ward was near impossible without morphine. Lights were continually turned on, patients stayed up and chatted, and the man beside me was attached to a spectacularly percussive machine, to what end I did not inquire. It made noises not dissimilar to a game of Tetris on the Game Boy with music turned off and sound effects turned up to full. By my last evening, all I thought of was returning home.
I got up early and showered for the first time (I had previously sponged myself in my bed in the mornings). This went okay, although I was shivering quite violently, which hurt my leg, and it was quite disconcerting when my dressing got wet and blood poured from it down the plug hole. I spent the rest of the morning anticipating my final tests, and hopefully, my discharge.
The tests went fine. The occupational therapy test was a highlight of my visit. I was taken to the department in a wheel chair by an elderly female porter. I asked her about her job. She said that she covered six to seven miles a day around the hospital, and had lost four and a half stones since she took up the employment. An antediluvian woman in a wheelchair said, ‘Finally, some eye candy,’ when I was parked next to her in the kitchen, and I blushed demurely.
As I waited in the sitting room to be discharged, I met two patients. One, a woman, had just undergone a double knee replacement and was also waiting to go home. The other, a man, was awaiting a double knee replacement operation, to be endured the next day. It transpired that he had been waiting for me to vacate my bed, and shortly after I arrived, he left to replace me.
So that was the start to my year. I hadn’t intended to return to the theme of cycling so soon after finishing my RAB blog, but I can only respond to events. I have now been home for a few days, and I will hopefully return to work in a week or so. I can get around well enough on crutches, and my wound has healed without infection, and my leg is getting stronger every day.
Although it was deeply unlucky to break my hip, I have to reflect on how lucky I have been to have had the support of so many people over the last week and a bit. First of all, my riding partner, Fergus, who helped me to my feet, accompanied me to hospital, collected and cleaned my bike, and who took flowers and chocolates to Lynne, the woman who made me tea and took me to hospital, disrupting her day for the sake of a total stranger who she found lame on the road outside her house.
There was also my family and girlfriend, who all rushed to the hospital to see me as soon as they heard the news, who brought me all I needed to remain comfortable in hospital, and who visited me every day to keep me company and raise my spirits. Furthermore, there is my employer, who has paid me in full while I have recuperated at home and in the hospital, and from whom I have received a tremendous fruit basket, and a cheering card signed by everyone in the office, as well as assurances that my presence in the office is not wanted until I am fit and rested.
And of course, there are the innumerable NHS employees: porters, nurses, cooks, cleaners, doctors, surgeons, anaesthetists, pharmacists and therapists; who together moved, cleaned, fed and mended me, at no cost to myself, with patience and skill and professionalism. I luckily have not had much call to rely on the NHS before. I am now indebted to socialized medicine, and I can only declare my utmost respect and gratitude for those who spend their careers repairing the broken bodies of all who come through the doors of the hospitals of Britain. They work long, anti-social hours in difficult conditions, and they treat all regardless of ability to pay, on the basis of need. This is a great institution that must be continually defended, must be well-funded, and must remain free and universal. I dread to think what would have happened to me if I had had this accident in the United States.
Long live the National Health Service.