On the 12th January I took a slide down the road on black ice when my bicycle shot away from beneath me. A few days later and after being transferred to Salford Royal Hospital I underwent a five-hour operation, coming round in the trauma unit where I remain today. Sadly, my pelvis took a bit of a pounding, with the ball of the femur ramming through the ‘acetabulum’ (basically the hip socket) and smashing the bone into multiple pieces. It has now been brought back into something resembling the original shape – held together with a lattice of plates, pins and screws. From here on it’s a slow process of recovery, provisionally no weight-bearing for three months, walking properly by the summer, and then back on the bike by the summer/autumn (or at least that’s my hope). All a bit sore and annoying, but it is what it is and I can only make the best of whatever comes next. I’m optimistically planning a few bikepacking tours for later in the year.
I’ve been sharing a room with a young man who has had a serious head injury. He looks perfectly well and strong but is highly erratic; screaming, swearing, and physically hard to restrain. So there was no sleep for me for several nights. Yet despite completely disrupted sleep, listening to the unshakable patience of the wonderful nurses and support staff was a deep privilege. What these amazing people offer our society is so much more than that forthcoming from the plethora of celebrities, bankers, professors, etc., yet they are typically paid so little. Our modern world has become obscenely skewed towards favouring the few, of which I have to acknowledge I am one, whilst completely undervaluing those who are the real glue of our society. Making such a mess of my leg is a significant blow to my plans and future – but spending one night reflecting on the humanity just the other side of a thin blue curtain is almost worth the heartache and pain of the leg. Life has its strange twists and turns.
Being thrust bloody and vulnerable into the heart of the NHS, has made me re-evaluate my worldview. Without romanticising, I can genuinely say that I have found the cleaners, porters, support staff and nurses truly inspiring and humbling. With small gestures, gentle words and unstinting patience, all seasoned with an almost magical ability to appropriately blend banter with compassion, they offer a skill set and sense of elevating calm that is as important to recovery as the pins and plates holding my pelvis together.
I was always very uneasy with the rainbows and Thursday pan banging and clapping. The custodians of our most treasured institution need to be rewarded as such; they too have families, rent to pay and aspirations. I knew this before of course, but as with so much of life knowing is insufficient to drive change. I only hope the lessons I learn daily here stay with me when I leave; but I suspect the person coming out of Salford Royal will not be the same as the one that went in – and not just because of the surgeons carefully placed plates and pins. Much more, it is a new appreciation of my responsibilities in literally fighting for the future of our NHS. This is both against powerful political and financial interests keen to see it fragmented, and for a huge increase in the remuneration of those who comprise the soul and beating heart of this truly marvellous institution.