An August break – but not the one I had hoped for

June 13, 2007

My first serious injury through a motorbike accident happened early this week, whilst slowing down before a ‘stop sign’ on a deserted country road. I was traveling at around 50kmh or approx 30mph, mid-morning on a sunny day, Tuesday 12th August. No other vehicle was involved. It happened entering the little town of Verberie in the l’Oise valley 60km north of Paris, France. I was later taken to Le Centre Hospitalier in Compiegne, then repatriated to Paris with a ambulance taxi in the mid afternoon.

My BMW LT motorbike disappeared underneath me in a millisecond whilst breaking – just like being on black ice – I still can’t understand why – suddenly I just wasn’t on the bike anymore – maybe oil and water or sand or some other foreign matter on the road?

In slow motion I watched as the bike goes in one direction, skidding on its side, then I see blue sky and fluffy clouds then ground, then blue sky then ground again, then I just watch the bike slither along on road in front of me, crashing into herbaceous borders and ornamental bushes, hoping its not going to cause too much damage, whilst lying on my back almost enjoying the view. The bike mounted the pavement and ungraciously siddles into someone’s front garden, stopping just before a nice stone wall, whilst I slide along on my back pretty much in the middle of my side of the road.

The result was a clean break to the right arm below the shoulder. The protective shoulder pad on motorbike jacket had shifted during the fall – I felt it in the wrong place whilst bumping along. Maybe it was even the rigid pad itself that caused the break – in any case the suit of armour saved me any other injuries whatsoever; I was dressed in full body protection – which always attracts such guffaws from my French friends who just wear t-shirts and jeans, when its summertime.  I was wearing leather gloves, knee protectors (right one had taken a really big shock – it was caved in –  but my knee didn’t feel it), left boot was scuffed, full face helmet (didn’t hit my head on ground) , double back protection included a reinforced full back protector (which I’d bought for off road biking in Cambodia the year before), then I had another back protector in  jacket; the sensation when sliding feet first on tarmac lying on the ground was akin to lying on a skateboard -I remember actually thinking “this is really quite a pleasant, I feel comfortable and safe” – I had my head off the ground – my left arm balancing my direction (like on a sledge) but my right arm flaying around (I think).

The bike traveled 20 meters on the ground without me, its left hand side fairing totally smashed up, Lhs mirror gone as well, gear lever broken off, rear pannier torn off, valve engine cover ground down, roll bar torn off completely – think my mate took it as a souvenir. 

It took me a couple of milliseconds to check up on my body (whilst lying down on ground) which told me I was pretty much alive and OK. Thought – get the f**k off the ground in case there are any vehicles coming…. Got up realized immediately that there was a problem on right shoulder – couldn’t move right arm and the weight was causing excessive pain on shoulder. Asked a two people who had stopped to lift my right arm to 90 degrees, then put it into my jacket (like nelson). Then I switched off the motorbike engine. Gave the bike a once over, called a friend who lives nearby, the van driver called ambulance – I was in a lot of pain by then and wanting to hand over the controls to someone else.

Medical services were extraordinarily efficiently ‘French’ but with ‘no tender loving care’. Ambulance men, with only a few years experience and even nurses not particularly good at handling a wounded person. Rocking, winding road and bad driving, caused all sorts of pain to me and the Sapeur Pompiers kept touching the painful arm – where it was most painful. Same with nurses at hospital. One nurse whom I had to actually circumnavigate in the hospital corridor, didn’t move out of the way of the patient who was almost shrieking with pain as she bumped in to me. But I have to hand it to them, really efficient, no waiting, Got x-rays immediately – showed clean break across right arm couple inches below shoulder. A lucky break, no bones were out of place. Could move my fingers – so no operation needed. I was very quickly taken into the plaster room, a body stocking placed over my head. holes cut for arms, right arm strapped across my stomach, elastic bandage wound around me. Leaving me looking like a mummy in a straitjacket. Can’t type a keyboard with my right hand (this message – the first long text since the accident – is done by one touch typing with my left hand – is taking me literally several hours to write). I won’t be able to touch a camera for 6 weeks.

Within 30-45 minutes of arrival at hospital I was dealt with. Incredible service, but precious little else.

A nurse came in and left without a word, with my administrative papers and leaving them on the table beside the bed in the plaster room. I had shown them my British passport. They just noted my address in UK and had gotten on with the job. I had been left stranded in the plaster room for an hour. I telephoned a friend and the insurance company (to arrange ambulance taxi to Paris – 60km away). Still no drink, I’d been asking for water since I got to the hospital.  I walked into the corridor and waited until a nurse came by; I asked him for a cuppa, and he brought me one. It was piping hot, too hot to drink, and I was still in shock, I had to ask him to top up the boiling drink with cold water, so I could drink it. He did so and then disappeared. There was an empty corridor. Then another nurse arrived and asked me almost angrily what I was doing there – I told him no-one was looking after me and I didn’t know where I was or where to go.

He told me I was in ‘Emergency of course’ and to go to the waiting room, because they needed the plaster room for another patient. I asked where was that? And could he help me to get there. He said “you’ve got one good arm – carry your stuff to the waiting room yourself (!)” I thought hey that’s a “nice typical French guy” – totally efficient with no bedside manners. I asked him firmly and politely to put my things into a bag, to help me on with my shirt, he did so. Then he pointed the way to the waiting room, and left me to work out how to get there. I had to make 3 trips, carrying first my bag of clothes, then the cup of tea, and later my jacket, to the waiting room. Then spending time standing and sitting around in great pain, not being able to lower myself into a chair, and then not being able to get up. I’d been given a prescription but no pain killers yet. Then no aftercare or advice whatsoever. I had to walk into the clinic twice and ask doctors whether it mattered that my arm was cold or swollen, they gave me short sharp answers. I thought, how very nice to be here in France, at least there are no long queues in the waiting room, but where’s the TLC.

Arrival in Paris was relatively uneventful except for two near misses, a car and a scooter. The car backed into the road and we swerved around it, the scooter had right of way, had swerved around us as we turned right at a crossroads and doubled back on himself to follow the ambulance taxi whilst swearing and beating his gloved fist against our windscreen. I remember doing this very same thing to a plain clothes police car, years back, who nearly ran me over. The taxi driver didn’t even blink.

Once back home I had a completely new set of problems to deal with. I am suffering sometimes lots of pain, and tiredness but sleepless nights are the worst, lying on my back unable to move – dealing with this eternal straitjacket – getting at the itches with chopsticks taped together. Could I survive ‘chez moi’ with such little mobility? Could I get into a chair, a bed, cook meals, walk anywhere, sit on the toilet or wash myself. But I didn’t have to worry, as all these solved themselves over the week that followed. Meals on wheels from neighbours in my courtyard and close friends. Lifted in and out of chairs by my neighbour Loic, the first few days I just left my front door open. Later we set up a system of ropes, hoists and pulleys hung from the ceiling, so I could lower and raise myself from chairs and beds with my left hand – which doesn’t work that good either – since I was struck by lightning eight years ago, but that is another story. Probably I am well balanced now – with a chip on each shoulder

I have watched Beijing from the French point of view, unfortunately, are there other nationalities competing in this years olympic games? The men’s 100m was outstanding watching live. But the real medal should go to my friend David, for help I got from him, who had worked as a carer before becoming a photographer, he could each those Sapeur Pompiers and nurses how to lift and care for a patient, he symptomatically addressed all the serious questions I faced, dealt with them, took me shopping and to another clinic for a second opinion. Without him life would have been several degrees harder. Thanks mate.

I recently sent textos/sms out to everyone, and it is really good how very many have sent messages, telephoned from abroad or turned up to help. I have got support from friends and family.

Looking on the positive side, it could have been far worse, and this gives me time to reflect on where I go next. 

Hello world!

June 13, 2007

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