The Bizarre World Of The Hospital There was one accident which outshone all the rest, it was spectacular, it was predictable and it might have been my fault – concussed I never really found out, I had just sold my cycle and bought another one, once again for a pound, another second-hand one which was to last me well into the 60’s. It was another sit-up-and-beg version, but the paint was pristine and it had a three speed Sturmy Archer gear which rated it as a flying machine in those days. Three of us were out on a ride around. The other two had new bikes and were putting them through their paces. Unfortunately I had not done all the servicing I should have done prior to my first venture on the new bike, the brakes were almost non-existent. We had been cycling from the top of a hill and were coming down at speed towards a major road, which crossed, and, of course, had right of way. The other two stopped at the junction, I went on, and on, until I was brought up short by the handle of the rear door of a car against my head behind the ear. That was the last I heard until I awoke in hospital.
Apparently I lay in the road using language I could have been expelled from school for and being given brandy, the worst stimulant for someone with concussion. When I came to I found a policeman beside the bed who asked me what had happened and I was able to tell him what I believed to be true, that I had been hit by a motorcycle,. That ended police enquiries. The next visitor was a distraught mother, her hat slightly askew from her hurried departure from home, and her inevitable diaphanous scarf equally awry. She informed me I had broken my back, and I was on boards and not allowed to move. This was the prelude to the main event, which was a week in hospital with a cracked skull, a broken collarbone, a cracked arm and concussion, beside minor contusions.
I was in a fracture ward, which was full of characters. In those days broken legs could mean months in hospital and I suppose the atmosphere was a little like prison where the old lags know the warders and all the dodges. The familiarity between the nurses and the men was an eye-opener to a fourteen year old. I was the only young person in the ward. The man in the next bed had been run over by a lorry loaded with bricks which had separated his chest area from his pelvis, or something like that. Whatever was actually the case, it was greeted by all as a miracle that he had lived, let alone that he could now walk with only a slight limp, because one leg was shorter than the other, after they had sewn him together.
Then there was the bookmaker who was wheeled from ward to ward as a living and breathing reference to the skills of the staff and the surgeons in particular. The fact that it was also a demonstration of what could happen to a welsher at Epsom Downs seemed to have escaped the staff in their desire for plaudits. If it had been me in that wheel chair I think I would have insisted on some sort of mask, say a balaclava, so no one would know who I was. Of course he may ‘have seen the light’, people often act out of character under those circumstances. Apparently at the closing of a very unsuccessful meeting he had been sneaking off when someone thrust a knife into his heart and the surgeons not only got him from Epsom to Tooting, they took the knife out of him and sewed up his heart.
I think some of the men tried to embarrass me just for something to do and some of their stories were pretty lurid, especially of what they assured me the night nurses got up to, but I had been brought up to respect women, I had no choice, I was surrounded by them, so I took the joshing in the spirit I assumed it was intended. When it was discovered that my back was not broken I was put in a cot on the balcony, overlooking a square of grass, where the windows were opened every day and life seemed transformed from what it had been in the ward. There I came across a man who had to stand considerable banter because he had fallen on ice on the front steps of a brothel. Apparently he had spent an enjoyable night with one of the ladies, she had provided breakfast, but as he left he slipped on the steps and broke his leg. It is not difficult to imagine the flood-gates that opened from the other men in the hospital ward with that little tit-bit to work on. My education in barely a week was enormous.