Six weeks after the accident I described above I made my way to Germany on the bike and then, by air, to England. A doctor friend had suggested earlier that it would be a good idea to get a CT scan, just in case, so in London I wandered into the ER of a big London hospital, and it turned out that I had a bigger problem than I had realised. The hospital was part of the British National Health Service. I am not writing a medical journal but, because of the debate raging in the USA about Health Reform, what SHOULD be of general interest is the treatment I received. Horror stories from health services around the world are bandied about regularly and the NHS probably gets more than its fair share, so this account is as honest as I can make it.
I waited in the reception area for about twenty minutes. Then a nurse asked me some preliminary questions and I was shown to a cubicle.
I waited a little longer and then explained the history of the accident to one or two young men who came and went. Within two hours of my arrival my brain was scanned, twice, the second time after an injection. Almost immediately – and to my great surprise – I was admitted and put to bed in a clean, airy ward with five other men and my blood pressure, temperature, blood oxygen, reflexes and eye movements were monitored every four hours.
The next day I was shown the scan, with its ugly dark slug of blood down the inside of my skull and told I had a subdural haematoma. Evidently I had had most of this for weeks, but there was a little fresh blood probably due to my flying from Germany to England.
The blood was squeezing my brain into a space where it shouldn’t be and, incidentally, was probably the cause of waves of embarrassing incontinence that were plaguing me. They said they were trying to get me across to another hospital nearby that specialized in neurosurgery but there was a shortage of beds.
Had there been any sign of deterioration I would have been shifted immediately but my condition appeared stable and they were hoping not to have to drill through my skull. The consultant on the ward was very sympathetic. The nurses and the rest of the staff were friendly and efficient, as far as I could tell, and always ready to listen. The food was good (there were choices) and there was optional TV, radio and internet by each bed. In fact mine didn’t work, but had I cared I am sure I could have got it fixed.
I had been there for five days when the neurosurgeon came over for a visit. He talked very easily and openly, with no sense of self-importance, and gave me plenty of time to gather my thoughts. He said there was no point in my staying in bed and sent me home to become an outpatient.
He said there was every likelihood that the problem would take care of itself and they would do another scan to confirm this.
Now, five weeks later, they scanned me again, and everything is working out well. Everything is back to normal, I can fly again, and friends say that I seem to be making a lot more sense these days.
I hadn’t been in any western hospital for sixty years and was deeply impressed. Perhaps those who make frequent visits would find things to complain about, but not me. So there it is: One survivor’s tale of the dreaded national health service.
We all have accidents of one kind or another from time to time and I’m not claiming that there is anything particularly riveting about this one, other than that it happened in Ukraine. verge on either side. Here and there people at the roadside sell mushrooms or other things gathered from the woods.
On July 23rd I was on my way to Poland, expecting to arrive in England by the 28th to start work on my next book. I was about 10 km from the border and in no hurry, enjoying the journey, and the weather, and riding quite slowly. The speed limit here is 70 kilometres an hour and I was probably below even that.
All I have now is a vague memory of having to take avoiding action. The next thing I knew I was lying on a grass verge, with my helmet off, and my motorcycle lying a few feet away on its side.
A man with a concerned expression was near me. At some point police arrived, but I don’t know how soon.
The first thing I remember is telephoning my friend, Lida, whom I had left an hour before in Lviv, and then passing the phone to the man at my side. After a bit he gave back the phone and she told me what he had said. He had been driving from the border and saw that there had been an accident. He had stopped and seen me lying there, and apparently he had taken off my helmet although I had no memory of it.
I had hit another man on a smaller motorcycle. This other man was not hurt much, just grazes and bruises. His bike suffered very little damage and his helmet, which must have been of poor quality, had a hole in it.
I had absolutely no idea how all this had happened. My left arm was hurt, but I didn’t know then that a bone had been fractured. I was too confused to know that I had suffered from concussion. Only much later was I surprised to realize that my memory before and after the accident had been wiped clean.
There was more communication, this time with police, with Lida translating, but I didn’t learn much. She told me she would come to the scene. Then an ambulance arrived with a cheerful female doctor and her assistant to take me to a hospital in a nearby town called Javoriv.
I think they wrapped something round my arm, and at the hospital they did an X-ray. They asked me for some money to pay for the petrol and then some more to pay for a sling.
Both amounts were very small, and I was happy to pay them. Nothing else was asked of me, but after a while they put me back in the ambulance and took me on a long and very bumpy ride of about 100 kilometres, first to one hospital and then to another in the big city of Lviv.
I heard later that because I was a foreigner they didn’t want to take responsibility for me at a small local hospital, but I don’t think the ride did me much good.
While I was being driven around the countryside, Lida made her way to the scene of the accident, and made sure that all my belongings were taken off the bike before the police took it away to their station in Javoriv.
At the third hospital they examined the X-ray and eventually put my arm in plaster, and while they were doing this Lida arrived in a taxi with all my stuff.
They were going to let me go, but then another doctor came in to check out my reflexes and eye movements. Evidently they were concerned that I might have suffered some other injury, but at no time did anyone ask me to tell them what had happened before or after the accident, so they seemed to have no idea that I had suffered concussion.
A police lieutenant, whose name is Oleg, came to the hospital to interrogate me and asked me what had happened.
“It is strange that you don’t remember the other motorcyclist,” he remarked, through Lida. Even then I didn’t quite understand that I was suffering from amnesia.
Only later, when I realized that I had no memory of anyone taking off my helmet – which is not an easy thing to do – did I understand that I had lost my memory of the minutes before and after the accident.
Before she left the scene, Lida talked to the police and the other motorcyclist (whom I will call Mr. X). He appeared to have suffered very little damage and after hearing his account the police said they thought I had caused the accident.
They suggested to Lida that maybe he would like to have some money from me instead of making it a legal matter, and he agreed with her to just deal with it as two people, himself and me. She also remembers him saying, very clearly, that he had not seen me before I hit him.
Meanwhile, in my confused state I was trying to explain to myself how this accident could have happened.
Lieutenant Oleg said that I had crossed from one side of the street to the other far side before hitting Mr. X. It is inconceivable that I would do this without a reason. It seemed to me that I must have been trying to avoid some sudden hazard.
According to the police, who tried to reconstruct it, the accident happened at a place where one minor road came in from the right and then, almost immediately, another small road led off to the left. Mr. X was turning left into this second road when he was hit.
I thought maybe a car had come suddenly out from the right and forced me over to the left just as Mr. X was turning, but the police (who treated me very pleasantly throughout) said there was no evidence of another car. Of course there were no other witnesses.
Only much later did I hear that the police were accusing me of rashly overtaking Mr. X at the crossroads, which was a traffic offence. Well, knowing how I was riding at the time I knew this was impossible, and it was only then that I realized what must have happened.
Motorcyclists are rare in Ukraine, and usually ride near the edge of the road. Having been properly trained, I usually ride closer to the crown of the road for maximum visibility and I am sure that Mr. X, unaware of me, turned left across my path, forcing me over to the left where I eventually hit him.
By the time I had sorted this out it was much too late to do anything about it. The police had made their up their minds. So if any of you are contemplating having an accident in Ukraine, be sure to get your story straight at the outset.
I got good advice from two lawyers who happen to be in Lida’s family and they told me to pay the fine and get out.
If I tried to defend my case, they said, I could be there for many months as the paperwork went back and forth. So, four weeks after the accident I sat before the examining magistrate, admitted my guilt, and paid the 340 Hrievnas which, fortunately for me, only amounted to $40.
She was a pretty magistrate in a very pretty, frilly silk dress, but her blue eyes were cool and smart, and I think she suspected that things weren’t quite what they seemed.
I am disappointed with myself. I should have anticipated that the other guy would do something stupid. After all, that’s how I’ve survived so far. It’s my mantra: Whatever happens on the bike, it’s my fault. Mr. X wanted some money from me, and at the beginning I would have given him some because he’s not well off, but he hung on and later he embroidered his evidence, and when I was sure it was his fault and not mine I felt less generous.
The arm is pretty much OK after six weeks. The effects of the concussion lingered longer than I expected. Even now I’m not sure I’m through with it. The bike suffered superficial damage, mostly to Al Jesse’s boxes and supports, and it’s in a local workshop. I hope to be on my way in a week or so, but my plans are all to hell, and the book project will have to wait although I hope to have a couple of weeks in the UK before I fly home.
And yet the interruption has provided a priceless bonus.
Living with Lida in this tiny village on the edge of a small town I have felt myself slowly becoming part of it.
I don’t speak Ukrainian, but I can say “Dobre den”, and “Proshen” and a few other words. There are about seven near neighbours and it seems that the men are all called Igor and the women are all called Iryna, but I can tell them apart, and they are all nice to me. Even the woman in the corner store no longer scowls.
I’ve got used to taking my shoes off in the house, and taking an unusual amount of care with my appearance outside because these are a surprisingly formal people. And of course I have become even closer to Lida on her home ground. So, the journey continues . . .