From Oxford Circus
From Oxford Circus

My son Bernard suggested this fabulous App.

My problem is that I’d like to take more exercise but my bad hip starts to ache quite quickly and I avoid walking whenever I can.

The beauty of this Walkit App is that I can choose a starting pont – near home or near where the bus stops – and look up the slowest 15 minute walk. I can only actually manage half of that before the pain is too bad, so I plan on walking only that much, but It does give me something to aim for.

Living as we do in Central London, walks per se can be fairly boring. This way, by having a goal I find interest in watching the steps pile up on my pedometer.

Of  course I shouldn’t have worn those thick-soled shoes in the first place.

Memoir extract
It was vanity, sheer vanity. I’d missed out on Doc Marten’s when they were all the rage and when I saw the thick-soled boots in the Ecco shop I couldn’t resist them. I should have given them to Oxfam after I tripped hurrying to get to the Post Office before it closed. That time I’d only skinned the palms of my hands and tore a hole in my jeans. When I tripped crossing the road in San Sebastian, I broke my hip.I was in Spain to look after Louise, who was due to have her second baby any day. When she had gone into premature labour three weeks earlier, the obstetrician gave her drugs to stop the contractions and sent her home.

We were on our way to the obstetrician for her check-up when I tripped crossing the road. I’d stubbed those extra thick soles against an unevenness in the road and went flying, landing hard on my right side. When I got up, I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg. It wasn’t hurting so, leaning on Louise, I hopped to the far pavement and sat down on a bench in the sun.

I told Louise to go off to her appointment and then, after resting a while, I decided to see if I could stand on my right leg. That would mean my hip was just bruised not broken.

The pain was excruciating and I cried out, collapsing back onto the bench. My hip was broken. Standing up had scrunched the fractured ends together. I suspected the worst – that the fracture was through a secondary deposit from the breast cancer I’d had ten years before.

When Louise got back, I was fighting hard not to cry, it hurt so much and I was terrified the cancer had recurred and spread to my bones. Neither of us had a mobile phone, but a pizzeria nearby let Louise ring for an ambulance.

It came quickly and the ambulance man started to help my obviously pregnant daughter up the steps. She explained it was her mother who needed the ambulance.

He took us to the main hospital, the Residencia, with me apologising for crying out at every bump. He was most concerned about getting my form E111, which would cover the cost of my treatment in Spain. Without it, the driver said he wouldn’t be paid. Louise promised to collect my form from her flat as soon as she could.

Casualty was crowded. I lay on the stretcher hardly able to breathe for the pain. Finally it was my turn to have an X-ray. I was shunted into the examination room.

‘You have a displaced fracture of the neck of your right femur,’ the casualty officer said, with hardly a trace of a Spanish accent. ‘You’ll need a full hip replacement. The Residencia is full with this flu’ epidemic so I’ll send you to San Juan de Dios. You’ll be well looked after. And,’ he added, ’there’s nothing to suggest it’s a pathological fracture though a secondary. I’m sorry I can’t prescribe anything for the pain, just in case they decide to operate today.’

Louise asked where he learned such good English.

‘I had a registrar post at St Margaret’s.’

‘It’s a small world,’ Louise said. ‘My mum was a consultant there.’

‘Is Matthew Stephenson still at St Margaret’s? He was my boss.’

I said he was a very good friend and the surgeon who’d dealt with my breast cancer.

‘Small world,’ he repeated.

*                                                   *                                                       *

San Juan de Dios was a small private hospital up on the hillside above San Sebastian. Because the Residencia couldn’t take me, my treatment would be covered by my E111 form  I was shown into a double room and soon visited by the surgeon. Louise translated his Spanish.

‘I’ll get your leg in traction and then I’ll see when I can operate. Tomorrow my list is full, but maybe the day after. I’ll write you up for some painkillers.’

The injection was bliss. I was now floating and almost pain-free. The nurses brought in a traction pulley and attached it to my leg so that the broken ends of my femur were no longer grating on each other.

‘You go,’ I said to Louise. ‘Phone Dad and tell him I’m fine and not to worry and to bring some crutches. He’ll want to book a flight.’

Joshua had broken his leg two years before and his crutches were still in the cupboard under the hall stairs.

I turned to the patient in the other bed, a little old lady who looked about a hundred. I had been learning Spanish for two years and could understand most of it, if people spoke slowly. She said she’d had her hip replaced for osteoarthritis and that it was done under an epidural anaesthetic.

I always felt ill for weeks after a general anaesthetic so, when the surgeon came back to confirm that I would have my operation the day after next, I asked if I could have the same.

‘Of course,’ he said.

He was a young-looking surgeon from Peru with prematurely white hair. Yes, he could speak a little English but, if I didn’t mind, he’d rather speak in Spanish.

One of the nurses had been an au pair in Epsom years before and remembered some of the English. With goodwill on both sides and a lot of ‘¿Cómo se dice en Español …?’ I managed to get by. Some words like una bacinilla – a bedpan – just hadn’t come up in the Spanish lessons nor the fairly obvious hacer pis. When a nurse offered me a calmante I protested that I was calm, I really was, though the pain was bad. She explained that una calmante was a painkiller.

The nights were the worst. I’d been written up for 6 hourly injections of a painkiller but the pain was often almost unbearable long before the 6 hours were up. I just had to stick it out. The nurses had no discretion to change the timing.

I didn’t get my pre-med until early evening, because they’d had to send out for blood of my type. I remembered being wheeled out of my room and then no more until I heard hammering as my prosthesis was forced into place. I felt a pricking as clips were put in to close my incision.

Joshua’s flight had been delayed six hours and they’d all been worried sick there had been an accident, but he was now with Louise. The surgeon didn’t finish my operation until around 11pm but took the time to phone Louise and tell her that I was fine.

The next two days passed in a fog of pain but then I was finally allowed to get out of bed and sit in an armchair. No more struggling to use a bedpan while lying down.

‘Don’t cross your legs,’ the nurses said.

I don’t think they got the joke when I said, ‘But my mother said I should.’

I started to walk first with a Zimmer frame and then with the crutches Joshua had brought from England. All the patients had visitors, lots of visitors. One had been a merchant seaman and prided himself on his English. I had to pretend I understood him, but his pronunciation was so awful I only got one word in ten.

Joshua said he’d been told ‘Heaven up; Hell down,’ to help remember which foot to use first when going up and down stairs, after his broken femur was pinned. The Hell part certainly described what it was like going down. In Spanish it was ‘La mala, la buena,’ the bad, the good,

The Spanish visitors for the other patients overflowed into the corridor and shouted Brava and Una mujer fuerte y valiente as I struggled up the stairs – quite easy – or down – horrid.

There was no nonsense about being woken at six in the morning as I would have been in an English hospital. Food seemed to arrive every couple of hours. It started with coffee and croissants at 8am; then mid-morning coffee and biscuits, a delicious three course lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, an equally delicious three course dinner and, of course, a snack before bedtime. The nurses worried that I didn’t eat enough but I couldn’t eat it all. I worried I’d never be able to lose the weight I would put on.

A round little cura, who couldn’t speak any English, came to see me every day, nodding and smiling at the end of my bed saying: ‘Bueno, bueno, bueno.’ Louise’s partner, who’d hated his Jesuit school and the monks who taught him, was horrified, but I found the cura’s visits comforting. I looked forward to them.

Then Louise went into labour and her bouncing four kilo son was born. She had her baby in the Residencia in the middle of town and I was still up the hillside at San Juan de Dios. I asked the surgeon if I could go and see my grandson.

‘No,’ he said. It’s not safe. Your wound is not yet completely healed.’

I used the oldest trick in the world and started to cry.

Vale, vale. OK you can go but only for one hour,’ he said writing out a pass for me.

The taxi took ages to come but finally I hobbled up to Louise’s bed.

‘He’s so beautiful,’ I said, in tears again. ‘May I pick him up?’

When I was discharged back to Louise’s flat I heard Samantha, my three year old grand-daughter telling a neighbour:

‘Grandma slipped on an apron and broke her leg.’

I was puzzled.

‘Dad told her to pick her apron off the kitchen floor or someone would slip on it,’ Louise explained. ‘Now she’s got into her head that that’s how you broke your hip.’

I told Louise how the nurses had praised my Spanish though it was still very elementary. She was, of course, fluent by then.

‘Just shows,’ Louise said. ‘At the Residencia they complained that I’d lived in Spain all these years and still spoke with an English accent.’

When I got back to the UK I gave those bloody shoes to Oxfam as soon as my crutches would take me there.

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