hip-750A year ago today, I was woken at about this time with a nudge. A Miss Ruth Jarvis was on the phone, I was told; could I come to the desk to take the call? Although drowsy, I knew I couldn’t do any such thing. The telephone was in the Homerton University Hospital in East London, and I couldn’t come to it because about ten hours earlier, I’d fallen from my bike and suffered an intracapsular fracture to my left neck of femur. Or, in layman’s terms, I’d broken my hip.

My experiences with hospitals up to this point hadn’t been terribly positive. Never having had children, I associated them only with mishaps endured (mine) and lives lost (my parents’, chiefly, both killed quickly by cancers their consultants couldn’t control). Even in agony at the roadside, I was determined to avoid A&E, first by cycling five miles home – with a broken hip – and then, when I got there, by resolving to sleep off the pain. Only when I realised that I couldn’t get into bed, at which point it began to dawn on me that this trip might have to be postponed (by six months, it eventually turned out), did I reluctantly corral a taxi.



Over the subsequent months, I became extremely familiar with the Homerton. Between the hip, a variety of other unrelated ailments and an assortment of tests for illnesses that mercifully turned out to be absent, I spent 20 nights at the hospital, and made a further dozen or so visits to five – possibly six – different departments across a period of about six months. The floorplan remains carved in my memory.

I was then and remain now quite humbled by how wonderfully I was treated by almost everyone in the Homerton whose path I crossed. It is a cliché, but also, it turns out, a truth, that the NHS is filled with people who are doing staggeringly difficult and often hugely unpleasant jobs under immense pressure, and that they are doing them incredibly, incredibly well. This, I suppose, is a thank-you note.

The mantra that the NHS ‘isn’t perfect’ helps no one. Of course it isn’t perfect. Nor, though, is it ‘failing’, to borrow from the loaded language of contemporary political discourse. Worst of all, perhaps, in the litany of repeated bromides, are the surprised exclamations offered by some recuperating NHS patients that ‘it was as good as going private’. The comparison, and the aspirations, should be the other way around. Private hospitals should aspire to match the NHS at its best. They should aspire to match the Homerton.



At what turned out to be my final appointment with the Homerton’s fracture clinic in March, the consultant told me that although the bone had healed well, there was still a chance I could develop something called avascular necrosis. When a hip bone breaks, he continued, the blood supply to it may get cut off, causing the bone to degrade and necessitating a full hip replacement. A year after the break, he went on, come back and we’ll take a look.

Three weeks ago, I walked into the osteopathy department of the Hospital Británico in Buenos Aires without an appointment, a cribsheet of appropriate Spanish phrases in my pocket. Within ten minutes, I was explaining my history to a nice young doctor with a smart haircut and impeccable English. 20 minutes later, I’d had a couple of X-rays. Ten minutes after that, the doctor beckoned me back into his office, slapped the X-rays on to a screen and told me that there are no signs of any ill effects. Everything is as it should be. Thanks for coming. Feliz viaje.

We have 25km to ride today. I will try my best not to fall off.

from Maipú, MZ, Argentina