David Battie writes ‘You may have heard that I had quietly passed on to that auction house reject shelf in the sky.
Actually, it was close. I was on my way to Norwich for a talk when my prostate demanded immediate attention. It was a country road and an oak tree solved the problem. I was on my way back to the car when I slipped on some wet grass and did a somersault. I remember the sky flying by and the crack as my right leg bones gave way when I hit the road. As I lay on my back in the gutter in the rain I wondered how bad the damage was and carefully revolved my leg. It revolved but my foot stood still, so I knew it was bad. I remember paramedics cutting off my trousers, but nothing more for two days.
In Norwich Hospital I was shot full of morphine. The hallucinations were absolutely mind-blowing, particularly when two nurses got in a muddle and each gave me the required dose. When they discovered it, they ruined it by sending for an antidote, in the meantime, I was off with the fairies.
I transferred to Brighton and was stuck in a hospital bed for SIX MONTHS suffering a complex fracture of my right leg (one consultant said that it would be difficult to recreate the break without a club hammer). Scaffold rods were drilled into the bones to fix them, but unfortunately, a month on, infection set in, resisting all antibiotics.
I was on twenty pills a night (leave aside all the morning and day ones) seven units of intravenous antibiotics a day (every three hours day and night) and various skilled and unskilled operatives poking about in the problem hole, through which ran a visible tendon. I amused visitors (actually most found it disgusting) by making it shoot backwards and forwards as I waggled my foot. I had ten ops and for three, chose a spinal anaesthetic so that I could watch. The surgeon said I was mad.
It is not possible to do a skin graft over a tendon so, eventually, it was decided that plastic surgery was the only solution. The surgeon in theatre thought of a jolly wheeze whereby he could do a skin graft and did. A week later it failed.
One evening I lost what little sanity remained and began shouting that I was off. I got out of bed and started dressing and packing, to the horror of two nurses. One sent for reinforcements as I told them I was going to walk (ha!) to the seafront and might, or might not, throw myself in. I guess that a self-discharge is a black mark on their charge sheet. They persuaded me to wait until the over-ambitious surgeon arrived, at which point my phone went and I learned that my eldest daughter, Henrietta’s parent’s-in-law were on their way to see me. I decamped with them.
Of course, I was soon back.
One morning, my curtains were drawn and the tiny space began to fill with the consultants, matrons, doctors and a woman I had not seen before. Big chief cleared his throat and announced that a decision had to be made. I was resistant to any antibiotic and there was no alternative but to remove my leg or (pause for dramatic effect) have plastic surgery. I opted for the latter. The unknown lady was the micro-surgeon and she was wonderful.
I was transferred to the Blonde-Mackendoe Hospital in East Grinstead, famous for its plastic surgery, where the ‘flap’ was to cover the ever-enlarging hole. A bone surgeon came up from Brighton in case the bone was infected, although it was not thought to be. It was. I had the bone man and the plastic surgeon doing archaeology on the wound at the bottom of my right leg and someone on my left thigh removing a lump to sew into the hole. The lump needed to ‘live’ and so tiny veins had to be tracked and then sewn. The op took ten hours.
During two weeks bed rest, I decided, while staring at the ward ceiling, that I would do no more Roadshows but, when I told the producer, he drove down to see me and, fool that I am, I agreed to do any which were fairly close. I would also drop almost all talks and all cruises and restrict myself to writing and acting as a consultant to Sworders salerooms in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, which I absolutely love. I also have half a dozen students at home where they get intensive education using objects from my obsessively large oriental collection.to the home.
My wife, Sarah, had had a stroke about ten years previously and we had just installed a stair lift for her. Suited me perfectly. For many months I was on crutches, . a district nurse visitingcame in every two days to dress the crater which was looked fairly disgusting.
The sum total of my broken leg was upwards of eight operations. including four skin grafts of which three failed. My legs were a maze of purple patches (donor sites) and scars, some nearly a foot long. The scars are still there and the flap sticks out above my ankle, the size of half a peach, looking very, very bizarre. Viewers are either intrigued or sick.
Now, three years on, all I have is mild pain and, as they are so keen on asking in hospital, on a scale of 1-to-10: only 1 or 2. That can be either leg or both. The flap donor site is actually more of a trouble than the break. However, the pain can be up to ‘6’ and standing is the most uncomfortable whereas, oddly, driving is the most comfortable.
I’m prescribed about fourteen painkillers a day, although I’ve reduced it to around half that. I’ve just worked out that since the accident I have taken 1,300,000 mg of Paracetamol. But not a patch on the morphine!
1. My parents were each the carrier of the gene for haemachromatosis, so that when I was born, I inherited the blood disorder. With it I do not shed iron and it builds up round the organs until – unless it is caught – one wakes up one morning dead.
2. One of the possible side effects of haemachromatosis is type 2 diabetes, which I have developed.
3. One of the problems of type 2 diabetes, is the need to visit an oak tree more frequently.
4. One of the problems of going into hospital for an operation is that you have a one in three (ed. please check!) chance of the wound becoming infected.
5. One of the problems of having diabetes is that one’s resistance to infection in much reduced and that antibiotic drugs may well not work.