It was a cool, dark Monday evening as I drove to a local sports centre for my team’s six-a-side football match. I was only a bit-part player, but much-needed on this evening, as we had a squad of only six!
After changing into my kit, I made my way out to the pitch-side area, a dark corridor between the astroturf and the tennis courts alongside. I’d only taken a few steps, mindfully looking up to check for stray balls coming my way, when I suddenly felt myself falling. Automatically, my arms outstretched to break my fall. They straightened at the same time as my hands touched the ground. Yes, my fall had been broken, but I had taken the full impact on my arms, which didn’t have a chance to bend.
Embarrassed, I tried to help myself up from the equipment that I had fallen across. I couldn’t really grip the wire fence to pull myself up, but I somehow managed to stand up, despite a sharp pain. I thought that I must have injured some ligaments or strained a muscle. But at least few people had seen my clumsiness.
Both my arms were throbbing, but my pride and my team’s lack of squad numbers made me determined to play. When the match kicked-off, I had a simple strategy: if an opposing player was near me, I would boot the ball as far as I could in the general direction of one of my team; if I had some time, I would quickly control the ball and pass to the nearest player. Amazingly this worked, and I lasted the whole match without enduring physical contact with another player.
It was only in the bar after the match that I started to worry about my arms. I couldn’t lift my pint. Oh, the horror! There are certain times in life when something will make a man take stock of things, and blocking access to beer is one such occasion. But, if Mohammed can’t get to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. Teammates were instructed to fetch my drinks and I bowed before the amber nectar. Not in worship, just so that I could sip it from table level, without needing to hold it.
The next problem came when I tried to drive home. Not because I had drunk too much, I’d only had a couple. But my weak grip and lack of movement in my arms meant that I couldn’t move the handbrake. One of my friends had to do it for me. Luckily, my car was an automatic, so I could just about drive it, shuffling the steering wheel as well as I could at slow speed. Okay, so I couldn’t signal, but you can’t have everything…
Once I got home, I locked my car and went inside. After somehow managing to shower myself, I began the usually simple task of removing my contact lenses… One hour later, I had finally achieved it. Then, as I lay on my bed, throbbing arms folded across my body Dracula-style, it suddenly dawned on me – maybe I had fractured something?
I phoned a friend and he drove me to the local hospital. I was almost apologetic when I registered with the receptionist. It seemed like my complaint must be a minor one – it was such an innocuous accident. Big mistake! In our National Health Service hospitals, with their over-stretched staff, their mentality seems to be that if you are hurt, you’ll arrive in an ambulance or you’ll complain a lot. If you’re not badly hurt, you’ll decide to go home eventually.
So I had waited six hours before I finally complained twice in quick succession, demanding painkillers, and I was seen by a nurse. Before the painkillers were given I had to endure the torturous procedure of trying to straighten my arms for the x-rays. By now they had seized up into the bent posture that I had taken for the last few hours. It was agony to move them.
The results of the x-rays were conclusive. I had a fracture in each arm, just below the elbows. Double-dosed on painkillers, I floated out to my friend’s car, wearing my slings like a badge of honour as I walked through the waiting room. See, I was injured!
I had to take three weeks off work, and move back with my parents, as I couldn’t look after myself easily. Luckily, there was just enough movement in my stretchy slings to allow for private toilet functionality. Although I couldn’t pull up my trousers… Well, you were wondering, weren’t you? Everyone does.
At my mother’s suggestion, I phoned a no-win no-fee accident claims company. The woman who I spoke to actually laughed at me, like Nelson from the Simpsons, as I explained my accident, before asking me how I could have missed the equipment. Ha-haa! Thanks, just what I wanted to hear. Feeling depressed, I was about to give up and wallow in self-pity, but my mother persuaded me to try another company. They were much more professional and put me in contact with a local solicitor.
After a prolonged legal process, during which my solicitor attempted to belittle me into accepting a mere £1000 compensation (telling me that she knew best, and that £1K was the maximum I could hope for), I had stood my ground and eventually accepted £6000 damages as an out of court settlement.
That probably seems tiny by American standards, but I think it was a far amount. My star witness statement came from the person who runs the league and had been telling the sports centre that leaving the equipment (which was a rectangular pallet-style broom, for pulling behind a tractor to brush the sand-based astroturf) was an accident waiting to happen.
Breaking my arms turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I decided to leave a job I was unhappy in, and travel the world for four months. My diaries of that trip, and the positive reaction from people who read them, were the embryonic beginnings of This Little Thing Called Life. Without those, would I have ever started a blog, and would I have moved to London, my horizons broadened, on my return? Probably not.