Those days I spent most of my time voluntarily editing a left wing magazine, and proof reading and copy editing for various publishers to provide some kind of income. (It was the early 1980s, Ken Livingstone was running the Greater London Council, and like many of my friends, I felt there must be room for our publications in the future.
But sitting at my Craster Road desk, I felt I should take some exercise. Unlike the modern, bloated industrial fashion for gymnasium machinery, the enthusiasm at the time was for running.
My morning run took me fifteen minutes before breakfast – a few minutes more if I bought the paper on the way back. It took me down the street, to a path through the Tulse Hill council flats, and into Brockwell Park. The rolling grassland park, complete with a modest stately home, Brockwell Hall, was created by a wealthy glass merchant in the early nineteenth century, and bought for the public on the initiative of a local MP. I ran past a series of ponds to check out the coots and Canada geese. Railings kept them safe from the public, and they built nests and reproduced at quite close quarters with walkers, children and dogs. I grew to recognise two lady dog-walkers who would stop for a gossip by the ponds.
Over a number of years of morning runs following my diagnosis, I did not notice much difference in my fitness apart from tiring earlier, and the slightly greater reluctance of my legs to put themselves where I wanted them. Both things that could be put down to getting older, or less fit, as well as to the MS. Sometimes, I would break into a walk, maybe to pass the time of day with the ladies. Then one morning, returning past the flats, I tripped and fell.
Propping myself up against some railings, I sat on the pavement and took stock. Indignantly, I examined the paving. I had read stories about people suing councils, accusing them of responsibility for sidewalk mishaps. A few steps back I could see where I must have caught my toe. One of the slabs was slightly raised. But only slightly. Even in my state of shock, I reasoned that the case would not stand up. “A middle-aged man with MS, your Honour, is bound to drag his feet !”
I had grazed knees, and my left hand hurt. I examined it. One finger protruded from the others at an odd angle. Heaving myself upright, I walked up the road to the paper shop, got the paper, and showed my finger to the Indian owner, Sachi. There were soon several of her family gathered round, proffering advice. Sachi’s husband came in. He was shaping up to shove the finger back in place. I declined the offer, thanked them, and ran away – probably walked, actually.
Once I was home, I called Tio. I must have sounded shakey.
“Is anything the matter?”
“I was out for a run and I think I’ve broken my finger”
“How did you do that?” she asked incredulously. But then she stopped asking questions because I had dissolved into tears. It was like telling my mother I had fallen off my bike and grazed my knee. The shock had got to me. It remained a shock when I occasionally fell over, but this was the first time. Tio no longer asks me how. She knows.
A minicab took me round to King’s College Hospital A&E. I was admitted straight away. I was shocked again. The ward was full of old men puffing away at cigarettes. Apparently, in that period of history the idea was that it kept them calm. But what about the other patients? What about me? What about the nurses?
Tio turned up with provisions. She was shocked by the smokers too. Happily, she had brought a radio, and so I could avoid both the inanities of ‘hospital radio’ and what seemed the interminable wait for an operating theatre slot (no ‘modernisation’ in those Thatcherite days). They came for me at 10pm. At 10 the next morning Tio was escorting me to the main exit. A young man stumbled down the stairs into the lobby. I recognised my young surgeon. He had been working all night.