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After The Break

From today's East Anglian Daily Times

'AFTER THE BREAK'...My own digital non interface

A gold-leaf sunny Sunday in late September. Plenty of tickets sold for the concert at Colchester Art Centre. The Steinway piano was sound-checked and everything ready to go. It was about12.30 lunchtime. What could possibly go wrong? Minutes later, while adjusting the position of a heavy piano stool, the lid came open briefly, slamming rapidly back down onto my little finger breaking it. The blow also tore the fingernail from its bed, leaving an open wound. There was claret. With barely ninety minutes before a two-hour performance, featuring guitars, piano and my voice, there was now panic.

The finger concerned was completely numb at the top end, painful at the site of the impact, and wobbling scarily. Within a few minutes, I was in a car en-route Colchester General Hospital’s Urgent Treatment Centre. It was busy. There were Sunday football players, people who’d had a fall, unlucky children and one or two late-entry stunt drinkers. You wouldn’t think, would you, that a musician with a small open fracture would be high up on their priorities? But I was seen within minutes, assessed, patched-up and strongly advised to return to the hospital immediately after my show.

Back at the venue, guitar-playing was obviously out of the question. But the piano songs were adapted and played reasonably well. The instrumental breaks became rather Eric Morecame-like at times: “All the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.” Everything else came down to poetry and long gags. The guest act played for half an hour. There was a break. Then another hour or so onstage. The time just melted. The audience seemed happy. Or as Spike Milligan once said, “Dear Mum. Great gig last night. Audience with us all the way. Finally managed to shake them off at Leicester.”

I packed up, kissed cheeks, thanked everyone and got back into the transport, heading for Colchester General.

Four hours later, having been examined, re-assessed, x-rayed, washed-out and splinted, I was discharged. Only at one point, near the end of the process, having been asked how I was, I thoughtlessly replied, “I just want to go home.” Kevin my nurse-practitioner, replied under his breath. “We all do.” I apologised to him. I was given a big whack of antibiotic, along with a tetanus shot. The prognosis wasn’t great. To avoid a worst-case situation, like losing the use of a finger - I’d need an operation. This would take place ASAP at the specialist Hand Trauma unit in Chelmsford.

By 7.20 the next morning, I was in another car. At Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, the wait times are much the same as anywhere in the NHS. I sat in the waiting room, read newspapers, or dozed in a quiet corridor until almost six that evening. I was assured that even if the day-team couldn’t perform the op, I’d be given a bed, and an intravenous antibiotic drip until the night team could get around to operating on me.

To reinforce the importance of my staying exactly where I was, I was informed that I had an open fracture and that I was a priority case. The sort of complications we didn’t want here were bone infections or sepsis. For a little finger wound? Yes, really. Boredom and fear aren’t a terrific combination. I don’t have a smart phone and without a charger, I was running out of juice on my not-so-smart phone. By mid-afternoon, I’d read Monday’s East Anglian twice, as well as one of the quality dailies; even down to the business pages and the small ads.

The only real complaint I have is that those admin people who decide which catering franchises will be awarded which hospitals, should be made to sample some of their choices. I found drinks machines with no milk, un-stocked vending machines, ‘cafés’ with no seating and lunch ‘options’ designed by a Martian with no previous knowledge of the human alimentary system. If you ever find yourself rattling around for 12 hours in a boomy great hospital mall, such small comforts can take on increased importance.

I discovered that many of the team at Broomfield Hand Trauma Unit commonly work 13-hour shifts. They are tired and yet they remain endlessly patient. These are the cherishable people who look after us and who deserve so much more than they currently are awarded. From the receptionist who greeted me to the surgeon who fixed my hand, then everyone in between, I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart. I was the old musician who came into their care and was treated as well as anyone could have been. Even if I don’t recover the full use of my hand – and I hope I will – they gave it their absolute best shot from start to finish. And if any government, of any stripe, even thinks of dismantling the NHS, by stealth or otherwise, we should all of us take to the streets with our flaming brands in order to persuade them otherwise.

Pics by the redoubtable Ms Jeanette Lynes


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