It was inevitable, I suppose.
I cycle almost every day, whether right into town, which is about seven miles, or more locally. Elspeth (that's my bike) and I negotiate busy intersections, go over huge roundabouts, and zoom along the Eastway. My confidence on London roads is growing, but you never stop being aware that you're incredibly vulnerable on a bicycle: other vehicles are aggressive, impatient, or ignorant. Not to mention that if you wear a helmet, which I do, drivers seem to regard you as invincible.
One day, something would drive too close to me, come too fast, or just not see me, and Elspeth and I would come off worse from the encounter. Yesterday was that day.
I was heading to Canary Wharf to meet people for brunch. I'd just exited the underground gyratory at Westferry and was thinking to myself that it was the scariest thing I'd yet encountered on a bike. Roundabouts aren't fun; tunnels are unpleasant. Combining the two is nasty. Within about 30 seconds, however, it was no longer the scariest thing that I'd encountered on a bike.
I was negotiating a second, much smaller roundabout. I was in the left-hand lane, passing across the first exit and planning on taking the second exit. A white van entered the gyratory, possibly travelling too fast and maybe hadn't seen me. It took the first exit, but in doing so, collided with me from my right. As it loomed into view, I can remember thinking 'This is not good.' I don't remember very much else. I was knocked clean off my bike, landing prone in the road on my left-hand side. No, the van didn't stop.
The response of pedestrians in the area was astonishing. I was immediately surrounded, it was established that I was conscious, and an ambulance was called. As it happened, an ambulance was passing en-route to another call. It stopped for me. I was examined for spinal injuries before we established that the primary cause for concern was my right ankle. It had taken the brunt of the impact from the collision. I couldn't move it without experiencing intense pain. A suspected fracture, then.
You'll be incredibly bored if I give you all the details of being transferred into the ambulance, the barrage of tests that ensued (including having a cross marked on my foot because it indicated where a pulse could be located), giggling like a schoolgirl on gas-and-air, getting to the Royal London hospital, being given a cupful of analgesia and told to take it, plummeting into shock, bursting into tears, suffering awful ankle manipulations when it was x-rayed, being told that no, it wasn't broken, but it was a bit mangled, and being presented with a set of crutches and sent on my way.
What's far more interesting are the people I encountered whilst waiting at the Royal London. The Royal London is in Whitechapel. It was established to treat the empoverished, often immigrant, population of the East End in 1740. Apart from now being a major A&E hub (the London helicopter emergency service is based off a helipad at the Royal London), that's still its demographic.
About 80% of the people in the waiting area were Bangladeshi. A significant proportion of them didn't speak English. They were calm, patient, and respectful. When you're being bombarded with questions that you can't understand and can't answer and are being pushed through a system that at times is incomprehensible, to maintain that degree of decorum is commendable.
It's also a wild contrast with the woman in her 40s who also had a suspected broken ankle, accompanied by her two daughters, one grown-up and the other in her early teens. At one point, her youngest daughter informed her most earnestly not to insult the staff because they were trying to help her. This reverse-parenting situation made me smile and wince simultaneously. At least one of them knew how to behave appropriately.
The young couple seated next to me were discussing entirely openly how one of their friends had quite recently received a gunshot wound and had sewn it up himself in order to prevent it from being reported to the police when he received hospital treatment. I did want to know what he used to perform the procedure, but thought it imprudent to enquire. Whether or not he'd managed to locate and retrieve the bullet was unknown.
There was also the selection of drunks, people searching for friends who'd been arrested and then transferred to hospital that morning, and the staff who had to deal with this never-ending stream of contrasting humanity.
I was seen relatively quickly. I'm not planning on going back in a hurry, though.
Right now, I'm propped up on pillows in bed. I ache from head to toe: neck, ribs, and thighs especially. My foot is twice the size it should be and all the colours of the rainbow. But I'm okay. Elspeth is still at Canary Wharf. As soon as I'm able and it's certain she's roadworthy, I will be back out riding her.
Without wanting to sound too gushing - and if I do, blame the painkillers - the accident might've been horrid, but people have been awesome. From the lady I know only as Becky, who talked to me and kept me calm until the paramedics arrived; Amy and Maggie, the paramedic crew of fabulousness; Elena who retrieved me from hospital and made sure that I ate; Graeme who hung around last night, getting me upstairs and running me a bath; to Britnoders for love, concern, company, and offers of groceries. You're all amazing. Thank you.
Update 22 March 2011
- I've reported the incident to the police who will be making further enquiries. There are four charges that could be held against the van driver if they're able to locate him. It's a case of wait and see now.
- Elspeth is at the cycle shop, where no serious damage has been identified. She was a bit scratched and one of her shifters was bent, but she has been cleaned up and the shifter re-aligned. She should be back home with me soon.
- I still ache all over - my ribs especially - but I'm okay in myself. Things'll be back to normal soon.