Date: wed 7 April, 2004
Time: About 18:10
Place: Clapham Common, Southside, London
It is exactly one year ago, but I still remember riding my motorbike along the two-lane road in one of the more built-up parts of London. I was on the way home after work. I was doing 30-35 mph (estimated from memory) in the outside lane, more or less keeping pace with the traffic—perhaps slightly faster. There was nothing much in front of me in my lane, but a car (dull brown colour, not new; hatchback) was going in the same direction in the inside lane. The weather was dry, but somewhat overcast. The visibility was good, though the light was starting to fade.
As always I was wearing full-on motorcycle protective kit: full-face, gold-rated helmet; armoured jacket; armoured gloves; protective over-trousers and heavy boots with rigid plastic armour over the ankle joints. I have no doubt that without this protection I would by now be dead.
Suddenly the car in the inside lane pulled out in front of me. The driver did not indicate. It was not immediately dangerous, the kind of thing that happens often, but is a bit thoughtless or careless. In any case, the car was now too close to my front wheel for comfort.
I remember decelerating by throttling back and checking the outside strip of the lane, to see if I could pass on the outside, but there was a traffic island coming up. Next, I moved to the inside strip of my lane, to see if I could pass him on the left. I do not recall seeing anything at all—either in terms of traffic, or empty roadway—in the inside lane. I do not remember applying either brake. I did not change gear.
I do not remember anything more, except for a vision—which may be imagined—of the rear of a red car very very close. I was unable to even form the phrase “this is going to hurt” in my mind, before the vision disappeared.
The next I remember is waking up, lying on my back in the road, some distance (maybe six feet) from the kerb. I imagine I had been unconscious for some minutes because a small crowd had gathered.
I noticed that there were red lines at the side of the road (a red route) and that there was a series of dotted red lines projecting into the road: the kind that usually indicate a parking bay. Immediately beyond these lines, a small red car was parked. It was probably six feet in front of me. The car looked fairly new.
I looked around and saw my motorbike with its handlebars badly bent completely out of true. It seemed to be behind me, and closer to the kerb than me.
At this point I remember hearing a male voice, asking me to do a series of things. One was to wiggle my toes and fingers. Next was to ask my name and phone number. Next was to lie still so that he could remove my helmet. My head was held secure as the helmet was removed.
I do not remember much more except some medical checks; feeling for broken bones and some more questions to identify me. I remember being asked if I wanted my wife informed of the accident, and saying no, as she would be worried. I imagined the accident was not severe, and expected to walk away, having worked out that nothing was broken.
I do not remember much more of the roadside procedures until becoming aware that I was in an ambulance, on the way to St George’s Hospital. The journey seemed to be very short and I remember hearing the siren, and talking briefly to the paramedic.
On arrival, I remember being impressed at the speed of the staff reaction at the hospital. I still thought it was a minor fall.
I felt more or less well, except for a great feeling of cold and a pain in my shoulder blade. I remember my clothes being cut away, and asking the staff to save my jacket, which they did. The jacket is a professional motorcycling jacket with good protection against falls and collisions. It was expensive and I did not want it cut apart. The bikers' over-trousers, ordinary trousers and normal clothes all were cut off me.
Next I remember more questions about my family and dates of birth. I realise now they were checking my memory because I could not remember the day or date. The sense of cold continued. I also remember discussing that I believed I had a stomach ulcer which may have perforated. But after many different checks, feeling for broken ribs, pelvis and hips, I was moved into a side room, and I remember saying to the paramedic who accompanied me, “I’m going to be OK” as part question part statement, and he agreed, with a lot of surprise in his voice.
I next remember feeling nauseous, and telling the nurse. She found a disposable basin and I vomited freely.
I overheard a comment that it was a couple of litres of part-digested blood and it was clear they felt this was very serious and moved me immediately back into A&E.
The feeling of cold intensified, and I started feeling dizzy. The pain in the shoulder continued. The staff revived me by tilting the stretcher to drain blood to my brain, and I found my wife at the bedside. I guess by now it was about 9 pm, three hours after the RTA, and she had eventually tracked me down through the Police. The dizzy feeling returned two or three times, with the same recovery procedure. During that time I remember speaking to a doctor (male) and the leader of the surgical team (female). They explained that they strongly suspected a ruptured spleen , a common motorcyling injury. They further explained that the spleen needs to ruptured by something, and usually it is a broken rib. Since I had no broken ribs, they concluded that the spleen probably was not ruptured, and the vomited blood was not directly associated with the physical trauma of the accident.
I could see they were undecided about whether to carry out surgery or not. I also remember a series of attempts to take blood from my left arm, my right arm, my groin and almost every other place, with little success.
I remember at this time realising that things might be a little more serious than a mild fall, and trying to stay awake despite overwhelming drowsiness and cold. My knowledge of hypothermia, acquired during long walking holidays in the mountains, helped me realise that staying awake is the key to staying alive.
Next thing I remember, I was being rushed to the operating theatre in classic TV style, with the whole team of doctors running my bed through the darkened hospital, bashing doors open and clearing all obstructions from the corridors. I remember blood transfusion packs being squeezed in an effort—clearly an extremely urgent effort--to get some blood into me.
The theatre seemed cold and I remember shivering and my teeth chattering. I also remember being asked to sign a consent form. I was able to do that, something that surprised me somewhat. When I later saw the signature, it was, at the least, recognisably my own.
What really happened (maybe).
At the scene of the incident
The motorcyclist (me) was riding along in the outside lane of Clapham Common Southside. There was little traffic in the outside lane, but a queue of stationary vehicles in the inside lane. A car pulled from the inside to the outside lane, in front of the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist then appeared to swerve into the inside lane and continue into the back of the stationary traffic without either braking or taking avoiding action.
He hit the back of a stationary red Toyota Corolla with a loud bang. The closing speed is estimated at 35 mph. After examining all the statements, it appears that the rider may have blacked out for a few instants prior to the impact, which meant he failed to react in time to avoid the collision.
Estimated. As the bike hit the back of the car, the rider continued forward, his chest smashing into his rear windscreen, taking most of the energy of the impact; his head snapped forward onto the roof of the vehicle, while the man's lower body and legs extricated themselves forcibly from the controls of the bike and hit the rear corner of the vehicle. The rider then bounced off the car rearwards, landing on his back in the middle of the road. He lay there, unconscious for ten to fifteen minutes, during which time police and ambulance crews arrived.
My bike did something similar.
It appears that my ribcage took the main force of the impact on the upper body. The ribs squashed almost flat, so that the front ribs touched the back ribs, and trapped the spleen between them, destroying it, and leading to internal bleeding. Down on my pelvis, that also took a lot of the impact and a crack appeared in the right acetabulum (where the cup of the hip joint lies), extending to the edge of the pelvic bone. There were a few chips to the bones of knees and ankles. Protective clothing and armour had protected against more severe damage.
I regained consciousness briefly, and, apparently believing it was a minor accident, I told a police officer not to call my wife nor to deal with the bike. He was a junior officer and took me at my word. A more senior officer later took charge, and reversed both these instructions. My wife was eventually contacted and she arrived at the hospital some hours later, while my bike was parked at the side of the road for 24 hours before the Police recovered it and took it to one of their private car parks.
The Police did their job, taking witness statements, controlling traffic around the incident and supervising the activities of the paramedics and ambulance crew.
I was put into the back of an ambulance and transferred swiftly to St George’s Hospital, about 3 miles away, through city streets.