The kindness of strangers

Two of the kindest Hippos you could ever hope to meet. Do some research and you’ll find that’s really saying something: next to human beings who don’t know how to control their umbrellas and bankers, Hippos are officially the most dangerous animals in the world. More dangerous, even, than an army full of machine-gun wielding Meerkats. Imagine that!

Think about it: when was the last time a total stranger did something kind for you for absolutely no reason? For me, it’s happened maybe three or four times. Each remains in some way special, and none will be forgotten.

One of those times sticks in my memory just because of the agonising pain. I was riding the ramp in the next village from me – you may or may not know by now that I rode a BMX for about fifteen years – when I fell awkwardly, put my left arm out and separated my shoulder. And now, I think it’s necessary to explain what, exactly, the difference between a regular dislocated shoulder and a total separation is, because with the former it’s not so bad; at least most of the time. Usually occurring from a sudden impact, the arm vulnerable to harm due to the sudden stunning force transferring directly through the rigid limb, a dislocated shoulder can usually be put back in fairly quickly and is acutely painful only for as long as it remains out of place. A separated shoulder, on the other hand, although occurring in the same way, is ten times worse by comparison. First the bone is wrenched, very abruptly, far out of the socket – so far it sticks out from under your skin like a dull knife trying to break the surface – and then the arm and everything surrounding the bone swells up instantly, preventing the bone from going back in. All the while the pain is exacerbated horrendously with the barest of movements. After ten minutes in this condition, you’re going to hospital, straight into the so-called Pulling Room (named by the nurses) where you will meet your maker. And lots of Gas & Air.

It’s true that nurses really do have some of the best senses of humour going.

The second I’d fallen I knew straight away, without even looking at my arm, what I’d done. Knew because this was probably the sixth time I’d done this very familiar thing, and although I’d only ended up in A & E three of those times, each one was awful in its own unique way. But this time…this was the worst by a long shot. The last time I’d done this same thing, the doctor had looked at my arm and told me that if I did this again, I’d need surgery.

So the last thing on my mind, sitting there mangled up with my bike, was anyone helping me. In that state of mind, I always instantly hated the world and everything in it. It just didn’t occur to me to try and get anyone’s help. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t particularly care. The pain was taking over, and I suppose I was resigned to just sitting there and swearing until I passed out and there was at last some relief.

What made it worse – if there was a worse at that point – was not being able to stand up. With my left arm completely disabled and only feeling more painful with every passing second, there was no way I’d be able to move on my own out of a sitting position. More than anything I just wanted to stand up and vent my anger somehow, but that was impossible.

The family had clearly been watching me for sometime. A woman in her late thirties and man of similar age, standing there to the side of the ramp with their boy in front of them, looking at me. I couldn’t hear them but I guessed from their body language that they were discussing very quietly what they ought to do next. Absurdly, what I wanted more than anything was to tell them to piss off and leave me alone. But my anger soon vanished when the woman approached, bending down and reaching out towards my bad arm.

“Don’t,” I said, and she didn’t. Instead, the husband stepped forward, eased my bike away from me, and asked me what I thought I had done. I told them, they called for an ambulance, and I think I remember it alarming them all much more than it did me.

The ambulance men arrived fairly swiftly, although at the time I remember it felt like it took absolutely forever. Their professionalism was both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it meant they dealt with getting me onto my feet a little too efficiently, elevating the pain, and a blessing because nobody with a shoulder that separated is going to want to move anywhere fast.

When it came time to think about what to do with my beloved bike — a bike which although didn’t work as well as many, owing to my complete inability to be good at bicycle maintenance — I was mortified to discover that it wasn’t allowed to come with me. Ambulance policy dictated that all personal possessions too big to fit in the vehicle were simply left behind. I was in the process of mentally envisioning exactly how I was going to kick up one hell of a fuss – one handed, no less – when the family stepped in, offering to get my bike back home and take full responsibility of it, even though they were without a car.

After I arrived home some hours later, my arm firmly back where it belonged and a faint memory of four people wrestling it back in with a bone-crunching click…like a jagged pebble being dragged across glass…the bike was there, in the passage-way beside our house, just like they’d said. There was no note, no way for me to thank them, and I never did get to express how grateful I was for what they did that day.