‘My back is killing me.’
‘The small of my back. Please. You’ve got to give me something for the pain. I’m begging you—’
He cranked the handle several notches. The clicks were like machine-gun fire. I screamed again.
‘I’m sorry, Corporal Macy, really I am.’
Like fuck, I thought, as another wave of pain crashed through me.
The lights went out again.
My torso sprang upwards as soon as they took the tension off the strap. They lifted me onto another bed and finally relieved some of the pain.
They’d had to pump X-ray dye into my arm to identify the source of my internal bleeding. Then they’d squeezed the blood out of my kidneys. When they released the pressure, the blood had seeped back into them, the rupture clotted and my life had been saved.
‘Think of your internal organs as being connected together by pipes.’ The junior doctor’s bloodshot blue eyes were set in a broad, unsmiling face. ‘When you get hit as hard as you did, all your organs get thrown around and the pipes connecting them detach. Then you bleed internally and the bleeding can’t be stemmed. You die from a loss of circulating body fluid. We think you were hit at about 50 mph, a lot faster than is considered survivable. Fortunately, your stomach muscles are so strong and your body so fit that the impact did not rearrange your internal organs as it would have for most people, so all your pipes remained miraculously connected. The force of the collision did, however, rupture your kidneys and damage a number of other organs. Your heart arrested as it fought to keep you alive. You arrested twice, in fact.’
He smiled. ‘You’re a very lucky man. The surgeon couldn’t operate and didn’t give you more than a 20 per cent chance of pulling through. Thank God you’ve been keeping yourself fit, Corporal Macy. By rights you should be dead.’
Funny what you dream about when you’re on the point of checking out. Being pursued by a drone across a military firing range must have been on my mind because we’d recently done antiaircraft drills at Larkhill.
‘What hit me?’
‘You don’t remember?’
I’d have shaken my head if I wasn’t in so much pain.
He told me that a number of witnesses had come forward. I’d been cycling along Queen’s Avenue, close to the barracks. It was dark and it had been raining.
Slowly, it came back to me. I remembered the orange glow of the street lamps and their reflection in the puddles as I’d held my bike’s front wheel between the yellow lines at the edge of the road. I’d followed the same routine for several weeks: two hours in low gear at full pelt with a bin-bag under my clothes to raise my temperature and make me sweat. After that, I’d get off the bike and go for a long run.
I’d been getting myself fit for SAS Selection.
Something had hit my right handlebar; I remembered the bang. I’d looked up and seen a Volvo. It had overtaken too close and clipped me with its wing mirror. I’d struggled for balance and my wheel had clipped the kerb and I’d careered into the oncoming lane.
I remembered headlights very bright in my face, the world turning upside down and then something colliding with me…
The rest was filled in by the policeman who came to take my RTA victim’s statement.
When the front wheel of my bike locked at ninety degrees I’d gone over the handlebars and been hit by a car going too fast in the opposite direction. I was totally inverted when it ploughed into me, its radiator grille striking me in the small of the back. My head went under the bumper and my feet went through the windscreen. The driver had slammed on the brakes but not quickly enough to prevent him ploughing over my shoulder. No wonder I was a complete fucking mess.
I finally summoned the courage to ask the doctors the only question that mattered. SAS Selection. What were my chances?
A big fat zero, as it turned out. They told me I’d been lucky not to be invalided out of the Paras. The good news was that they were discharging me from hospital; I was heading home – if you could call army accommodation on the edge of Aldershot ‘home’.
Over the next few months, my mates came in to bathe me because I was in too much pain to move. I had a livid purple bruise from the toes on my right foot – where it had gone through the windscreen – all the way up my leg, across my arse, my back and my shoulder, finally petering out somewhere under my hairline.
After several weeks, I started to walk again with the use of a putter and a pitching wedge. As far as 2 Para was concerned, this wasn’t a military injury; in the old days it was a case of ‘get on with it and let us know when you’re capable of fighting again’.
I was in too much pain to even think about that.
Months later when I was sent back to hospital for another checkup, they spotted my other injuries; the ones they should have discovered before they discharged me.
I’d suffered multiple fractures all over my body and some had healed in the wrong positions.
Like the guy said, my fighting days were over.
ARRESTED AND TESTED
I’d joined the Paras in 1984 and thought I’d found my niche in life. Being accepted by this elite regiment had been my sliding-doors moment. The accident had slammed the doors firmly back in my face.
I was born and raised in the north-east, but, as a kid, constantly found myself in trouble. My parents split up when I was very young. Against my will I remained with my mother as did my younger brother. He was even more out of control than me and ended up in a secure institution; a boarding school for the ‘socially challenged’ they called it back then. One day he was with us, the next he was gone. He was the closest thing I had – the only real constant in my life – and I was angry that ‘they’, whoever they were, had taken him from me.
I didn’t know at the time that my mother couldn’t cope. Looking back, though, I wasn’t surprised. We were like the Bash Street Kids on crack, my brother and I; trouble through and through.
When I wasn’t skipping school, I was fighting the playground bullies and generally causing mayhem. It was only by a complete fluke that I managed to avoid a correctional institution. I had good reason to be grateful. However hard I thought I was, I’d seen the movie Scum, starring a young Ray Winstone, and didn’t like the look of it one little bit. A Residential School for Boys, Special School, Borstal or whatever you want to call these places – it would have killed me. It’s a miracle it didn’t kill my brother.
As soon as I could leave school, I did, and without a qualification to my name.
Finally back in the company of my father, I took a job as an engineering apprentice at a small workshop ten miles from home. The high point of my apprenticeship was turning, milling and drilling the portholes for Britain’s first iron-hulled warship. HMS Warrior was under restoration in Hartlepool dockyard and I had an important job to do. It was the early eighties, unemployment was going through the roof, and I thought I’d live and die in the north-east.
A thousand fox doorknockers and sixty-seven poorly paid portholes later, my work on Warrior was done – and so was I, until I met Stig down the pub one day. A local hard man, he was home on leave from the Paras. Two things impressed me about Stig. He had money – more money than I thought possible – and he could tell a story. Most of his stories concerned the Falklands, where the Paras had just been in the thick of it. If I could join the Parachute Regiment, I reasoned, I’d not only have money, but would end up seeing the world – even better, fighting in far-flung parts of it.