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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Thursday 30th April 2009

Bicycle Accident

I got knocked off my bike on Tuesday night. Ambulance, hospital, general anaesthetic … the whole nine yards. No nerve damage and brain seems to be functioning okay, but hopes of becoming a male supermodel have now been dashed.

I was cycling down Holland Park Avenue in West London at around 12.30am, front and rear lights both on, when I saw a car about to pull out of a side street. I slowed down, trying to figure out if he’d seen me. He didn’t move so I assumed he had and was letting me go ahead. I duly cruised past and he pulled out, knocking me off.

The first thing that struck me -- apart from the car, obviously -- was how hard I’d been hit. I thought, “That’s odd. He wasn’t going that fast, surely?” I staggered towards the kerb, struggling to retain consciousness. I was aware of blood dripping from my head and on to my tie and shirt, but after a few seconds thought, “It’s probably nothing. I’ll just get back on my bike and cycle home.” Passers-by then started coming up and asking if I was okay and looking with concern at my forehead. I tried to gauge how serious the injury was by their reaction to the sight of me -- and was disturbed by how shocked they seemed. Someone called an ambulance.

I thought the guy who’d hit me had skedaddled, but he hadn’t. He appeared, after parking his car across the street, and asked me if I was okay: “Sorry, mate, I just didn’t see you.” I asked him for his name and number. He said he didn’t have a pen, so I gave him my pen, then nothing to write on, so I gave him a business card. He wrote down a name and number, handed the card back and kept the pen. If I hadn’t been so dazed and confused I would have jotted down his number plate.

Several good Samaritans retrieved my stuff from the road -- my smashed iPhone, my broken glasses, my buckled bike. An ambulance arrived and I got in, followed quickly by the police who had just arrived. They asked if the driver who’d hit me had stopped and I said he had and gave them the card. They tried calling the number, but got no reply -- and the paramedic said he’d seen him scurrying off when the police arrived. The paramedic then did some rudimentary tests to make sure I was still compos mentis while the police took a statement. When I told the WPC I worked for the Standard, among other papers, she said, “They’re always having a go at us.” To defuse the situation, I told her I used to be the restaurant critic, at which point she asked me if I could recommend any restaurants in Notting Hill. Slightly odd, considering blood was still gushing from my forehead.

The police departed, the paramedic bandaged my head and I was driven to Charring Cross Hospital on Fulham Palace Road. On the way, the paramedic, having learnt I was a journalist, said he had “a bit of a story” for me. He’d recently picked up a number of torture victims in Shepherd’s Bush, all of them Poles. One victim in particular had stuck out. He’d had both his collarbones broken, a hammer blow to the back of the head, welts on his back where he’d been beaten with a piece of rubber hose and cigarette burns in a noose-like circle round his neck. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so messed up,” he said. I asked if they’d caught the people who’d done it and he said, “He wouldn’t give a statement -- they never do.” He seemed pretty disturbed: “It’s not what you signed up for, you know?”

I arrived at Charring Cross A & E and, after a 90-minute wait, was seen by a doctor. She gave me a “trauma exam” to see if I’d broken any bones, injured my brain, etc. I passed that. I was then examined by a registrar who’s first words were: “That’s gonna scar.” I asked her if I needed stitches, or whether she could simply glue it back together. “Have you seen it?” she asked. I said no and she led me to a mirror. It was then that I saw the injury for the first time. It looked as if an alien had burst out of my forehead. Gluing it back together clearly wasn’t an option.

The doctor arranged for me to be treated by the “plastics team” at Chelsea & Westminster and I headed over there in a taxi. I was pleased to be on my way to Chelsea & Westminster. The Paediatric Department successfully treated my newborn son for Chicken Pox four years ago and I raised some money for them last year by entering the London Duathlon. Coincidentally, I completed it on the very same bicycle I’d just been knocked off. It’s a Brompton, by the way, and I managed to retrieve it from the road, fold it up, stick it in the ambulance -- and kept it with me as I was shuffled around over the next 24 hours or so. It should still work after a bit of patching up.

I was admitted to Chelsea & Westminster, seen by a plastic surgeon, and was in theatre by 11am, having my wound cleaned and stitched up by the same surgeon. She seemed good, too -- a seasoned pro. Just before I went under I told her I didn’t mind having a scar, but if possible could she make it a “Harry Potter-type ‘Z’?” She laughed and said she’d see what she could do. I was brought back round at 12.30pm, roughly 12 hours after the accident, and home, clutching a bag of antibiotics, by 8pm. How’s that for service? Chelsea & Westminster really is top notch. Would I have been treated any faster if I’d been knocked off my bike in New York or Los Angeles? I doubt it. The only difference is the treatment I received in London was completely free.

I stuck a picture of my injuries on Twitter and Facebook and got some funny responses. “You look like an extra from ‘Shaun of the Dead’,” said one. The prize for the least sentimental comment goes to Kate Spicer, my fellow judge on Eating With the Enemy: “Greeted enthusiastically by another adoring fan, Toby?”

There’s a simple moral to this story: If you’re going to cycle in Central London, wear a helmet. If I’d been wearing one I probably could have got back on my bike and cycled home. It wasn’t my fault -- I mean, it really, really wasn’t my fault -- but I still feel like an arse. I called the number given to me by the guy who knocked me off and, needless to say, it’s false.

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