Friday, 27 November 2009

Chapter 34 Hospital Here I Come

This chapter was typed on a lap top brought into the hospital by my son Mark so that I could regain movement in my right hand. I shall leave it in its original form including any spelling mistakes and omissions. It descriptive wording is brief as it took a lot of effort just to type a few lines.
The author 19th July 2007 Aylesbury

It is now almost a week since I was admitted to the National Neurological and Neurosurgery Hospital.
Well little did I know when signing on that morning, Wednesday 13th June 2007 that it was to be the last day of my coach-driving career. I spent an hour on standby then set of for Woodhall Farm. Leaving there at 6:50 I ran on down to the town then up to the Motorway. Normal busy traffic to Brent Cross and then down the Finchely Road to Lords. Sitting in the bus lane in Park Road I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of panic and my right hand and foot became very heavy and I new straight that I was having a stroke. I some how managed to get the coach around into Baker Street and onto the stop in spite of my foot feeling like a lead brick. None of the passengers even noticed and those getting off thanked me and wished me a good day. However when the lights changed to green and the other buses moved off I new then that I could not move and I was facing early retirement. I turned around to the passengers and said “I am terribly sorry but we seem to have a problem, I cannot move my right side” They immediately realized what was up and called for an ambulance and came and supported me because at that point I just wanted to go to sleep. I remember seeing Debbie and telling her I was up for early retirement also it was lucky that Geoff the Victoria controller was on the 757 behind me and took over from the passengers in trying to keep me awake.
The ambulance arrived within ten minutes and I was placed on a chair stretcher and take off the coach. Fortunately I had the presence of mind, (it being undamaged) to remove my module and keep the waybill. I was kept in the ambulance for about fifteen minutes whilst they stabilized me and then it was off to University College Hospital and straight into A&E. Here I was quickly assessed as having a stroke. At this point Mark turned up and has been remarkable in my recovery. Geoff had rang Mo at Hemel who had rang Annette. Mo told her I had collapsed so she in turn rang Mark. Soon after I had been admitted to UCL I was told a bed had been found for me at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, it backs onto Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. Well after being told transport was on its way, after four hours I was told that if we don’t get you out of here ‘the shit will hit the fan’ The prime minister Tony Blair had decreed that all A&E departments will clear within four hours and so I was quickly wheeled up to a ward. Whilst here with Mark, Pat Donnelly an Inspector turned up .He stayed for awhile, asked after my well being and then left the ward only to return a few seconds later saying Ken Hargreaves my garage manager had reminded Pat to collect my module and cash, our ever thoughtful manager! At one point a lot of movement retuned to my hands and legs and while Mark had gone to the toilet I got up and also went to the toilet, a bad move, I became all weak again and got back into bed completely immobile on my right side. After some time there was some discussion as to who was taking me to the NHNN. It was about 3:00 that I was finally moved down to a waiting ambulance and with Mark on board we began our very bumpy journey along to Russell Square. Whether it was the Bob Marley music or the bumpy ride I don’t know but I began to lose consciousness. I remember both Mark and the para medics calling my name. I soon arrived at NHNN and was quickly assessed by Professor Martin Brown the head of the Acute Brain Injury Unit along with Dr Adam Cassidy and Dr Brian Strange. Professor Brown was most annoyed that it had taken them nearly six hours to get me to the NHNN. It is most important that stroke victims are seen and assessed as soon as possible after a stroke. I was soon put on a ward. Next I was wheeled off to have a CCT scan of my brain and a chest X ray of my heart. Then a nights rest although under 72 hours continuously monitoring. Next day I was to have two MRI scans. This is where one is rolled into a tube a few inches wider than your own body, not to every ones liking, in fact 10% of people can’t take it. It is not just the enclosed place but also the intense noise, it’s like having a pneumatic drill going along side ones head. After that it was back to the ward and a rest. Following a stroke one gets very tired very easily. By Saturday I was beginning to walk and Mark was coming in every day to help me recover. Dr Cassidy was making a daily assessment of my progress. I was now getting intense therapy from Sasha my occupational therapist and Sherryl my physiotherapist. Along with these two beautiful torturers I was also having to play mind games with Rennie the neuropsychologist who was trying to assess if my thought and cognitive processes had suffered any damage.
Well it’s now just over two weeks since my stroke and I shall be going home on Friday. My stay here has been very interesting an insight into brain injuries. I think I have been so lucky to have been hospitalized here. Also the fact that I have not felt any anger over what has happened has of course I believed helped aid my recovery. Well whether this is the final chapter in my forty year career of bus driving remains to be seen. The End
Chapter 33 Trouble Brewing

Although I still enjoyed driving into London every day I found myself becoming more irritable with the commuters especially those who continued to use their mobile phones on the coaches. There is nothing more annoying than someone talking in a loud voice right behind you. I brought this problem to management on many occasions at our Health and Safety meetings and eventually I persuaded management to post notices on the coaches asking passengers not to use their mobile phone once the coach had left the terminal. This was not very effective and passengers became quite abusive when you pointed this notice out to them. Often if you told them their call was distracting you they would tell you it wasn’t. I would always ask them how the hell did they knew what distracted me, saying that if they took all their clothes off and walked down the coach that would not distract me but sitting right behind me talking drivel very loudly into their mobile phone would. Unbeknown to me I was becoming very stressed.
One day always makes people very wary was Friday 13th. April had such a Friday. Traffic on the M1 was very heavy approaching Hemel Hempstead and so I decided to come off the motorway at Watford and go through Leavsden and Abbotts Langley. Something we all do quite often. I had come down College Road and was turning right on the roundabout into Tibbs Hill when a car driven by a young girl shot across from Langley Way onto the roundabout and across the front of my coach. I pulled across to the offside and braked as hard as I could but struck her car on the offside rear door turning the car across the front of the coach. I expected the coach to turn her car over but fortunately it pushed it out of the way leaving the car badly damaged but the young driver unscathed.
The reaction from the passengers was very interesting. The young lads at the
front yelled out “where the f**k did that come from” my exact feelings. Further back came the call “It’s Friday the 13th driver” again something that was also on my mind. One passenger and one passenger only got annoyed with me for calling the police and delaying his journey home, the rest were very sympathetic and helped in filling all the forms we have to use now in the event of an accident. I had to take photos of the scene and give a statement to the police. The young lady admitted to me and the police that she had not seen me. The police also pointed out to her father who turned up at the scene that if she was going to have an accident don’t pick on something this size. Her car was a virtual right off whereas the coach suffered a broken front indicator light and some minor scratched to the front bumper.
Although I thought at the time this had not affected me as accidents are unfortunately part and parcel of our job. I had been lucky not to have been involved in any major accident like this in my forty years driving career.
I now found myself becoming more and more irritated with the passengers to the extent of shouting at passengers when they were using their phones and refusing to acknowledge them when they said hello to me, and so the inevitable happened.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Chapter 32 Off the Road

I’ve had a few motor bikes since we returned to England, never being able to afford a car. I also have never taken a motor cycle driving test as my full driving licence allowed me to drive motorcycles up to 125cc. with 'L' plates attached. So I’d had a couple of Honda 125cc bikes and then two Susuki 125s. When the Susukis became too expensive I down graded to a JAWA 125 not so fast but it got me to Hemel Hempstead and back each day.
Then in the late 1990s the law was changed so that to drive anything bigger than
50cc you would have to pass a proficiency test before the end of the year. I hurriedly arranged this and duly passed the test which was conducted in a school playground. I had arranged some tuition from a local motorcycle driving instructor who, when I had passed the test and been given a piece of paper saying I could now drive my JAWA 125cc with L plates, my instructor said I might as well take a full on road test which would allow me to drive a bigger motorcycle up to 500cc. Once more another driving test which I passed successfully. I remember being told on that very first bus test I was going a bit slow and this time I was also told I was going a bit slow through some of the country lanes around Aylesbury but this time it wasn’t because of a different bus but because my poor old JAWA couldn’t go any faster.
Well no sooner had I passed my test then I was off to Mick Surman’s my motorcycle dealer in Aylesbury to purchase a brand new JAWA 350cc. I bought it on Friday the
22nd of August 1997 and spent Saturday driving around Aylesbury, getting use to a bigger machine. Sunday the 24th I was on a late turn and enjoyed my ride to work on my brand new motorbike. I finished about 10 o’clock that evening and set off for Aylesbury on my new bike. I was approaching the petrol garage just before the entrance to Hemel Hempstead railway station when I noticed a car facing me waiting to turn right into the garage. Just as I was almost about to pass the car it suddenly pulled across in front of me. Goodbye brand new bike and me I thought as I crashed broadside into the car, the bike stopped, I didn’t and lost consciousness as I went sailing over the car to land on my back in the road. I came to after a while and proceeded to wiggle my arms and legs, well no broken back although my stomach and groin sure felt sore.
Within a few minutes an ambulance had arrived. Well they told me they happened to be just passing on their way back from a call. I had by that time got to my feet and felt relatively ok although I was unaware of my injuries due to shock. I told the medics I was ok and just wanted to get back home and signed a disclaimer form for the ambulance crew. By this time a police officer had turned up and was talking to the young male driver. Meanwhile his female passenger was running around saying “it was all my [her] fault.”
I later thought what on earth was she doing to him to distract him. Anyway I left my brand new written off bike in the garage forecourt and got a taxi from the station home to Aylesbury and presented myself to a very surprised and upset family. I had rang Annette from the railway station to tell her I'd had an accident but that I was ok.
The next morning, Monday, my daughter Heather told me I had broken my wrist or arm because of the bruising but I was not convinced however Annette persuaded me to go to the hospital anyway. When I turned up at casualty and told them I’d been in a motorcycle accident I was immediately given a full examination. I told them my groin hurt and they did lots of tests and told me I was ok. When you fly though the air tearing your stomach on the windscreen supports I am sure your stomach is not alright which was to prove correct later on.
In the meantime following x rays I was sent to the plastering room to have my wrist and arm set in plaster. I noticed there were lots of photos and thank you notes posted on the wall from previous motorcycle accident victims. When I arrived home with a brand new plaster cast everyone seemed pleased to have been proven right and that I had taken their advise and gone to hospital. My new plaster cast soon became adorned with names and drawings. My new granddaughter Amy had such a pained look on her face when she saw me, she was nearly one year old.
later that day I rang the garage to tell them I’d be off for a while. They told me one of the drivers had seen me lying in the road as he went past and assumed I was dead so they were pleased to hear I would be coming back to work some time soon. I contacted the union solicitors who began working on the case straight away, eventually winning for me, at no cost, a decent amount of compensation. After a couple of hiccoughs in the legal system the young man received a fine but was allowed to keep his licence as according to his solicitor he had a low IQ and needed his car to get to work and also he would need to earn money to pay off his fine not only for this accident but for his previous convictions for speeding. He should have lost his licence and the police commiserated with us for the fact that he was still driving.
I also rang up Mick Surman on the Tuesday to tell him about the accident and to sort out the insurance claim. Mick said not to worry about the insurance. The insurers had already contacted him so he knew of my accident and the insurers informed him that the bike had been written off and Mick had already got me a brand new bike ready for collection. I told him my arm was in plaster but he said never mind that you can pop over and look at the bike from time to time until you are ready to go again. After a few visits to the hospital my arm was finally released from its cast. Then followed some physiotherapy on my hand to get it mobile again. After a while I was soon back to full working order and off to work again. One odd thing did happen a few years later. I received a phone call from the police in Manchester to say that my motorbike was being held in their vehicle compound and if I wanted it released I would have to pay a sum of money. I told them the bike had been written of by the insurers some years previously. They asked if I knew who recovered the bike and said it looked like some sort of scam and they would look into it and I heard no more.
Over the years I've been very fortunate to have had very little time off sick.
Although a couple of times do spring to mind. One was the eating of a cream bun at Chelsham garage. At the end of the day any leftovers from the canteen were put out by the canteen staff for the late turn drivers to enjoy, unfortunately fresh cream buns do not stay fresh for ever and having enjoyed a free cream bun for my evening tea I set off with the 706 to Tring and then home to Aylesbury. During the night the cream bun had its revenge and I was off sick the next day so losing a days pay. A very expensive free bun Annette pointed out. Another self inflicted sickness occurred when I had overdone the spice in a meal I'd cooked. I was feeling a bit unwell the next morning but went to work and signed on. I managed to get to London although I did stop for a few minutes when I reached the end of the M1 at Brent Cross and put my head down on the wheel while a bout of nausea passed, and do you know not one passenger asked what was wrong. By the time I got back to the garage I was feeling very ill. I must have looked ill as well because Pat Auger came over to me and asked if I was ok when I moaned that I wasn't she said "don't worry Dave you rest, I'm on standby, I'll do your second London" that's what I call a real friend. By the time Pat had got back from London I was feeling well enough to pay in and go home.
I also managed to get two hernias, some years apart though. The first was my own fault. I had gone into town to by a new television, they were big and heavy years ago, but being too mean to have it delivered I carried it from the shop to the bus station and then from the bus stop to our house, only across the road but that was enough to start a small tear in my groin. The second was the result of the above mentioned motorbike accident although I couldn’t claim for that as I’d already settled the claim for the accident. Fortunately in between the two hernia operations they had speeded thing up so instead of a three day stay in hospital it was operation in the morning, a sandwich in the afternoon and goodbye in the evening. Mind you I did enjoy the rest at home recovering. Looking back I remember how I couldn't wait to get back to driving those big red buses after even a few days on holiday. But now somehow the stress was beginning to build up and I looked forward to my days off.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Chapter 31 A Little Bit More on the Road

Well so much for my union activities, what about driving those buses and
coaches. The major change that took place on the buses and coaches was the implementation of the European Working Time Regulations (as applied to Road Transport). The EU directive lays down a maximum working week of 48 hours. Unfortunately our government has obtained an opt out. Businesses state that if they are to compete they must keep wages low, this forces the ordinary low paid worker to work excessive hours to obtain a living wage. We know that working long hours is not only detrimental to your health but also has an adverse effect upon family life. As this book is not about economics all I can say is that most drivers opted out of the 48 hour week. However the 48 hour limit did apply to coaches. The EU directive stated that any route whose length was over 50Km was subject to EU regulations and not Domestic rules. Basically this meant that drivers on the bus rotas could work for thirteen days before have a day off and came under UK Domestic rules whereas the coach route from the Hemel Hempstead estates to Victoria was over 50Km and therefore the drivers on the coach rota had to have a 36 hour break after six days work. Also any driver who did even one days work on the coaches was required to stay within the EU regulations for the next three weeks. These rules meant that the earnings on the coaches were somewhat lower than that on bus work as bus drivers could work longer hours. In consequence of this there have been a shortage of drivers applying for the coach rota.
The introduction of the EU regulations also meant the use of the tachcograph, or the spy in the cab as it was referred to. The tachograph is a round plasticated disc which sits inside the speedometer and records not only the speed the vehicle is doing but also the hours driving and breaks that a driver has. Each driver has his own supply of discs which he must keep with him and he hands them into the depot once a week keeping three weeks recorded discs with him at any one time.
I could afford to remain on the coach rota and did so. Some drivers could not afford the lower wage and went back on the buses.
So I continued to drive the 758 Greenline coaches into London on a daily basis, usually two trips a day, although two trips a day would not quite add up to our guaranteed 36 hour week and so most duties had pieces of bus work added to them either before or after having gone to London. The Union have argued for ages, but to no avail, that putting bus work in front of coach work could seriously disrupt the coach departure times. For example if you drive for an hour or more through the town especially in the rush hour then you will be late taking over your coach as there is very little leeway between coming off a bus and taking over a coach. Increasing the time between taking over the coach from the bus would encroach on the maximum driving time of four and a half hours permitted under the EU regulations. Some of this bus work included school journeys and we have all heard how horrific these can be.
Very few children these days have travelled on buses other than to go to school and therefore have no concept of how to behave on public transport. As we have to concentrate on driving chaos usually reigns on the school buses. Sometimes the schools will intervene and sometimes the drivers themselves will try to regain order but no one really seems to care, this can therefore add a lot of stress to the drivers working life.
Many years ago when Mark was about a year old I told of the time I went through a red light at West Hendon, well twenty six years later it happened again. At the top of Hendon Way were it joins the Finchely Road there is a set of traffic lights whose aspects change at the same time, if it goes from green to amber as you approach the opposite set of lights are changing from amber to green and as it’s a wide junction it could appear that by going across on amber from Hendon Way it may look as though from the Finchely Road that the vehicle has jumped the lights. This has happened to numerous coaches and as was my luck when I did it there was a police patrol car sitting on the Finchely Road. Just after I turned right I could see the blue flashing lights. I pulled up and got out of the coach. I pointed out the poor phasing of the lights and the police officers reply was “if you want to argue that in court it’s up to you”
He then checked my driving licence and with a grin said “ at least you’re consistent” referring to my previous conviction for going through a red light twenty six years earlier. Well its seemed pointless arguing my case in court so I sent my licence off to the local court and accepted the fine which the union paid. These days however the union will not pay fines imposed by the courts as it would appear to be condoning breaking the rules of the road. What the union will do which is very important is to supply you with a good solicitor if you require one. Although I did not use the union legal aid when I went through red lights, allegedly, I did need them when some idiot knocked me off my motorbike and nearly killed me.