More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 87

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

THINGS would go from bad to worse. By the next day, my temperature was soaring to over 40 degrees. It would remain there for ten days, during which time I would lose my vision and almost half my total body weight.

My leg would split open like a pea pod, from groin to knee.

I was unconscious for much of the time. I usually wake every morning at 5am.

That’s when they put Ave Maria on the hospital loudspeakers.

One morning, I wake up and four doctors are peering intently into the wound. I can’t understand what they are saying, in Italian, but there is frequent mention of the word ‘morte’. By now, they’ve tried several antibiotics and nothing is kicking in against the infection in my system.

Elisa tells me that they decided that morning that I would not see the day out and, back in England, my father was making arrangements to fly to Bari.

I decided to call on some outside assistance. The next day – I am still around, despite prevailing medical opinion – I have my cellphone glued to my ear, with a doctor in faraway Edinburgh at the other end, as the doctors pore over my wound.

“They seem to be using the word thrombo a lot,” I report to my old friend, Dr Murrray Carmichael.

Murray worked with the Red Cross during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, so knows a thing or two about emergency medicine.

“Tell them you want anti-coagulants,” he instructs

“Perfavore. Anti-coagulants.” I say it veeery slowly – aanticoaaagulaants – like the BBC’s World Service news in slow English for Africa.

The medicos look baffled. At the other end of the line, an useful suggestion.

“Bloody aspirin.”

Aspirin is. indeed, recognised internationally, I discover. But I needed rather more than aspirin.