More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 87

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, 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 need rather more than aspirin.

My leg was split open in a bloody mess exuding poison – and goodness knows what else – seemingly by the gallon. My temperature was running at fever level. I had grown drips on both arms. Most of my vision was gone. And then, on the third day – in the 38 degree non-airconditioned hospital – my heart overheated. My last memory before lapsing into unconsciousness was of being strapped to an electric machine with bicycle clips attached to wrists and ankles. Holby General, good evening and goodnight.

In fairness, the Italians did a pretty thorough job: eight different types of antibiotic before there was a ‘winner’ found, and they actually refused to be parted from me until all trace of fever had gone. It was two weeks before my insurance company could even get permission to medevac me by air with an intensive care unit to a hospital in the UK.