Off the Road

I’m sorry for the inordinately long silence – and grateful to all those who have written to ask if I’m OK. The short answer is yes – now.

At the end of February I had a routine biopsy and, having asked, was told that it was perfectly safe to travel: there was only a 1 per cent risk of infection.  So the next day I flew off to the UK for a series of lectures at Durham, Newcastle, Exeter and Queen Mary London.  Somewhere over Greenland I realised that all was not well – a combination of high temperature and chills (which I’m relieved I didn’t know at the time doctors call ‘rigors’) – and I recognised, through my confusion, the symptoms of sepsis.  I managed to explain to the Cabin Service Director what was happening, and she found two doctors on board who looked after me: by this stage I was very ill and going in to shock.  At one stage plans were laid to divert to Rekjavik, but the doctors – magnificent men in that flying machine – gave me antibiotics and brought my temperature down.  I was moved to a flat bed (ah!) and by the time we landed in London (straight in: the flight crew declared a medical emergency) I felt much better.  Before I was allowed to disembark, I was checked over by two cheery paramedics, and then wheeled through the terminal by the captain and the Cabin Service Director.  So a huge thank you to all those on BA 84 who came to my aid: I cannot praise their professionalism, care and competence too highly.

Sepsis on the ground is terrifying – my wife has had it multiple times – but at 38,000 feet it’s almost overwhelming.  It was, I thought, a sharp lesson for someone who now works on casualty evacuation…

So I headed off to London and checked in at the Great Northern Hotel, ready for the train to Durham the next day.  Twenty minutes after I’d phoned Angela (‘Have I got a story for you?!’) the symptoms returned, so I went down to reception to ask them to call an ambulance.  Their first thought was that a cab would be quicker – but this was King’s Cross and the queues were enormous – so they called a paramedic who cycled over from St Pancras.  I can remember muttering something about ‘not going on your crossbar’, and when I stumbled through my explanation he called a car which took me to University College London Hospital just down the road.

I thought I’d be there for a few hours while they pumped IV antibiotics in to me, and even though they kept me overnight, the next morning I was still counting on making my train to Durham at mid-day. Then a consultant explained that I would be going nowhere until I’d had no temperature spike for 48 hours, and ordered all sorts of lab work to find out what was going on.


Eventually I was there for five days on IV, receiving absolutely wonderful care (so hands off the NHS!).  By then I’d cancelled Newcastle and Durham, and was discharged into the care of my brother and his family with a course of heavy-duty oral antibiotics.  Never having been in hospital before, I wasn’t prepared for how weak I was — it turns out that life-saving antibiotics are also life-draining ones — nor for how vulnerable I would feel.  Over the weekend it became clear that I’d have to cancel Exeter, and by mid-week QML had to go too.

I flew home at the end of the week, just when the course of antibiotics had expired: you can perhaps imagine how apprehensive I was during the flight.  But to distract me I managed to watch “Testament of Youth“, loosely (but brilliantly) based on Vera Brittain‘s autobiographical memoir of being a nurse in the First World War — when sepsis was a major killer.  Smart choice.

Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain

I’ve been slowly recovering since then, having battled a series of secondary infections, and I’m now just about OK.  I’m really sorry to have had to let so many people down, since I know that everyone who arranged my lectures and seminars had gone to a huge amount of trouble on my behalf: I was really looking forward to those exchanges.  I’m now staring at a backlog on my screen and on my desk, so I also have to apologise to all those whose messages and requests have gone unanswered: I’ll do my best to get back on track.

It may take a while: I’m off to deliver the two presentations I’d planned for the UK – “Angry Eyes” (about air strikes in Afghanistan) and “Dirty Dancing” (about drones and military violence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas) – at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the Centre for International Governance Innovation at Waterloo.  And then it’s the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago…  So bear with me, and thanks again to all those who have written.  I really appreciate it.

3 thoughts on “Off the Road

  1. Dear Derek,

    It is good hear that you are doing better and that you have received such good care. Best of luck with the upcoming events and the recovery process!


  2. Kia kaha Derek,
    I had noticed the absence of your posts, which I have quickly absorbed into my e-reading schedule.
    I am about to present for confirmation of my PhD proposal at Massey University Wellington, New Zealand and thank you for your ‘slimescape’ essay. It really got me thinking about the inter-connectedness of landscape with memory and experience: I am making sculptures that are informed by the letters and diaries of a First World War NZ artillery, informed by material culture studies.
    All the best and get well soon
    Arohanui and kind regards
    David Guerin

  3. So glad to hear that you are recovering. We are all looking forward to your visit! Jasmin

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