HOW THE NHS SAVED ME FROM A HAIRY SITUATION
Hairy Biker Si King recalls his near-fatal brain aneurysm, for a series celebrating the Health Service
Just over four years ago Hairy Biker Si King went through the most terrifying experience of his life. ‘Going into the operating theatre, I didn’t know if I would live or die,’ he recalls.
Two days before, he had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm which would kill him. Surgery was his only option – but only
10 per cent who survive the procedure emerge unscathed.
‘It’s rare you walk away from that surgery without dying or without being left with some mobility deficit or issues with motor skills,’ Si says.
Happily, Si, now 50, made a full recovery and is able to carry on with his successful TV career. ‘You’d have to know me very well to notice any change in me,’ he says.
‘I do need a grandad nap in the afternoon, but at my age, I might have needed that anyway!’
He is in little doubt that the doctors and nurses of the NHS at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary saved his life – which is why he jumped at the chance to take part in a new five-part BBC1 series which celebrates the NHS in its 70th year.
‘I owe my life to the NHS. I simply wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the care and professionalism everyone showed me,’ he says. ‘This highlights the amazing work they do, against the odds. It was one way for me to say a very big thank you.’
His trip to visit the emergency and neurology departments at several hospitals in the north-east is one of five journeys undertaken for the series by well-known faces, all of whom have personal reasons for being grateful to the NHS.
Among them is Fern Britton, who returns to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to retrace the dramatic story of how the service saved her life in 2016, when she became very ill while recovering at home from surgery. She had had a routine hysterectomy three days before, but then she experienced intense pain and couldn’t walk.
When she went back to hospital she was diagnosed with an E. coli infection and abscesses in her abdomen. ‘I survived, but the battle wasn’t over...’ she has said. ‘A day or so later, I developed pneumonia and my lung collapsed. But I pulled through thanks to the incredible NHS team who looked after me beyond anything I could have hoped for.’
Heptathlete Denise Lewis visits New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, to retrace the footsteps of her grandmother, who was a nurse there for 40 years after arriving from Jamaica in the 1950s. That same hospital is where Denise’s granny was cared for before she died of breast cancer in 2005.
For Si King, the series gave him ‘a look in the rear-view mirror’. Since his illness, in the flurry of filming all over the world for the Hairy Bikers with his co-star, chef Dave Myers, he hadn’t reflected fully on what had happened to him in 2014, a period when he had already separated from wife Jane, mother to their three sons Alex, 28, James, 25, and 17-year-old Dylan, and had embarked on a new relationship with Michelle, a chef from Australia.
His ordeal was put in perspective in the series when he met a patient who also had an aneurysm, and is struggling to recover. ‘Like me, one minute he had a normal life – the next he was fighting for his life,’ Si recalls. Nor was Si entirely out of the woods after surgery: three weeks in intensive care followed, connected to ‘all sorts of pipes and wires’ – though Dave did sneak in the odd pork pie. It took months to get back to anything like normality. ‘I was exhausted just having a shower,’ he says.
He hopes the series demonstrates how hard NHS staff are working in difficult conditions. ‘It’s beautifully poignant, highlighting the real spirit of the NHS and human endeavour.’
As for his own endeavours, Si admits his brush with death didn’t give him any big life lessons. ‘I take it easier now but there’s no epiphany,’ he laughs. ‘I know I’m very lucky.’
Matron, Medicine And Me, Monday-Friday, 9.15am, BBC1.
Si and (inset) with a nurse who treated him