Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
I have to confess with great shame that I failed my first driving test on August 19 at 10 a.m. in GalwayCity. The testers were apologetic, but they said I traveled far too fast and erratically during the test and was a danger to myself and others.

I was driving two brand new aluminum crutches at the time. Mere two-stroke engines. I was humiliated and shocked.

An hour later, after a cup of coffee, I was allowed to take the test again, this time not with the beautiful crutches but with a walking aid of the Zimmer variety.

By slowing down to a crawl and keeping close to my own side of the corridor, dammit if I did not scrape a pass and my young and lovely testers then agreed to permit my discharge from theGalway Regional Hospital.  The Dutch Nation collected myself and the Zimmer and I was gone like a shot.

Four days earlier, you see, I crashed down from the ladder leading to the attic in Maisie’s Cottage. I landed on my feet, like a cat, but the left foot came smashing down on the edge of the bloody ladder and I actually heard it snapping and grinding.  It was not a pleasant sound, but at least it was not my neck.

The bilingual stream of curses I produced represented the best stream of language of my life. Even the cats ran out of the cottage in terror.

Anika the retriever, always a friend, licked the left side of my face in sympathy and even smelled her diagnosis of the rapidly swelling ankle. It frightened her too and she quickly departed as well.

The Dutch Nation was at work.  I was left alone with my mortality for the next hour. Thank

God, says I, for nicotine!

Anyway, that was the sequence of events which led to my failed driving test on crutches four days later, and bizarre as it may seem, to one of the most interesting weeks of my recent life.

New experiences are always fascinating. Had it not been for the busted ankle, for example, I would now have no knowledge at all, as a man, of what an epidural injection which expectant mothers routinely experience, is like.

I had one of those while the splendid UCHG surgeons were putting the ankle together again with plates and screws.  I was totally conscious the whole time, no pain at all, floating in a pleasant utopia.
Afterwards I asked if I had delivered a boy or a girl into the world, and I think some of them laughed out loud.

The doom and gloom thing afflicting this nation nowadays is often too deep and dark. There is widespread criticism of our national health service's enforced cutbacks and service limitations.

Never having been in hospital before except as a visitor (and not even having a general practitioner), I have to report being overwhelmed and touched by the highly professional care, courtesy, service and compassion I encountered at every level at what I will always call the Regional Hospital in Galway.  It could not be bettered.

It is also the case that nobody who treated me knew I had any media connections. They did not know me from Adam. As far as they were concerned I was just another ould lad who had "done" his ankle by falling off a ladder.

And do you know what else there was in the system? There was that element of craic which is so important for a peasant race like us. Crucial.

The days I spent in a unit full of ankles like mine were leavened by humor from both staff and patients.

Incredibly, despite the fact I was divorced from my beloved cigarettes, I actually enjoyed myself.

The pain control was total, the food was excellent, the company likewise. The slagging I received when I failed my first driving test was absolutely classic.

The only slight problem I had with the medical teams was that they wanted to give me a full medical checkout as well as repair my offended ankle. They said, for example, they wished to send down some kind of mini-camera into my belly at the same time as the ankle was being repaired. The camera would inspect all my inner orifices without any pain at all.

I successfully resisted this full checkout by saying I saw myself as akin to an old car landing on a garage forecourt with a punctured wheel. “Fix the puncture, lads,” I said, “but don't lift the bonnet.”

After all these years on the road there are bound to be many evidences of wear and tear down there, but I don't want to know about them at this stage at all. Fix the puncture and let me back on the road again.

In the end they agreed, and I guess at least one of the doctors probably even agreed with me.

Anyway, I'm back home with my walking aid and a huge plaster on the left leg, happily threshing away.  The surgeon told me they did a mighty job on the ankle, a little bit of physiotherapy over the next six weeks and I'll probably escape without even a limp.

The Dutch Nation is spoiling me rotten, the cats have returned to my lap, and I have plenty of cigarettes and even more appreciation of our national health service.

A final word of warning to aging men like myself. When we were boys ladders only attacked our womenfolk's nylon stockings. Nowadays the ladders are attacking us with great success.

It was always said in Ireland that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder.  I now believe it is even unluckier for those of us of a certain age to walk up one of them.

P.S.: Brother Mickie phoned five minutes ago to inform me he has been invited out to the West Bank of Palestine in the autumn to perform his classic song "Only Our Rivers Run Free." He has invited me to come along with him Zimmer frame and all if necessary. I think I'll go too.