posts » Mistakes, marathons and medicine

Mistakes, marathons and medicine


My good friend Chloe was run over by a truck when cycling in London 10 years ago. She would have died had she not been airlifted to hospital by the London Air Ambulance (LAA). Chloe is now going to run the Marathon des Sables in April, 2018, and will be raising money for LAA. You can support her at­r-chloe-baker.

The long story

As some people may know, I moved to France at the beginning of this year. It's been a wild time - and follows on well from my previously wild existence in London, the city I was born and brought up in, and where I've lived for much of my adult life. Indeed, over the 10 years or so that preceded my move, I had some amazing experiences. I worked as a doctor looking after some of the sickest children in the capital, both in hospitals and with the ambulance services, stabilising sick babies and transporting them to places that were better equipped to care for them. I studied for - and completed - a PhD at one of the best Universities in the country. I wrote academic articles related to cycling safety and I campaigned to improve the streets of London, to make them safer for the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists. I partied hard and enjoyed myself with the many friends I had and made: good food and drink... the best of times. Like many who live a highly busy (and "stressful" - although I don't like to make excuses) life, I also smoked a lot.

And then I got an opportunity I couldn't resist: to work in Paris. Time for a change, The City of Lights, a new language, new challenges. I'm working both as a researcher and continuing my previous path of looking after and transporting critically ill children. I've been introduced to the pleasantries and vagaries of French administrative processes which are, quite simply, not just a different league but entirely unrelated to the pedantry and legal arse-covering that exists in the English-speaking world. As well as French medical, academic and civil services (for I'm directly employed by one of the State departments), I've negotiated housing, social security, transport, financial services, adult education, cultural events and social codes of practice. I've learned a lot - and I've not even yet needed to complete a tax return or deal with the local police commissariat: many adventures still await me.

One of the challenges that I decided to set myself this year was to get a bit healthier. Last year I'd cycled 2,500km across France to Barcelona with a friend (we meandered a bit), but that was just a holiday, nothing sustained. Plus, it's a lot easier when the weather's good and the people are friendly, and we did our best to avoid the mountains (not always successfully). Furthermore, I was already a cyclist, so it wasn't really something that I couldn't do: just something I hadn't had the time for before. So I needed to find a new outlet for my energies; after reading an article in mid-January about a couch-to-running for half an hour continuously, this proved to be running. Yep, I now officially seem to be middle-aged.

Of course, sustaining things is harder than just doing an activity for a few weeks and then saying "I've done that" and buying a t-shirt. There were inevitable interruptions: complete humiliation by the departmental Conseil de l'Ordre while trying to register to practice medicine - "don't worry, it's just administration"; trips back to the UK to work complicated by evenings out partying with friends; a longer vacation to the US to catch up with family and friends, and party... But at least I was enjoying myself now, a definite improvement on where I'd been twelve months previously, stuck in a rut (or was it the gutter?) in London. And of course, when the going's good, when you've just turned the corner, that's when you make the worst mistakes. For me, it happened on a Monday morning: the poster on the bus was quite innocuous, but the idea stuck around. Hence, that was how I found myself, 24 hours later, clicking on the most dangerous button on the internet, "submit payment" for the Marathon de Paris.

There's only one thing that's keeping me going at the moment, and that's knowing that one of the best friends I made during my first 6 months of this year, is doing something even more crazy. Chloe Baker was another UK medic who had managed to escape the system for a little while - although at an earlier point in her career, and so she is now back in London where she still has a number of years of post-graduate training to go. But Chloe has both a purpose as well as a very good reason behind that purpose: the purpose is that she is raising money for the London Air Ambulance (LAA) and the reason behind that purpose is that the LAA saved her life.

Ten years ago, while cycling along the South Circular (one of the major ring roads in London) to medical school, Chloe was run over by a lorry. As she says, one minute she was aware of the vehicle bearing down on her while she frantically tried to get out of its way, the next minute she was "lying on my back with a wheel across my abdomen and my hands trying to push it off while somehow still managing to shout at the lorry driver to stop." Luckily, he did, but Chloe had suffered serious abdominal injuries as well has a number of broken ribs and a punctured lung. The ambulance services were dispatched - including the LAA - and although the first responders were there quickly, they were savvy enough to know that she was seriously unwell. Upon the arrival of the London Air Ambulance team, Chloe was put to sleep on the side of the road and taken to the Royal London Hospital where she had emergency surgery. The pre-hospital medical care provided by the LAA team undoubtedly was critical in contributing to her survival, and she would have been very unlikely to have survived a bumpy road transfer to the nearest hospital.

So, for Chloe and her partner Dave, the ultimate challenge has finally arrived. In just over 4 months time, they will be running the Marathon des Sables: more than 270km over 6 days in the Moroccan desert. Apparently it's the toughest footrace on the planet - they've promised to let us know. The rules require you to be self-sufficient, carrying on your back everything (except water) that is needed to survive. You are given a place in a tent to sleep at night, but everything else is down to the individual competitor. It is not going to be easy. They have to carry a venom pump, an emergency flare, and a compass. At least 10% of competitors fail to finish. But then I'm also sure that at least 10% of competitors do not have the reasons to finish that Chloe and Dave have. Indeed, the London Air Ambulance not only saved Chloe's life, but also attend on average at least 5 other critically injured patients per day across London. Since their first mission in 1989, they have treated 36,500 people. So Chloe and Dave have a very good incentive to keep on running. I hope you will support them. You can do so by going here:

And, on the 8th of Aprll while I’m standing on the start line before I hit the streets of Paris, I’ll be content in the knowledge that Chloe and Dave are at that very same instant standing on their own start line in Morocco with a challenge that is an order of magnitude much greater than my own.