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I Lost a Chunk of My Skull in Dresden

Hey morons, stop slapping my helmet.

An X-ray of my skull, post chunk-loss

People always tell you that you’re “so brave”, but what does that mean? That I make jokes about having a hole in my head and then just go to work like normal? Just because a fragment of my skull is trapped in a freezer in Dresden and I’m still semi-bearable company, that doesn’t mean I’m brave. In fact, since the accident happened, I’ve been furious.

It was the fifth of November: gunpowder, treason and plot. Crash, bang, wallop. Dresden’s pretty, prettier than I expected, but somewhere there is a curb on which I nearly died, on which I hit my head.


I was living in Berlin and had come to Dresden for the day to “see more of Germany”: hospitals and rehabilitation clinics in the Saxon hills weren’t originally on the itinerary. I went for lunch at a cafe called Raskolnikov. I walked past the tram. I fell. I had an extra-dural haematoma, a sub-dural haematoma, a severed meningeal artery, a crack that extended about three-quarters of the way around my skull.

My much-abridged skull. There’s a gap in it about five inches in diameter, and the missing fragment, like a baby Yorick, has been taking some time to cool off and relieve swelling on my brain in a German hospital’s deep-freezer for about nine months now.

Sources of anger, part one: being unable to sleep. My ears were so cold after my head was shaved. The intensive care ward was too light and too hot and too full of terrifying machinery doing terrifying things to ill people who reminded me too much of my own mortality. My head and face and teeth hurt, but morphine wheedling only got me so far.

I didn’t miss my skull at first: people were so sweet and crossed oceans and borders to come and bestow supplements from the UK weekend papers (Desert Island choice) on me. My family were adorable. My bosses were adorable. The nurse who bought me take-away pizza on my bed-bound 25th birthday was adorable. Fortunately by that stage the constant vomiting had stopped, and I could keep it down.


I was also walking, talking and playing Angry Birds a lot. That rogue bit of my skull and I were further separated as I was sent from the hospital to a rehabilitation clinic, which roughly resembled a Holiday Inn on a cross-channel ferry in purgatory.

Sources of anger, part two: my lack of German. Everything about this place, every fucking day was made so difficult by my communicative skills being limited to ordering beer and giving a GCSE presentation about my musical preferences. My chat about the day-to-day running of a medical institution was sadly limited. If only I could have piped up about not being a fan of vegetables suspended in aspic, or asked why my permission to walk around alone kept changing, that would’ve been great.

There were a couple of days when they let my brother take me to Dresden Christmas market and I got some hot Kinderpunch. They would let me out on Christmas Eve and I could go back to Berlin to celebrate with my family. An operation for a joyous cranial reunion was set for January; I’d get that missing bit of my skull put back.

But either I had totally misunderstood the German, or it all just went awry, because when I turned up again at Dresden Friedrichstadt hospital in the New Year with an eagerly packed bag, my neurosurgeon took one look at me and told me my brain was still too swollen. I protested that at certain times of day the hole in my head has a distinctly concave look, but he remained unconvinced.


And so my options were: stay in Germany where I had given up my flat and remained ignorant of the language, the way the health system worked, why four brioches in custard is considered an acceptable lunchtime main course. Or go home and frolic around on waiting lists for my beloved NHS. The German doctors were perfectly willing to liberate my missing skull fragment from its icy palace and send it home, suggesting that my brother might like to come back in a few months and pick it up in a cool box.

The NHS were distinctly underwhelmed by this plan. So here I am, five months into my waiting list. One day I will get a perfectly formed ceramic implant that will make it difficult to avoid introducing myself as China Girl to everyone I meet.

Sources of anger, part three: you. I am really fucking lucky to be alive. To help maintain this admirable state of affairs I was given an entirely absurd-looking post-neurosurgery helmet which I’m not obliged to wear at all times, but am not going to ditch when running up and down Tube escalators or traversing uneven ground in crowds. Look at it. Talk about it among yourselves. This is totally what I would do. My notoriously tiny patience has even been stretched into weak grins when asked where my bike is, where my horse is, where my skateboard is, why I think the fourth floor requires riot gear. I have made a sad but necessary peace with the fact that when your face looks like a half-moon Jaffa Cake, the art of seduction is not the easiest task in the world.


But can you all fucking stop smacking me over the fucking head with gleeful abandon, please? Glastonbury was glorious, joyful, life-changing, etc but was in no way improved by people assuming that it is hilarious to whack me. Especially the guy who just did it again after I explained that I had had an operation. (Special circles of Hell, etc.) You can rein in responding to my explanation that I don’t have a bike with, “Oh! I feel bad now. You’ve made me feel bad!” I felt bad. I was in intensive fucking care. Be polite.

In general, a good life lesson: if someone looks a bit different, you’re meant to be nice to them. In fact, you’re meant to be pretty nice to everyone. You guys all learn that while I spend the next few months on Zen and the Art of Patience for the Cranially Deprived. Auf Deutsch, natürlich.


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