“It was a 5-hour operation. I was scared shitless,” Kate Copstick told me yesterday.
“I suspect there was some shit involved,” I said.
“Oh my God!” she said, “There are tales to be told and I realise you’ve interviewed Chris Dangerfield in your blog, but I don’t think I could tell even you what I did to myself as a result of the incredible constipation which hospitalisation after a 5-hour operation does to you… But I will say it involved a teaspoon.”
Kate Copstick is one of the judges for the increasingly prestigious annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and is the most influential comedy critic in Britain, especially at the annual Edinburgh Fringe. But she also runs Mama Biashara, a charity in Kenya. This means she is in Kenya for about five months of every year.
She was supposed to return to the UK on 14th March, but she only returned a week ago – 4th April – and she returned in a wheelchair. She told me about it yesterday at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London. She takes no money of any kind in any way for her Mama Biashara work and covers none of her own costs; that includes not covering the cost of her flights.
“I was in my little house in Nairobi,” she told me. “It’s called the Random House.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s part of a condemned building,” she explained, “and somebody has bought the building and patched together the bits of it that were still standing. The two end walls are stone. The back wall is wood. The front wall is mabati – corrugated metal sheeting. I was describing it to somebody at a workshop in Kenya and they said: Oh! What a random house! and I thought what a fantastic name. So my address is now The Random House.”
“And the accident happened there?” I said.
“Yes,” said Copstick. “It was on the evening of 6th March. We’d had a really good day and I was feeling quite energetic, which was odd because I’m normally knackered.
“There is no running water at the Random House. There is a standpipe in the compound and a toilet at the other end. But I have a 100 litre water tank and, once that’s filled-up, it’s almost like having proper plumbing. If I want to have a shower, I just dip in a jug and pour it over myself.
“So I was filling up the tank, bringing water in, using buckets and basins. I was wearing flip-flop sandals and the water was slopping everywhere, so I mopped up the floor.
“The house is on a platform which is about three-and-a-half feet high. I took the bucket of dirty water that I’d mopped up and threw it out over the edge of the platform and, basically, flew off the edge of the platform because I had no traction.
“I flew off the platform along with the dirty water, landed in a crumpled and agonised heap on the ground with, unfortunately, the top of my right thigh hitting the edge of a broken paving slab and… You know when you KNOW something is serious? I could not move my right leg.
“Kenyans LOVE a disaster. They LOVE a bit of blood, a bit of injury, a car crash…”
“Like people in Glasgow,” I said.
Copstick continued: “One guy walked past and said: Oh, Mama Biashara! You OK? Two seconds later, there are 20 of them. I had a bigger audience – without any leafleting – for me in a crumpled heap with a broken hip than you and I had for any of our chat shows at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. I think personal injury may be the way forward for performance art. My lying in the dirt screaming is now the talk of Nairobi.
“So two guys got me under the armpits and basically scraped me up and over the edge of the concrete platform, back into the house and I was screaming like a little girl and kept thinking If I close my eyes, this won’t have happened. It’s a dream.
“But it wasn’t. And, of course, everything in Kenya is about money and, needless to say, I had no travel insurance or medical insurance. I’ve been going to Kenya for ten years and never had insurance of any kind. I’m probably uninsurable now because I think one of the questions is probably Are you a reckless twat? and I’d have to say: Yes, I am.
“Anyway, you have to chase down ambulances in Nairobi. They’re private. It was two hours before my friend Doris could find an ambulance that would actually come to the house and collect me.”
“Do ambulances circle the city like vultures?” I asked.
“No,” said Copstick. “Where they make their money is they sit at a hospital and take patients home or transfer them to another hospital. They are not remotely interested in emergencies, because those tend to be messy.
“But, after two hours, one eventually came. Kerching! Money! Into the ambulance and I was screaming like a little girl again every time there was a pothole, which is every two inches in Nairobi, The paramedic looked at me and decreed: She is broken! We must take her to Aga Khan Hospital.
“I was thinking: This is a nightmare! It’s going to cost me a fortune! I can’t afford this! I’m broke!
“But they took me to the Aga Khan Hospital.. Kerching! Money!
“I asked them: What about a safety pin and a sticking plaster? Stick me on a plane and I’ll get it all done on the NHS in Britain. But the surgeon had a look at the X-rays and said: No. It’s a very bad break. Also the femur is totally displaced. From the look of the X-ray, the bones won’t even fit together again. Bits of bone have just broken off.
“He thought that, when I was scraped up over the edge of the platform, it was all moved around.
“So I’m lying there saying: Just give me a sticking plaster!
“Meanwhile, my friend Doris had phoned my family back in Scotland who were saying: Money no object! Do whatever it takes! And I’m telling the hospital: No! No! Don’t listen to them! They’re mad. They’re in Scotland! They don’t know what they’re saying!
“The doctor explained to me that the hip really was un-pinnable. He told me if he just replaced the femur then, because I’m young – Hah! BECAUSE I’M YOUNG! – and active…”
“Active!!!???” I said.
“…and young,” repeated Copstick. “He said a metal replacement femur would just destroy the bones, so it would be better to replace everything. He told me if he tried to do anything else I would not walk properly again. It would be agony and I would not be able to travel back to Britain for months. If I had the whole thing done, then I could probably travel back in 8 weeks. So I had the whole thing done.”
“A whole hip replacement?” I checked.
“Yes,” said Copstick. “Total. When they wheeled me in for the operation, I was in agony, but reasonably OK until I got into the operating theatre and somebody uttered the words ‘major surgery’.
“I had been imagining, you know, maybe an hour and a half.
“When they said Five hours, I grabbed the anaesthetist and told him: I know you’re very good at your job, but I’ve read articles where people wake up in the middle of an operation and they can’t move but they’re feeling the agony. How likely is that to happen?
“He said: Not likely at all. I’m just going to give you something to calm you down. It is not at all likely.”
“Then he injected me,” said Copstick, sitting in her wheelchair in London yesterday.
… CONTINUED HERE …