EVEN in daylight, even under the spring sunshine with the flowers sprouting around, the steps have a sort of doomy gothic foreboding about them. They are vertiginously steep, dank and undrying, the kind of cobwebbed passageway that might at its higher end deliver you to the creaking door of a vampire’s castle and at its lower into the bowels of a crypt, where, one imagines, it soon becomes clear that not all the coffin lids are screwed on tight.

We Stirling-dwellers, we Sons and Daughters of the Rock, learn early to give the Dumbarton Road steps a wide berth. As you head south out of the city centre, past the grand, Carnegie-funded library and the outer reaches of the ancient defensive walls, you do well to follow the looping, gently-sloping road towards the Albert Halls rather than attempt the teasingly direct route offered by the steps.

I’d forgotten all this as I said goodbye to my oldest, dearest friends a few Saturdays ago: the policeman, the IT guy, the archaeologist, the civil servant, and the one whose job none of us have ever really understood. We don’t see each other very often, and had passed the evening swapping memories of teenage humiliations and where-are-they-now updates. Warmed by beer and cheer, we agreed, as such friends always do, that we wouldn’t leave it so long next time, and went our separate ways.

Chris Deerin: Why the BBC does not deserve to be everybody’s Aunt Sally

As I ploughed homewards in jolly reverie, the steps suddenly loomed. The self-preservation instinct deserted me and I launched myself into their dark, glistening maw. A foot that should have alighted on old, firm stone found only thin air. I’m sure I heard a demonic cackle.

I came round quite quickly, I think. I’d made it to the bottom using the technique known to elite athletes as “arse over tit”. Statues of Rob Roy and Robert Burns looked down on this newly fallen Scottish hero, who was flat on his back and in the unheroic condition of being unable to move. A pair of worried faces loomed into view. “Are you alright, pal? You took a real header there.” “I can’t move anything.” “‘Should we call an ambulance?” “Aye, probably.’

The damage was on an impressive scale. From the basement up: bruised foot, sprained ankle, skinned knees, thigh strain, badly bruised hip and back, broken right arm, grazed cheek, black eye, split head. I’ve spent the past week or so in bed, either at home or in hospital. All visible skin is red, yellow or purple. I’ve had an operation to insert plates and screws into my arm to reconnect my snapped humerus. I’ve been kept on a steady diet of morphine and dihydrocodeine (not all bad, then).

Chris Deerin: Why the BBC does not deserve to be everybody’s Aunt Sally

In every crisis, an opportunity. This has been a chance to learn about and better understand a world that sits hazily beside our own and which is a permanent home for many of our fellow citizens. As I have discovered, the gap between firm and infirm – even for a normally healthy, middle-class male with all his attendant privileges – is not that wide. A few foolish or unlucky seconds can transfer you from one side of the line to the other, with profound consequences.

For example, I have been unable to wash without help from my wife. Going to the toilet has been a struggle. I have been unable to dress or feed myself. Stairs have been beyond me. I have been totally reliant on others for transport when it’s been needed. Trying to sleep at the required angle has not been conducive to actually getting any rest. Those moments in the hospital bed when you need the loo or have become physically uncomfortable, but are reluctant to bother the nurses again, are upsetting. Being unable to hug your kids is distressing, too.

But there is also the sudden awareness of the safety net that surrounds each of us, the presence of which we don’t often have cause to notice in the good times. There’s the kindness of strangers – the couple who, on what may have been a rare Saturday night out, found me at the bottom of the steps, called the emergency services and then kept me talking and comfortable until they arrived. There are the first responders, efficiently but empathetically dealing with a frightened and confused victim.

There are the nurses and porters and radiologists and anaesthetists and surgeons whom to an individual were gentle, good-humoured and patient as – to quote one of them – they “put Humpty together again”. I remember especially the nurse who was about to finish her shift when my canula slipped out, causing blood to spray freely around the room for some minutes. She stayed to clean up what looked like a scene from a slasher flick, treating me with a wonderful mix of dry humour and exasperation.

Chris Deerin: Why the BBC does not deserve to be everybody’s Aunt Sally

Then there is, of course, the immediate and selfless availability and willingness of family members and friends to do whatever’s needed. In these moments, the love that’s daily taken for granted glows brightly, and you properly understand you are not alone.

As someone who spends his days in the public and political sphere, my usual environment couldn’t be further removed from all this. It is a hard, cold, zero-sum place where no quarter is given, where hatred runs like water, and where people and their feelings take second place to tribal allegiance and victory. It is a world that has become increasingly toxified in recent years, whether the debate has been about austerity or immigration or military intervention, or by the slugfests over Brexit and Scottish independence. In my confinement I have occasionally logged into social media and then immediately come back out again, so brutal and sneering and bullying have I found the content. It feels like we have come to detest one another.

My unexpected exposure to the compassion of others has been humbling, the evidence that grace is all around inspiring. I feel like I want to stay in that better place for as long as I can. But the bigger challenge is surely to drag our diseased public sphere towards those golden values of mercy and care. There must be a way to put Humpty together again.