That Time in a Thai Emergency Room: Part Two

This is part two of my crazy Thailand emergency issue.  Go HERE for part one.

Ok, so to summarize things at this point, I’ve wrecked on my motorbike somewhere in a mountainous area of Northern Thailand, on my way to Pai with a group of complete strangers that I met in my hostel… some just that morning.  My left knee was opened up and bleeding profusely.  My hands and forearms were scraped to hell with road rash.  I lost my glasses in the crash, so I couldn’t see very well.  My main bag with all my stuff I had been traveling with, save for a day bag with just some water and food, was headed to Pai.  I also didn’t have my passport because I had to give that up to the rental place until I got the bike back to them.  I did have some cash (Thai Baht) and my credit and debit cards which I had been using to pay for everything.  Still, the situation felt bad.

Things get kind of foggy for me around this time.  I’m going to recount the story as best as I can recall, but it’s also hard.  When I think back to that moment, it all just feels so pitiful, but I’m also mad at myself for getting into that situation.

So, eventually, the other riders with me from the hostel had gathered around to help, and we took stock of what was going on with me.  I didn’t want to prevent them from continuing on to Pai, so I asked for some help to get to a local medical facility, and then I’ll figure things out from there.  I still had my lone-wolf world traveler mindset, and really out of everything I had at the moment, it was the most valuable.  We eventually tracked down a passing motorist who indicated there was a clinic nearby that we could follow him to.  It was decided the rest of the group would go on to Pai since it was probably just another 30-45 minutes away, and I would ride on the back of Sam’s bike to get help.  I didn’t know what to do with my bike, but figured I’d get it sorted later.  I left it on the side of the road where I had wrecked.  I needed help with my left knee.  So I rode on the back of Sam’s bike as we followed the passerby who stopped to help.  I don’t remember how long it took, maybe 10 minutes or less, but it felt like an hour.  When we arrived at the medical facility, I could see right away it wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was just an outdoor kind of setup.  There was some kind of structure, but from my memory, I recall feeling like I was in an outdoor medical facility.  The Thai man who seemed to be a doctor came out to help didn’t seem phased at all, and almost looked at me like I was the third person that day he had treated with the same injury.  (motorbike accidents are extremely common in Thailand).  Sam and the doctor helped me hobble to a room where the doctor began to cleanup my wound.  It was clear he was going to start working on my knee without giving me anything for the pain.  Sam asked if they had anything like anesthesia to numb my knee, and from what I could make out, the doctor said something about how this was just a local rural facility, and they didn’t have such things.  He began placing some kind of sterilized gauze ball dipped in something into my knee, and then I think I passed out.  All I remember is that when I came too, Sam and the Thai doctor were shaking me to wake up.  Then a nurse put something that I guess was smelling salts under my nose (you know, like in the movies from the 80’s where they put something under your nose for you to smell that will bring you back to consciousness.)  Yeah, that’s what it was, because it apparently woke up.  As I came too, I had the realization this was all real and actually happening to me.  I remembered the accident and riding on the back of Sam’s bike, and the gauze ball being jammed into my knee.  I also realized I was going into shock.

Sam stopped the doctor and told him my injuries were somewhat severe, and needed to be treated in a proper hospital.  The doctor said the closest place was like 15-20km away and would require getting a ride.  They didn’t have an ambulance, and we asked for alternatives.  The doctor called the local police, and they came.  Amazingly, they were kind enough to take me to the hospital…. Thai hospitality was awesome.  So, the doctor and Sam helped load me into the back of this SUV the local Police had.  My knee was still opened up, and I asked if there was some bandages we could use to at least give me some kind of first-aid.  The doctor gave Sam some gauze type wrap, and he wrapped up my knee… enough to keep me from bleeding all over the back of the policeman’s truck.  I told Sam to continue on to Pai with the rest of the group.  He gave me his phone number so I could keep him posted (he had gotten a local Thai number when arriving in the country which is a smart thing to do, and I later did while living in Bolivia).  At this point, the idea was that I would get treated, and find a way to get to Pai later that evening or the next day.  I had hung around enough Aussies at that point, and I just said, “thanks mate” to Sam.  He laughed, and commented out about how I was now speaking his language.  We said our goodbyes, and off I was to the hospital.

I don’t remember much about that ride to the hospital.  I do recall the doctor from the outdoor clinic rode with us to the hospital.  I remember feeling more and more in pain as we drove to the hospital.  When we arrived (which I have no idea how long that ride took), I saw what looked like a real hospital, and I felt some relief.  The policeman or doctor had apparently called ahead to the hospital because they had a gurney waiting to carry me in.  In hindsight, it must have been a slow day because even in a US hospital, they probably wouldn’t have done that.  I really needed it, because at that point, I didn’t feel like I could even hobble in.  The tumble my body had taken in the crash had caught up to me, and my whole body ached like someone had just punched the hell out of me.  They got me on the gurney, and wheeled me into the hospital emergency room.  There was a doctor and a few nurses, and they began taking an assessment of my injuries.  One of the first things I remember someone saying to me was a nurse pointing out that this was a private hospital, and I’d have to pay for everything.  I’m a little ashamed to admit, I pulled the Westerner card, and said something along the lines of how I was an American, and I had money and resources, and would pay for whatever, just please help me.  I didn’t feel like I should receive any more treatment than anyone else in that situation, but when you’ve got a medical issue, all you think about is yourself.  Everyone went to work.  They could tell I was in pain, and a nurse said she could give me some pain meds that would take a while to work, or she could give me a shot in the butt to relax me right away.  I realize now that it was probably a muscle relaxer.  Anyway, I was in so much pain, I had no shame, I rolled over and pulled my pants down, and the nurse stuck me in the butt.  About 15 seconds later, I began to feel better… I don’t know if muscle relaxers work that fast, or there’s a placebo affect of getting a shot in the ass, but either way, I was doing better.  The nurses set to work cleaning out my road rash.  It was so disgusting… just dirt, grime and gravel mixed in with mangled skin, tissue, and blood.  There was a nurse on each side going from wound to wound, cleaning them with what I’m guessing was saline, and then bandaging it up.  After cleaning and patching everything up, there was the issue of my left knee to deal with.  The doctor said he would have to stitch muscle and skin to treat the wound due to how deep it was.  He gave me a shot of something in my knee to numb it, and then went to work stitching me up.  I lied there wondering just how much damage I had done, and I would be able to walk right afterwards.  I wondered if I’d have to go back to the US to get some rehabilitation therapy.  I worried I’d never walk or run quite the same way again.  I think out of everything, this was my greatest fear… having my mobility affected.  I had come pretty far on my trip at this point, and now I would be disabled.

After I was all stitched up and wounds treated, they got me into a wheelchair, and took me to get x-rayed.  I had been wearing a helmet, and I didn’t hit my head in the crash.  I was lucid the whole time, except for that brief moment I went into shock and passed out.  I don’t remember getting my head x-rayed, but they definitely did my knee and leg to see if anything was broken.  After the x-rays, I was taken back to the emergency room, and I just lied there waiting.  After a little while, someone came in and put two x-ray photos on one of those light boards that let you see the results.  I asked if those were mine, and no one answered me.  It’s possible they didn’t understand, but in looking at the photos, I could clearly see my iPhone in my pocket.  I completely forgot about my phone, and didn’t even think to check to see if I lost it after the crash.  But there it was, on the x-ray confirming I still had it, and that those x-rays were probably mine.  I thought, well, that phone has to be destroyed because it was in the pocket on the side I crashed on and I couldn’t imagine it survived.  I reached in my pocket, and pulled out a perfectly fine looking iPhone.  I hit the home button, and everything came on and worked perfectly fine.  I think I kind of chuckled in that moment that something so easily breakable didn’t have a scratch on it after having been in my pocket during the crash.

Eventually, someone confirmed that my knee was going to be ok, and nothing was broken.  Still, I worried a lot about tendon or cartilage damage that would affect me permanently.  Time would tell.  At this point, I asked if I was going to have to stay in the hospital overnight, and they said no.  They gave me some pain meds, and something to fight infection, along with instructions to return to the hospital in two days to get my wounds looked at, and re-bandaged.  I began to wonder where the hell I was going to go.  They asked about my “friends”, and that’s when I told them I had just met those guys in my hostel, and I was actually traveling alone.  They didn’t seem to believe or understand me at first.  Like, why would you travel around by yourself like that?  I then realized the policeman and doctor who brought me to the hospital were still there… unbelievable.  Even to this day, I just can’t believe it.  They were going to make sure I got treated and situated before leaving.  While they figured out what to do with me, there was the issue of the hospital bill.  They had an ATM machine in the hospital, and said they’d wheel me over if needed to pay.  They brought the bill, and I was preparing myself for a bit of shock.  I don’t remember the exact amount in Thai baht anymore, but I had gotten really fast at doing currency conversion calculations in my head at this point, and I remember looking at the bill and thinking, “that’s like $34 USD”.  I kinda laughed inside at that price.  I had x-rays, wound cleaning, stitches to mend muscle and skin, and pain meds…. $34.  That’s not a copay.  That was the full amount of my treatment.  I know the cost of living is quite a bit less in Thailand than the US, but it’s not 100X less.  I always think about that bill whenever I get treated in the US for anything now.  Not to rant about US healthcare, but the system is broken.

After a bit of relief at the bill, I took out the appropriate amount of Thai baht and paid my bill.  That may seem like a small amount to have on you, but when you can buy a meal for a $1.25, and a beer for 50 cents, I didn’t carry more than $10.  At that point, I was informed they would take me to a nearby guesthouse since I didn’t have anyone else they could leave me with.  I asked about my bike, and the policeman said they had already collected it, and it was at their station.  That was kind of a relief.  But I wondered how I’d get it back and exchange it for my passport.  I still didn’t have my bag, passport, glasses, or even a change of clothes.  My shorts and shirt were bloodstained, and I was sweaty and smelly.  They then wheeled me out to the police truck again, and I crawled into the back with the doctor.  We drove for a bit to a motel-ish looking complex, and a woman came out to greet us… not a Thai woman… a caucasian woman named Gabby who ran the place.  I was told she was the only one in the area who spoke any English, and that’s why they brought me to her guesthouse.  This is where I would have to put things back together.

I’ll stop there for now, and continue with part 3 soon.  Promise to finish this!

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2 thoughts on “That Time in a Thai Emergency Room: Part Two

  1. Pingback: That Time in a Thai Emergency Room: Part Three | a series of one-way trips

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