Good Morning Viet Nam

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Putting On The Ritz

Holy Shit Kids! Hang on for a very long and bumpy ride!....

Left lovable Laos and decided to postpone my Cambodian journey till the end of my trip, whenever that may be. Needed a Cambodian visa, which I didn't have and seemed like kind of an ordeal to get. Was kind of at my threshold for traveling around in dirty 3rd world countries where it was a common custom for me to have rats, coach roaches, spiders, or geckos as roomates. I was itching for the 1st world flavor, and Bangkok was only a hop, skip, and 2 jumps away. But let me share the real reason that solidified my sudden change of plans....

Explored southern Laos where the main attraction there is the 4,000 islands. Stayed on a primitive island that has a low-impact tourism policy called Don Kon. It was very quiet and relaxing. Decided to go on a group tour of the 4,000 islands main attractions: Soumpakit Waterfall, SE Asia's largest waterfall of which I have forgotten the name, and see the Irrawaddy dolphins. After traversing our way through the islands, via speed boat, which are really just small mounds of land with a tree or bush on it, hence there are 4,000, we finally disembarked at the guesthouse bungalow infested island, Don Ket. We then were told by our guide that we had 4 hours to explore the island and the Soumpakit Waterfall and good luck. After paying a small entrance fee, we began the hour long trek to the waterfall. The sight was pretty amazing, loads of rocks and little waterfalls/pools that led to the main powerful waterfall. After taking some photos, we decided to join the loads of tourists that explored around the rocks in search of a pool to cool off in. (Let me take a moment to briefly describe our very international tour group: there was a German Thai Boxing couple, Martin, 32, and Melanie, 22, 2 other German guys forgot their names, 2 French men again didn't catch their names, and 2 Italian women Mariella and her friend who were lab technicians at different Italian hospitals). After exploring around the falls, we finally found the perfect place to take a dip. So refreshing and relaxing. After .5 hours in the sun we decided to seek shade. That meant having to navigate our way back through the rocks. Found an easy path and was in the lead when the path suddenly became quite perplexing. We were almost to solid ground and only had 2 dams to cross to get there. The first one was not a problem, the wooden plank(the top part of the dam) was short and only involved taking one-step to cross and there was a nearby treebranch offering support should one need it. No worries. But then I came up to the second one and pondered as to how I would cross it successfully. The top part of this dam was longer, involving at least 4 steps to cross, and there was nothing to grab onto as a means of support. Oh yeah, and this part of the falls was 5m (10-15 ft?) high. All right, no other way so here we go. As soon as I had both feet on the plank, on in front of the other, I began to seriously wobble. Shit, I am going down. Sure enough my feet slipped out from under me and I began to free fall. But not for long as I was able to catch myself on the lip of the dam with the crook of my left arm. That slowed down my fall, but I felt myself slipping as my feet had nothing to grab on to. Thus my freefall continued. I don't remember too much about it because I closed my eyes and shot up a quick prayer. When I opened them I was stunned to see that I had landed on my feet in a shallow pool of water. Martin was right behind me and I immediately gave him my camera as my bag was totally wet. Um, shock? Most definetly. After letting the group up top know I was okay, I then saw them navigate across the dam via a wider wooden plank that I didn't see as it was submerged beneath the murky water. Martin quickly assessed the situation and we were both amazed that the bleeding on my leg came only from the rock rash on the back of my right thigh. But then there were some big drops of blood on some nearby rocks and discovered a cut in my right forearm as well as on my elbow. After quickly rinsing that off in the river, Martin led me out of the pool and up the rocks to safety.

When I sat down we reassessed my condition and only found the same results. I am so so so so incredibly lucky to be alive! Had I landed any other way I would surely have broken my back, neck, head, or even possibly died. While the group was busy doctoring up my wounds as best they could, I began thanking my lucky stars, Buddha, the Lord, and my guardian angels for sparing me. Mentally I was completely present and was well aware of everything going around me and the fact that I should be in excruciating pain. But my body had gone into deep shock, and I think I am still in shock, and didn't feel too much pain. Up at the restuarant, there were a number of other foreigners who inspected my arm including an older gentleman from Wisconsin who worked at the EMT and has a relative in Prarie Village. That was nice to have home closeby and to know that I was well taken care of.

Meanwhile the Laotians were sitting in the backseat simply observing this all. They gave us Lao-Lao (whiskey) to disinfect the wound and gave me a shot as well. Nobody spoke English well and thus I had to rely solely on the knowledge of my international friends. It was so wierd to mentally process this traumatic event, but feel completely fine and ready to continue on the tour. That stunned the whole group and thus they kept a close watch on me the whole day. Being fortified with a fruit shake, cigarette, loads of water, and with my right arm wrapped in lao-lao soaked kleenex and bound in my red bandana, we began the journey back as there was not a tuk-tuk in sight. Everyone kept a close eye on me the whole day and were stunned, as I was myself, that I was acting completely natural, able to hold conversations, move my right arm through the full range of motion, put weight on it, and even hold my waterbottle in my right hand.

Stopped at the Don Det Hospital, which fortunately was closed. It was the dirtiest rundown hospital with wooden beds and a few random IV stands, but no apparent fresh, clean supplies. Got to love laidback dirty Laos. We crossed the bridge and stopped at a bamboo bar where there was an Englishman gentleman who was kind enough to continue the process of cleaning my wound with his supplies. I am so grateful to all of the travellers and village people who helped me, it was really a very humbling event to observe, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. From his bar, we hopped on the back of a sawngthaew and rode the rest of the way back to the boat. Of course in true Laotian style, the driver wanted to overcharge the falang for the 2 minute ride. I love being a walking dollar bill! We didn't give in, though.

Still feeling completely normal and not in too much pain. Loaded up on water and cokes and was good to continue on in the tour. Not much point in going back to my guesthouse as it was too late in the day to make any connecting buses or planes leaving Laos. I also didn't want to leave the group and deal with this on my own quite yet. Next we went to SE Asia's largest fall, but were only able to see it from the tourist veranda. That was perfectly fine with me. It was amazing though, unfortunately as my camera got drenched, and possibly broken, from my fall I didn't even attempt to turn it on to capture the memories. After that fall, we took a boat ride out to island 2, 453 to view the dolphins. Pretty cool to see, but after an hour I was ready to go. Got back to camp at 7p, and after showering, the group redressed my wound and we all had dinner together.

I had met and travelled with a Canadian fellow, Roger pronounced with a French accent, and was thinking I would join him into Cambodia. That was pre-fall and now I was certain that Bangkok would be my next destination instead. He was very supportive and it was nice to see a familiar face when I returned to my guesthouse and recanted my day to him. He opted not to go on the tour, but instead explored the island via bicycle for the day.

It was the best thing that my wound was on the underside of my forearm distal to the elbow and was in a place where I couldn't see it easily, nor could I clean it myself easily. When people passed by and I heard their reactions I knew it was bad. But luckily everyone in my tour group was very positive and knew how crucial that was to my overall reaction. Martin did the best he could with the supplies we had and I guaranteed him I would go to the hospital when I got to BK. Even though he cleaned it, he said it looked like there was some rock and dirt still in there. When I did bend my arm back to examine it at the falls, I had a flashback to the fun times in last year's gross anatomy class, all I could see was a little blood and some subcuteanous fat squishing through. Um, yeah that's deep.

The next day joined the 2 Italian girls to get to Ubon Ratchatani. From there I would get on a 10 hour bus to BKK and they would board a 30 hour bus to Pattaya. I was so thankful that we had smooth bus connections and border crossings as well. The longest time I had to wait for anything was 30min. Such a smooth transition when backpacking in Laos and Thailand is PRICELESS.

Arrived in Bangkok, still feeling pretty pain free other than a little stiffness that is normal with a bad scrape, at 2 am and quickly found a hotel near the Bumrungard hospital. Admitted myself at 10am the next morning, again feeling completely normal, and didn't wait but 5 minutes to see a doctor. Upon his examination he informed me that I had a really deep wound through the muscle and a really bad infection. Up until this point, I had been shockingly okay with everything that happened. Very calm, in control, and pain-free and I think that is because I am just so f!@#ing happy to be alive. I have had nightmares of all the ways I could have fallen and the consequences and feel nauseus right now just thinking about it. But after hearing "very bad infection" my mind snapped out of its calm state and began to fast forward through possible translations. The only one I came up with was amputation. When the doctor saw the tears welling up, keep in mind I had been tear-free up until this point, he told me not to worry it is fixable but it will just take time. Time is something I have, thank God. That afternoon, after getting admitted, I promptly was rushed into surgery and put under general anesthesia. On the door of the OR I read "debridement" and had yet another flashback to my grad school days. The wound unit we studied last year was my least favorite unit in that all of the pictures we saw were super gross and involved the muscle being exposed. I also knew it was going to hurt like a bitch, but definetly worth it.

Before I went under, I called my Thai friend who lives in Bangkok, Wut (pronounced "Wood"), and when I was returned to my hospital room he was there along with a beautiful fruit basket. I met Wut in Pai and am so grateful to have him here in Bangkok. He has come to see me every day bringing delicious traditional Thai desserts that are not only gorgeous but also so yummy! And you know how much I like to eat!

So the hospital. I am at Bumrungard Hospital,, and couldn't have asked for a better place to stay. The facility is so amazing here, not only do they have a Starbucks, McDonalds, Au Bon, and a fancy Italian resturant, but they also have shops! Um yeah, this is a 5 star hospital hotel. When I first walked in the lobby I thought I was in a hotel. I opted for a single room when I learned that I may be here for a WEEK, wasn't expecting that but again time is definetly on my side as my immenent hard hat days (house building) can wait, and it is the best hospital room I have ever seen. A single is ginormous, and I had to clarify that this was not the single deluxe or the VIP, and comes along with a balcony, a leather couch and chair for guests, and most importantly for me, loads of sunlight from ginormous windows. The staff is so positive and friendly here and are so helpful. The doctors and staff speak English very well and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better setup. I am so blessed!

So this, Sunday, the 13th, is my third day in B&H and the accident happened on the 9th. Spoke with the doctor yesterday, when HE came in to clean my wound, and said that the culture they had taken to see if there was any bacteria was negative for now, but they would wait 2 more days to be sure. Wut was in the room when he was cleaning my arm and said he could see my bone. Wow, that's deep. But the doc said there were no fractures or breaks in my bone, thanks to my Flintstone vitamins. That was a close one. Thank you Buddha! Without being able to consult my Netter's, nor having confirmation from the doc, it is my own prognosis that the rock went through my Flexor Carpi Ulnaris as when I flex digits 4 & 5 I do feel something. 10 points for the OT dropout! OTs can you back me up with the origin, insertion, and innervation please?

And brings you up to date on me. I've been poked and prodded out the ying yang and have 5 doses of intravenous antibiotics a day. That's always fun. Yesterday the doc said that the wound still looked dirty and they might have to operate again, ZOINKS! Bring it on, I am ready to have my game back, tennis game that is. And my forehand is my most powerful weapon, right Melinda and Huw?

The most surreal aspect of this whole ordeal for me has been my attitude. I am so happy and energetic and feel the most like my usual self than I ever have over here in the past 5 months. I think I might still be in shock. My mind is completely coherent and knows that when my body actually catches up to my mind I'm probably not going to be as chipper. In lieu of that, after I get released from B&H I plan on spending a week or two at the beach, relaxing, before I strap on my tool belt and hard hat and help the locals build houses. Hope this finds you all well, please know that I am doing great, loving my Bangkok "hotel", and am receiving the best care in SE Asia. I'm in room 981, and the phone number is (2-country code) 6671981, if you would like to call and say hello. I would LOVE to chat, but you by no means have to as I KNOW it is very expensive to call. Wishing you all the best in the upcoming week! Swasdee Ka! (Thai for ciao).


At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Toni Tran said...

Hey crazy white girl! Whatcha doing? There are way better places to stay man, if you're looking for a nice hotel room ;). So glad you are ok, but heck - what's an adventure without a little bit of danger? Now all you're missing is a little romance.

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And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
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Strange day or what? :-)

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