I have thought many times about recording my feelings about the day of my accident but there never seemed a right time, not least because my physical injuries prevented me from doing so. I knew that the time was definitely not right when I was still experiencing keenly the physical effects of it. Today has let me know that the emotional reactions to it will catch me unawares for some time to come. Similarly, they have made me feel very reflective and also wanting to just do it. I want to say now, if you don’t like bad language then this is not the post for you. I think expletives are almost mandatory in my portrayal of events. If you can’t swear about when you thought your time was up, when can you?
Today we went to Bangkok Phuket Hospital, again, and if I had known how many times we would frequent this place I would not have been so dismissive of the coffee card (we actually dubbed my hospital identity card as my “frequent flyer card”). Due to my parasite/fungus legacy from Malaysia we have been detained yet another week on this island….hence the visit today to get the OK from the doctor to travel to Laos.
Anyhoo, post-(successful) visit we noticed the tsunami memorial room and ventured in. After feeling so elated that Alan (the parasite/fungus’ code name) was surely being killed it was a massive deflation to walk and look at the pictures of this hospital, filled with people being operated on and sleeping in its usually perfect-looking rooms and hallways. I had to fight the tears back. God bless the Swedes and the British for taking the time to come and pay respects and ensure plaques were erected for posterity, in thanks of the tirelessly good work of the hospital staff who cared for all affected.
I also ventured to view a video of the 2004 tsunami, for only a bit, because a friend posted it on facebook today. Again, I felt very near to tears. But that is not the right emotion for tonight, as we are on the brink of nearly moving on and kickstarting our journey again. So as Damien kicks back and enjoys the soccer stuff on TV in this cool little local bar in Phuket Town (with an equally kick arse local band singing songs in Thai I don’t know and love anyway), methinks tonight is the right time to record how I felt about that shit day.
We had arrived on Koh Lanta fresh off the back of too many days of the slow, island love and reverie that was the luckily overlooked (by most) place of Koh Kradan….
How perfect was that first full day in Lanta?? So very exciting after the near comatose pace of Kradan! I overcame my fear of motorbike riding in Thailand (for those not in the know, I came a cropper, as a pillion passenger, 11 years ago. It was two nights after 9/11 and I spent 5 extra nights on Koh Samui…in a hospital) and we both zipped up and down the coast, enjoying the sights, the breeze, the speed, the freedom and the LIVING! Yes, it was exciting! Let’s not omit the delish lunch overlooking Diamond Cliff beach or the most wonderful Thai massage in the beach pavilion at Ao Kantiang.
The “most perfect day in ages” as we coined it the next morning, was made complete with an amazing meal at a newly opened restaurant followed by an unexpected visit to the resort bar, Why Not, where we were treated to some of the best covers of all the alternative and old rock music my heart desired. Furthermore, they played one of the most amazing renditions of Bad Moon Rising, which always reminds me of my Dad, it being one of his favourite songs. As it was his birthday in two days time I felt compelled to tell the lead singer and his girlfriend after the band had finished how perfect and appropriate it was for me that he sung that tune. As it turned out, it was also going to be Phoebe’s (the lead’s girlfriend) birthday on that day and they asked us to come back and celebrate with them. Indeed we would, we affirmed wholeheartedly.
Next day, somewhat dusty, we hitched a ride to our new accommodation. It was a basic but perfect guesthouse, positioned right on the sand at Khlong Nin beach. We lay around at the restaurant next to our guesthouse, lazily listening to Finley Quaye as he played out into the beautiful day. “Sucks to be them”, we joked about everyone else working somewhere in the world. I retired to our room for a snooze and later Damien came in. Sufficiently rested I strolled out the front of our guest house: Jesus, does it get more “beachfront and hippy heaven” than this I happily mused. So I wandered down to the water’s edge, scanned up and down the expanse of beach and thought, yep, perfect. I lingered a bit and contemplated taking a dip, but for some inexplicable reason I had a yearning to go and sit out the front of our guesthouse and observe the goings on of life up and down the little street we lived on.
As I sat there a low, long siren sounded out into the day. Weird siren, I thought. Obviously not an ambulance, wonder what it is? I sat and watched passers by some more and found myself fixated on an interesting European couple with a motorbike….she was tattooed to the nines (to quote one of my favourite Damien-isms) and she looked sorta mean. Next minute she dropped her helmet and ran like the clappers down the street. That’s awful fast to be running, I thought, wonder why?
Next our guest house owner (or was it worker , I’ll never know, but I’ll remember her for her kindness) said to me “you go now”, or something to that effect. I replied, ever so politely, no, I wasn’t waiting for a taxi and I would stay. “You go now”, she said again. Then almost instantaneously a mass movement of humans was flying by. FAST. They were running fuckin’ fast, and they were driving fuckin fast, a steely blank but determined look on their faces. My heart stopped, or did it drop, Jesus I don’t know but that mass movement in front of me in the previously slow-paced day brought me very alarmingly into the present! Holy fuck! Siren, chick running like the clappers, “you go now”, everyone else doing the ” you go now”. Shit. I ask her “is this a tsunami?”
“Yes”, she said. Well why are you just standing there like that, I thought?! Jesus. I don’t know what I really felt in that moment, was it confusion, disbelief, or brutal fear? I have thought about that moment often and honestly I think I felt the sickening reality of it all and the sickening resignation that this was real, and in an instant everything was about this moment and I could not stop what was in motion. Every decision from there counted.
So I pelted down the hallway and burst through the door screaming “get up we have to go NOW!”. Then I ran back down the hallway to the road, to check, what, I don’t know. Man, he’s still lying there! Didn’t he hear the urgency in my voice? So I run back down and scream “it’s a tsunami, get up!” That certainly got the desired response from Damien. I told him to get his small backpack thinking our passports, money and other important stuff was in it, and grabbed my small backpack too. I ran down the hallway again but Damien was still not coming. I was feeling panicky and yelled at him, “What are you doing?” and he replied that he was trying to padlock our room door.
I kept asking the lady from the guesthouse when we would leave. The car doors were open, the engine was running but we were still standing on the side of the road as everyone else screamed past. She was waiting for her friend.
I felt somewhat like a trapped and pacing animal, seeing the way out but not being able to make it happen. I said to Damien that I didn’t like waiting and that we needed to hitch a lift in some sort of vehicle so we could get to higher ground. Damien suggested that we should run across the field opposite our guesthouse and try and make it to the hills that way. But I was completely unsatisfied with that option because the hills were a long bloody way off, and there is no way I could outrun a tsunami if it was coming anytime soon.
But how the hell were we going to get a ride? No one was even remotely looking like they would stop to help us out. Then I spotted a jeep across the road with two people in the front. The back seats were empty. I had to get across and demand those seats for us I thought. Now, before they left.
I can’t really recall how well I looked, or if I even did, but with adrenalin coursing through me I ran across the road to get to the jeep. I don’t remember the impact and for that I am thankful. I do have vague recollections of a woman’s voice screaming something like, “there’s a bike coming” before I blacked out.
When I came to I was in a bad way and I knew it, I felt groggy and hot and most alarmingly I could not see. I was aware that I needed to get up before I got hit again, but I couldn’t see and I felt like I couldn’t move. All my thoughts were focused on getting the fuck up. Get up, get up, I was thinking to myself and I was trying not to be afraid of the fact I couldn’t see. This was probably all of a matter of seconds, but it felt like forever when I knew that I needed to remove myself from the road and my body was not willing.
There were others around me and as my vision started to return, they assisted me off the road. That’s when I was starting to become more aware of my body and how it felt. My arm was dangling limply, like it was a disconnected part of me and having felt that sensation before, I knew it was probably broken. But it was my head that I was more focused on and how that felt. Not good, in short.
Some of the people who helped were the couple from car, according to Damien, and they piled Damien and I into the back of their jeep. It was unbearably hot in the back seat and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I desperately wanted to bail right back out the door again. I felt claustrophobic stuck behind the front seat with no door for easy exit to my side. If the wave comes when we are in this jeep it will fill up with water and we’ll be trapped, I was thinking. My thoughts alternated from “I just want to get out” to “I have to stay in here whether I like it or not as it is our only chance of getting to higher ground quickly”. The way I was feeling I knew with certainty that I was not going to be moving fast of my own accord. So I sat there and waited until the couple got in the car. Which felt like forever.
For most of the trip to higher ground I sat as still as I could and I was focusing on whether or not we were high enough yet. No one really spoke in the car for quite some way. I do recall that at some point the girl eventually said, “well I guess we should introduce ourselves” and the other three went about it and some further conversation ensued. I sat mute and felt no obligation or desire to communicate. All my energy was focused on how high are we, and that I was hurting and that I would have to get used to this cause if there is a tsunami it’s gonna be a long time before I can get any painkillers.
I then became aware that I was bleeding in a number of places and had a fleeting thought of “I hope I’m not bleeding all over the car upholstery”, which was shortly followed by another thought more along the lines of “who gives a fuck, this hurts!”
Part way up they stopped the car. I think it was to call their friends who they were concerned for and may need to help out. I was feeling incredibly thirsty and somewhat panicky that because a big bloody wave may soon hit the island it could be forever before I could get some water to quench this overpowering thirst. So although I wasn’t happy that we were stopped… that “are we high enough yet?” a constant in my thoughts… I suddenly had to get out as I knew I was going to be sick. I felt most undignified standing on the side of the road vomiting into the dirt as people poured past up the road, and as a Muslim family watched on from the front of their home. I was hoping that the rather dishevelled state I was in – dirty, bloody and weird dangling arm – was enough for them to realise that this was an emergency spew!
Damien was by my side and I said I needed water, so he walked up to the family and asked and they kindly brought me out a glass of water. I was so thankful for that. I was still worried that it represented the only drink of water I would have for a while though…
Soon after we all piled back into the car and continued our ascent. The others were happy with our height and telling me we were high enough, but I wasn’t feeling safe. Anyway, we reached a point where all the escaping hordes became congested and we could not go any further up the hill. Some people were walking in single file like ants up a small path into the bush to the peak of the hill. I wanted to be doing the same, but the way I was feeling it seemed like a hard thing to physically achieve.
My need for more water was still a problem and as we waited outside the jeep I started asking for more. Where anyone was going to produce it from I had no idea. The guy from the jeep said he thought they had some in the back, but my hopes were soon dashed. There was none. He kindly produced a warm can of Diet Coke but I didn’t want to drink that.
However, out of nowhere a Thai man with a machete appeared and next minute he was taking Damien and I to his home up in the bushes, which consisted of a grass mat, a small knife but most importantly a mega bottle of water and a makeshift cup made out of a cut off plastic water bottle. What a relief. I could sit here and wait for whatever happened and drink as much water as my heart desired…but not before I returned the kind man’s hospitality by spewing everywhere at the foot of his mat. Most undignified, again, and I hoped he realised I couldn’t help it. I wouldn’t normally follow machete-wielding strangers into the bush so willingly, but this was not a normal kind of occasion!
Damien then saw that our jeep was moving below and he went tearing down the hill to stop them. They had been looking for us and were going to take us to their friend’s place, which was apparently at a tsunami-safe height.
We arrived at their friend’s property which was covered in trees, and the smell of horses was strong in the air. There was a gathering of foreigners and Thais and they all looked concerned when they saw me, and I was ushered in and told to take a seat. What I really wanted to do was lie down and I thought that this would have been obvious, but I didn’t want to be rude. So I sat with a collection of kittens and a goat at my feet and the lovely Thai lady, who was I think attempting to perform reiki on my arm. I was wishing so much as her hands hovered over my arm that she had some special healing powers and that my arm would feel better. Sadly, this was not my time to meet some mystical healer of the East! But her compassion was making me feel cared for and I was humbled by that.
At this time I remember others comforting Damien. He was suffering from shock himself. I thought how lucky we were to have such caring people around us and that they were tuned in enough to see that it was not only me who needed help.
Everyone there was so lovely and wanted to assist: I had a man construct a makeshift sling for me, even one of the pet dogs came to stand by my side as I had yet another “undignified” moment. Funnily enough, the tattooed young woman I saw bolt down the road also happened to be at this property, and she sat crouched a small distance away from the dog while I was sick. I felt slightly weirded out by having someone watching me so violently spew and wished she wasn’t there. But I felt bad for thinking she may be somewhat perverted, as when I stopped, her face was full of concern and she asked me if I wanted her to stay with me. She wasn’t as mean as my first impression, down near the beach.
By this time I had plucked up the courage to ask if I could lie down and they took me to a newly constructed bungalow and put a mattress on the floor and a blanket over me. I was happy about this, as despite the humidity I was shivering. A lovely Canadian girl came and starting attending to my wounds. She chatted away in a chirpy tone and I am sure it was to try and lift our spirits. What was amusing is that she spoke to Damien and I in broken English. She apologised, saying she had spent too long in Asia and found herself forgetting to speak complete English! I love this as after spending so long here too, I now talk the same way to the locals. At first I was reluctant as I thought it sounded somewhat condescending, but now I realise simplicity is the key to communication. Cut out all the unnecessary filler words!
Anyway, I was concerned about concussion, and hearing that I was worried about the hit to my head she checked my eyes with a flashlight to see how my pupils were. Just as an aside, where the hell did she pull the flashlight from?? Anyway, my eyes showed that I was fine, no concussion she advised, and I felt somewhat relieved.
At various points during our time at the property people were trying to encourage me to go to the hospital. I was resistant, even though I was worried about possible concussion and wanted something for the pain. The hospital was not on a hill. We were advised it was on the safe side of the island and it would be entirely OK to go there. But I still wanted to wait until the moment that tsunami was supposed to hit had passed. The pain could wait.
Eventually, I became convinced that it was indeed safe and I think we may have left just before the predicted impact time. Someone had called the “ambulance” for us. It was in fact a four wheel drive, two dudes and a siren stuck on top. So off we went, siren blaring to Koh Lanta Hospital.
I don’t want to go too much into the events at the hospital except to say we were looked after at this very basic facility. It was a unique experience to receive care in what was evidently a fairly poor public hospital. So there we were, both sleeping on the same hospital bed, head to toe, on sheets that had seen better days, with the geckos, mozzies and the heat of an un-airconditioned open-to-the-elements ward. I do however, want to mention that the lady from the guesthouse appeared with her friend in the middle of the night. Although we had trouble communicating to each other, I knew that she had come especially to see if I was alright. I was further touched by her kindness, and that of her friend, when they returned the next day and waited all morning to see that I was discharged and OK.
I really wanted to go back to the house where we had stayed with the others to await the outcome of tsunami evacuation but I was not physically able to move further than our villa. However, serendipitiously, the day we went back to Koh Lanta Hospital to get my arm put in full plaster, the Canadian girl and her friend happened to be there and we were able to sincerely thank them both and ask that they pass this on to their friends. We apologised for not making it back in person, and they smiled and dismissed this saying they were pleased things were looking up and that my recovery was paramount.
What I have taken away from this experience is my love for Damien because he was so wonderful throughout the ordeal and the weeks of recovery after, never once complaining. I also will remember the overwhelming kindness of strangers. I also have answered one of those questions I have asked myself at times throughout my life. I have always wondered how would I react if ever placed in a life threatening circumstance. I always hoped I would fight, but now I am happy to know that if the shit ever hits the fan again that I will focus on the essential thing which is to survive at all costs.
Thanks to those who contacted me during the time I was recovering. It was good to have contact from home. I especially want to thank my parents for particularly being there for me.
Although I started writing this when I was in the bar in Phuket Town, the computer ran out of battery so I have only just finished it as I sit in a café in the beautiful town of Luang Prabang, Laos. I have not felt like writing about it until now, as after arriving in Laos I was so happy to be in a country that didn’t remind me of the accident and the month and a half of recovery that put a pause to our adventure. But I am glad to have swallowed this frog, so to speak, and now I can forget about it. I have no desire to think about it again, I am much more content to enjoy the present, and what a fine place we are in to experience the present. I love you, Laos! You are the perfect antidote 😀