We were up all night; waiting for answers at the emergency room in Hua Hin, Thailand. My wife had awoke after midnight with an intense pain in her right side. It was a sudden worsening of the aching she had been dealing with for days.
We seemed to be the only people needing help in the wee hours of a Thursday morning in this beach town on the western Gulf of Thailand. The admitting staff hurriedly took our passport information and nurses questioned Ellen’s medical history in broken but understandable English. While I filled out the paperwork, she was taken away. As I waited and wondered ‘what next’, I flashed back to what had brought us here in a taxi at 2 a.m.
I have been riding motorcycles for over 33 years. I have NEVER been laying on the ground next to my machine, never crashed – until last week. That is when a carefree ride in another tropical beach town – Krabi, Thailand – ended with a trip to a different emergency room.
Even now, I can barely believe the circumstances. We we going slow in the blazing heat. Bicycle speed. A car had stopped ahead on our side of the 2-lane road. Another car was coming towards us, on the other side. We had to slow to proceed. We passed the stopped car to continue our journey in this paradise of palms and pineapples. Suddenly, a cable! A wire! Thick, black and hanging directly in front of us.
All I can remember is thinking, “I can’t hit that”! I didn’t. I swerved and braked and skidded. And moments later, both myself and wife were laying on asphalt and gravel and sand at the edge of the road. Fuck! I remember screaming repeatedly… Fuck! I remember looking around, but not seeing Ellie. She was standing, but doubled over – behind me. No doubt half-brought to her feet by a mix of shock and fear and adrenaline. She said she could hardly breathe. Fuck!
I remember the scooter on it’s side, still running, a few feet in front of me. I remember the burning sensations coming from my scraped palms and knees and knuckles and elbows. I remember the beard and heavy European accent of a witness asking if I was ok? Did I want an ambulance? When I answered no, he turned off the scooter and uprighted it. I remember looking at the thick, black wire laying near my bloody ankle — and watching it be moved away. Fuck!
A small crowd of local Thai people had gathered. They came from some nearby shops. They probably heard my expletives. They stared as Ellie and I hobbled and grimaced and got ourselves out of the street and onto some steps at a run-down restaurant that we had just passed. From there I watched as 2 guys in blue golf shirts moved the black cable completely out of the street and into the roadside weeds. I noticed 2 ladders leaning on nearby telephone poles. There was a third guy in the same blue shirt and a truck and more wire and a logo; it dawned on me, they were the cable guys!
I was pacing. Pissed. Ellie was gasping – saying she couldn’t move her wrist. One of the cable crew walked past. I asked, “English”? He shrugged. I said, “manager”? He gestured at the third guy, by the truck, now on his cell phone. I entered the restaurant / convenient store and bought 2 big bottled waters. I found a plastic bag and took some chunks of ice from a cooler. I washed Ellie’s sandy scraped knee and gashed big toe. We laid her wrist on top of the ice bag.
Another tall Thai man approached, speaking a few words of English, asking what happened. He shook his head in disbelieve when I picked up the wire and demonstrated how it had been stretched, nearly across my chest. He gestured back the way we had come saying, “hospital”, and “Klong Muang”, the name of the last beach town we had passed.
A few minutes later we flagged a fortunate passing taxi cab. No English. The tall Thai man conveyed to the driver we needed to go to the Klong Muang hospital. We carefully loaded Ellie into the back seat. Still bleeding and stinging and seething, I started up the scooter and followed after the cab.
We arrived at the tidy, green painted, hillside hospital a few minutes later. There was no one there but 3 staff members. After a few minutes of English/Thai confusion we understood they did not have an X-ray machine. We needed to go to the hospital in Krabi, about 15 miles away. Ellie got back into the cab.
Just then, 2 cable company trucks pulled into the parking lot. The work crew was in one, a supervisor and his English speaking assistant in the other. After some quick conversation, it was decided the boss would transport us to the Krabi hospital. Again, I followed on the scraped-up scooter. This time we dropped it off at our Airbnb studio which we had to drive right past on the way into Krabi.
At the ancient Krabi central hospital we completed the passport and registration rigor moral. Here we had to wait as several other patients were seen and more arrived. Soon I was on a gurney bed, my 11 different areas of road rash swabbed, sanitized, and bandaged by a young nurse in a 1950’s style white uniform and hat. I then sat in the waiting area with the cable company employees – including the 3 guys who had been putting up the wires – as Ellen’s wrist and chest were X-rayed, and her scrapes cleaned and covered.
After about an hour we all regrouped in the waiting room. There were now 7 cable company employees; 2 more female office workers had showed up. I was told that we had to wait to be given medication to take with us — and that the company was going to pay the hospital bill. The assistant even said, “because it our fault”. At the end, we took a partial group photo outside the emergency room
On the way home, again in the supervisors truck, I noticed we passed a gleaming new hospital — quite in contrast to the place that had just treated us. Now, a week later, in the clean, modern Hua Hin hospital, we were told Ellen needed a CAT scan. I had to sign authorization and financial responsibility papers; the estimated cost 30,000 Thai Baht (about $900). Fuck!
Ellie was wheeled to the vacant hospital imaging area at 3:10 a.m. I waited in the lobby. I used our iPhone to FaceTime my sister, a physicians assistant in Cleveland, Ohio. Being 12-hours behind, she took my call on a break in her office. I gave her all the details and we discussed the worrisome possibilities; gallbladder, appendix, bowel, etc. At her urging, I did find out from a nurse that Ellen had no fever and her white blood cell count was not elevated (an indicator of serious infection/injury).
A short time later, Ellie was wheeled back into the ER and we were told it would be about a 2 hour wait while the CT scan was read remotely in Bangkok. I swatted at several mosquitoes which continually flittered around our curtained area. We hoped and prayed for good news, El’s pain controlled by the IV drip – but still sharp if she moved.
Finally, the overseeing female Thai doctor appeared and announced a broken rib had been detected. She said the Krabi hospital X-ray had obviously missed the break in rib #6 and that “something” Ellen had done recently had aggravated it more. Needless to say, we were greatly relieved. We waited another 30 minutes for prescription medication to be prepared, then paid the bill with a credit card and left.
As it began to get light outside we arrived back at our Airbnb apartment and went to bed. Ellen will have several more weeks of pain and healing. But we are hopeful our Thai scooter crash saga can now be put to bed as well.