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Around The Sun: The Heart Of Darkness

Steve Harrison has a violent encounter with a Cambodian street.

Take a huge amount of alcohol. Supply a motorbike. Put Steve on the motorbike after he has consumed copious amounts of that liquor. There you have a lethal combination.

I was having a great old time, well oiled as we say in the trade. There was an Australian girl staying in the hotel that I actually quite fancied, Id taken her and her father out for dinner a couple of nights earlier. Her father was younger than me, but he seemed quite cool about my interest in his daughter.

Wed talked earlier and Id suggested that at midnight we go to the Heart of Darkness. By the time midnight rolled around I was really in the mood. Alcohol in my experience can either give an incredible amount of energy and a good vibe, or be a real depressant. That night I was as high as a kite.

I got on my motorcycle outside the door of the Temple bar. She jumped on the back. Her new friend, whoever he was, decided to join us.

Off we went to the Heart. Or should I say off we went to attempt to go to the Heart.
If I said we drove 10 metres Id be exaggerating. We did a sudden face plant. Either the road had opened up as the result of a sudden earthquake or we had hit a pot hole. Or maybe the front axle of the bike had given way.

Of course the accident could not have had anything to do with the fact that I was blind drunk.

I remember excruciating pain. My arm was useless, hanging loosely at my side. There was no feeling in one of my hands.

"Broken arm,'' I stuttered, then staggered off to my room. In my befuddled state I was thinking that if I could get some sleep the fairies might come during the night and fix my arm. I would wake up to find that all was well.

I lay half on and half of the bed but got no rest. The slightest movement resulted in excruciating agony. I stared at the ceiling, waiting for the fairies. They didn't come. Neither did sleep.

I stared at the clock. The seconds were minutes, the minutes hours.

With the first hint of daylight I tried to move. The effort of getting to my feet made me sweat like a stuck pig. Poor old Lan, bless her heart, helped me to stay upright. She put my shirt on then made a makeshift sling with a scarf for my right arm.

I counted each painful stair as I descended them. Our assistant hotel manager Mr Pheap greeted me cheerfully. Then he recognised the message of pain that was written all over my face. He drove me to Calmette Hospital. We encountered every pothole on the way there.

After I had been X-rayed a doctor told me in broken English that I had dislocated my shoulder.

I looked at the X-ray plate. My arm seemed to spring out of my rib cage. Something didn't add up.

I gathered they intended to stick my arm back in its socket. The doctor said that some of his assistants would hold me down while others tried to get my arm back to where it ought to be. A couple of twists and turns, then hey presto!

I had visions of a couple of heavies jerking my arm about whilst I screamed the roof off the hospital. Then the surgeon explained that I would be given a general anesthetic. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

I was placed in a hospital bed. Staying completely still required more fortitude than I possessed. From time to time Cambodian nurses came in, smiled at me, then took my temperature. In the next bed there was a young Cambodian man who spoke perfect English. Both his legs had been broken in a number of places. The motorcycle on which he was a passenger had collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle. Its rider, his best friend, had been killed.

We were both in pain. We took it in turn to emit a stifled scream.

From time to time a nurse injected something into me, saying it would make me feel more comfortable. It didn't seem to work. Then I assumed it was working and tried to imagine what the pain would have been like without it.

At last I was taken off to what they said was an operating theatre. I think there were six men. They didn't look particularly clean and were wearing outdoor clothes, with scruffy shoes.

They tied me up with ropes. I felt like Gulliver. So, I thought, they are going to use levers and pulleys to work on my arm.

I was given an injection in the arm. Then they were all around me, vultures at a banquet left by feasting lions. But I was still wide awake. Hung over, but aware of what was going on. When would the anaesthetic kick in?

I remember saying "I'm still awake.'' Then Lan was kissing my forehead. "Don't let them do it until I am unconscious,'' I said.

The room was different. The walls were a different colour. "Finish,'' said Lan. "Done.''

My arm was strapped across my chest. I had been unconscious for quite some time. It had been difficult to get my arm back into its socket, a doctor explained. A bone had been chipped. A further operation was required on the following day.

Another sleepless night. Then next morning a doctor was explaining in French and bits of English what he was going to do to me. He drew a diagram. Two titanium screws were to be fitted into the damaged bone. I would be in hospital for nine days, then in six weeks a further operation would be required to remove the now-redundant screws.

I thought this might be the way they treated European patients. "What would you do if I was a Cambodian?'' I asked.

"Send you home,'' he said.

"OK I'm a Cambodian,'' I said.

I had seen quite enough of their operating theatre.


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