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Thai Girl Tattle: In A Pool Of My Own Blood

,,,When a suicide gets hit by an inter-city train he must for a nano-second register the impact and I now think I know how it feels. I was puzzled by the crash but soon came round to find myself lying in the street in a pool of my own blood....

Andrew Hicks tells of an incident earlier this year that came as a salutary warning.

Do please visit Andrew's Web sites

Now for a whole month Iím unable to see my tongue or even to open my mouth.

Thatís how it goes when you end up lying in a Bangkok street in a pool of your own blood.

It all happened like this.

Iíd come down on the bus to Bangkok to arrange reprints for my books, THAI GIRL and MY THAI GIRL AND I and to see my American friend Bill whoíd just arrived from China. It had all gone pretty well and that fateful day Iíd met up for lunch with another old friend, Anthony. Weíd both enjoyed the Ďeat all you caní salad bar at Sizzlers in Thonglor, including a world class chocolate mousse or three and I thought that was going to do me for the rest of the day.

Later at The Atlanta in Sukhumvit soi 2 (www.theatlantahotel.com), an eccentric boutique hotel thatís my home from home in Bangkok, Iíd spent the evening chatting to a pleasant English university professor and his family and belatedly had an urge for a slice of pizza. It was nine already and not wanting a full Thai meal, I headed off up the soi and turned right past the Rajah Hotel and into Soi 4. The thought of a quick beer was appealing too but to avoid the hassle of sitting in a bar, I bought a can of Archar from Seven Eleven for 19 baht and sat down on the granite step of a closed shop to drink it and watch the world go by.

Finishing the beer, I got up intent on my pizza but I didnít get very far. Suddenly the soi was swimming in circles. I remember grabbing at some grey plastic guttering which gave no support and then there was darkness and a terrible crash.

When a suicide gets hit by an inter-city train he must for a nano-second register the impact and I now think I know how it feels. I was puzzled by the crash but soon came round to find myself lying in the street in a pool of my own blood.

First I was conscious of a mouthful of broken teeth, of Thai voices around me, of someone giving me back my glasses, of kind people helping me up and sitting me down on a chair just outside a pool bar. Anxious faces appeared out of the door. Bar workers gave me tissues and one of them sat and attended to me for ten or fifteen minutes.

ĎYou shouldnít drink too much,í she said disapprovingly.

ĎI wasnít drunk at all,í I replied. ĎJust had a dizzy fitÖ tired, hungry, low blood pressure maybe.í

My shirt was covered in blood and clutching a handful of bloody tissues, I tried to assess the damage. From the neck upwards it hurt! My jaw ached but I could still talk. I had a big open cut on the bottom of my jaw, my lower lip had been lacerated by what remained of my lower incisors and Iíd badly bitten the side of my tongue. And worryingly I was bleeding profusely from my right ear.

Otherwise I had not a mark on meÖ not on my hands or knees or anywhere. I must have gone down like a rag doll and taken it all on the chin.

The nice bar lady offered to get me a taxi, but no, I said I could walk. With the one-way system a taxi would have to go three sides of a square and it wasnít far back to The Atlanta. So stupidly I walked and very kindly she came too, talking to me all the way, and delivered me slowly to the door of my hotel.

I got some funny looks at reception but I took my key and climbed the three floors to my room. There I spent one of the worst nights of my life in a lot of pain, bleeding into a towel and getting increasingly anxious.

I am strong, I am invincibleÖ and surely Iíd quickly bounce back. Wounds heal very fast. Iíd be sore in the morning but in a few days itíd be okay.

Then I began to get increasingly worried.

My tongue was double its usual size and filled my mouth but trying to close my jaw I got a bit of a shock. When the molars to the right side of my mouth touched, the rest of my teeth didnít touch at all and on feeling below my ears there were some worrying lumps. I must at least have dislocated my jaw, if not broken it.

Come six in the morning I crept gingerly down the stairs to the hotel lobby and there to my joy was a ministering angel in the svelte form of my old friend Le Phoque whoíd clearly been up late that night. Roger looked aghast at this bloody apparition but swung into action and promptly called a taxi and bundled me inside. Within five minutes we were in the Emergency Room of the Bumrungrad, one of the worldís top private hospitals. (See www.bumrungrad.com).

People were rushing everywhere and they all seemed to be in a hurry to help me. I was laid on a bed and curtained off and an orderly injected a pain killer while a surgeon, no less, asked me what Iíd been up to and cleaned the wounds on my chin. He told me Iíd have to be admitted to the hospital if my little problem were to be fixed.

There then began a long perambulation to almost all departments of the hospital except gynecology and geriatrics, with Roger in attendance. I canít remember what order it all took but I was soon admitted to a four bed ward and within a relatively short time had had an X-ray and CT scan of my head, a chest X-ray, an ECG and consultations with a cardiologist, with a dentist, with an ENT man who told me my eardrum was not perforated and just about every blood test possible. It was all very thorough, proving that the Bumrungrad is an impressive outfit indeed.

The next big event was meeting with the plastic surgeon. He sat me down at a computer screen where I confronted my own deathís head in ghoulish detail. The way the salami slices of the CT scan are made into a 3D image of the skull is quite remarkable but mine told a sorry story. Yes, the doctor told me, the jaw is badly broken, vertically down the front and at the back on both sides in the usual place where it hinges. The lines on the image were hard for me to interpret but smashed would seem a better term than fractured.

The best procedure in this case, he told me, was to do an arch bar intramedullary fixation which involves fitting a metal arch inside the mouth above and below the teeth and then binding these together with rubber ties threaded between each of the teeth. Done under general anesthetic the jaw is manipulated into place so that the lower jaw is biting correctly, the mouth is then sewn closed and the patient is told to put up and shut up and to come back in about a monthís time.

Cat had been told of the accident and dropping everything had got on the bus to Bangkok for the nine hour journey to be with me. It has never been so good to see her and sheís since been by my side feeding me, tolerating my less worthy moments and generally being a tower of strength.

The op was scheduled for 3.30pm on my third day in hospital but with only a few hours to go, it was postponed until 9.30pm because of pressure on the theatres. Hellís bells, itís the waiting thatís the worst but I just had to wait.

Then they came for me a little after eight and I was parked in the waiting area with a silly cap on my head contemplating my fate until well after ten. Iíve never had a general anesthetic before. Itís like a brush with death, to be so switched off, so vulnerable, while people you donít know do unspeakable things to you. I tried not to think too much about it but it wasnít easy.

The nurses were chatty and fun but with my hair net and a cartoon thick lip like Wallace and Grommit, I wasnít at my best. One of them said I must be fit because my pulse rate and blood pressure were low, but then maybe that was why Iíd crumpled up in the street.

Then at last they wheeled my tumbril into the theatre and bounced me bodily across onto the slab. There was more hanging around and then the anesthetist appeared. As she administered the potion, I felt an unpleasant hot sensation in my left arm and I slipped into nothingness.

The surgeon had a lot of sutures to do in my mouth, sewing my tongue back on and stuff and so the operation must have taken more than three hours. The next thing I knew was the Devil sticking needles into my tongue and I was back in the recovery room. I felt okay except that my body seemed agitated. I just couldnít settle but kept squirming around. After two hours recovery I was wheeled up to the ward and back to bed for a few hours before the morning light came up.

So thatís my story and it explains why my tongue is now sealed tight in my mouth for a month, and why I can only eat and speak through my teeth. At least Iíve now escaped the hospital and for the next month Iíll just have to get through it and grit my teethÖ all too literally.

I have to admit that I just detest hospitals. When they ask if thereís anything Iím allergic to the answerís always Ďdoctorsí, and even though the nurses were all Miss Thailand International runners up, I hate being pestered to have my blood pressure taken every half hour while they ask me the same questions again and again.

ďHow much water you intake and how many times you pee pee/poo poo since mid-day please?ĒÖ and so it goes on.

I was also experiencing a terrible pain in my wallet, caused by the hospitalís request for a deposit toward payment of the bill. Their estimate was hugely overestimated and in true Thai style a Ďdeposití meant pre-payment of the full amount, otherwise the operation would not go ahead. The only way for me to get hold of so much money was to get up from my bed, go to the bank and personally withdraw it.

Actually we took a taxi to the bank and the taxi driver was a wonderful old soul of eighty one. He talked non-stop about his back ache, forgot to put the meter on and when he said, ďMai pen rai, give me whatever you feel likeĒ he earned himself a double fare. To deal with my aches and pains I was just about to spend several times more than heíd earn in a year.

So now Iím back at The Atlanta with Cat taking amoxicillin and trying to work out how not to die of starvation. For someone like me, being almost unable to talk is pretty serious, though at least itís not life threatening. Catís been winning all the arguments by default but sheís also fantastic at finding liquid foods for me so I may not starve after all.

Iím taking a milk formula which claims to be a complete diet and otherwise itís yoghurts and soups. Cat has been out and bought packets of a rice gruel called Ďjokeí and the hotel kitchen prepares this for me. So my breakfastís a joke, lunch is a joke and so is dinner. Such is life!

Weíve tried ordering some of the soups in The Atlantaís excellent restaurant but the smallest particles cause big, big problems. With my teeth sewn tight shut, all my nutrition has to come up a straw and be filtered through the gaps between my lower teeth. To finish a bowl of soup can take an hour if there are bits in it as the straw blocks and the solids block clog my teeth.

After a week, the external injuries on my chin are completely healed but the soft tissue injuries to my mouth are still very sore. All food has to be sucked in over my lower lip which is still twice its normal size and has precious little skin. Probing around with a tooth pick to clear my blocked teeth isnít fun either. And the stitches on the side of my tongue are truly painful and any speech or movement is excruciating. The stitches themselves and the metal work in my mouth are like a mouthful of barbed wire which chafes the cheeks, so Iím a complete mess.

The rubber fixings are very tight and any movement or swallowing feels as if the teeth are being pulled out of their sockets and causes pain to the fractured hinges of the jaw. Some of the broken teeth are very sensitive and Iím terrified that during the next crucial month something will flare upÖ a severe tooth ache or an abcess or whatever. The dentist assured me that none of the damaged teeth had pulp exposed so I may be in luck, but itíll be a big problem if this happens.

Itís torture really, especially when I look at what is one of the best menus in Bangkok and watch all around me in the restaurant tucking in. Itís quite scary that the foodís there in front of me but I canít eat it.

Yes, itís a gruel and unusual punishment!

At least when Tantalus couldnít reach the water and grapes, he could open his mouth and grumble about it. For me, even hissing through my teeth is painful!

Cat and I managed to walk up the soi to Boots this morning where we met an English friend from The Atlanta whoís a dental hygienist and we carefully chose mouth washes, liquid vitamins and a stock of amoxycyllin to keep at home as a back up in case anything flares up.

So all in all, it hasnít been fun, but given that I was alone when fell, Iíve met nothing but kindness from strangers and from the many friends around meÖ not to mention having a top hospital only a mile or two away. The Atlantaís been a haven too. Even if I canít actually talk to any of my friends, sitting by the pool has helped us take the strain and the hotel staff have been great.

Itíll be a difficult month though and while I still feel quite wobbly, when Iím stronger weíll get the bus back to the village. The temperature in Isaan has fallen to 39 degrees which isnít so hot and being home and cooking and sieving food in our own kitchen should be much easier than in a hotel room.

Which only leaves a few superficial musings about Ďlifeí.

I think Iíve done okay so far as this is only my second accidentÖ one when I was aged six and now this one at sixty two. The first was when Nick Drake, my childhood friend fell heavily across my leg and fractured my tibia. Iíve told that story elsewhere in my tribute to Nick, now post-mortem a singer song writer, well known throughout the world. (See www.brytermusic.com Articles.) I guess I was the lucky one.

In this life Iíve not risk been risk averse though, climbing and sailing, driving across the Sahara and travelling to remote places, and I still belt my mountain bike through the rice fields much to Catís alarm. Yet the most horrific accident happens to me walking down an urban street!

Okay, the fainting fit could be a cause for worry but the quacks could find nothing of concern and just counseled caution. I shall certainly not stand up too quickly in future.

And thinking of risk, this was the moment I wished Iíd had medical insurance. Over the last forty years, insurance companies have made massive profits from me and it would have been better never to have been insured. Thatís been my recent attitude and for my uninsured years in Thailand Iím still ahead as the sum total of all the medical premiums I didnít pay would have far exceeded my recent hospital bill.

Even so this has been a salutary warning and I think itís time to think again. Trouble is, if I insure myself and Cat, weíll be fine but then awful things can happen to other family members. Iím sure we can propitiate the spirits for less than the cost of medical insurance though!

So can anyone now advise me on medical insurance in Thailand? A healthy fool of sixty two who indulges in dangerous sports needs to find some reasonable cover.

I sail and cycle and very occasionally walk down Soi 4. And not so long ago I jumped out of an aeroplane high above Australia.

Oh, and Iím married to a Thai wife.

That too should surely be on the list of dangerous sports!


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