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Around The Sun: Me And My Dislocated Arm

Steve Harrison tells of almost unbearable pain.

I guess if you drive a motorcycle too drunk, too fast, too many times, then eventually you come to grief.

I was having a great well-oiled old time. Owning a bar can be a curse. I quite fancied an Australian girl who was staying at our hotel. I took her and her father out for dinner. The father was younger than me, but he seemed cool about my interest in his daughter.

I suggested that at midnight we should go to the Heart of Darkness, a club where you can dance until 4 am. When 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 right outside the door of the Temple bar. The Australian girl jumped on the back, and her newly acquired 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 travelled 10 metres I would be exaggerating. We had barely started out when I did a face plant. The alternatives were that the road had opened up as the result of an earthquake, we had hit a Phnom Penh pothole or the bike's front axle had given way. Clearly the accident had nothing to do with the fact that I was blind drunk.

My arm was useless, hanging loosely at my side. There was no feeling in my hand.

“Broken my arm,'' I groaned, then staggered off to my room. I was drunk enough to believe that if I could get to sleep the fairies will come in the night and fix the arm. When I woke up in the morning all would be well. Besides I was in Cambodia. Where can you go at midnight for emergency treatment.

I lay half-on and half-off the bed. Drunk as I was, sleep didn't come. The slightest movement brought excruciating agony. I lay there staring at the ceiling, but the fairies never came.

At first light, six hours after coming off the bike, with a mighty effort I got to my feet. Lan helped me to put a shirt on and look halfway decent. She used a Cambodian scarf as a makeshift sling for my right arm.

Down the stairs I went, aware of each one of them. Our assistant general manager Mr Pheap greeted me cheerfully, then saw the pain written all over my face. I was just about able to convey that I wanted to go to Calmette Hospital.

He noted my limp wing and got the idea.

We drove to the hospital, finding every pothole and bump in the roads.

An X-ray was taken. A doctor told me in poor English that I had dislocated my shoulder.

I looked at the X-ray myself. My arm seemed to have sprung out of my rib cage. Something was seriously wrong.

The doctor, explained that his assistants would hold me down while attempts were made to get my arm back into its socket. I was told that sometimes it took several attempts to get the arm back in place. I had a vision of half a dozen folk wrestling with my arm whilst I screamed the roof off the house. A ghastly prospect.

The doctor added that sometimes it took several hours to get an arm back into position. I was in agony. The slightest movement of the arm triggered waves of pain.

Then the doctor assured me that I would be given a general anaesthetic. I breathed a sigh of relief. There is a God.

I was taken to a hospital bed. Every thirty minutes I cried out for another pain killer. Staying still would reduce the pain, but I was unable to stay still.

It was 7 am. I was told they would begin working on my arm at 3 pm. I clock-watched, tried to be cheerful but regularly asked for sleepers, sedatives, pain killers, uppers, downers... anything. Little Cambodian nurses came to take my temperature and smile at me.

In the next bed lay a young Cambodia man who spoke perfect English. Both his legs were broken. He had been a passenger on a motorcycle ridden by his best friend which had collided with an oncoming vehicle. The friend had been killed.

We took turns in having a really good groan as the minutes dragged by like wounded grasshoppers.

I was now receiving a drip in my left hand. A nurse injected something which she said would make me more comfortable. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to work. If it was working then heaven knows how bad the pain would have been without it.

Finally a doctor arrived to tell me that they were waiting for an orthopaedic surgeon to arrive. At 5 pm Lan and her friend Ut portered me into what was said to be an operating theatre, though it looked more like a kitchen in our hotel. I assumed then that this must be the anteroom to the operating theatre.

Six men gathered round me. They did not look particularly clean and not one of them seemed to have scrubbed up. They were in ordinary clothes and had scruffy shoes. At least I hoped they had washed their hands.

They tied me up with ropes. I felt like Gulliver. I thought they were going to move my arm with levers and pulleys.

I had read on the internet that some anaesthetics don't work properly. People remain conscious and feel pain.

"Okay,'' said one. "Sleep now.''

An inection went into my arm. The men were all around me. Like vultures at a lions' banquet? I was definitely still wide awake.

“Where’s the anaesthetic? When will it kick in?''

I clearly remember saying, “I’m still wide awake.''

Next thing I knew Lan was giving me a kiss on the forehead.

“Lan, I’m still awake,'' I said. "Don't let them do it yet.''

“Finished,” she said. "Done.''

My arm was strapped across my chest, immobilised.

Feelings of great relief swept over me. I’d been out quite a while. It had been difficult to get my arm back into its socket, the doctor explained in bad English mixed with French.

An X-ray revealed that my arm was back in the right place. But the top of the bone, the humorous, had a chip knocked off. I was to be kept in the hospital and operated upon again the following day.

Another night of sleeplessness.

The following morning the guys were back. The doctor, explaining in English and French, drew a diagram. He was going to insert two titanium screws into my shoulder bone. I would be in hospital for nine days, then after six weeks I would have to return so that the screws could be removed.

"Will my shoulder heal of its own accord?'' I asked.

"Slowly,'' I was told.

I asked them what they would do if I was a Cambodian. "We would leave it as it is and send you home,'' I was told.

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

And I went back to our hotel.


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