Sunday, 8 March 2009
In A Pool of My Own Blood!
"Bangkok's bastion of wholesome and culturally acceptable tourism."
Established in the early fifties, it's a quirky place.
And boasts the oldest unchanged hotel lobby in Bangkok.
Koh Samui? No The Atlantas's pool on Soi 2.
"No sex tourists, louts or other degenerates." A principled stand that makes for a pleasant hotel where I always stay and meet interesting people.
But this time I ended up in a pool of blood and on the operating table at the Bumrungrad for three hours.
Now for a whole month I’m unable to see my tongue or even to open my mouth.
That’s how it goes when you end up lying in a Bangkok street in a pool of your own blood.
It all happened like this.
I’d come down on the bus to arrange reprints for my books, THAI GIRL and MY THAI GIRL AND I and to see my American friend Bill who’d just arrived from China. It had all gone pretty well and that fateful day I’d met up for lunch with another old friend, Anthony. We’d both enjoyed the ‘eat all you can’ 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 that’s my home from home in Bangkok, I’d 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 didn’t 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.
‘You shouldn’t drink too much,’ she said disapprovingly.
‘I wasn’t drunk at all,’ I replied. ‘Just had a dizzy fit… tired, hungry, low blood pressure maybe.’
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 I’d badly bitten the side of my tongue. And worryingly I was bleeding profusely from my right ear.
Otherwise I had not a mark on me… 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 wasn’t 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 invincible… and surely I’d quickly bounce back. Wounds heal very fast. I’d be sore in the morning but in a few days it’d 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 didn’t 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 who’d 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 world’s 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 I’d been up to and cleaned the wounds on my chin. He told me I’d 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 can’t 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 death’s 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 month’s 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 she’s 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. Hell’s bells, it’s the waiting that’s 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. I’ve never had a general anesthetic before. It’s like a brush with death, to be so switched off, so vulnerable, while people you don’t know do unspeakable things to you. I tried not to think too much about it but it wasn’t easy.
The nurses were chatty and fun but with my hair net and a cartoon thick lip like Wallace and Grommit, I wasn’t 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 I’d 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 couldn’t 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 that’s 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 I’ve now escaped the hospital and for the next month I’ll just have to get through it and grit my teeth… all too literally.
I have to admit that I just detest hospitals. When they ask if there’s anything I’m allergic to the answer’s always ‘doctors’, 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.
“How much water you intake and how many times you pee pee/poo poo since mid-day please?”… and so it goes on.
I was also experiencing a terrible pain in my wallet, caused by the hospital’s request for a deposit toward payment of the bill. Their estimate was hugely overestimated and in true Thai style a ‘deposit’ 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, “Mai pen rai, give me whatever you feel like” he earned himself a double fare. To deal with my aches and pains I was just about to spend several times more than he’d earn in a year.
So now I’m 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 it’s not life threatening. Cat’s been winning all the arguments by default but she’s also fantastic at finding liquid foods for me so I may not starve after all.
I’m taking a milk formula which claims to be a complete diet and otherwise it’s yoghurts and soups. Cat has been out and bought packets of a rice gruel called ‘joke’ and the hotel kitchen prepares this for me. So my breakfast’s a joke, lunch is a joke and so is dinner. Such is life!
We’ve tried ordering some of the soups in The Atlanta’s 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 isn’t 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 I’m 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 I’m terrified that during the next crucial month something will flare up… 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 it’ll be a big problem if this happens.
It’s 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. It’s quite scary that the food’s there in front of me but I can’t eat it.
Yes, it’s a gruel and unusual punishment!
At least when Tantalus couldn’t 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 who’s 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 hasn’t been fun, but given that I was alone when fell, I’ve met nothing but kindness from strangers and from the many friends around me… not to mention having a top hospital only a mile or two away. The Atlanta’s been a haven too. Even if I can’t actually talk to any of my friends, sitting by the pool has helped us take the strain and the hotel staff have been great.
It’ll be a difficult month though and while I still feel quite wobbly, when I’m stronger we’ll get the bus back to the village. The temperature in Isaan has fallen to 39 degrees which isn’t 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 ‘life’.
I think I’ve done okay so far as this is only my second accident… 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. I’ve 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 I’ve 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 Cat’s 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 I’d 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. That’s been my recent attitude and for my uninsured years in Thailand I’m still ahead as the sum total of all the medical premiums I didn’t pay would have far exceeded my recent hospital bill.
Even so this has been a salutary warning and I think it’s time to think again. Trouble is, if I insure myself and Cat, we’ll be fine but then awful things can happen to other family members. I’m 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 I’m married to a Thai wife.
That too should surely be on the list of dangerous sports!
PS This was written a few days ago and we took the bus back to the village last night. It was a twelve hour overnight trip as the wretched bus chose this particular occasion when I was hardly back on my feet to have a hydraulic leak and we were hours late leaving. But it’s good being back home, I’m feeling considerably better and it’s much easier preparing food here than in the hotel.
Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog March 2009