Lessons learned

My mind was racing a million miles and an hour after returning to the hostel from the hospital. I kept on looking at the X-ray which showed a substantial break of my left foot. I couldn’t see any good news and the doctor in residence said that I might need an operation but wouldn’t know for sure until I saw the specialist the next day.  I was stunned to say the least.  How was I going to tell my family and friends why I was returning to Australia? How was I going to tell my friend in Africa that I would not being visiting her after promising time and time again that I would?  I felt stupid, a failure and embarrassed. I kept on repeating the fall in my mind, over and over again. How the hell could I be so stupid? if only? what if? Why the hell was I rushing around, I didn’t need to? I watched people from the hostel go about their usual stuff, coming back from the market, planning their next journey, even just walking to the loo. I was screaming inside, I tried writing in my diary but looking at the photos from the day before made me angry. In my mind the world was ending. I just want to sleep and wake up from a bad dream.

When I did wake the reality of what had happened was made more real when I looked down at my foot wrapped in a temporary cast.  It took me about 1.5 hours to get dressed and pack a night bag just in case I had to stay overnight in the hospital. The little things were taking forever and I must say at this time I really needed some assistance. It is time like these that traveling on your own really sucks. Sure there was sympathy from other travelers but they were busy with their own life. To be honest I really didn’t want their help or sympathy I just wanted my foot back. At least I still had my mind and luckily a positive disposition. So all I could do was to make arrangements with the hostel to look after my gear, because as far as I knew I would probably be going back to Oz in the next couple of days.

As I was wheeled into the specialist office, I was sick to the stomach.  He introduced himself and briefly spoke about his family in Australia and his qualifications, in retrospect if there was a perfect doctor he was it, he invested in me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone or vulnerable.  He then bought up the X-ray on his screen. It looked horrible, the bone looked like it was completely broken.  At the same time this was going on I was able to get hold of the medical team in Australia.  After hours of trying to connect they wanted to speak to the doctor whilst being examined.  This is where todays technology and communication has changed. He sent an email copy of the X-ray, going over the X-ray, looking at the different angles and communication with doctors at home. Broken 5th metacarpal, small crack 4th metacarpal. I could hear the medical team in Oz agree. Diagnosis, no operation required bone still attached, plaster cast and complete rest for 4-6 weeks. Did I hear correctly, no operation? OMG. The doctor put me back on the phone to the medical nurse in Australia. She reassured me and explained the course of action. She wished me well and said with appropriate rest and therapy I will be back on my feet. I could feel myself welling up inside. I think I said thank you a hundred times and started blabbering like one does when overcome with unexpected joy.  The journey to the theatre to have the plaster cast fitted was euphoric. I don’t think I ever looked forward to having a plaster cast as much as this. I was even making jokes with nurses who probably didn’t understand why I was so happy. Sure the hard work was in front of me and I would have to rearrange my plans but it beats the hell ending my journey. At least I can ring my family and friends now.  The first call I made was to my mum. Like usual the rock of Gibraltar. In the midsts of disaster, all alone, she was the one that encouraged me to go forth.  I made a pact with myself that day, that I would not again rush around from place to place, I would smell the roses.

Fast fwd 2.5 months. The bad dream is over I am sitting and chatting to a lovely French nurse in Pakse, Laos when we both see a young French girl (Marine) with bandages and horrible wounds struggling to make it to the entrance. Still with her bloody clothes, we help her inside. She looks pale, is shaking and has tears rolling down her face. She tells her story, how she was riding her bike, trying to get back to town (rushing) because the sun was setting and didn’t see the hole in the road. Within a split second she was sprawled across the road, unconscious. The local community must have seen the fall and took her to a medical clinic to bandage her up and stitch her wounds. She spent the night in the village alone. The next morning they put her on a local truck back to Pakse. We are the first people she has spoken to. She is afraid to call her mother and friends, ashamed that she could do something like this. We sit with her for hours and the nurse gives her new bandages, I give her panadol Forte. We help her to her room so she can rest and sleep. For me, flashbacks of how I felt when I had my accident. The hopelessness I felt.

In the morning the nurse had left for Cambodia and I am sitting at the cafe next door having a coffee, Marine gingerly sits next to me. She is still in shock, still felling ashamed and stupid, replaying the incident over and over again. I try and console her, saying that you can’t take back the past, maybe there is a reason why certain events occur, she agrees, maybe she was doing to much and not taking the time to smell the roses.  A young German lad sits with us and he encourages her to go to a hospital and have a doctor look at her wounds. His girlfriend is a pharmacist and would help her with the appropriate medication. I am starting to feel rather under qualified on this journey. I decide to go with her, she needs support and someone to talk to. We speak about life in France, her wonderful job as a fashion designer, her love searching for new materials and the way local women weave and color their fabrics. It gives her a chance to think about other things. Eventually she sees the doctor and goes in to have her wounds checked and re-bandaged. Whilst in the waiting room I notice the state of the hospital. How bloody lucky we are in Oz to pay our taxes so we have a reasonable health system. Eventually Marine returns she looks grey, what the hell. She then starts sobbing, and shows me a photo of the cut under her chin which has 3 stitches. It looks worse than it is and she probably will have a little scar. In between sobs she blurts out “that no man will love her now that she has a scar.” Suddenly I feel like I am in a classroom listening to an emotional 14 year old after breaking up with their boyfriend, thinking their life is doomed. I put my teachers hat on and listen to her fears and I put my arm around her. I retell all the wonderful things she has told me about herself, her purpose of traveling and her hopes for her future. The same things my mum said to me when I was sitting with my plaster cast in Chang Rai.

I don’t know how Marine is traveling but I am sure she will be immersing herself with her love of fashion and traveling the world for the most beautiful fabrics. I do hope the scar is now a story to be told and not of lost love.

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