Broken Leg In Hill Tribe Country
Thank you Stick for publishing my first submission ‘The Champion in Thai Boxing’. I can see you enjoyed it by giving it a green star and hopefully some of your readers did the same. Below
is the account of another little adventure I had in the ‘good old days’ living in Thailand
It was about 1984. I and the family had relocated from Bangkok down to the quiet place of Pattaya a few years earlier. One day Andre, my best friend, and I decided to do the old hill tribe trek up in Chiang Mai province. As I remember I was in between jobs in the offshore oil patch, and Andre was working as a scuba instructor in Pattaya, in the same dive shop where I started my working career in Thailand in 1978. We just had to do this trip one day. We had been living in Thailand now long enough. Every backpacker did this journey up north and they are still doing it today. It seemed like that just us two had not done it yet. But we were always talking about it and it was now time for another adventure.
So off we went on the overnight bus towards Chiang Mai. Andre knew a Thai artist from a good family up there. A friendship forged long before I met Andre at Soi 22 in Bangkok. This Thai owned or perhaps eve still owns a guesthouse in Chiang Mai. That’s where we stayed the day we arrived up in the northern city. It just so happened that this artist had some Thai friends with families from Bangkok as visitors there as well. All well to do upper middle class Thais. So we got invited to a get together Thai style in the beautiful peaceful surroundings of the guesthouse. Thai food and whiskey on straw mats on the lawn. A beautiful mild night without rain, bearing in mind that this was the rainy season. Why Andre and I decided to go trekking during the rainy season is still a mystery to me.
Next day with the help of Andre’s friend we found a trekking agent. The trekking agent introduced us to one of his guides. A young kid in his late teens. We signed up and were told to meet up the next day in front of their office. Naturally the next morning the clouds were hanging low and it did not look too good. But what the heck. At the office we met our traveling companions. A young German couple, just flown in from Europe and on the trip of a lifetime. Of course it started raining by now. We took a ‘rot song theow’ out of Chiang Mai, through the hills to the end of the road, up to the last Thai village. A ‘rot song theow’ is a pick up truck with two benches in the back and a roof over it for people transport. This mode of transportation is very popular in Thailand.
Our small backpacks on our backs, the five of us started walking up into the unknown of the mountain leaving the village, the last stand of Thai culture behind us. Still slightly raining and clouds covering the mountain peaks. Fog everywhere. Just a small slippery trek, over rocks, through little creeks. Up and up we trekked. It must have been at least two hours by now and there was not yet a village or anybody else in sight. Andre was walking in front of me and suddenly he slipped on the wet clay trek and fell on his bum. No worries, get up and carry on. But there he lay and told me he had just broken his leg, right above the ankle.
Bollocks. This cannot happen right here in the rain, up on some mountain slope, far away from any civilization. This is not the jungles of Vietnam like in the war movies. But there Andre was, sitting in the mud with a broken leg. The guide was totally out of his depth and just couldn’t accept his (or our) misfortune. He tried to urge Andre on to get up and keep on walking. And the German couple got worried about their long saved up holiday trip in Thailand. This whole situation was not part of their trekking deal. No satellite or mobile phones here. No dust off by chopper. Andre was in pain and my worry was now how to get Andre back down the mountain to proper care in a hospital in Chiang Mai. It was basically all up to me. The guide and the Germans just stood there in disbelief. I needed help here and quick. I needed some more manpower to get Andre down back to the village where we had come from.
So we instructed the guide to go up to the next hill tribe village and get some bamboo poles, blankets and men to help carry Andre down the mountain. The guide was completely lost in this situation and did what he was told. The German couple was glad to get out of this sticky situation and carry on with their trip and I was happy to get rid of them.
But while we were waiting for the material and men to arrive Andre slowly realized in what kind of grave situation we were and started to get uncomfortable and was about ready to go into shock. He got paler and paler in the face and his body started shivering. What the hell were we doing up here during the rainy season anyway? A cold beer in a warm bar in Pattaya would have been a lot better than wet to the bone in the mud up some bloody mountain with no help around for hours.
So we sat there in the drizzling rain hoping that the guide would return fast with some help. Andre felt worse and worse. This really started to get me worried.
But look there. Along the trek a lone hill tribe guy came walking, minding his own business. Now an idea popped into my head. Andre was hurting badly. He needed some pain relief. Morphine is made from opium and we were right smack bang in the middle of opium country. Maybe this lone man on the trek could help us out with some fast pain relief medication. No harm done asking. I asked him. Lucky he spoke Thai, and he looked at our misery and pulled out a little box from his shoulder bag, opened it and inside was some sticky opium. Well, this man knew how to travel. I stuck my finger in the gooey opium and André sucked it off my finger…and no wonder, twenty minutes later he felt a lot better. We even had a few laughs about this adventure while waiting for help and while trying to secure a splint to his leg. I guess he felt a lot better than me now.
Soon after the guide came back down the mountain with a few men and the material we asked for. Andre who just passed a first aid course a few weeks back instructed us how to make a stretcher with two bamboo poles and blankets, no ropes required.
Andre laid onto the stretcher and the hill tribe guys carried him all the way down again to the Thai outpost village. A long and hazardous walk down the slippery trail. I was amazed how carefully they balanced the load and how dedicated and helpful they were. By the time we got to the village it started to get dark. Even there in the village nobody believed us that the leg was broken. The village headman and the Thai teacher came along to look at these two crazy farangs. Now these two characters were the pillar of Thai society. A village headman and a teacher. These were and still are the persons who know it all in this lovely country. Andre moved his leg but the foot did not move. What did that show you? The leg was definitely broken. Now we had to organize a pick up truck to get Andre to the hospital in Chiang Mai. Somebody in the village had such a truck and showed up with a bunch of young guys. Now I got a bit pissed off thinking in my Western mind that everybody in this group wanted to take a free ride to the provincial capital for a good night out on our expense. The hire of the truck was not cheap. But making money out of misery of others in this beautiful country is perfected to a fine art. And I was not about to argue.
We loaded Andre in the back of the pick-up truck and a bunch of guys jumped on it too. But then these guys were helpful and useful to the maximum and showed me the main reason why they came along. The rain during the day had made the road at certain sections impassable. These guys used picks, shovels and axes to repair the road to get us through. They for sure deserved a good night out in the cat houses of Chiang Mai.
It was late at night, about 10 hours after the accident happened, when we finally arrived at the emergency unit of the Chiang Mai hospital, where Andre got rolled into the operation room to get a plate screwed onto his broken bone.
As it is quite acceptable and common practice in Thailand I stayed behind with my friend in his hospital room during his one week stay there. I got myself a mattress and laid it on the floor in his room to give him a hand if one was needed. And of course to be around the beautiful nurses who fussed over Andre day in day out. But after a couple of days I thought it was about time to hit the nightlife of Chiang Mai myself for a while. Not much action there in those days compared to Bangkok. Certainly no stainless steel pole huggers and discos but still enough to keep me busy roaming around drinking a few glasses of Mekhong Soda here and there and generally making a mess of myself.
I got back to the hospital at sunrise the next day and what did the silly mug of a friend manage to do during the night? Going for a leak to the toilet on his crutches he slipped, fell on his bum again and cracked the same bone again dislodging the plate. So off he got trolleyed one more time into the operation theater.
Such is life. Wouldn’t be dead for quids.
Another great story. I thoroughly enjoyed it!