Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Thailand And Laos 1998: Day 5

It would be untrue to claim that I slept badly for that would be to imply that I slept. My locally hired sleeping bag was tissue paper thin and would have been inadequate to even the mildest of chills. As the night was freezing it was worse than useless. Even sleeping in my clothes failed to generate enough warmth to allow me to fall asleep. If the temperature alone were not enough to keep me awake then the constant noise of the pigs and the frequent but random crowing of a host of roosters was certainly up to the task. Occasionally I would hear others tossing and turning or grumbling and, for a while, the opaque square mosquito net in the corner which housed two of the women was lit by a torch as one of them decided to try to read. There was also a weird rustling from one of the others - wrapped in a foil 'space blanket' that made him look like a turkey ready for the oven - whenever he turned over or adjusted his position or breathed a little too heavily. It was a cold miserable and uncomfortable night and as soon as they greyish light of dawn started to penetrate the cracks in the walls I struggled from my bag, climbed over the bodies and went outside onto the balcony. I pulled on my shoes and approached the steps.

What happened next is a little vague.

I looked down at the steps and noted their position and stepped down. At the crucial moment something must have distracted me for the next thing I knew I had missed the step and was pitching forward with my arms instinctively flailing up towards my head for protection. It did no good and even as I heard myself scream I felt my head hammer solidly against one of the pillars supporting the next building. Wit came rushing out to see what calamity had caused the noise which had woken the whole village. I could feel the warm stickiness of blood as it ran down the side of my cheek which was already turning cold with shock. Others emerged to see what was happening. Someone started to organise cleaning me up and repairing me. I know the symptoms of shock but I've never felt them so clearly as then. I was cold and shaking and disoriented and distantly aware that I was babbling nonsensically as my brain tried to sort out what was happening. Gradually I started to pull myself together as I realised that my limited first aid knowledge was about the best the group had and that my first aid kit was certainly the best stocked. I sent someone for it as I sat wrapped in a blanket, shivering and sipping at a cup of hot and unbearably sweet tea that Pat hat pressed into my hands.
It soon became clear that I was going to need a trip to the hospital. There were several small shallow cuts and grazes above my left ear and on the back of my head and two rather deep gashes - one immediately behind the ear and a second on the front of it which had torn down a triangular flap of skin which was hanging loose. It was this cut that was bleeding fairly profusely. We cleaned it up and dressed it. Meanwhile I was checking myself for other injuries. My left foot, which had twisted under me as I had fallen was extremely painful and starting to bruise. The toe felt broken. I immobilised it with tape and then set about persuading Wit that while the others could walk I certainly needed at least a check up at the hospital.
It was no easy task but finally he agreed and when the truck departed I was lying in the back. Wit and our truck driver, Mr. Tah , were in the front. Every now and again one of them would ask me how I was feeling. I was feeling tired, hurt and very like a complete prat. The ride was uncomfortable and sweaty - about two hours in the morning sun over very bumpy dusty roads until finally we came to a main highway and fifteen minutes later arrived at the hospital.
I am not sure what I had been expecting but the reality was a pleasant surprise. The building was a single storey modern structure not much larger than a town clinic but it looked clean and hygienic. There were a large number of Thai patients waiting but Wit overrode my feeble protestations and marched me to the front of the queue. Five minutes later a nurse had removed the dressing on my ear and cleaned it up again. She said something in Thai. Wit translated.
"She says you need injection."
"What for ?" I asked wondering if I would need to break out the sterile needle and syringe that I was carrying.
Wit asked.
"Tetanus." he said.
I was relieved.
"I don't need it. I had a tetanus shot only about a month ago."
He translated for her. She wasn't convinced but eventually decided that if I didn't want it she couldn't force me to have it. The ear was a different matter. It was obvious even to me that it needed stitches. Ten minutes later it was done and we could take a look at the foot. I hobbled into X-ray and gasped in awe that a piece of equipment so old could still be operating. Nevertheless it was and the picture that was brought out barely five minutes later was certainly a foot although I couldn't swear that it was mine. The senior nurse examined it and explained to Wit that it was not broken, just badly bruised. She wrote out a prescription and I took it to the apothecary window. It turned out to be six prescriptions. One for sterile dressings and swabs, one for iodine solution, one for sterile saline solution and three for assorted drugs. Of these the one a day capsules were clearly antibiotics. I had no objection to taking those. The others were another matter. One packet contained aspirin sized fluorescent green square tablets and the other tiny bright orange oval pills. I asked what they were and Wit checked.
"Painkillers" was his uncertain reply.
I resolved to throw them down the nearest toilet and take paracetamol if I was in any pain and we climbed back onto the truck.
As we drove into town Mr. Tah tried to cheer me up. He rolled up his sleeve and showed me two scars on the front and back of his forearm. They were ragged six inch strips of dead white flesh with poor wide stitches criss-crossing them.
"I have done at same hospital." he said smiling as I looked in horrified fascination at the scars.
"What did you do ? " I asked.
The truck bounced over a rut in the road as he replied in mime, raising his arm and bringing it down towards the top of the piece of metal tubing that was securing his seat to the vehicle.
"Truck roll over !" he said with equal pleasure.
I groaned and closed my eyes.

 The others hadn't reached the Lahu village when I got there so I could pick my spot in tonight's bedroom. The Lahu are another hill tribe originally coming from Tibet. There are fewer of them, about 60,000 and like the Karen they are subdivided into smaller groups. A significant difference in the village was that not all of the buildings were elevated. Tonight we were to be divided between two huts, one of them on the same basic pattern as the previous night and the other built on the ground with only the sleeping platform raised and that only to a height of about two feet. I chose a corner position in the low hut. There was no sense in taking further risks. That done I limped painfully outside and took a look around the village. It was smaller than the Karen village with only about a dozen buildings that were all crowded together as if for security. The people were friendly and curious about why I was there. Several times I explained in mime to the amusement of the village children exactly what I had done. After an hour of wandering about taking pictures I sat down at the table to rest my foot. Immediately someone appeared with a large bowl of noodle soup. While I was eating it he appeared again with a metal plate piled up with chips. I ate it eagerly. My accident had had no adverse effect on my appetite. While I was finishing off the chips the others all arrived. There was some sympathy and a lot of piss-taking but a general sense of relief, that didn't even come close to matching mine, that I seemed to be all right.