I had just spent two lovely days exploring Sukhothai Historical Park and Si Satchanalai Historical Park, both sites of ancient Thai capitals of the Sukhothai Kingdom dating back to about the 13th century. The trip had demanded a six hour road trip, which I and Mimi completed with little trouble on Thursday. Yes, it was a hot day, but there was only one time when I felt like I might wither away from dehydration while driving, and it was quickly remedied by a small Thai shop where I was able to find some water and orange juice to help me plug through the last hour of my trip. The only other problem was the sunburn that covered most of my arms and neck after arriving at my guesthouse, despite copious amounts of sunscreen, but it wasn’t unbearable. Arriving at Sukhothai Historical Park proved that the six hour journey had been well worth it. There were massive temples, partly collapsed but more intact that I had expected due to extensive reconstructions. There were 40 foot Buddhas, towering chedis, and intricate Buddhist monasteries that revealed the incredible grandeur that this city must have claimed 700 years ago. Si Satchanalai was no less amazing, and was set in an even more remote, forested location. I saw very few tourists while there and was free to explore the ruins at my own pace (a very slow pace since it was about 100 degrees).
I began my return journey to Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. I knew the highways that would take me back home were not always forthcoming with gas stations, so I was a little paranoid during the drive. I stopped at almost every gas station I saw, and if Mimi’s tank was only half full, I was almost in full panic mode. I was in Lampang, about two hours from Chiang Mai, going about 90 kph (~55 mph) on the highway, when I saw a nice gas station on my left just as I had almost overshot it. I grabbed my brakes as tight as I could, and at the second entrance, still going about 30 kph (~20 mph), I tried to make the turn and hit a large patch of gravel that was spread across the entrance. Mimi’s back tire couldn’t get any traction, the bike went horizontal, and I went with it. There’s a moment right after an accident where you just make sure you’re still alive. You move parts of your body, you try to sit up, you take a few breaths to make sure your heart and lungs are still functioning, and then you start to scan for the damage. Going down, I landed hard on my left side. My left hand was already throbbing, there were some nice scrapes on my left knee, my shirt was torn at the shoulder, and blood was quickly running off my left foot and onto my white Toms. Within minutes I was surrounded by concerned Thais. I didn’t move. I didn’t take off my helmet or my backpack. I didn’t try to stand up. I just sat there, trying not to throw up and letting the EMS workers (who had somehow arrived within two minutes of my accident) move my leg in whatever direction they needed to. Eventually I came to my senses enough to recognize that the blood stain on my shoe was quickly growing and slipped it off my foot. Someone had taken my helmet off, another had removed my backpack. My ankle felt broken. There was now a sizable pool of blood on the ground in addition to inside my shoe. They laid a stretcher next to me and motioned for me to get on. They didn’t ask if I wanted to go the hospital, and I didn’t refuse. I left Mimi at the gas station. The Thai ‘ambulance’ was really just a small car, almost like a hearse. It only took about five minutes to get to the hospital. I was in an area called Ko Kha just outside the larger city of Lampang, and the nurses had a hard time conversing with me in English when I arrived, but one spoke well enough to make herself understood. They were all very kind, and luckily I was still out of it enough that I didn’t feel much pain when they were cleaning the gravel out of the scrapes. At the hospital, I noticed that my left shoe had not followed me to the hospital and gave it up as a lost cause after the nurse shrugged her shoulders when I pointed it out. While getting my ankle x-rayed, I attempted to call my mom, which was a mistake since I was in a room with very poor reception and all she could hear were gargled ‘I’m ok’s’ and ‘hospital.’ Not what you want to hear when your daughter calls you at 11 pm. But I sent a quick e-mail to explain that I wasn’t on my deathbed, and everyone calmed down. Sitting in the ER, I didn’t panic. Yes, I was alone. Yes, I was still two hours from home. No, there was no way I was going to be able to ride Mimi back to Chiang Mai that day. But I was in Thailand. And in Thailand, things have a way of working themselves out as they need to.
While in the ER, my friend Toni called me wanting help finding a school she was going to do an interview at. This was at the point when they were cleaning me up and pressing on different parts of my body to see what hurt, so I was nearly in tears, my voice was shaking, and all I could tell her was that I was in the hospital. She turned her car around and went back home. She was going to come get me. She insisted, and I didn’t try to stop her. Within a half hour, I had got a hold of my best friend Li. She and my friend Molly joined Toni, and they started the two hour journey to Lampang.
In the meantime, the doctor came back with the x-ray results. ‘Good news,’ he said, and the weight lifted. My ankle wasn’t broken. I would be able to do my trek in Vietnam next week. I would be able to drive again in a couple of days. I would get back to playing tennis after returning from my vacation. The relief was incredible. The doctor asked me to try to stand up, which I still hadn’t attempted at that point, and upon finding that it caused me intense pain, he diagnosed me with a sprained ankle. He wrapped it up, they ordered some pain medication, and within another half hour I had been put in a wheelchair and sent to wait for my friends outside at the entrance to the ER. The ER was only big enough for about three or four people, and there were patients with greater need than me.
During this whole process, a middle-aged Thai man had taken notice of me. He saw that I was alone and that I was about his daughter’s age. She was in the ER with a fractured arm, also from a motorbike accident. During my time in the hospital, he split his time between his daughter and I. He spoke decent English, and we were able to have several full conversations during the three and a half hours I was there. When they sent me to wait outside, he waited with me, leaving once or twice to check on his daughter, and once to go buy me a green tea and a water. We talked about his job and his family, and he showed me pictures of his other children and grandchildren. I told him about America and my life in Thailand. It made what could have been a torturous two hours a very pleasant stretch of time. His name was Mr. John. When he had to leave, about twenty minutes before my friends arrived, he insisted on giving me his phone number. ‘You call me if ever in Lampang again,’ he said. I smiled and happily agreed I would. His kindness and generosity brought me incredible comfort, and I can only hope one day it is repaid to him in some way.
Toni, Li, and Molly arrived around 3:30 with smiles and hugs, and I felt another wave of relief. They wheeled me inside, helped me pay for my hospital bill (a whopping $15, including the ambulance ride and x-rays) since I didn’t have enough cash on me, and helped me maneuver into the car without causing too much pain to my ankle. The nurse had told me that Mimi had been taken to the local police station, so that’s where we headed after we left the hospital. When we arrived, Li did her best to communicate with the Thai police officers, but they spoke almost no English, and the only thing we could understand was that Mimi wasn’t there. ‘Go gas station,’ they said, pointing in the direction we had just come from. So we did. We tracked down the gas station where I had wrecked (luckily I remembered what highway I was on at the time), spoke to a couple of the staff there, and finally found Mimi tucked away on the side of the building, along with my helmet, keys, and bloody left shoe. Everything was in its place now. Mimi is a tough old gal and had sustained absolutely no damage, so we filled her up, and Li took control of her. She drove behind Toni’s car, where I was tucked into the backseat with my foot propped up on a pillow that my thoughtful friends had brought along for the ride.
The journey from there was completely smooth. Li let Molly take over about twenty minutes outside of Chiang Mai, and we got to Toni’s house around 6. We hadn’t all been together for a while, so that night ended up being somewhat of a party. My friend Spence, who lives in the building next to Toni’s, joined us that evening. We made a huge pasta dinner, drank some wine (which I may or may not have used to wash down some pain killers), and talked until late that night. They would let me do nothing. Even to get from the couch to the bathroom, which was all of five feet, they insisted on rolling me to the door using Toni’s computer chair, which led to lots of good laughs for everyone. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, I was tired. Yes, it had been a long day for all of us. But my Thailand family was together that evening, and that brought us all great joy. It hadn’t even been a thought for them to come get me. One of their own had needed help, and it was a natural reaction for them to jump in a car and drive two hours to help her. And they were happy to do it. They asked for nothing in return. They didn’t make me feel guilty for ruining any Saturday plans they may have had. They refused to let me apologize for the inconvenience. These amazing, generous people that seemed so strange to me on the first day of my TEFL course have become my chosen family here in Thailand, and to recognize the lengths we would go to help each other brought a new kind of light to my heart.
I spent the night at Toni’s on Saturday, and she slipped into mama mode, pampering me in every way she knew how. I was well taken care of. On Sunday, although still in significant pain, I was able to drive Mimi back to Hang Dong after the pain killers kicked in. I was a little apprehensive getting back on her for the first time since the accident, but after a successful, smooth ride back home, we settled into our groove again. On Tuesday, the pain mostly subsided, and I was able to walk with very little discomfort. My shoulder is still bruised, the cut on my foot still stings a bit, and my left hand still can’t move in all its natural directions, but I’ll get there, and then I will add this to my list of completed adventures here in Thailand.