For many travelers, getting injured in a strange land is a primal fear.
Okay, if you want to do me a favor – buy my book about health care in Nepal. You can get it at Vajra Books on Jyatha in Thamel, or Tibet Books – I always have loved Tibet Books and it’s an honor to see on the shelves next to books I have admired. Or – at least browse my blog!
When you were a kid, did you ever “pig pile?”
It’s where a bunch of people form a heap. In American football it happens all the time – that’s one of the attractions of the game. “Haha – look at the pig pile!”
I was in a pig pile today, but it was deadly serious. On the Prithvi Highway, the one-and-only east-west artery through the Terai, with about forty other people, mostly senior citizens. Or maybe eighty.
I got the last ticket, sitting in the middle of the very back row. I was alone when we departed the Bhairawaha bus terminal, but we soon stopped and the bus filled with pilgrims from India.As we left the Retreat Center, they all began chanting the Buddhist chants they had learned. We were in high spirits. After a half hour the bus driver turned on the sound system and we listened to his choice – Nepali hip hop. Oh well, we wouldn’t have been able to keep up that level of energy the whole way.
We were in a bus on a flat section of highway. The Terai…..
Ahead, the road crossed a culvert over a stream. It narrowed at that spot. Now, it’s the only east-west road, but resist the urge to conjure a vision of, say I-80 stretching grandly through the vast American west. This culvert on the Prithvi Highway here was not wide enough for two buses to cross at the same time, going in opposite directions. Maybe it is – but it would take more finesse than the two drivers who tried it today.
I was in the very last row, in the middle seat of five. I could stretch my legs from there.
We wobbled. And swerved. And rolled.
To go over the culvert, the banks were built up on either side. The rollover had a slo-mo quality to it. Later I could see that we missed a concrete utility pole – oh my, if we had hit that, it would have been worse….
There was a collective groan, I knew something hit my face, I’ll never know just what. I never lost consciousness, but I got whacked.
Main thing was, I couldn’t move. The large lady on top of me and her teenaged son, were holding me there. Worse still? Under all of us were two guys, at the very bottom a Buddhist monk in saffron regalia. I couldn’t even turn my head. With my arm, I could pull enough to relieve some of the weight they must have been feeling. That was the single most “heroic” thing I could muster up. I pulled as hard as I could with the only arm that was free. I hoped that they could breathe and I sent good karma to people I couldn’t see but who were less than an inch away.
Others started crying. I was pinned there. My face hurt.
In Nepal such an event brings every conceivable person close, to render whatever aid they can. Big crowd in a short time and people on the roof pried open the upside windows, the two above me stood on my back to get hoisted out.
Finally there was breathing room in my space, three of us scrambled to our feet. The window space was now above me and it was too small for me. I gave a bunch of people “ten fingers” and they stepped on my shoulders on the way. One woman insisted on getting the new still-in-the-box flat-screen TV. I found my Red Sox cap.
Since I was in the back of the bus, I was going to have to wait until I could walk out the front. I gathered my stuff and wondered what it would feel like if the bus caught fire while I was stuck inside. Somebody later said, the diesel fuel rarely burns. I wasn’t thinking of that.
Tears come to eyes as I say this, but I had just spent a few days with people I truly respect and love. That very morning I had laughed and chatted with a former student who is now a nursing teacher, and with whom I shared many medical adventures at TNS and later. Over the previous days I had lots of meetings. We were cooking up ideas to improve ACLS skills in Butwal and Bhairawaha. I was happy. What crossed my mind was,
“If this catches on fire, at least I died happy.”
And the bus did not catch fire, there were only minor injuries. I had blood on my face from a bloody nose. The crowd got excited to see that a foreigner had been on the bus. The police in-charge guy insisted that I get in the ambulance – because I was a foreigner.
The police captain wasn’t going to take any crap from me. I climbed in with six other people, all of whom were in hysterics. Another clump of people. I sat on the floor and mentally triaged my new companions.
At the hospital I vehemently refused to allow them to give me diclofenac (IM NSAID pain shot) because they didn’t even tell me what it was before they approached me with it. They gave me a cold pack for my cheek.
I got a selfie with the police guy. I needed to charge my phone, so while it there I got a photo of their defibrillator.
I showed the doctor who examined me, that problem I’ve been having with my reflexes. And he howled with delight. Despite my aches and pains, I knew I was in good hands.
PS I went back to to Bhairawaha, checked into a thirty-dollar-a-night hotel, and licked my wounds. The next morning I got on another bus.
PPS love to all who read this. I refused to get admitted to the hospital or be sent to a hospital in Butwal for observation. I had “surgical mumps” for a few days, and whiplash for three weeks.
PPPS – almost all the passengers were tourists from India who got on at an Ashram near Buddha’s birthplace. At the very beginning, they did a bunch of Buddhists chanting, like elementary school kids, and I thought, wow, I wonder if they’ll do this the whole way……
PPPPS – I still plan to travel. I am undeterred.