It was a moment frozen in time. It happened so quickly, and yet, almost like slow motion, and both at the same time. Time passed extremely slowly, and yet it was over in a flash. The memories are not fading, the pain is slowly receding, and hopefully the limitations will totally go away, sooner rather than later.
A few weeks ago, I was returning to my project site after taking a burn patient to Chengdu. We stopped for lunch after about 12 hours on the road. I went out behind the restaurant looking for the toilet. As usual, there was a little yippy dog chained outside near the back door. I proceeded cautiously, as there is also usually a bigger guard dog. Sure enough, there he was, a huge Tibetan mastiff guard dog aways off, forward and to my left. Mastiffs are bred and trained for protection of, and loyalty to, their master. They are fearless. I stood there a few moments, to see how long his chain was. OK, so about 20 feet. No problem. I stepped forward, looking for the toilet. I kept walking forward, looking to the right, and just as I started to turn back to my left, there was the mastiff, running towards me very fast. He did not look happy! I started running backwards. Just as he leapt into the air, jaws wide open going for my jugulars, I fell, or was pulled, backwards. I saw his tonsils. Then, intense pain. I cannot pass out. Intense pain – my arm, my back, my arm, my back… I didn’t know which hurt worse. I looked at the dog. All I had to do was pull my feet up under me, and he couldn’t get me. And oh, the pain!!! The dog was on a dog run chain, as well as his regular neck chain, so he could go left and right, in addition to the regular length of his chain.
I tried to move, but couldn’t. I checked myself out to make sure I could feel, and move, my legs. OK. My arm was broken -- that was obvious. And, such intense pain in my back. Something moved in my back when I fell. I don’t know how long I lie there on the ground. Was it a minute, or ten? I have no idea. The dogs were going crazy with all their barking, as I was the intruder. Then, I looked up and saw the driver of the car come running towards me. He had this horror look on his face. He tried to get me up, but I couldn’t get up – the pain was too intense. He wanted to look at my arm, but I didn’t want him to touch it. He said I had to get up off the ground. He helped me up, but I couldn’t walk. I sat on some nearby steps. The driver kept trying to get me into the restaurant, but I couldn’t move. He finally talked me into standing and walking, as he helped me into the restaurant. All of a sudden, I realized that I was going to have to manage this scene and teach them how to do first aid. OK, now focus! So I told the driver that I needed a bandage, and he sent someone off to the local pharmacy. I tried to take a pair of chopsticks to use as a splint, but the restaurant owner wouldn’t let me have them. So the driver, a very large Tibetan man, went into the kitchen and brought out a piece of wood that was to be used for the cooking fire. I told him that I needed two pieces. I saw him go back into the kitchen, take out his L-O-N-G Tibetan knife, cut the wood in half, and smooth out the rough edges. I think that a pair of chopsticks would have been cheaper! And I taught the driver how to make a splint for my arm. He was so gentle, and so concerned for me. I knew that we had to leave, as it was another 4 hours to our destination for the night. So I put my jacket behind my back, and they strapped me in tight with the seatbelt. Someone gave me their jacket for my arm to rest on. And we began the long and painful trip. I was able to contact my friend at the next city, and she was waiting beside the road as we approached. At her house, we dumped off all the medical supplies that I had brought, she got in the car and we went to the hospital. X-rays confirmed the broken bone. The doctor told me that my wooden splint was not adequate (really?), and they made me a splint out of plaster. Turns out that the hospitals here never make a total cast, as no one has a cast cutter! Loaded up with some medicine, we went to my friend’s home. Like most typical Tibetan homes in this area, the family lives on the second floor, accessible by a log with notches cut out for steps. Since I could hardly walk, it was a real trick to get up the ‘ladder’. The next three days were pretty much a blur, with pain pills, sleeping on a real sheepskin (those fake ones in the States are nothing compared to this!), trying to use the squat toilet, not being able to eat due to the pain, and trying to figure out what to do.
The trip back to Chengdu was a nightmare. The only redeeming thing about the trip, which took 19 hours, was that I had the same driver that I did when I took the burn patient to Chengdu. We left at 3:30 am, and I rented 3 seats so that I could lie down. My first big melt down of the day occurred at 10:30 am. I had to stop because the pain was too intense, and I needed to move around a little. When I found out that it was only 10:30, I burst into tears. I will never make it the entire trip! The driver came up to me as I was walking around, and asked what he could do to help. through my tears, I asked him if he would put my hair thingy in my hair. This BIG Tibetan man, very gently and carefully, pulled my hair back and fastened my hair. OK. I can go on. It was another 12 hours before we got to Chengdu, where a group of my friends were waiting for me. Because my friend, Andrea, had just died at the hospital, I couldn’t go there, so I stayed in a hotel with a Chinese nurse to help me out through the night. The next morning, I went to a clinic, had more x-rays, found another break in the same bone, got a better plaster splint and better medicine. A few days after this, I was well enough to travel back to my apartment, and this time I flew.
It has been four weeks now since the accident. My left hand really misses the right one, especially in typing, as well as in other daily living activities. I will have another x-ray in Beijing later this week, as I will go meet a friend who is coming to visit. Hopefully the results will be good, and the little piece that broke off from the bone will be joining. I know that if this happened to someone else, I would be able to fix their back, and arm without much difficulty. The only person who I have been able to teach some advanced skills to is off on holiday and won’t be back for another month. Am I afraid of mastiffs? Always. It is good to have a healthy fear of an animal that can kill and would want me as an appetizer. Am I ready to go back to the project? As soon as I am physically able to handle the journey, the work, and the squatty potties. The village doctor training that I was preparing for had to be postponed, and so now I have the opportunity to spend more time with my friends. With all the people I have helped here with their physical problems, this accident just gives them all an opportunity to help me!