“…he starts telling them about our day, embellishing it so that it almost sounds fun. It’s how all good travel stories are born. Nightmares spun into punch lines.”
― Gayle Forman, Just One Year
I’ve always had pretty good luck. When something “bad” happens it always seems to work out, and it leaves me in a better place than before. When it feels like the sky is falling and the world seems to be ending, it usually turns out to be nothing more than a gentle storm guiding me in a new (and usually better) direction. But when you’re in the storm, all you’re really trying to do is survive. You only identify it as a blessing once it passes. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
If traveling has taught me anything, it’s that I am never lost in the storm; I am the storm. I happen to things more than things happen to me. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification or a matter of perspective, but I’ve found that as long as I keep going, I’ll make it through.
During each trip, I never know what moments or experiences I’ll look back on and talk about months later. Sometimes it’s the place itself. Sometimes it’s the random friends I made at hostels. Sometimes it’s a moment that left me thinking “Fuck, I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
It has been a few months since I got back from my trip to Southeast Asia, which has allowed me plenty of time to reflect on everything. The good, the bad, and the unexpected. After a trip, people always want to hear the crazy stories. Oddly enough, the stories from this trip I’ve been telling the most stem from the moments least planned and somewhat unfortunate.
Since returning, the story I’ve found myself telling more than any other focuses on myself, my stupidity, my giant flaw involving doors, and [my first?] adventure with foreign medicine.
Before we begin, a few notes:
- On a scale of 1-10 (1 being sober as a bird on a Wednesday at 3 pm and 10 being in a coma from alcohol poisoning), I was a 2. However, that’s not to say I wasn’t a 7 earlier in the evening.
- The hostel we stayed at, Lub d Phuket Patong, was huge (5 stories) and had an urban/modern vibe, meaning it was full of open spaces, large entryways, and had a boxing ring in the middle of the lobby. A very dangerous place.
- Real friends ride with you to the ER, regardless of the time.
- There are photos below, one of which may resemble a murder scene. If you don’t like the sight of blood feel free to stop reading or skip over them.
- Zoran isn’t good at catching people when they faint or doing doctor things when he’s “on vacation.”
- Sometimes you really do get what you pay for
Now let’s begin.
I’d been in Thailand for 5 days, and Phuket for less than 16 hours, when it happened. The event that changed my entire trip.
After grabbing dinner with my friends and listening to Cam and Zoran discuss string theory and the future of AI, we went back to the hostel, eager to continue drinking, and all wanting to go out. Aside from Bangkok, Phuket is supposed to have the best nightlife in all of Thailand.
It started off like any other night…
After pregaming to the point of no longer wanting to go out (having reached level 7), I went up to the room to pass out, like a responsible adult, only to be shaken awake by Cam and Nick. Neither were going to allow me to stay in. After ample amounts of name calling and peer pressure I gave in. The next thing I know, I’m on my way to a club called Illuzions with Zoran, Cam, and Nick (Priya was actually a responsible adult and stayed in).
Over the course of the next few hours, I had a couple tequila neats, showed off my super smooth white boy dance moves, and turned down a few invitations from some lovely Thai prostitutes. By the time we returned to the hostel, I was basically sober (hence the level 2).
Our room was up on the 4th floor, and was located on the complete opposite end of the building from the lobby. To get to the elevator I would have had to walk through the lobby, kitchen/bar area, and pool area. A walk long enough I wanted to avoid it if possible.
Part of the hostel lobby
Earlier in the day when we dropped off our bags, I had noticed there was another elevator just a few steps from our room, although I had no idea how to get to it from the main level. Before we went out that night, I had seen Nick come out from a side hallway, and for some reason, I assumed that was the way to get to this other elevator.
As I made my way down the hallway, it led me outside the hostel. I saw what looked like another entryway that would lead me back into the building. Seeing as I now knew where I was going, I pulled out my phone to connect to the hostel’s free Wifi.
Right as I hit the “connect” icon on my phone, I looked up, and walked head-first into a glass door.
The door completely shattered.
It sounded like a waiter had dropped a crate of glasses on the floor.
As I lay on the ground bleeding everywhere, I began yelling for Zoran (who just graduated from med school), knowing that he’d come help bandage me up, tell me it’s not so bad, and get to my room.
It looks worse than it was
Before Zoran gets there a random guy staying at the hostel appears (drunk level 5) and attempts to help. He takes the shoestring from my formerly white (now blood red) Vans and ties it around my leg to “make the bleeding stop”. Apparently, there is a giant gash on the shin of my right leg which was the main culprit for the blood everywhere. He then takes a towel and tries to wipe the blood away. The main issue with this is that as he is wiping back and forth the skin on my leg is flopping back and forth. Let’s just say it didn’t help to ease the pain I was in.
It was chaotic few minutes, to say the least. While all of this is happening I am still yelling “Z, Z, Z, help.”
After what felt like an eternity (though to be fair it was probably a couple of minutes) Zoran and Cam show up (Nick was conspicuously absent but more on that later). Cam’s first reaction was “holy shit Todd what happened” while Zoran’s was “Todd, are you kidding me, I’m supposed to be on vacation.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. As I’m laying on the cement floor outside the hostel I remember looking up at Zoran and Cam not grasping why they both had looks of genuine concern on their faces. When they told me they had called an ambulance and we were going to the ER I actually laughed and said “guys it’s just a cut; we need to stop the bleeding, find some bandages, and get me to my room. I’ll be fine.”
Cam’s reply “Mate, I can see the muscle in your leg, it’s not just a cut, you need stitches.”
In true Todd fashion, my first thought wasn’t to worry about my leg, the pain I was experiencing, fear of foreign medicine, or terror at losing the rest of my trip. Each one of those took a backseat to “I don’t want to pay for the ambulance ride or a visit to the ER.” The main motivation for me wanting to “find some bandages” was to end up bankrupt in Thailand. I wasn’t trying to be tough, I was being my usual (and sometimes overly) frugal self.
After Cam assured me that my travel insurance would cover the cost I finally relented and agreed to go.
If you’re going to travel somewhere, especially to the other side of the world, GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. I’ve written about travel insurance before and why it’s important. This was the first trip I had bought it and am really glad I did. In that moment knowing I wouldn’t have to pay for this out of pocket helped me to refocus on the actual issue, eg the fact that my leg wouldn’t stop bleeding.
Yes, they had to convince me to go to the hospital.
So at 4:30 in the morning we went for a ride.
Real friends ride in the ambulance with you
They rolled me into a completely empty ER at the Patong Phuket Hospital. As I lay on the stretcher waiting for the doctor the other thoughts started coming into my mind. How bad is it really? Why did this have to happen? Is my trip over? It was hard in that moment to not feel sorry for myself and I won’t pretend for a minute that I didn’t indulge in a little self-pity.
While all these thoughts are coming into my mind I’m being asked about my medical history by a Thai nurse in broken English. Zoran and Cam were trying to do their best to help answer when another nurse shows up ordering them from the room. Apparently, “visitors are not allowed in the ER.” They both look at her and tell her they aren’t leaving me alone in a Phuket ER. She looks right at them, says ‘yes you are. It will take 15 mins.”
Without much of a choice they disappear and I’m completely alone.
Apparently, in Thailand, 15 minutes really means something closer to 75. There I lay watching the clock trying not to think about what was happening to me. First, as I get a tetanus shot and then as they apply the anesthetic (kind of). I didn’t realize until they started the stitches that my shin wasn’t completely numb.
I’m not a tough guy by any means, but for some reason, I didn’t want to be the guy asking for more anesthetic. In my exhausted, shocked, and blood deprived state I thought it would make me look weak and be too big of a hassle. Coming from personal experience, please know it’s okay to be the guy who asks for more anesthetic. Yes, it’s worth the hassle.
Since I was too cool to ask for more anesthetic, I laid on the cot feeling the nurse work; knowing my skin was being stitched back together. After about 45 mins I heard the nurse who’d been working on my leg (who I now realize was a resident because why would you have your best doctors in the ER at 4 am on a Wednesday) call the doctor over to check her progress. I then hear “no no no” and the newly arrived doctor starts redoing the stitches.
Another 30 minutes goes by and she looks up at me and tells me that she’s done, with that cut.
My right leg still had other cuts up and down from the falling glass. She offered to stitch up a few of the other cuts but I politely declined. Looking back, I should have let her stitch up a few of the other cuts. I have a few scars on my leg that I expect I’ll have forever. But like they say in Fight Club, “I don’t want to die without any scars.” Plus in that moment all I could think about was getting the hell out of the hospital.
I walked out the doors of the ER looking for Cam and Zoran. They are nowhere to be seen. I asked a Thai guy if he’d seen my friends and he told me they went home.
Honestly, I wasn’t even mad. It was 5:45 in the morning. They were told 15 mins and it took over an hour. I completely understood why they’d have gone back to the hostel. I mean we did have plans to zipline later.
It was time for me to do the same.
I wandered around the hospital for another 10 minutes looking for an exit. I found it and a taxi driver outside. As I stood haggling on a price to take me back to the hospital I hear Cam’s voice yell out “Oh cunt, where the hell are you going”
Looking up in complete surprise to see Cam and Zoran at the hospital entrance. When I left the ER they were off having a “smoke break.” Zoran looks at me, shakes his head, and asks if I’ve paid my bill, got my pain pills, or my medication.
I hadn’t. I may or may not have been trying to leave without paying my bill being utterly terrified about how much this was going to cost. Not something I’m proud of, but I also wasn’t in the best state of mind to make decisions.
Zoran and Cam ushered me inside to pick up my medication, pain pills, and pay my bill. My heart stopped when I saw the number 3,510. Then I realized I was in Thailand not the United States and did a quick conversation. 3,510 Thai Baht is roughly $104 USD.
An ambulance ride, tetanus shot, anesthetic and 15 stitches for $104. Needless to say, my mood lightened instantly.
We took a taxi back to the hostel, went up to the room (taking the main elevator), and find Nick asleep in his bed. As we close the door he wakes up asking where we’ve been.
Man do I have a story for him…
Doorway -1 Todd-0