Wednesday 15 February 2017

Rammed by a cow as I biked down a lonely Cambodian road.

The continuing trials and tribulations of my left foot.

Well, I certainly didn't think that this would ever happen. It was my first day riding in Cambodia. Late afternoon, spirits were high, and I had decided I was going to camp wild due to the lack of guesthouses between Stung Treng and Siem Reap.
 I was cruising along, casually as I made my way to the next village to pick up supplies for the night, and I happened upon a herd of cows; a common, daily occurrence. They were on the left side of the road as I was on the right; I slowed a little, kept right, and then a young bull, presumingly, turned and bolted towards me. That and the following impact seemed to happen within a split second. There was no time to react - all that was in me was to just try and keep the bike upright, which I thankfully managed.
 The cow had smashed into my left side, and I was in an immediate state of shock as my bike rolled down the road with my clutch pulled in. My leg and foot was numb, but there was also pain. A lot of
pain. And my mind couldn't even focus on putting on the brakes. I just rolled to a stop with the agonising numbness coursing through my leg as I breathed heavily through my teeth. When I finally came to a standstill I was shaking, still breathing heavily. The numbed pain reminded me of when I broke my arm, falling off a scooter I was stupidly riding around a field when I was fourteen, and I thought that this time, I had been seriously injured.
 I looked down to my left leg; the gear lever, the kind you find on semi-auto bikes had been completely sheared off from the impact. The metal had just snapped. My foot peg was also bent, to the point where the rubber grip had turned fully upside down. My foot had been smashed around in the middle of all this.
 A man on a motorcycle who had seen it happen came riding back. We couldn't speak any of each others language, but he helped me off the bike, sat me on the floor and began taking my boot off. Somehow, despite wearing thick, heavy boots, a fair amount of skin had shredded from my heal, and I had a gash in the centre of it. I don't know if the man was a doctor or not, but he pulled out a medicine box and cleaned the wound with an alcohol wipe. I then found that I could actually move my toes without too much pain, and thankfully, I was able to stand, as long as I didn't put any pressure on my heal. No broken bones.

The state of my boot afterward. There had already been a small tear around the area just from the pressures of walking (and a wee machete accident), but now the hole is four times the size.

 This was on a deserted road though. There were no homes of any kind to be seen; just dry forests and scrub land. The man on the motorcycle indicated that he was travelling in the opposite direction to me, but he flagged down another road user, riding a homemade pick-up, motorcycle thing (I have no idea what to call it). He talked with this man and he agreed to tow me to the next mechanic down road as my bike was unrideable, and then said goodbye with an extremely honest and warm handshake.

The small bit of string in the bottom right corner was what was used to tow me around five miles.

It didn't take long to find a mechanic, and after some more thanks and a handshake my bike was being fixed. A new gear lever, a packet of smokes for the stress and a small bottle of tiger balm that a young lad rubbed on my foot cost me $3.50. I think they felt sorry for me from the obvious amount of pin I was in and didn't want to overcharge me. And within 30 minutes after the accident my bike was rideable again.

*I have a question here to any mechanics that may be reading this that are better than I regarding gearboxes. Would an impact like this on the gear lever cause any serious damage to the gearbox? I know next to nothing about gearboxes. I've never even seen one open in an engine. I pulled the clutch in, I would say, in around a second after impact. It's hard to tell. The following 163 km to Siem Reap the next day was fine though. It even has the same knack of trying to find neutral that it did before, so it seems that nothing has changed. I'm just wondering though.*

After swallowing a small handful of tramadol I rode to a clinic, where I was told I apparently have internal bruising, and possible ligament and tendon damage from a quite severe sprained ankle. I've just taken off the bandage now and areas around my heal and foot are blue. As are parts of my shin, which were protected with my armor in my motorcycle trousers.

 Here's a word of advice to any of the countless Westerners who may be reading this who I've seen riding around in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Don't be a fool! If this happened whilst you're wearing things like that, your trip would be over. Some sort of surgery would have to be a result. If metal can be snapped clean in two, imagine how your ankle would fare... It doesn't bare thinking about. Buy protection. It's available in the big cities where you buy your Honda Win's. It's foolish not to.

To end on a lighter note (sort of), I'm kind of amused about the amount of abuse my left foot has had over the years. Daniel Day Lewis starred and won an oscar for his role in a film called 'My Left Foot'. I've never seen it, but I'd wager mine has seen its fair share of excitement to match.
 I have no nail on my big toe. I cyst started to grow underneath it and I had to have an operation to have them both removed. Then when the nail was half way into growing back, the cyst started to, too. The surgeons then decided to remove them both and the root as well, so I'll never have a nail on that toe again. Sometimes I miss it.
 When I was travelling in the Congo, I had to operate on one of the toes on my left foot myself, whilst I was in the jungle - something I never thought I would ever have to do. Although the masochistic side of me is kind of glad that I experienced it. Afterwards, of course. Here's and exert from my still, unfinished book about that;
As I was preparing my bed I was alarmed by what I saw through the light of my head torch. The end of my second smallest toe on my left foot had turned green. I inspected it in the isolation of my tent. The skin above the sickening green hue floating beneath had become hardened, was rough to the touch and the top half of my nail had turned dark in colour and had started to ripple. I knew a decision to come to some sort of solution had to be made soon. When I was twenty one I had a cyst that grew underneath the nail of my great toe. Two months before the date of the operation to have it removed it punctured the skin under the nail, causing an infection and turning the outer skin of my toe green. This was accompanied with a tremendous amount of pain, and a fast dose of extremely potent antibiotics and painkillers had to be administrated. I had no such medication with me. I estimated that, in one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, I was over a week’s ride away from any substantial form of medical facilities. I made up my mind quickly as I sat alone in my tent, that although there was no evident pain as yet, the green flesh needed to be gone. I rummaged in my bag to find pain killers - Tramadol and Dihydrocodeine, and then went to fetch my knife. This was the only knife I had, and I would only use it for chopping food and eating, but the small, pointed and slightly dulled blade had to do. I sterilised it under the flame from my lighter, wiped it and my hands clean with an antiseptic cloth and went to work on my toe. I prodded the hard skin with the knife point, trying to find some indication of sensation, but none was to be found. This was both comforting and worrying. I pressed in at an angle, pierced a small amount of dry skin and then hooked underneath and pulled. A large crack split the top of my toe apart. I left it there and went to the other side, piercing and separating the hardened green skin away from the normal, soft skin that still had feeling. When the deep incision had been made in circumference, I began to lift the entirety of it away. A large portion of the inside of my toe had died. And as I pulled and lifted my flesh away, a long series of white strings stretching around seven millimetres clung onto the back of the rough, green pad of skin pierced with my knife. I put the globule of dead flesh to one side and peered inside my toe. A chasm with sides of comforting, painful pink flesh and uncomforting white, dead flesh remained. My knife was too big to probe further, so I unfolded a paperclip and scraped out the remaining dead flesh until all that was left was the raw, agonising, healthy, pink. The hole buried down beyond the bottom half of my nail, and I noticed that the remaining top half had started to liquefy; becoming spongy to the touch. I sawed at it with my knife until I could feel more reassuring, agonising pain. When I finished sawing, my toe looked like a gaping, hungry mouth, and I fed it with squirts of iodine as I bit into my arm, trying in vain not to close my eyes as they flooded with tears to answer to the pain. The job of operating on my toe was finished. I wrapped it in clean bandages and made a note to change them, clean it with purified water each night and to boil my socks to try my upmost to keep infection at bay. I then inspected the mass of dead, string-like flesh, and found a tiny, spherical black spot buried within. I had no reservations in assuming that something had probably laid an egg inside my toe, and cursed my stupidly for walking around the jungle in my flip flops on my last night in Cameroon. 

In Vietnam too, there was that unfortunate accident with the sink. I was just freshening up underneath a tap coming out of the wall when the sink just randomly fell off the wall and onto the floor. One second everything was fine, the next; a loud bang, vitreous china smashed to pieces on the floor, water spurting like canon fire out of the wall, and blood spurting out of my foot. I had to have stitches for that, without anesthetic too - something I never thought I'd experience. Again the masochistic side of me is quite glad that I experienced it. Afterwards, of course...

I still don't believe in bad luck... although sometimes I do wonder! There's a running joke with some of my friends about the bad luck I seem encounter on my travels, and not just with injuries. I have an answer for that now, and it rhymes too... "I've stopped giving a fuck".

So tomorrow I'm going to go out and see the cultural sights of Siem Reap, and not be held up in my hostel bed, resting, bored out of my mind and writing extremely long blog posts! As ever, we'll see what happens... 

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