Day nine of my little tour was a sobering one.
The day started and finished in brilliant sunshine under blue skies, but with a much different mood.
I headed out of Khon Kaen to ride over the mountains which lay between me and Loei. These are some of my favourite roads in Thailand – smooth endless curves that carry you up over the mountain range, along the ridge, and then back down towards Loei and a cold beer.
I was in a blissful mood when I came around a corner and saw something that none of us like to see – a serious accident, head on, pick up versus motorcycle.
In Thailand, people always say never to stop at the scene of an accident, especially if you are a foreigner. The reasoning goes that you will be held responsible and sued or extorted, even if you had nothing to do with the accident.
I had passed two foreign motorcyclists a few minutes earlier and as I dropped down the gears and slowed at the scene of the crash, they passed me, making hand signals that I should not stop either.
But as I made my way past the scene of carnage, I had noticed an Australian flag sticker on the motorcycle’s sidecar, and could see that the injured rider – lying almost under the wheels of the pick up – was not Thai. The only people gathered at the scene were Thai, and none of them seemed to be leaning over him to communicate or render first aid.
Oh my, I thought, nobody there speaks English. He’s badly hurt and won’t be able to communicate. I dropped down to first gear and thought about everyone telling me not to stop for an accident; I thought about all the times when I have needed help, and how every single time, someone has stopped to help me.
I pulled a careful u-turn, parked the bike and hustled down to the injured rider. He was lying where he had fallen, his legs on all the wrong angles, but he was lucid.
“Mate, how are you doing?” I asked.
“I’ve got two broken legs,” he told me, which turned out to be somewhat of an understatement.
Anyway, we don’t need to go further into the scene that unfolded. We also don’t need to identify the rider, nor share images or video of the accident. I think we all deserve a little privacy even when we’re lying on the road with compound fractures.
So I’m just going to leave you with my reflections from later in the afternoon – after I’d managed to ride the rest of the way to Loei, more slowly than I’d even ridden it in my life.
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The only further observations which I want to make are these – for the benefit of those who are lucky enough not to have had a serious accident in Thailand. First, the paramedics outside the cities are not highly trained professionals; most of them are volunteers with basic first aid training. On the one hand, this is not great because if you need anything more than a plywood splint and neck brace and a ride to the hospital, then you’re out of luck. No fluids, no pain management; this is not intensive care. On the other hand, kudos to those people who volunteer as first responders and do the best they can with what is available to them.
Second, I want to buy those guys a set of trauma shears. They were cutting off the guy’s jeans with blunt kitchen scissors to access the injuries, and they struggled even to cut the denim. If he’d been wearing proper motorcycling textiles or leather, they would have been unable to access the injuries to stabilise them. And this is pretty important when the bone has ended up on the outside. So next time I’m in the area, I think I’ll take them some trauma shears.
Lastly, and most importantly: our injured friend is doing okay.