I’m in a hospital room full of old ladies who appear to be dying.
Some of them are comatose, their faces relaxed in oblivion. One turns painfully every few minutes, groaning slowly. Another tiny lady lies very still with her hospital blankets tucked tightly around her toes. Every now and then she opens her eyes and flashes me a brilliant smile. Next to each bedside, one or two generations hold vigil. The granddaughters are here to massage old legs, the sons are here to bring hot tea and and sit in silence.
I feel the force of my health. The strength in my body. It’s obscene.
Tomorrow, I will have my small share of physical ailments after the surgeons take a piece of my hamstring and stitch it into my anterior cruciate ligament. Perhaps they will even grind down my meniscus, or stitch it up, depending on what they find. But barring a bad case of post-surgical sepsis, my prognosis is looking comparatively sunny. My wardmates are here to battle with mortality; I am here because I want to be able to practice my wheelies.
It does put things in perspective.
* * *
I’m in a hospital on the outskirts of Saigon, and there are five beds jammed into my three bed ward. Things are not looking salubrious; I use sign language to bargain with the nurse for a pillow case, and there’s no provision for food or water. It seem that patients without friends and family must starve.
The air has a scent which is thankfully heavier on the chemicals than anything else, but there are earthier undertones there too.
I guess this would be an appropriate juncture at which to regret spending all my money on motorcycles over the years. Yes, for the price of two KLXs or one KTM I could be lying in a private room in Bangkok Hospital, tended by nurses with ribbons in their hair; and for the price of all the joy in my life, I could be a well-paid lawyer in Sydney too. I’d rather chew off my leg like a rabbit in a trap.
Hopefully, that won’t be necessary.
* * *
It’s not fancy, but here’s hoping it’s enough. This morning I maxed out my card’s daily limit and then carefully counted out pristine US dollars which I’d collected from customers over the last tour season. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and into the thousands: every one of those notes the legacy of sweat and calluses earned in the mountains. I am proud of that.
My surgeon works in the best hospital in Ho Chi Minh; however this is not that hospital. I told him that I didn’t care about the quality of the room, only the quality of the surgery. So here I am, a late-notice, Sunday morning surgery at a satellite location, and I’m okay with that.
* * *
I’ve been relentlessly looking forward to getting this knee fixed, and I’m trying to stay in that state of mind. If you ask me, everything is awesome. However, this morning I was surprised to learn that in my sleep, I talk about being scared.
* * *
The cardiologist came to tell me that I have bradycardia, a lower than usual heart rate. They asked me if I am a runner – could I have a super low resting heart rate just because I’m heinously fit? If you’ve ever seen me climb up the side of a mountain in enduro boots, clutching trees for support along the way, you’ll know that there must be some other explanation.
* * *
This afternoon, I will start to fast for the general anaesthetic. But before I do, I will slurp down my last sachet of tolak angin. This is my favourite Indonesian herbal concoction: ginger, menthol, honey; but more importantly, it has the power of a hundred Indonesian grandmas asking you if you’ve eaten, and a thousand Indonesian aunties telling you to put on a jacket so you don’t catch a cold. It reminds me of all the love and kindness that’s filled my life over the last few years. I’ll be back soon – faster, better, and stronger.