Going Under

In the aftermath of the accident, Tom finds out that the road to recovery might indeed be a slow one...

The mousy man let his smirk bloom into a wide, heartfelt beam that drew his groomed moustache tight and revealed the soft curved edges of his teeth. His eyes sparkeled mischeviously through his round spectacles, held in soft golden frames, as he held my gaze unwaveringly across the broad table currently in use as an office desk, but I got the impression it had moonlighted as an operating table on more than a handful of occasions.
This was my doctor, and he had just finished describing in exquisite, painful detail the process of reducing the newly diagnosed 5mm misalignment in my broken radius without anastheshia while I nodded along agreeably, without other options. For the doctor, christmas had apparently come early.

In the days following my accident I felt more like a passenger than a person. It was easy to transcend the physical pain or any annoyance by being fixated on one simple goal. Remedy the issues being diagnosed with wrist and my bike – and get back on the road as quickly as possible.

By the time I’d actually reached the government hospital, with it’s wide sprawling corridors chocked with bodies, it was already late afternoon.  Most of the day had been spent transporting the mashed Bullet to a local garage for inspection and repair, then buying a new phone (my screen had shattered in the crash) from a cramped store in a local market. The phone, I hate to admit, was a breakthrough in comfort. Without it, I had no way to contact anyone (like Sai, after 36hrs of radio silence) or research my immediate options. The small black screen gave me back some of independence.

The damage to the bike:  Mechanics are sure they can straighten the bent forks, but the frame will need replacing, along with cracked headlight bracket and mudguard. Simple fix!

The nature of the break, reportedly quite popular with motorcyclists, often required surgery to avoid future weakness and re-fracture at the wrist. So before any painful physical manipulation could commence, my doctor insisted on getting a second, more detailed x-ray to reveal the extent of the injury. My chaperone, also gleeful throughout talk of inflicting pain on the Westener, collected me from the x-ray room with a cheerful, “Let’s go to the party!”.
In some small way, I wondered whether the thought of my suffering might have been a salve for decades of colonial oppression. Certainly everyone seemed to relish the event to come – so much that I genuinely felt guilty when the doctor held up the new x-ray and the grim grin faded from his round face.
There would be no manipulation, there would be no party.

The break would definitely need surgery.

My hardboiled resolve flickered under the dusty light of the plaster room, as I comprehended how much more complicated the situation had instantly become; I’d have preferred twenty minutes of pain over the inconvenience of surgery. Following some hard-won lessons in France, I vowed to contact my travel insurance company as soon as I could escape the moral trap that I’d so blindly wandered into…
Lucky had been helping me since the crash, driving me around in his 800cc little white boxcar while the bent front axle creaked noisily below. Most of the dashboard instruments were missing apart from an incandescent red stereo that occasionally banged out Hindi tunes whenever it went over a bump in the road. As we had drove to the garage, then market, then hospital, he’d impart words of wisdom – telling me that, “Overspeed, over confidence and over taking are the reasons for accidents in India”.

Lucky and I on the banks of the Beas, the river that flows through Mandi

But for all the rescuing, feeding, housing and driving that Lucky had so generously donated me in the hours following my jeep-crash, the real cost of his help was becoming clear – and it was beginning to look more and more like a bad payday loan. With increasing frequency and urgency Lucky recited his dream – to move to the UK to work for a couple of years before returning to his family a king. He’d provide the best schooling for his children and finally win back the trust of his father who has refused to speak to him for 10 years, following his decision to marry for for love, rather than follow through with the arranged marriage before him.

I’d be the one to realize his dream. I’d be the one to get his a basic labouring job and a visa. I’d be the one housing him for two years rent free while he ammassed his fortune. I liked the guy, but for the help I’d received the scales were heavily stacked in his favour – and there was little else I could say other than a meek, “I’ll try”.

I checked into a hotel in Mandi under the pretense of needing air conditioning as WiFi, but secretly looking to detatch the many miniscule claws of guilt and ambition that Lucky had laced me with over the past couple of days. It was perfect to be alone, free from the need to act happy or interested in the tales of others while I was so evidently distracted by my own difficulties. I watched the swollen brown monsoon river drift lazily past my balcony, monkeys playing in the trees below, while building the energy to jump through the hoops and legalese of the insurance company.

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Useless Gareth ensured I had ample opportunity to tour around Mandi while the travel insurance sorted itself out…

It took three days and twenty five consecutive calls to ‘Gareth’ in the overflow call center (a self-confessed most useless mAn on earth) to collect and validate documentation and chase the progress of the medical team, my entitlement being challenged all the while. When the thumbs up eventually came, it was under the condition I take a five hour journey south to a hospital in Chandigargh that had international (rather than Indian) plates and screws in stock.

From the seat of a comfortable taxi, while fragrant beedie smoke eddied around me, I watched the teasingly beautiful backdrop to the road to Chandigargh. It was a motorbikers road, following the tarmac as it trickled down the valley alongside rivers, and it panged at my sense of self-sympathy for the first time since my accident. I had to appreciate that this injury would not have such a quick turnaround time. I’d not be riding these roads for some time.

In the still searing afternoon glow of the Punjab sun I hoisted thirty kilograms of bags up onto one shoulder and staggered through the doors of the emergency department, my right knee, injured in ther crash, folding in underneath me with every step. Nurses in regal purple scrubs scuttled across the marble floor and moved me into to a bed. Within 10 minutes of arriving I’d had a cannula stabbed into my right arm and vial after vial of fresh, dark blood siphoned off for a raft of pre-operation testing. A couple of antibiotic syringes, thick like engine grease, pulsed sluggishly through my forearm long after they were drained into my vein.

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Funnily enough Gurdeep, who sat with her mother in the shared ward, worked in the same hospital I was born in, and owed a house in my hometown – Wolverhampton. Small world!

Faded blue hospital robes that didn’t quite close properly shielded my pale British dignity poorly as I was xrayed again and finally admitted onto a shared ward, awaiting surgery. Despite being fully capable of walking, the nursing staff insisted on taking the wheelchair around the hospital. For the entire first day of confinement my elderly ward-buddy slurped tea noisily, in between farting and groaning with pain. His son told me in broken english that he’d been admitted for trapped wind. Without any possesions (they’d all been carted off by security upon my arrival) I had few distractions other than the occasional comedy fart and exaggerated shriek to pass the time.

I’ve been (un?)fortunate enough to have undergone a number of general anaesthetics in my life so far, otherwise the situation might have felt like a scary nightmare. Before each time I’d go under I’d make peace with the idea of never coming back – a dark ritual but oddly reassuring. However, this time the preparations were easier. I’d spent the last four days in a numb pragmatic day-dream, feeling very little other than the desire to be well again. And wellness would only be found on the other side of the veil.

After an awkward nights sleep I was wheeled, resigned but dignified in my blue hair-net and scrubs, into theatre and up to the operating table. Swathed in scrubby looking green fabric it could easily have moonlighted as an office desk in a previous life. I climbed up heavily, lay down and accepted the oxygen mask with a sigh.

As I was taken over by the warm fuzzy feeling the anaesthatist was describing in real time I let my smirk bloom into a wide, heartfelt beam that took me back to Mandi government hospital.

I managed a heavy nod, my head twisting sideways to the comfort of the head rest.

“Have fun boys. Enjoy the party.”


4 comments on “Going Under

  1. Can’t wait to find out if you survive!

  2. Rita McFall

    There are no words!!!! xxxx

  3. If everything ran like clockwork the people you meet and the adventure would be over in the blink of a eye, but your take things a bit far to meet such a wide variety of people, take care 👍

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