สวัสดีปีใหม่ Happy New Year! To reflect is humane, to shine is divine…
Ten years ago—to the day—I was lying in a bed somewhere in northern Thailand, attached to it in fact, in a sort of makeshift traction best accomplished with metal frames and waterproof members, making up in utility what it lacked in esthetics. Ironically it’s the same bed my wife’s grandmother had just died in, the same one I’d seen her in for the year-and-a-half of my marriage, she lying there comatose, oblivious, waiting to die, I can’t remember why, though it didn’t seem to bother anyone too much, being a natural phase I guess, relatives coming in to check periodically, sometimes even cracking jokes above her head, like swatting flies mid-air that couldn’t even be seen by the one victimized, she reduced to rubble, ashes to ashes and dust to dust no more than a scarce few weeks before. So what was I now doing in that same bed, just indulging in a little macabre fun? I wished. Here’s what happened.
I was blissfully riding my Honda 750 back to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, after a long day of doing the export handicraft work that I was so involved in then, when I passed through the town of Wiang Papao, one of several little clusters of cohabitation and commerce that comprise a northern Thai town, notable for their congestion and lack of urban planning, in the fashion of the national culture. Well, I noticed the thirteen-year-old boy with his three-year-old sister on the back of a Honda Dream 100-c.c. puttering along the side of the road, but didn’t think much about it, since that’s what a road’s shoulders seemed to exist for over there, and to protest such minor infractions would be useless. Hey, usually they’re going the wrong way along the road’s shoulders! All of a sudden they cut right out in front of me. With absolutely no time to think, I just swerved hard to avoid them, and almost did… but not quite. I spun the huge bike out sixty yards while I myself rolled some forty into the yard of an unsuspecting villager. Fortunately they’d left the gate open, because I rolled right in. When I finally woke up I had no idea where I was.
‘Wow! There are flashing lights, police directing traffic, everything. I wonder what’s going on.’ One quick look and an even quicker lift of my wrist answered that question, giving new meaning to the term ‘limp wrist’. Then I remembered. I looked at my body. Everything seemed intact, but I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Every time I play it back in my mind, it’s in slow motion, up to the moment where I hit the pavement and black out. I saw them there on the side of the road. Then they cut right in front of me, why I don’t know; I guess to get to the other side. I thought that any second they’d see me and slam on brakes. They didn’t. I almost got past, but not quite. The wheels touched, plopping them to the pavement at ten miles per hour, and slinging my Honda 750 on a sixty-mile-per-hour Frisbee throw. I looked around, but didn’t see the bike anywhere.
“รถอยู่ไหน (Where’s my bike?)”
“พูดภาษาไทยเก่ง” (He speaks good Thai)!” So little by little the village people returned my wallet, my cell phone, everything except my father’s Rolex. They then proceeded to toss me into the back of a pickup for transport to the closest hospital. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Oh God, that hurts. Oh God, that hurts. While there, the kids’ mother interviewed me, though I didn’t know who she was at first. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. Maybe she had; maybe it was mine. Then an ambulance from Chiang Rai finally arrived for transport to the big city some ninety minutes away. That was definitely a Miller moment. I wished I’d had a cold one right then; I guess I could use a new pelvis, too, but a cell phone will have to do. My mother-in-law called, so we chatted a while. Thank God for technology.
When I got there, some thirty people were waiting. That’s what I like about Thailand—people like a good party. In the operating room an hour later, they pop the Big Question: “Will that be Visa or Mastercard?” I’d broken my wrist and my pelvis. They swiped my credit card and I went into surgery. The hospital room cost less per night than a Motel 6 and my peeps slept there with me, Thai food and all. They even sent an ambulance to fetch me for follow-ups. The wrist still needs re-operating, but I can’t find the definition of ‘elective surgery’ in my dictionary. And the bed-rest left me with some nerve damage in the foot that was in traction. Other than that, all’s well that end’s well. Still any way I re-play the tape, the verdict is always the same: I probably couldn’t have pulled out of that swerve even if our wheels hadn’t touched. Without even thinking about it, a part of me died so those kids could live. This is the afterlife. You can never appreciate consciousness so much as when you lose it. Happy New Year. 2012 sucked, but it could’ve been worse.