Sometimes things go wrong… and sometimes they go very wrong. This is our account of what happened to Alissa in Nepal last April.
‘Beware of Tiger’ signs flicked by as we entered Nepal’s Badiyah National Park. The sun started to dip behind the mountains and we were less than 10km from our destination. We considered stopping earlier, but we were so close. We’d take it slow and push on.
The road switched to gravel then flitted to powdery sand before disappearing entirely. We peeled our eyes, caught a glimpse of a bouncing headlight in the distance and followed the shimmering glow. Within 10 minutes we were behind the car, back on tarmac and on the home run.
I stole a glance at my phone’s sat-nav as it vibrated heavily while strapped to the handlebar. We had just over a mile to go and were riding at 10mph. I told Alissa through our helmet intercom that we’d be there any minute now. I was right behind her, watching her Royal Enfield’s springs pumping up and down and following her red tail light as it swayed round corners ahead of me before smacking into the ground and disappearing under a cloud of dust.
I heard Alissa yelp “Ohhps” as she crashed her bike.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen people crash a bike – myself included. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s a stand up and dust yourself off job. That one percent though, that one tiny percent has meant severe injuries, death or extreme pain for others. This was a one percent moment. The initial, surprised “Oh” snapped into a scream in my helmet.
“Fuck, I’ve broken my leg. Quick. Andy. Quick. Get the bike off me!”
No way, I thought. Perhaps the footpeg was digging into her thigh? …
I kicked my sidestand down and threw my helmet to the ground as I ran over. I don’t remember lifting the bike off her, but I do remember looking down and seeing her foot pointing in the wrong direction. Fuck.
Alissa was screaming. I dropped to my knees beside her. Unclipped the bottom of her flip front helmet and lifted it so I could see her face.
“How bad is it? Is it broken? It’s broken isn’t it?”
I looked at her leg again. It was so… wrong. I looked back at her and said, “Yes. It’s fucked. But everything’s going to be okay.”
I looked around. It was now dark and silent. I shuffled over to her bike and thumbed the horn while shouting for help and then darted back to Alissa.
Villagers began strolling over to the crash site. I shouted for them to call an ambulance. There was a small circle of glowing mobile phones surrounding us and Nepalese whispers. A group of girls started giggling and taking pictures.
“An ambulance is coming. It’ll be here any minute now,” I lied.
More and more villagers started arriving, crowding and circling us. I asked them all to move back as their dusty flip flops were getting closer and closer to Alissa’s ‘wrong’ leg.
There was no spatial awareness or understanding of personal space. People were so close to her leg that they were almost standing on it despite being shouted at to move backwards. One of the hardest parts for Alissa was the feeling of being smothered by so many casual onlookers.
Two men turned up who spoke a little English about twenty minutes later. By now adrenaline had kicked in and the screaming had turned to concentrated rhythmic breathing. The men assured us the ambulance was coming. One said he works with ‘medicine’ and that we needed to turn Alissa’s foot back round the right way.
“No fucking way. We’re waiting for the ambulance. They’ll know what to do and will have pain relief.” One of the villagers said he’d look after our bikes and so we shoved them in his garage. I ripped all our bags of the bikes and bundled them next to Alissa as she lay in the dust and then we waited… and waited.
Alissa pulled me closer to her, I thought she was going to tell me she was scared and ask what was going to happen to her foot and my brain raced for an answer before she asked me. But she looked me in the eyes and said with a smile and a giggle, “Okay… might as well take a picture now.”
Pale blue lights finally flashed in the distance. “We’re saved. The medic will relieve your pain, put you on a stretcher, mobilize the break, get you to a hospital in 10 minutes and you’ll have an operation,” I told her.
A young man in flip flops casually slumped out of his jeep, opened the back door and stared at us with a smirk.
“What the fuck is he looking at? Are you a fucking medic? Why are you smiling?”
The expectation back home in the UK would be a professional medic with a high-vis jacket and a first-aid kit. Of course, we weren’t expecting that… but we weren’t expecting this either.
The ‘medicine man’ from earlier once again looked at me and said, “We need to turn her foot round to get her in the jeep. This guy doesn’t have any pain killers. You will have nothing until you get to the hospital.”
I looked at Alissa and she stared back at me. She knew what was about to happen. “Okay, let’s turn it.”
The man and I rotated her leg back round the right way as Alissa’s lungs punctured the air. Remembering the scream as I write this makes my heart beat faster, slows my typing and shoots a phantom shiver up my own leg.
The bed was fixed into the jeep and there were no splints. So, with no choice but to trust these people, five men lifted her up as the medicine man and I held her leg in the air as best we could while all together moving her into the back of the jeep.
I threw our bags in and sat on top of them near her foot. I held it in place with my hands as the driver bounced off-road to the nearest hospital. Every movement jolting and crunching the bones as her floppy foot dangled at the end of the bed.
One hour of excruciating driving later and we arrived at the hospital. The jeep’s back door swung open and people gathered around to take a look. The driver got out and joined in on the staring… I ran inside and asked for the doctor. Five shrugs and points later and I’m standing next to a guy in his late twenties in a polo shirt, watching Game of Thrones on his mobile. I explained what happened and waited for him to jump up, call his ER team stat, adorn a long white coat, grab his medic pack and and rush outside with me to help get her onto a bed.
“Just bring her in here and I’ll take a look,” he said casually.
“Sorry Alissa… we’ve got to get you in there ourselves,” I said.
We dodged the people sleeping on the floors in the entrance and made it to the only ward. There was rubbish, blood-stained rags and syringes on the floor. The doctor gave her a few tablets, which he said were not for the pain. The crash happened at 7pm. It was now about 8:30pm and time for X-Rays. The orderlies wheeled Alissa to the X-Ray room. As we got round the corner the hospital turned into a building site and then back into a hospital. There were splitters on the floor and every time the bed jolted over them it was like driving over a cattle grid and Alissa screamed. They didn’t seem to mind much, or even notice.
The radiographer must have been about 15 years old. He mumbled some instructions about moving Alissa’s broken leg to get a better X-Ray. I explained it’s broken and won’t bend that way. He sucked his teeth, shrugged his shoulders and started to move it himself. Alissa screamed again and I pushed him off, saying I’d do it myself. Ten minutes of man handling her crumbling, lifeless leg later and she was back over the cattle grids and in the ward.
“She has a spiral fracture in the tibia and her fibula has snapped,” said the doctor. “We can probably do the operation here, but you’ll get more facilities in the capital, Kathmandu. For now, we need to splint and put a temporary cast on the leg. Decide what you want to do after.”
Three doctors straightened Alissa’s leg and then pushed the foot back in towards the knee so that the bones came closer together while they wrapped a soft cast and a splint round the leg.
An hour later the doctor pulled me to one side and explained the effects of Deep Vein Thrombosis and how a severe fracture like this can cause oxygen bubbles to seep through the cracked bones, into the blood and up into the lungs. The longer she goes without the op the riskier it is, especially if in transit.
“Right… so you’re saying it’s risky to transport her. Can you do the operation here?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think so. Maybe. The orthopaedic surgeon might be in tomorrow. We might be able to do it here. But you’ll get better facilities in Kathmandu.”
He said this while tilting his head to the right, widening his eyes and nodding, as if he was trying to pass me a secret message without the guards noticing.
“Should I take her to Kathmandu or should she have the operation here?”
He bobbed his head from left to right for about 20 seconds before I realised he wasn’t going to give me a definitive answer.
“Okay. Can you at least give her something for the pain?” I asked.
“Here are some tablets, they can stop swelling.”
We didn’t know what to do but knew we had to make a decision. The doctor said it’d take 8 hours to get to Kathmandu. We thought he was being optimistic, and it’d be more like 10 – if we were lucky. Whatever they gave her, it wasn’t a pain killer as her leg was in agony. There was nobody around now, nobody to help make a decision so we went with our guts. It didn’t feel right. It was a risk leaving the leg in that state for so long, but it felt like an even bigger risk to have the operation there. I told the doctor we were going. He called a guy who called a guy who was an ambulance driver and would make the trip for £120.
We loaded Alissa into the back of another jeep, he flicked on his blue lights and we started the drive to Kathmandu at 1am.
I’m not sure which was more traumatic for Alissa, the crash or the slog to the capital. The anti-swelling medication did nothing for her pain. Despite being splinted, her leg wasn’t secured onto the bed, so it jolted, rocked and bounced with every turn. The roads in Nepal are not in a good way. Pot holes, check points, swerves, cliff edges, road-works, gravel, traffic and cows made it hell. It was hot and sweaty in the back of the jeep and the driver and his partner drove well to get us there as quickly as they could.
But thirteen hours went by before we finally reached the capital. Thirteen long hours of bone crunching hell. That’s 18 hours in total from the crash to Kathmandu hospital.
The ambulance’s backdoors swung open at the Emergency loading bay of Norvic International Hospital and a team of doctors (in white coats) ran out to meet us. Alissa was wheeled into the emergency room,attended by half a dozen nurses who hooked her up to drips. Within 20 minutes two orthopaedic surgeons were by her side, speaking perfect English and explaining what was going to happen next. The operation went ahead that night and took five hours.
A titanium rod was inserted below the knee, into the tibia and pushed through the bone right down towards the ankle, then screwed in place at the top and bottom. The fibula had a titanium plate screwed in to keep that in place too. We then stayed in hospital for a further 14 days while Alissa recovered before being discharged and our insurance company put us on a first-class flight home to the UK.
Sometimes things go wrong. And sometimes they go very wrong. There’s not much you can do but roll with the punches, recover and get back on it. But to ‘recover’ isn’t always easy. There’s serious amounts of rehab, physio and trauma to wade through first and we’ll let you know how we get on in our next post.
Thanks to everyone who sent supportive and loving messages while Alissa was in hospital. They really helped and it was greatly appreciated. Thank you for sticking with us!
Andy and Alissa
Hospital Bill: £20,000.
Return Flights: £3,000
Insurance: We paid about £350 each before leaving the UK. We have no idea what we would have done if we hadn’t taken out comprehensive insurance.
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