Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cycle Accidents 2: What Happens After

The scars on his head still evident, Noom tries over and over to write a single word

In yesterday's post I sounded off about what I feel is the irresponsible act of not wearing at least a helmet while riding on a motorized cycle. My feelings about that haven't changed in 24 hours, so rather than just delete the post, here's the follow-up I promised yesterday about my friend's brother. To avoid the slim chance of embarrassment I'm going to call him Noom and obscure his face. This is Noom's story...

At the time of the accident, Noom was in his late 20s. He was good looking, but shy; hoping - as many men do - for a decent life, a wife and a family. He had his problems, as we all do, but also had a stable future farming the family's rice properties and a lot of life ahead of him. Unfortunately, Noom also had an affection for Thai beer, coupled with the feeling of indestructibility; something globally shared by many his age.

One night while riding back home on the dark dirt roads of rural Isaan something happened to cause him to lose control of his scooter, and he flew off it; cutting, scraping and bruising himself in numerous places, breaking a bone or two and, more seriously, hitting his head against something - probably a fence post, but nobody's been able to say for sure to this day. He left blood on a post and a couple of rocks at the spot where a neighbor found his body, unconscious and severely traumatized sometime shortly thereafter. That, in and of itself, certainly helped save his life.

When the phone rang at the family home somewhere in the wee small hours, his mother answered the call that strikes fear into the heart of any parent: Noom was in the hospital, and there wasn't a lot of hope for him... they needed to get there as soon as possible. The family dressed hurriedly and piled into the family pick up truck. Noom's cousin Bot from across the road was the best driver, so he drove and got them into Udonthani to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Noom was a mangled mess. After they managed to stabilize him and it seemed possible to save him the doctor came out to urge extensive cranial surgery immediately. It wouldn't be cheap, and the family didn't have more than the basic National healthcare, so they had to agree to accept a debt that would skyrocket over the next couple of weeks. To make his point the doctor handed Noom's mother a piece of his skull he'd carried out of the ER in a small dish. I expect that's a moment his mother will carry with her for the rest of her life.

For the next few weeks the family stayed as close to Noom as possible, waiting and praying in shifts. His mother slept in a chair near him or under his bed on a blanket. Slowly he began to regain consciousness, and about the time he was able to minimally respond to them the hospital said it was time for him to go home. They showed the family what was necessary to care for him - changing bandages and dressings, diapering, tending the tracheotomy opening in his throat and tube feeding him via a hand-held siphon through a hose in his nose that emptied into his stomach.

Back home, Noom continued to improve. It was both tiring and worrisome for everyone in the family, but they pulled together and there were several relatives with him at all times, except at night, when there would only be one or two. His mother lost weight she didn't really have to spare from her effort and worry, and several of them began to look drawn and tired. Still, they stuck with him.

When I got back to visit again, Noom was able to eat small amounts by mouth, and although he couldn't speak but a few words he was well enough to register his displeasure at his situation and condition. If anyone spoke of the accident he'd become so agitated they'd have to restrain him and calm him down.

Too weak to walk even with crutches, one of us had to lift him up from each side and hold his arms over our shoulders to support him in what some would call the "drunken Jesus" position. Then he could move his left foot forward a few inches on his own, and we'd push his right one forward with our left one, allowing him to "walk" and get a minor amount of exercise. It wasn't much, but it was a lot for him.

At the doctor's suggestion they repeatedly tried to stimulate his brain. Thinking that perhaps writing would be easier for him than speaking they put a pencil in his better hand and held paper to it countless times, encouraging him to write what he couldn't say - but that seemed to take forever, too. The VCD/DVD player I'd bought the family allowed him to watch movies and things that weren't on TV, and he had favorite movies he'd watch over and over.

Gradually Noom got stronger, his speech returned (although he still doesn't speak clearly) and he can walk again, with a pronounced limp. The most telling reminder of that night is something Noom must see every time he looks in a mirror: the crater above his right eye, where he struck his head. To protect it, he now wears protective head gear to ride in the car.

Already shy before the accident, Noom - now 31 - worries that no woman will want him and he'll live alone with his family, doing the best he can. He struggles with those discouraging thoughts every day. If we brought food to the house he would come out and eat with us, but he kept himself out of sight most of the times I was there visiting. He declined to come out with us to eat any of the times I took the family out to nearby restaurants, saying he was tired.

As my friend and I were leaving in the family truck to take me back to my hotel, Noom shouted sharply at my friend in Thai. I asked my friend what Noom had said. "He thinks I'm taking you back on motocy," my friend said, smiling. "He said 'wear helmet, stupid!' "

Noom has not gotten back aboard a motocy since.


krobbie said...

That is one sad story Bao-Bao. I suspect that same scenario and worse is played out daily throughout Thailand and indeed the world.

If you are going to ride a motorbike, no matter what size, you have to realise you will always come off second best when you confront a car or truck. That's simply a matter of fact.

I will remember this next time someone says to, "just catch a motocy taxi".


ScottL said...

TO be honest, I have had a few motorbike accidents while I was growing in Malaysia. I rode my motorbike to and from school 5 days a week. Sometimes when I needed to run errand, I would ride my bike. But I always wear a helmet with a visor to protect my face as well. The worst accident that I had happened on the eve of 2000. I was riding my bike and all of a sudden, out of nowhere a dog dashed past barely a foot in front of me! I swerved my bike to avoid hitting the creature but I lost control. I flew over the bike and rolled on the ground a few times before I hit the pavement curb! I was lucky that my helmet was of a sturdy kind, if not, I won't be writing this response here today. I would have died as it was very early in the morning and I was the lone motorist! Superficial wounds will heal but that trauma has left an indelible mark on my psyche. I drive after that!