It’s not all cocktails and sunsets on the this mad journey to every country in the world, I’ve had some pretty epic adventures throughout the last ten years since I left Ireland, but none were quite as painful as the time I broke my leg in Thailand….
I was teaching English in Chiang Mai, the gorgeous rural north of Thailand. Chiang Mai is the kind of place that you fall deeply in love with instantly, then proceed to fall more and more deeply in love with the longer you spend there. In fact, I’d love to bring my family up there when I finally get around to having one. And all this love despite this horrible memory.
My mum was over visiting me in Chiang Mai, she had twelve days with me and we did all the tourist things you’d expect – elephant nature park, local markets, Doi Suthep temple, visiting the pandas, everything was going amazingly, until the second last day of the holiday.
I had taken to driving a scooter around Chiang Mai to get around, I’ve never even owned a car to this day, nor do I have a motorbike license, but Thailand being Thailand, I bought an illegal second hand Honda Dream for about $300, and I was up and running. I loved it, whizzing around my new home, feeling so alive, and super proud of the fact that I had left everything i know back in Ireland and the UK for a one-way ticket to Thailand, and a new life.
It was my mum’s second last night of her holiday, a normal Thursday night, we went for dinner in the local market near my apartment in Chiang Mai. Around 9pm my mum headed back to her hotel, and I was going to go to meet some friends in the city. I started up the bike, no helmet, earphones in, no license and off I went, not smart Johnny Boy, not smart at all.
My closest friend in Chiang Mai, Max, was up to the same level of naughtiness as me, so as my mum headed home, Max and his girlfriend, Ana, jumped on his bike, I hopped on mine and we drove through the city to meet some friends at another venue.
Ana, as you’d probably guess from her actions, is from New York, and the Thai driving was taking it’s toll on her soul. TukTuks are swerving all over the road, other motorbikes ignore red lights, and indicators/blinkers have yet to be introduced to Thailand apparently. So when a drunk TukTuk driving swerved across three lanes on Chiang Mai’s famous four lane moat and almost sent Max and Ana tumbling into the concrete at 80kmph, they were justified in being pretty p٭ssed off. Ana immediately reverted to New York mode, screaming “F٭ck you, you MotherF٭cker’. The guy deserved it, he almost took them off the road. Just to fully get her point across, she flicked him the most heart-felt middle finger you’ve ever seen. Well played Ana, probably not overly smart, but still, well played.
Now, the thing about Thai TukTuk drivers, and drunk TukTuk drivers even more so, is that they’re infamously aggressive. Furthermore, to these guys all us white guys look the same. So Max, twenty something with dirty-blond spiky hair, could in the right light I guess, be confused for me. Also, it’s already dark, tempers were flaring, so that mistake was even more possible in these circumstances. Recipe for disaster.
Max, fresh from his near death experience, slows down on his bike, so I’m left out in front on my own, looking at the crazed TukTuk driver. He looks furious, half stands up in his TukTuk and screams something in Thai, this is before I could speak Thai, but still I’m pretty sure he wasn’t saying “Wow, that was close, we should all be more careful, hope you’re ok”. While I’m contemplating this, he swerves his entire TukTuk across all four lanes of the motorway at almost 90 degrees, through the traffic, and aims straight at me. SMASH.
He takes me right out. Now remember, I’m no experienced rider, no helmet, going about 80kmph and a pretty innocent party in the whole event. That’s all I’m thinking about as I’m hurled through the air off my bike. That and of course a quick death flash thinking “Oh shit, no helmet, this is me done, I’m a goner”. Thankfully (in a very f٭cked up use of the word) my right knee cap ‘breaks’ my fall, after being thrown from my bike, I landed with all the speed and weight bang on my right leg, I then do a huge motorbike tumble, like the one in the Puff Daddy video “I’ll be missing you” but a lot less cool, and a lot more damaging. And I didn’t just get up rapping immediately after.
Max and Ana hammer the breaks on their bike and come and pick me up from the road, bleeding and half-blacked out from the pain, while the TukTuk driver speeds off into the distance, successful in his most vindictive of games. Max perches me up on the kerb but i’m not in a good state, literally in the most pain of my life, I’m only half conscious, with the pain sending me into a daze every ten seconds. They’re trying to talk to me, but I don’t remember too much of it. I do however remember my knee ballooning in size instantly, with no hope of even moving it without screaming the place down. This does not look good.
They find me a taxi and drive me straight to the hospital, I’m given some heavy duty painkillers, all my road rash is cleaned up with old school iodine, God that hurt. No more dazes for me now, I’m fully alert. Xray, doctor consultation, and then I remember “Oh shit, my mum is on the hotel and doesn’t know anything about it, she’s gonna be FURIOUS”. Suddenly I’m more worried about my mum screaming at me, than I am about the fact my leg is half hanging off.
I tell Max and Ana not to call her, and the doctor comes back in to tell me the damage. Fractured tibula, fractured fibia and broke knee cap with a bit of my knee cap completely detached from the rest of it and ‘floating’ in my knee. That would explain all the pain then.
Thankfully the language school I was teaching in had insured me, so they footed the bill. I was more worried about if I would be walking with a limp for the rest of my life though, and dreading the prospect of 6 weeks to 2 months in a hip-to-ankle cast. I told myself there must be a mistake, I’ll be fine. Tried to get off the hospital bed, AAAAAGH, nope, definitely not fine “Ok, I believe you doc.
More scans, kept in over night, finally they decide there is no need for surgery and the floating piece of bone should come back and reattach if we’re lucky. “If we lucky??” That filled me with confidence. Thanks.
I called my mum in the morning..
“Mum, don’t be mad”
“What did you do this time Johnny”
“Don’t meet me in the apartment”
“Why, where are you?
“Chiang Mai ram hospital, crazed tuktuk driver, should have died, no helmet blah blah blah”
This all went down as well as you can expect, ten minutes of furious tirades then back to ‘mum-mode’. I get an ambulance back to my apartment, where I kinda get carried up the stairs (no lift when your condo costs $150 a month!). Mum bought me everything that could be bought to ease my suffering, but she was off the next day. I convinced her I’d be fine and off she went.
And then for the next SIX LOOOOOOONGGGG weeks, I was pretty much bed-ridden with this stupid cast and a lot, lot of pain. Thai people being Thai people, they took care of me so much. Max was amazing, as was Ana, my friend Pheung took care of my like a nurse, and all the staff at the Wipanan Mansion, where I lived, were so generous, and kind, it was truly humbling.
In the days and weeks that followed, as the pain subsided, I realised just how lucky I was. My knee took the brunt of it, but if I had landed head first, I was dead. 100%. What a scary thought.
Lots of physio, lots of gym time but to this day after all these bus journeys, flights, or football, I feel a twinge in my knee every single day. It’ll never be the same again, but rather than feel hard down by, I see it as a reminder that A) I’m lucky to be alive, and I’m so grateful for that and B) How short life truly, truly can be. Now I have a constant echo of that, I make sure not to take it for granted.
So with that, I say sorry to stress you out mum, thanks to my friends for taking care of me, and of yeah “f٭ck you” to the pyscho TukTuk driver who nearly killed me. Not cool bro. And if you find yourself in Chiang Mai, driving scooters around, please please please wear a helmet, you mightn’t be lucky enough for your knee to break your fall. Safe travels x