Thursday, December 1, 2005 - Phuket, Thailand
Photo by Lee Johnson
Well, it happened. Much sooner than I was expecting. I was involved in a relatively serious motorcycle accident tonight. Although relatively unscathed, I am experiencing some significant chest pain and my knee is quite sore.
I am traveling along the highway to meet up with my parents who are visiting and another motorbike pulls out right in front of me. It seems so cliché to say that things seem to happen in slow motion, but as the accident replays in my mind that is the only way I can describe it. A rotund Thai man wearing no helmet and nothing but a t-shirt, boxer shorts and flip flops pulls out from a side road directly across my lane and in front of me. The instant I see him I honk my horn. When he sees me he freezes. I apply the brakes and try to pass in front of him just as he moves forward vainly hoping to avoid me. I know at that moment that I am going to hit him. Resignation; what a strange feeling. No fear, just resignation. With resignation comes a strange feeling of calm; I knew I was going to be fine. Yet I could not possibly understanding the full implications of what was about to happen. I hit him broadside. T-bone style. My chest hits the handle bars with incredible force as my bike slams into his. I get up from the pavement gasping for a breath, clutching my chest, limping slightly as I make my way to the side of the road. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it. I know from my years of training that I am in shock. Instantly I analyze myself; signs and symptoms. I take a mental inventory of my faculties and my injuries.
People come running. I ask in my improving Thai whether anyone saw the accident. No one did but they all heard the noise. It was incredibly loud they say. I remember it now; an extremely loud explosive bang followed instantly by a sharp, piercing metallic crunch. The sound was all around me as I hit him. It was in the air and against my skin.
I look over to the inert body lying in the middle of the road. He’s not moving. He’s not conscience. The thought never enters my mind that he could be dead. People rush over to try to bring him around but he doesn’t respond. Nothing. Not even a blink or muscle twitch. One man slaps him lightly on the face like they do in the movies. I know that I should go over and help. I know what to do. For a few years I taught people how to respond. I know how to assess a victim. I also know from my training how to recognize shock and how to treat it. I am in no mental condition to administer medical care.
As I look at the man in the road I notice two things; I don’t see any blood and he has an erection. He’s lying there flat on his back, arms to his side, a pair of boxers and an erection pointing straight up. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. If I remember correctly, an erection on a victim can be a sign of spinal injury.
Eventually, he does become conscience; I think. This really has no effect on my state of mind. Should I be relieved? Should I somehow feel slightly absolved? I feel nothing. At some point the police and ambulance are there. I believe in that order. Like the chalk outline of a corps, the cop spray paints a white outline of our bikes as they lay in the center of the road, turn signals still blinking. He pulls the bikes to the side of the road. Now there are only two errant flip-flops lying in the road. No one gathers them and within minutes as traffic resumes car after car drives over them. The white outline of our bikes on the charcoal asphalt glistens beneath the headlights of each passing car.
The full extent of the situation in which I now find myself is becoming clear. I have severely damaged a rental motorcycle for which there is no insurance and for which I probably don’t have the money to repair. More importantly, though completely blameless, I am a foreigner in a country that doesn’t necessarily follow the tenets of jurisprudence. My words and version of events will not carry as much weight as that of a Thai person. I hope the officer that I deal with is honest. I hope that the other driver was drunk and that this comes to light at the hospital. I hope that the man I hit is not paralyzed or brain-damaged. I hope this not out of altruism but out of sheer self preservation; I am scared that I will be charge with a serious offense if the victim takes a turn for the worse. My God! What happens if I have to pay his hospital bills? Those thoughts with dozens more linger in mind as I hope that they believe me and my version of events.
As I sit at a table near the side of the road I have an incredible need to call someone, anyone. I have my cell but am not sure who to call. I need to call someone. I need to call my parents to tell them I will be late. I don’t want to alarm them and tell them I was in an accident but I have to tell someone. I call them but they have stepped out. I leave a message. I really need to call Chun the manager where I am training and living. That’s who I need call. He’ll know what to do. Unfortunately, although I always carry his business card with me I don’t have it this time. I can’t call him.
Eventually a senior officer arrives on the scene. He asks me a few questions, makes a few notes and sketches. He takes my passport. I ask him in Thai if I need to go with him right now. He tells me that I must present myself at the police station tomorrow at 2:00pm. I wonder if I will be arrested tomorrow. I wonder if I will be charged and then release to face a court date. I hope he doesn’t keep my passport so that I can leave the country if this whole matter becomes dreadful. After all, he only asked for my id but I had to leave it with the bike rental shop so I was forced to give up my passport instead.
Curiously, he tells me I can’t drive my bike. At first I assumed he meant I wasn’t allowed to drive a bike at all. No, he meant I can’t drive my bike. No shit Sherlock! The whole front end is destroyed. When they start to load the bikes onto the truck I understand what he was saying. He was trying to tell me that he was taking the bikes to the police compound.
The younger officer, who was first on the scene, asks me where I was going. I tell him to Karon to meet my parents. He offers to give me a ride (on the back of his motorcycle) which I accept. We chat along the way. He says how lucky I am that no cars hit me. Normally there would have been cars all around me and I should have been hit. We talk about my Muay Thai training and we both surmise that the reason that I am relatively uninjured is because of the training. That and I was wearing a helmet.