When I bought myself a motorbike in Vietnam, I accepted the fact that a motorbike accident would happen sooner or later. In a country with one of the highest traffic injury rates in the world, all I could hope was that when it was my turn, it’d end up ok.
Well, the inevitable finally happened during my final month in Asia – not to me, but to my friend – when my Finnish besties Hanna and Hannele came to visit me in Vietnam and we went for a holiday on the definitely-not-boring Phu Quoc islands.
My first feeling as I saw Hannele, fallen off her bike, on the ground, was relief. She was half-sitting on the ground, clearly not completely ok, making a sorrowful, nearly apologetic face at me, surrounded by worried Vietnamese roadworkers, bike sideways on the ground. It had happened, but she was alive – she was even conscious. Hooray!
Our resort at Phu Quoc was in the process of being renovated (or potentially destroyed – we literally had to have dinner one night in our rooms because the dining room roof had no guarantee of surviving strong winds. But after googling the resort now in June 2017, it apparently exists and looks far better than it did then. Props to you guys, I guess.) To get to the resort area itself you had to take this extremely precarious, er, track (for the word ‘road’ cannot be even loosely used in this context), which consisted 50% of squidgy, murky mud and 50% of sharp, jutting stones. Vans had got stuck on it; taxis had refused to go down it. Motorbikes must be, well, manouvered with utmost care.
We’d just returned from a fun but tiring day of hanging out on the beach – Hanna and I did most of the driving, but Hannele decided to drive the last half hour – her first time on her bike, and she drove excellently through the country lanes and Phu Quoc rush hour. Just before the turning onto the mud track to our resort, we decided I’d go to a nearby atm on one bike and meet Hanna and Hannele at the resort.
That is where it happened. Obviously mud tracks cause scary slips. In a moment of panic it is easy to accelerate instead of brake. So when Hannele started losing control of the bike in the ridiculous river of mud, she accidentally accelerated, hit a rock, fell off the bike and straight onto the rock. And it was a sharp rock.
As I mentioned earlier, I was feeling a strange mixture of relief and horror as I approached the scene on my own bike – very carefully, aware of the irony if I followed Hannele’s suit on the precarious track. “I fell,” she said to me mournfully as I got to them. She seemed fine, but the deep, dark red gash in her knee did not support my momentarily entertained hope of getting through this incident with only a little bruise or scratch or two. After giving my beach dress from my bag to the worried Vietnamese men to tie around the keenly bleeding wound, I wobbled to reception on my own bike as quickly and as carefully as I could in my super-focused yet progressively more and more panicky mood, stammering to the receptionist in a language I no longer remember that my friend’s been in an accident.
I left the motorbike at the resort and ran back to the scene of the accident, with the poshly dressed concierge dude following me at a brisk walking speed appropriate for a suitably concerned, professional concierge.
By the time I got back to the scene of the accident, a taxi had been summoned by the Vietnamese dudes, and the three of us were ushered in – Hanna in front, Hannele and I in the back. Hannele’s leg had to be propped up which was problematic in the limited space of a taxi, but luckily there was an obvious solution – open the window and stick the injured leg out through it.
The Vietnamese guys, who had witnessed the accident, briefed the taxi driver, and off we went. Time for the Vietnamese hospital experience.
We were in the Phu Quoc version of an ambulance. The taxi driver drove at top speed, frequently crossing the middle line and driving on the wrong side of the road, overtaking them slow coaches (metaphorically and literally). And in the spirit of a true ambulance, we made ourselves very much known by incessant horn beeping. No one could question our sense of urgency. I’d been in many a Vietnamese vehicle, but this was a taxi driver with a purpose. No, this was an ambulance driver with a purpose, his vehicle just happened to be a taxi without any sort of sick bed.
Hannele was luckily in good spirits, which made the trip entertaining enough. Though obviously there was a huge amount of less entertaining prospects going through our minds about what was to come – Phu Quoc does not have very high quality healthcare. I mean, Vietnam in general isn’t the best known for its positive effects on your health or life expectancy, and you’d hardly expect the miniscule island of Phu Quoc to be very advanced/talented/experienced/hygienic when it came to healthcare. The online Phu Quoc Island guide recommends you fly to Saigon for any serious medical treatments, and urges you not to “hesitate to fly to Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong” if necessary. The question of hospital protocol was also blazing in my mind – I don’t know how the emergency unit and hospitals work in my country, in my language, let alone in Vietnam where you’d hardly expect them to speak English?
We got to the hospital, where the taxi driver helped us into the Phu Quoc equivalent of the emergency unit, briefed the hospital staff, and left.
We were pointed to sit down, fill in a form and wait until a young male doctor/nurse, efficient-seeming and smile-free, summoned us into a bare surgery room, where he barked brief English instructions at Hannele to lie down on the bed. When it was time for x-rays, Hanna and I were sent outside.
The waiting room was a harrowing experience. We were at Phu Quoc A&E, but we realised quickly we hardly had any ‘real’ worry. Hannele ‘just’ had a wound to be stitched up. The other patients were a whole lot worse for wear, and it was sobering to witness first-hand the place where the victims of those notoriously common Vietnamese traffic accidents went. We saw no gore, but I’ll never forget especially the young teenage continuously crying out in pain with helpless family sat around her. Life can change in a second.
Hanna and I sat and waited, and agreed to refrain from telling Hannele about the hospital mascots we saw – a rat had just run across a nearby corridor. Cockroaches were obviously a given.
Hannele got stitched quickly and efficiently, paid a meagre fee and got some hastily written prescriptions (which later on brought us lots of brain cell exercise as we deciphered doctor dude’s handwriting), and then suddenly it was time to leave – we made our way outside, where it was now dark. To our surprise and joy, we were greeted by our taxi driver, who had been waiting for us all that time. He took us back to the resort, where we spent a pleasant night in eating most of the menu in the resort dining room (luckily the winds weren’t too strong that night).
The mission of the next day – apart from flying back to Saigon in the evening – was finding crutches.
I’ve never bought crutches in any language, let alone Vietnamese. After some inane wandering around the hospital with a piece of paper with the term for crutches in Vietnamese (written by our concierge), I finally found a roadside shop which sold an array of various objects, mostly made out of metal, and lo and behold, crutches were included! After lots of toing and froing between the hospital where Hanna and Hannele were waiting, crutches were bought, and all was good.
Our evening flight back to Saigon was enveloped in an aura of serious celebrity status. I felt like the right hand of the queen, or Rihanna’s most highly-esteemed assistant at the very least. Hannele limped in front on her shiny new crutches, with Hanna and I in tow royally carrying the possessions. We were rushed past queues and given immediate access to fast lanes.
A moment I’ll never forget is getting off the plane once we’d arrived back in Saigon – we waited for everyone else to get off before we hobbled off. Hanna and I got to the plane door first, carrying Hannele’s stuff. We stood at the top of the plane stairs in the warm Saigon night, wind streaming through our hair, a lit-up airport bus waiting for us at the bottom, full of fellow passengers who were surely wondering what on earth took Hanna and I so long, only to immediately sympathise when we were followed by dear Hannele on crutches, followed by the aeroplane staff.
Hannele survived her high-stress flight back to Europe (apparently blood clots were on her mind, a semi-legit fear). After a reassuring few months of confirmation that there were no adverse side-effects or consequences to her little whoopsie, we even told her about the hospital mascots. Now all she has is an epic scar on her knee and a story to match.
A huge shout out, once again, to the stars – the Vietnamese roadworkers who were immediately at Hannele’s side after it happened, the Phu Quoc-doc Hannele has nothing but praise for, and the lovely, loyal taxi driver. Cam on everyone. <3