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Day 15 – December 15th: Cuc Phuong to Tam Coc/Hanoi

It was a dull morning sky.  It had rained overnight and was still drizzling a bit. Sharyn had gone down to find some coffee while I remained in the room. A split-second decision was about to turn the whole trip on its head.

At the front steps, Sharyn had two pairs of shoes, her sandshoes, and a pair of rubber thongs (flip-flops). The front steps were covered with the slippery, black ceramic tiles you see so often here in Vietnam. Still wet from the rain, they were smooth, slick, and shiny. She would have to sit down and pull the sandshoes over her feet, or she could just slip on her thongs. She chose the thongs.

Like standing on the soap in the shower, her feet immediately shot out from under her. She took the full force of the fall just below her right elbow, right on the edge of the step.

Stunned and in shock, she wandered over to the common area, leaving a trail of blood through the puddles. The owner took one look and panicked; this was the last thing he wanted, especially from a foreign guest. He scrambled to find a bandage while Sharyn lay down in shock.

Meanwhile, up in the room, it occurred to me that she was taking a long time. I got dressed and came down to look for her. She seemed quite normal until I got closer. She seemed pale. I could see she was holding her arm. She told me she fell and showed me the gash. It was open and nasty. She had managed to stop most of the bleeding, but not all.

She said she thought it was broken. My head was spinning. We needed to get her to a hospital and fast. The owner came back, he’d arranged a car to take us, but we’d have to wait 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I quickly packed up our gear and got it down the ridiculously steep stairs. I kept thinking we’d be fucked if I fell down and hurt myself as well.

The car appeared, driven by the owner’s father. I got Sharyn inside. She was very quiet. I wasn’t sure if it was the shock, but I knew she’d be thinking about our next move and how this would affect our plans.

It took about 20 more minutes to reach the hospital at Nho Quan, a small regional town. It was a dump! The guy at reception seemed to be in a bad mood; he chose to ignore us. Fortunately, the father persisted. He got directions to go somewhere; we just tagged along. He had to ask a couple of times to find the place, but we soon found ourselves standing in a grubby ward with a cold, metal table with a small girl lying on it, her mother holding her hand. Her other hand was being attended to by a young man who was constantly laughing and joking. Not impressed, I immediately wanted to kill him! Two other young people, a boy, and a girl, giggled along with him – it was surreal! What made it worse was the condition of the little girl. She was missing the tops of all her fingers on her right hand. As the young doctor (I’m not sure if he was or not) bandaged it, the girl cried out in pain while the mother chastised her.

Seeing Sharyn, the doctor quickly finished with the young girl, the nurse handing the mother a jar with what looked like olives in it. I’m guessing they were the tops of her fingers. The mother barked another order at the crying little girl, then picked her up and exited. I felt like slapping her. That left us with the gung-ho bunch of merry butchers!

Sharyn was hastened onto the small metal tabletop, and her bandage was removed. The gash seemed even bigger now, the bone not quite exposed. The doctor pulled out a huge needle and began prodding around the wound, lifting up the edges. Sharyn was gasping in pain, and I was feeling sick myself at the sight of all the blood and exposed flesh. He then began jabbing her randomly around the gash, injecting anesthetic. There was nothing skilled or compassionate about it; he was rough as guts!

After jabbing her about eight times, he then began stitching the wound. He worked quickly like he was late for lunch or something. When he finished, he barked out, “Hanoi,” we knew we’d need an x-ray, though, and our driver proceeded to ask around.

The guy at X-Ray took one look at the film and said, “Broken,” then he, too, mentioned Hanoi. It was time to get out of this creepy place with mold halfway up the walls, rubbish in corners, and sick and injured people wandering around like zombies. It was like we were on the set of a horror movie!


We rang ahead to Lan in Tam Coc, told her what happened, and asked her to arrange a ride to Hanoi in a car for us. We waited an hour or so, and Lan’s husband, Minh, turned up with his SUV. I loaded the bikes and all our gear, and we headed back to Tam Coc, where I unloaded everything, switched some things into a small bag for Sharyn, and they went off to Hanoi.

In the meantime, Shazz had already rung our Travel Insurance company, World Nomads, who recommended she go straight to the very expensive French Hospital in Hanoi. We were comforted to know they were already on the job, and all we’d have to pay was our excess of $100.

On arrival, she was seen immediately. The French doctor was worried about the open gash and primitive stitching, in conjunction with a very tricky crack to the elbow. Infection was a big possibility, and she would have to have surgery to mend the break. The hospital was clean and efficient. All the staff spoke English (and presumably French), which was comforting as the shock wore off and the pain set in. Within no time, the IV antibiotics and painkillers were rigged up, and she was in a comfy bed.

Meanwhile, Mama Lan insisted I have dinner with them again, which was nice of her. Sharyn called later and explained they would have to insert two pins into her arm and then wire it all together. Surprisingly it would only need three nights in the hospital.

I lay in bed later on; I was cold and wore my thermals. Sleep just wouldn’t come. What would happen in three days’ time weighed heavily on me. Sharyn seemed to have taken it well; she is tough, but how would she cope going forward? What would become of the trip? Will I still continue, or will we pack it in and go home? I guess I would leave it to her; it had to be her decision, one she would be comfortable with and one she would have the least regrets about. It was only early days, but we had over 12 months of preparation behind us, and I don’t think either of us wanted to go home just yet.

Want to know what happened. Then you’ll have to read on: More Questions Than Answers.