Breaking a limb is never fun. Breaking a limb in Thailand, or any other destination thousands of miles from where you call home or where you’re comfortable is the worst. I can say that from experience because this is all about breaking my arm in Thailand and the way it has changed my trip completely.
I am no stranger to broken bones. In fact, I’ve broken my left (my dominant) arm three times now. However, I have to say that this experience takes the cake. Aside from the normal pain and discomfort of breaking a bone, I’m away from anything + everything that’s familiar. In fact, this broken bone has broken me down mentally and physically and I’m not ashamed to say that I hit travel rock bottom earlier this week.
Believe it or not, I have a broken arm in this photo.
Matt and I were on a pretty simple waterfall hike, it was a “paved” trail and was pretty short. It was just after sunrise, so the ground was wet from dew. Plus, I’m sure the spray from the waterfall didn’t help. Matt had just taken my right hand because he hit a slick spot and wanted to give me a hand, but I still slipped. I fell hard and tried to catch myself with my left arm. Immediately, I knew something was wrong when the simple act of unzipping my backpack brought me to tears. I resisted going to the doctor because I was afraid. Afraid that something was seriously wrong and afraid that I would be sent home. Afraid of what to expect from the hospital: mostly, how well I’d be able to communicate with the staff.
The Uncertainty of Healthcare:
After I made Matt pinky promise we wouldn’t go home if I didn’t need surgery we were on our way to the ER. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with Chiang Mai Ram hospital. They were efficient, quick and cheap. I was elated to have an exam, X-rays, and my arm set in a cast /splint in under 2 hours. Plus, it was all only $179.
Left: a photo of my X-ray // Right: Feeling naively good about traveling with a broken arm
Flash forward 5 days and I realized that while it was quick and efficient I made a few mistakes:
Perhaps the exam was too quick. I was so caught up in the fact my bone was broken that I forgot to ask more thorough questions. The doctor also only investigated the parts I said hurt and didn’t tell me warning signs to look out for that I later read about on WebMD. (Which, of course led, me to believe I had shards of broken bones tearing through nerves and that I had waited too long for that emergency surgery I needed and I was obviously going to lose all function in my hand + wrist.) Do yourself a favor, stop looking at WebMD.
I turned down painkillers. How stupid am I? My arm is broken and it freakin’ hurts still.
I chose convenience + budget over what was best. A cast I could take off myself and remove to shower sounded so amazing. Plus, I wouldn’t have to pay for another doctors visit to remove it! It’s not amazing. It’s awful. My arm slips through it, people bump it, I wrap it too tight, I wrap it too loose. If I could turn back time, I’d have a bright pink cast.
Hitting Travel Rock Bottom:
Before I get into my physical pain, I have to start with the immense guilt I was feeling. Matt has to do everything for me. I now need help with a million everyday things like buttoning my pants, showering, putting my hair in a ponytail, opening a water bottle and so much more. In addition to all of that, Matt now is carrying three backpacks on travel days, which has to be backbreaking. I owe him a lifetime of back rubs when my arm heals. Lastly, and I think hardest of all, I’m limiting him. We had plans to mountain bike, swim in waterfalls and do some awesome treks in Luang Prabang and now we can’t. I felt like I’d ruined the trip before our time in Laos had even begun. Then there was the physical pain.
Heading out on our first travel day. 1 bag vs. 3.
Breaking my arm in Thailand was bad enough, but of course I had to do it days before my visa expired. So, despite knowing I needed rest to let my body heal, we started a longest three day journey of my life. First, I used the bathroom at the bus station which was, of course, a squat toilet. Low moment of the day: I lost balance and peed all over my foot. Then had to wash it one-handed. Then, the 5.5 hour bus ride turned into an 8 hour bus ride, I forgot to take my ibuprofen, and didn’t get to have lunch or dinner. We arrived at our Guest House on the border town of Chiang Khong at 9 pm, at which point I broke down. I cried for a solid five minutes and thoughts of flying home started to creep into my mind.
When the alarm went off at 7 the next morning I seriously didn’t think I was going to be able to open my eyes. I wanted to sleep and rest all day long. Matt encouraged me to just cross the border and then reevaluate. Once in Laos I decided to keep going and get on the slow boat toward Luang Prabang. On that 7 hour boat journey my fingers went numb, and shooting pains seared through my forearm. I cried two more times on the boat and broke down once we got to out Guest House in Pak Beng that night. Low moment of the day: getting a panty-liner stuck to my hand and having to ask Matt to help me. The words actually came out of my mouth, “I’m a seven out of ten on wanting to go home.” This led to an even bigger meltdown and I cried myself to sleep.
You know it’s bad when I can’t enjoy epic views like this! Photo by Matt
Day three I woke up much more rested and took my ibuprofen on schedule. We caught our boat and it was literally smooth sailing. That is, until a guitar was knocked into my arm, which sent the shooting pains again. I got over that and was having a semi-decent day until we got back to our Guest House after dinner and I realized all my fingers were numb, I could barely move them, and when I did a pain so sharp that I would literally gasp shot through my arm. This is when WebMD broke me down and I started to panic. Matt was in the shower and I finally called my parents hysterical while simultaneously searching flights to Bangkok where I thought I could have that emergency surgery before heading home. The culmination of the three days had broken me down and it almost beat me.
My parents kept it cool. My mom calmly said she was calling my grandma (who was a nurse in a bone + joint center) to see if she was available to video chat with me. Luckily she was. She patiently sat through my description and then gave me some advice. Guess what? That numbness + those shooting pains were self inflicted. Because I didn’t ask proper questions and the language barrier meant a brief analysis, I had no idea what I was doing. I wrapped my cast too tight, cutting off blood flow to my hand and pinching the nerves in my wrist. Going off my past wrist breaks, I had my sling way too tight and way too high which was causing unneeded pain. I wasn’t staying consistent with my medicine, and I wasn’t allowing my body to rest and heal. Upon hearing all of this and loosening my cast, my mind + body finally relaxed and felt at ease for the first time in a week. I hope my grandma realizes how much that call means to me. Those 15 minutes saved our trip.
Since that epic meltdown three days ago a lot has changed, mostly in my mindset. I came to finally realize that it’s only 6 weeks out of 52 that I have to take it easy. There are still things to see and do without it being an extreme adventure or something super physical. I’ve been resting and catching up on work too. You wouldn’t believe how far behind I am just from those seven days. I’m enjoying the rest and showing Matt favorites from my last trip to Luang Prabang.
I learned an amazing lesson: you can be independent, even stubborn, but when it comes down to it, accept the help. I hope Matt, my grandma and my parents know just how much their encouragement + willingness to get me through this has changed my life and made me love them even more (which I didn’t know was possible). Also, all of my friends, family and followers who have sent encouragement via social media have been amazing. It all has meant so much to me. from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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