31 In Thailand/ Travel/ Travel Talk

Let’s Get Real – Breaking My Arm in Thailand

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.

What Happened:

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.

The Prognosis:

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.

The Upswing:

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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31 Comments

  • Reply
    Earth Woman Star (Noella)
    October 13, 2017 at 7:01 am

    Paige — sending you so much love and good healing vibes. I’m so sorry that you broke your arm. That said, your spirit and positive outlook about the whole thing is amazing and inspiring. I can relate a little to the medical run arounds and epic meltdowns as I recently got chikungunya during my yoga training in India, which was awful…but a broken arm while backpacking is whole different story. Cheers to you and Matt, the rest of your journey, and to a speedy recovery.

  • Reply
    Meghan
    October 13, 2017 at 7:06 am

    Oh, Paige! I’m so sorry you’ve had so many struggles and scares with your arm. From what I’ve read I believe I had a similar experience – not (just) the injuring yourself in another country – but the fear of the unknown: the unfamiliar health care, the uncertainty in diagnosis, the fear of not being able to take care of yourself. Looking back at my own experience it was my emotional reactions that did me in; I cried a whole bunch too. I know you’re on the upswing and figuring out the whole traveling-while-injured thing but the best advice I can give you is to just rely on Matt and the people around you so you can focus on taking care of yourself. It’s so much easier for someone to help you button your clothes than it is for you to have a meltdown that leads to a reevaluation of your trip just because you can button something. Love to you! xx
    P.s. I’ve broken my left ulna 3 times- maybe we’re twins! 😉

  • Reply
    Laura
    October 13, 2017 at 8:57 am

    I’m glad you’ve decided to stick it out. I’m sure it’s a difficult situation to be in, but the bright side is you’re with your badass husband who is willing to help you out. Your grandma sounds like a true queen, so kudos to her for helping you out with her knowledge and experience. You’re an amazing person for dealing with these struggles abroad – and ON THE ROAD – so just remember that and please keep your head up. <3

  • Reply
    equinoxio21
    October 13, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Woooo! What a trial. I do hope you are better now.

  • Reply
    Sreekar Harinatha
    October 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Guess you recovered well enough! your sense of humor kinda comes through the post! I’m sure memories were made though. Good and not so good:)

  • Reply
    Sofia
    October 14, 2017 at 8:52 am

    What a story! Hope you are better now – at least several lessons were learnt 🙂

  • Reply
    Marvi
    October 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Hope you are feeling a lot better now.. 🙂 I know it must have been really hard, but I salute you for not giving up! Kudos also to Matt for being a good sport and for keeping up!

  • Reply
    Kavita Favelle | Kavey Eats
    October 14, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Gosh, what a horrible experience, and some really low moments. I remember going in for a CAT scan a few years ago when a migraine was so much worse than usual (and usually I want to drill a hole in my head, no exaggeration) I started worrying it might be something more serious. I was terrified. Our guest house owner got the taxi, came with us, stayed to translate and actually stayed until they’d done the CAT scan (and it was clear), before finally leaving them instructions on ordering me a taxi (and where to), and heading back. I was fine, and the damn thing started fading back to migraine level and then downwards on its own but shit was I scared for a while there. Oh and it cost around £300! I’m so glad your grandma was able to calm you down, help you sort the cast and medication properly and turn the trip back around!

  • Reply
    Marcus and Mel
    October 14, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks to your grandmother for helping you out.
    The bathroom incident could’ve been worse, imagine if you had fallen completely! Highlights the importance of the boring but important stuff like insurance, luckily you could carry on but it could’ve be worse.
    We sometimes think we are invincible.

  • Reply
    Tanvi
    October 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Ohh I hope this didn’t have happened. But I hope you are doing well now. Get well soon!

  • Reply
    lukeandmeagan
    October 14, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    That’s one of those travel stories that’s epic to retell, but horrific to live – I’m so sorry your trip had such a painful plot twist!! I also hope you let yourself off the hook about “limiting” Matt and feeling so guilty. Guilt is one of my go-to emotions, and I know how much a serious, self-inflicted guilt trip + a lack of sleep can really mess with your head. Go get/give a gentle hug and know that you’re doing amazing in really insane circumstances 🙂

  • Reply
    abcdefghizzy
    October 14, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    I’m sorry I haven’t taken the time to send you love sooner but I am so, sooo very proud of you for dealing with this hardship in the Paige-way of addressing it with vulnerability and then reanalysis. I hope that one day I get to meet Matt, he seems like a very special human being and props to your family for keeping their cool. I work with international students who come to study in the USA in my professional and volunteer life and if this ever happened to any one of them, you bet they would be on the first plane back home. And especially in a situation where language barrier is seriously problematic to your health. Funny story, I got sick in Thailand a decade ago on my exchange and I remember the fright of being in the hospital: how hurried the diagnosis was and how scared I felt in that moment. In the years to come, this will be one of your favorite stories to share 🙂 I will make sure to bring it up and laugh with you. You are so resilient Paige, don’t you ever forget that. May it be smooth sailing from here on out!

  • Reply
    Danik
    October 15, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Cant believe this happen to you whilst on the road. Looks like you got great care out there. Sending you the positive vibes to keep strong and not let this get you down 🙂 At least it will be a tale you will have for many years to come.

  • Reply
    whisperwanderlust
    October 15, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Unfortunately, we can’t predict accidents and we can’t always avoid them. However, I am glad you were able to get over it so smoothly and that you had the opportunity to find a good hospital in Chiang Mai. Luckily, I didn’t deal with this kind of issues during my travels so far, but you never know, so you must always be prepared.

  • Reply
    Simon
    October 15, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    What an experience. Fortunately, I have never experienced anything like it. Little scrapes and cuts, but no broken bones. If you don’t use travel insurance I highly recommend it. It affords you to get good medical care without having to worry too much about the cost.

    That being said, we all react differently when things like this happens and it never hurts to seek advice from professionals and comfort from family and friends. Thankfully everything worked out for you and your trip was not cancelled.

  • Reply
    Alouise
    October 15, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Getting sick or injured when you travel is never fun. I got really sick last year when I first moved to Ireland and I too put off going to doctor. I ended up being okay, but recovery took a lot longer than it would have if I’d gone to a hospital and gotten some medication. I’m sure having a language barrier was difficult, but it sounds like you had some great people helping you out. Hope the rest of your trip is injury-free.

  • Reply
    SkyeClass
    October 15, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Wow. That story really hits home for me. I was always worried that something would happen to me in Thailand. Luckily nothing did, but I did have a rather terrifying experience in the Netherlands last year. I guess the silver lining of this story was the ridiculously cheap hospital visit. Hope you’re on the mend, and things get better soon. I also know what it feels like to hit rock bottom traveling the world. Such an annoying place to be, especially when doing something so potentially fun.

  • Reply
    Drew Seaman
    October 16, 2017 at 12:58 am

    Thanks for sharing this story. I think getting sick or injured while traveling is everyone’s nightmare. The idea of dealing with a medical procedure in a unfamiliar country can be daunting. I know I would have done the same thing and probably hesitate, assuming that it would get better. Good point on WebMD too, as I always feel like no matter what symptoms you have, that site makes you think you are about to die or have some bizarre longterm illness! Kudos to Matt too for helping out and taking on some extra burdens. It is always nice to have a good travel companion!

  • Reply
    Kirstie
    October 16, 2017 at 2:28 am

    “I owe him a lifetime of back rubs when my arm heals.” – This is very sweet. That’s why having a travel buddy is better than solo travels for me, personally. Because in case something like this happens, you’ll have someone to rely on. And since you are a couple, wow. This is great bonding! For better or for worse.

  • Reply
    Meg Jerrard
    October 16, 2017 at 3:34 am

    Yikes, sorry to hear about your broken arm – that sucks!! And sucks on the sling situation. Definitely some of the course of action which are the most convenient end up coming back to hurt later on down the track. Thanks for sharing this though – I think people like to shy away from sharing that sometimes traveling overseas can have really horrible, down days, like in your situation. But I’m glad to hear that you had an awesome supportive family who could help with both the mental and physical. Take it easy!!

  • Reply
    Aleah
    October 16, 2017 at 5:38 am

    OMG that’s one of my nightmares, getting injured while traveling! It’s great you have Matt to button up your pants and remove the pantyliner LOL If that were me, I wouldn’t have known what to do. That’s one of the major disadvantages of solo travel. Your family’s cool, good to know they’re supportive!

  • Reply
    Indrani
    October 16, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Oh oh it is terrible to experience accidents in foreign land. My husband broke his left arm in Siem Reap which needed a surgery. We somehow managed to return home for the surgery. And yes that numbness of fingers and shooting pain all sounds so familiar. 🙁
    Hope you are doing good now. 🙂

  • Reply
    José Ramón Harvey
    October 16, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Oh no! Getting hurt or sick while traveling (even if it everything turns out ok) is the worst! I’d definitely stay off WebMd, haha! And I think I’d still be very worried if it happened to me while I was in Thailand…but am definitely reassured by your article. That’s so awesome your grandma was able to help you from so far away! Always listen to grandma! I’m glad you are still enjoying your travels albeit a bit inconvenienced! Your husband is awesome!

  • Reply
    Mei & Kerstin 👭🌍 (@_travelwithmk)
    October 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    So sorry that you broke your arm and that you didn’t get to enjoy your trip fully! Having this kind of accident is never easy, not just physically but also mentally. It’s normal that you felt sorry for Matt, and for keeping him from doing certain activities and having to carry all the bags by himself, but it only shows how much he loves you, right? Hehe.. I’m glad that you’re alright again! Sending you all the best!!

  • Reply
    theworldnus
    October 17, 2017 at 4:53 am

    Wow what a story to remember!! I’m sorry you broke your arm and I hope you’ll be on the mend soon. Getting injured or very sick while overseas is one of my many fears, specially with two fearless and super active little boys. I really respect that you are able to look back and see where you made mistakes though, and obviously that you are sharing them with us all. So glad also that you get to experience this with Matt who is taking super good care of you.

  • Reply
    Kate
    October 17, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a rough time. Breaking a bone, or any other injury or illness is the worst when you aren’t at home. I can’t help but get worried about the healthcare and whether I will get the right treatment if I’m overseas. I usually just pray I don’t have to find out! Carrying all of the bags for you is very sweet. He’s a keeper! Rest up and enjoy taking it slower. Sometimes you’re forced to change pace for a reason. Hope you feel better soon

  • Reply
    Elisa
    October 17, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Ouff. Were you happy with your decision of going on with the trip? Because like your grandma said, you needed to rest and heal . . . Despite this you always look smiling on the pictures, you must be a very positive person

  • Reply
    Tami
    October 18, 2017 at 12:51 am

    I am soooo sorry you broke your arm, but I have to say — I think you may have handled it much better than I would have! Was it ever an option to just stay in your hotel room and let Matt go off for a day on his own? ‘Cause I think that’s what I would have been begging for! It’s so encouraging that you finally got answers and had a much more upbeat take on the whole incident!

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Made all the Difference
    October 18, 2017 at 1:19 am

    That really sucks that you broke your arm. Are you left hand or right hand dominate? I am right hand and had a minor break (it took two weeks and two MRI’s to figure out which bone I broke). It was awful. But I like your outlook. 6 weeks and then you are back to normal.

  • Reply
    Suruchi
    October 18, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Paige hope you are doing better now. That is such a touching and emotional incident. While reading I could feel the physical and mental pain you had gone through after breaking your bone. But one thing to cherish is that how sweet Matt is. Carrying 3 bags is one thing, but imp is the way he handled you during the low periods. Really sweet pf him. Hope you recover soon and enjoy your travels.

  • Reply
    Cai Dominguez
    October 20, 2017 at 2:47 am

    Be always careful while traveling specially when we are thousand miles away from home. Gladly, there is some there to take care of you. I remember when I got seriously sick in Bangkok because of tonsillitis. It was so hard that no one is actually taking care of me in the hostel for a week. I need to move and do things for myself. Gladly, the hospitals in Thailand are really good and affordable. Keep safe!

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