Both Katie and I found it difficult to leave the historic ancient port of Hoi An, with its relaxed riverside dinning, its mix of interesting architecture and its appealing streets, all crammed with shops of every kind. If you add warm and fun-loving local people into this reasoning, then it probably seemed a little crazy not to stay a while longer. This is where fate intervened. Previously, we arranged to meet our niece Cassie and her partner Michael, in Nha Trang, which somehow caused a chain reaction of unwanted events.
So, blissfully unaware, we taxied it north and headed back to Danang, where we became caught up in a large crowd of paparazzi and onlookers. We didn’t know who they came to see, but we waved at them like movie stars as if it was us, smiling all the while as their camera’s clicked and flashed at these unknown celebrities. It seems unfortunate and somewhat amusing that someone’s treasured celebrity shot, perched lovingly on their mantle, might actually be little old me.
Anyhoo, once we Hollywood celebs made it to Danang, we boarded the overnight train and headed south. After several arguments over whose beds belonged to who, copious expulsions of wind, an unholy amount of snoring and really horrible train food, we eventually trundled into the seaside city of Nha Trang. After an hour so waiting outside the station waiting for our pre-arranged ride to our hotel, we finally managed to contact them. Thirty minutes later, a guy showed up on a scooter to pick both of us up, plus our humungous backpacks. The end result of this, amounted to nearly two hours of constant hassles by the masses, trying to sell us a ride. In the end we got our own taxi, who managed to drop us nowhere near our hotel; perfect.
Several blocks in from the beach, the sea breeze disappeared and we began to wilt from the heat. Carrying all of your worldly possessions on your back, ensures a hot and frustrating search for your internet booked apartment. Once there, we discovered that the air-conditioning in our noisy second floor room didn’t work. Later in the evening, we also discovered that a searchlight positioned to illuminate an advertisement sign, shone directly at us through an almost non-existent flimsy curtain.
We felt like rabbits caught in a hunter’s headlights. Consider the torture of trying to sleep through an entire night of blaring crappy music, with light so bright, it burnt through your closed eyelids, while you boiled away in a pool of your own sweat. Needless to say, we moved out the next morning and because of our previous torments, decided to have a splurge. I didn’t take us long to find our intended heaven and eagerly headed into the beachside Novotel Hotel, to secure our two glorious romantic nights. After checking out a few rooms, we eventually went for the oh-my-God penthouse suite, unaware that fate had taken charge and continued to propel us towards catastrophe.
Later that morning, we met up with Michael and our bubbly niece, Cassie and caught up with each other’s travel stories and news from home. Together we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and an equally sumptuous Vietnamese lunch, before we took on the tiny waves, attempting to body surf, while trying to catch an Aussie rules football.
After our swim, we decided to return to our hotel and freshen up a little, as we entertained plans to go out for a late dinner with Cassie and Michael. On the way back to the Hotel, I cut my bare foot on a bolt sticking out from the road. It didn’t hurt, but caused quite a gash and a bucket of blood to flow. I went to take a shower and discovered that our room at the Novotel had two, one with a marble sunken bath beside it, and both having floor tiles that are unbelievably slippery. You can probably guess the rest. Katie heard an enormous thud and rushed to find me unconscious on the floor of the marble bath. Death is what she envisaged on first seeing me; it must have been quite a shock for her.
Sometime later, I drifted back to consciousness and wondered why a young Vietnamese man was gently stroking my naked back and whispering, soothing incomprehensible assurances, into my ear. I also noticed a lot of people milling around in our suite, making a fuss. How could this be? What on earth was going on here?
Think … Yes, reaching for a towel … that seemed to be my last and only memory of the event. Somehow, my petite wife, heroically lifted me into the lounge area by herself, which is amazing, given that I weigh more than a full-grown male Yak on steroids. She also called for the local Paris-trained doctor, arranged staff to assist me and telephoned our travel insurance company for advice.
I don’t have that many more memories for the next couple of weeks, although I apparently conversed with several people over the period. However, I do remember the fist-sized Hematoma sticking out of the back of my head and the resultant blown-out eye socket and bulging, protruding eye. I also remember the sombre ride in the lift and the shocked staff in the reception area. With absolute clarity, I remember attempting to get into a cab, posing as an ambulance, only to experience the pain of another similar-sized Hematoma sticking proudly out of my back.
I think brave Katie saved me in that hospital. All of the drugs prescribed for me, were given to Katie to administer, where she would telephone our insurance company doctor and quote the numbers and names of the drugs. On their advice, at least half of the medication went into the bin. Katie told me later that, after I vomited on the technicians scanning my brain, I told the doctor that I couldn’t remember anything, which of course … I couldn’t remember. This caused him to prescribe brain stimulants that didn’t feel that pleasant, when stimulating an already swollen brain. At times I woke to that jackhammer thumping away in my cranial cavity, while in every waking moment, my grey matter felt like it might expand beyond the borders of my skull.
Then, for apparently no reason at all, the hospital released me from their care and I returned to the hotel. Again I remember very little, except that I secretly organised a cake for Katie’s birthday. She loved the gesture, but soon realised that I looked like a ghoul from some b-grade horror movie. Horror is also how our insurance company doctor handled my release. They immediately contacted the hospital and I went back to that noisy ward for another unremembered stay.
There are some positives in this story. It must be said that the management and staff of the Novotel, treated Katie and I like we were one of their own family during our ordeal. I have never felt so loved by people I hardly knew, many of which, visited me daily at the hospital on their own time. I will never forget their kindness and sincerity.
And, what can I say about Katie? In those brief periods of consciousness at the hospital, I remember a strange sickening feeling that I can only describe as ‘death’. I actually remember worrying about how Katie would emotionally handle bringing me home in a box. The truth is, if she hadn’t been so courageous and cool under pressure that may well have been the outcome. I can only imagine the enormous stress she must have endured. Now that’s a companion that you’d want in your corner any day. Thanks my love.
It never occurred to me that I actually received a ‘brain injury’ rather than just a thump on the skull and a period of unconsciousness. It also never occurred to me that there might be unwanted ongoing symptoms, which might alter my life experience for many years to come. All we knew at the time was that I couldn’t fly, which meant staying put, or braving further travel closer to the ground. We chose the latter and decided to travel on the blue train, overnight to Ho Chi Minh City before our Vietnam Visas expired. I hope you will join us on the trip.