My Way Back Home

So, recently I broke my ankle in Thailand. It was not a bad accident, but it did leave me immobile and would require surgery. You can read all about it here. However, this post will cover how I managed to return home through the power of friendship. 

I woke up with a dizzy head, part of the side effects of the medication. They made me feel as if I was floating while laying down; heavy while standing up. The hallway to the bathroom seemed to stretch an eternity, especially when I had to go in the middle of the night. The pain was not so bad. Overall, I was fine. I just had to figure out small things like: how do I eat breakfast with crutches, or how do I shower– and some big things like: how will I get back to Japan from Thailand.

“Just take things step by step”, Dad’s timeless advice echoed through my mind during those initial few hours. To my relief, small things, medium-sized things, big things — all things would be handled by the people that surrounded me, from my hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand to my little town in Maibara, Japan.

The morning after my crash, I remember the hostel owners made me breakfast: toast, eggs, pancakes, fruit, and juice. I sat at a table as they brought it over to me. Next to me was a man who appeared to have been in a bike accident as well. He had a scar on his chin and his nose appeared to be broken.

I asked him what happened and he told me, “I got in a bike wreck.. You too?”. I laughed, and said, “Yupp!”. He told me how he crashed with his stitched lip and gauzed nose. “The brakes on the bikes weren’t so good. Someone pulled out in front of me; I had to stop suddenly. But it didn’t work. Then, wham! I honestly didn’t feel anything at first. But when I saw blood on the car bumper, I knew I was in trouble. Turns out I broke my nose and cut open my chin”

As he ate his breakfast, telling me his story, I noticed a softness about him that I identified with. He was eating very carefully. His stitched chin evidently made it hard to open his mouth. I learned that he’s from Ireland and does non-profit work in Malaysia. He was an interesting person, and I think our similar stories made each other feel better, if only for a little. He told me that he also broke his ankle once upon a time.

“Yeah, I wrecked my bike on my way home from a party. My first thought was to walk to my house a few miles away. I stumbled home. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the hospital. They ran blood tests and discovered I had been roofied. I guess I had been walking on broken ankles during that time, too so my injuries were made worse… I couldn’t walk for months after that.”

I was amazed by his story and questions surged through my mind: “How did you get roofied? What kind of party was it? You didn’t notice your ankles were broken?? Really!?” But part of my also wanted to say something really stupid like “Luck of the Irish, ey?”, but I figured that would be really insensitive.

Anyways, I spent the next two days sitting at that hostel, reconnecting with family on the phone, telling them about my travels. They assumed I was miserable. To their surprise, I was actually holding up just fine. If anything I had become stoic from my “unfortunate” events. Things weren’t so bad. I refused to be negative about my circumstances.

In fact, I have very good memories of the hostel I stayed at. The owners took care of me like I was royalty. They offered me food everyday and made living there quite comfortable. The owner also told me yet another bike story. “His name was Josh. Josh from Texas. I’ll never forget him. He also wrecked, but he broke his femur and took a lot more damage than you. He had surgery done in Thailand, and it cost him several thousand dollars. Josh, ya he was a funny guy!” Everyone just opened up to me about their lives. My leg ended up being quite a nice ice-breaker. It was so interesting just sitting in that lobby and learning about people, eating the owner’s food.

Later, I took a Thai class for beginners, which was a lot of fun. Someone in the class stuck around and talked to me. She is a Chinese copyright lawyer (are you reading right now? ^.^). One day she will be my editor / lawyer if I ever decide to write a book #lifegoals. She was very kind and later she met my friend Mickey. Together, they went to the street market and brought back all kinds of food for me. I was flattered by their generosity.

But the generosity didn’t stop there. Because of my injury, everyone pulled together to make my journey back home possible. Here is a quick recap of the past month since that fateful day in Thailand, December 28th.

  1. My parents –with the help of my little sister– booked a flight for me to return to Japan (with much difficulty).
  2. My friend from Chiang Mai, Pu drove me around the city the next day, showing me some of his favorite spots. He also helped me check in at the doctors.
  3. My friend Mickey and Pu helped carry my baggage at the airport.
  4. A guy, who spoke almost no English, pushed me around in a wheelchair at the Thailand airport.
  5. The people at Kansai Airport pushed me around in a wheelchair, helping me through immigration.
  6. More wheelchair action from Kyoto Station to my little town in Maibara.
  7. In the following weeks, many teachers at my school came by to check on me with presents and groceries. My principal even gave me money for my surgery (a tradition in Japan apparently)
  8. At the hospital after surgery, the nurses were so kind to me.
  9. My parents flew out to Japan to help me adjust. My coworker and good friend Mio and her family treated us to dinner. Though my parents don’t know any Japanese, they bonded over John Denver’s music. We sang “Country Road” together.
  10. Now, teachers are driving me to and from school everyday.
  11. Oh, and my good friend Joshi buys me groceries every once in a while!

So, ultimately I got really comfortable with being on the receiving end of so much support. I never would have imagined that breaking my ankle would bring so much gratitude to my life. Sure, I may have been grumpy for a few weeks sitting in my apartment waiting for surgery (they kept postponing it, week after week), or when I desperately wanted to leave the hospital (they kept postponing it, day after day). But at the end of the day, I really had no room to complain. Everyone pulled together to help me.

To be honest though, it was tough at first. I’m a really independent person, and I don’t like to be coddled or taken care of. I like to show how i’m able to do everything on my own. Living in a foreign country for two years is an extension of my desire for autonomy and independence. So being pushed around in a wheelchair from Thailand to Japan was a really difficult and even embarrassing experience for me. I realized how many disabled people must feel. Many people gave me sympathetic looks as I passed through the airport or they avoided eye contact. I realized that people pitied me without even knowing my first name. I didn’t like that.

But it gave me a new perspective. I can imagine how hard it must be to live like that — to constantly be taken care of out of necessity through your whole life. It was a really humbling experience for me. I think the best thing you can do for people who are truly disabled is to acknowledge the person before the disability. A smile goes a long way. After all, we are all just people.

Life has more or less returned to normal. My surgery was a success. I now have a metal plate holding my fibula together and a wire holding my ankle together (it cracked in two). During class, I sit and lecture. The students shower me with attention. They were all so worried about me, and they made me feel welcome upon returning to school. So yeah, things are normal now.

It’ll be some time before I can walk again. I’m seeing a physical therapist once a week to regain motion in my foot. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment, thinking about all the crazy events that happened to me in Thailand and all the amazing people I met. I’m thinking about how I can ever repay all the people who have helped me along the way. I’m learning to be okay with being dependent on other people for once.

Cause at the end of the day, all we have is each other.

I hope we can see things on the bright side, no matter what your circumstance may be.

This concludes my series of unfortunate events in Thailand.

I wish I could say I have more photos from my trip, but if you recall, I lost my phone day 1! I hope you enjoyed reading. I will try to blog more about my crazy life if possible.

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