MISSION UPDATE: The Story Behind the Accident
I'm writing this from a vacant hospital bed in an open ward of a facility in Thailand. My husband is beaten and battered by a motorbike accident which occurred less than 24 hours ago. Here's what I know.
He left to get an iced drink from a nearby roadside stand. Finding it closed, he returned to the house but when he found everyone occupied, he decided he'd take a ride to de-stress and enjoy the breeze. He told our 8 year old American son, Zachy, that he was going to take him along. However, between the time he said that and when he went to leave, Zach had dropped off to sleep for an unusual midday nap.
Robbie left without him. There aren't words to express my gratitude that he wasn't on that bike with his daddy!
Some time passed and Robbie didn't return but I wasn't worried because he loves the bike and really enjoys the release from a ride. He takes back roads and finds routes off the beaten path that I'd never take. So when he didn't come right back, it didn't occur to me to be concerned. However, soon after I'd seated myself at my desk in our house, Wind came running in and breathlessly said, "Mama, the lady come and say daddy made his bike fall over and the car took him to the hospital!"
It took a minute for it to register but once it did, I jumped up and ran to find Hannah. She'd somehow heard the news at the exact moment I got to her and I asked her if Robbie had been killed. It was only logical that he had been because there'd been an increasing number of motorbike accidents around recently and some had died. I knew if Robbie had just been scraped up with road rash, he'd have called me himself.
Dread gripped my stomach.
I went to tell the kids and asked them to pray and then I got Abi and took her along. We stopped by the dorm because I knew I'd need extra help with translation and ended up with three of our Thai girls (Yim, Kwan, and Namwan) in the truck. It was a quiet ride toward the hospital.
As we traveled along we came upon the scene. There was a big rice harvester parked at the side of the road, Robbie's black motorbike lay wrecked in the middle, and there were people standing all over. I slowed, scooted around the wreckage, and continued on. At this point, I still didn't know if he was dead or alive.
About halfway there we learned that three of our staff were already at the hospital. Since they live with us it took all the way until Monday to figure out how they'd learned about the accident so long before me and why none of them told me.
It turned out they'd been in a store in town close to the hospital when someone called them to let them know. Apparently somebody recognized the guy laying unconscious in the road as the English "teacher" from Wat Techanuan school because Robbie goes over there 4 days a week to interact with the students in English. I found out, however, when the lady from our village came to let us know.
After passing the scene of the accident, I got shakier and struggled a bit with working the manual transmission. I knew I needed to remain surrendered no matter what I found when we got there so I kept telling myself he was in God's hands. We heard from our staff and learned he was alive and conscious. That was a relief!
We pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and went in search of him. Because we're foreigners, the moment we walked in everyone knew why we were there and who we'd come to see. They pointed us in the direction we needed to go and we saw Sanae standing there. A moment or so later someone ( I don't remember who) told me Robbie was asking for me. They said he was in for an x-ray. To me, that all meant he was in decent shape and I somehow expected it meant he was walking. So with more relief, I rounded the corner into the room they told me he was in and then stopped short when I saw him.
He wasn't even sitting up, let alone walking. I turned around and started to go back to where I'd come from but I quickly realized I needed to be braver than I was. I went to the gurney where he lay and saw his face covered in blood, his head bandaged, and body beat up. I put my face right over his to try to determine if he could see me, and we locked eyes and he said, "Kase, what happened?" in a voice that sounded like a strangled groan. His chest was heaving and, if I moved from being directly in front of his face, his eyes wouldn't track.
I wasn't sure what to make of what I was seeing. I leaned down and prayed with him and it was then I noticed his eyes were a strange color. Normally, they're very dark brown but they were suddenly much lighter, almost hazel. I didn't say anything about it but over the next 24 hours they remained that color.
When I finished praying someone scooted me out of the way to begin transferring Robbie from the gurney to the x-ray table. From that moment forward, the thing that became paramount was his pain and not so much his injuries. I can't explain how that happened except that people were praying and I was watching God answer.
They eventually wheeled him into a room where they began to clean and stitch his wounds and then they let us know he'd need surgery and we'd have to transfer from the private hospital where we were, to the government one across the street. He was going by ambulance but we first had to settle up the bill.
Not too long later, they unloaded him into what I assume was an ER of the second hospital. They did more scans, which caused him a great deal more pain, but they never offered pain medicine of any kind. His tolerance started to max out and he felt like he was going to vomit. Of course, vomiting is also a sign of head trauma so it was hard to tell for sure what was going on. What we did learn, however, was that squeezing and releasing his arm around the elbow relieved a measure of the pain. Our friend, Brenda, our Thai staff, Abi, and I all spent time over the following day massaging for pain relief.
Our staff stayed right there with us and while we've learned to communicate with them even when we don't have the words, it's not as easy to communicate with people we don't know, especially in conversations involving medical terminology. We could get the message across to Sanae, Waew, and Maat and then they did the work of talking with the hospital staff.
They told us they'd need to transfer him to yet another hospital because they couldn't do surgery here. We were confused because we'd been told we had to be transferred here because they couldn't do surgery there. And so we started making plans to get him transferred an hour away, hoping they'd get him in there and tend to him because he was in agony. But then about an hour or more of confusion ensued where we didn't know if we were going or staying and finally a Thai friend named Rajdeep, who speaks amazing English, called me and said she wanted to help advocate for us.
And she did!
She got a different story than we had and suddenly staying at this second hospital for the surgery was an option. We decided that was best and she asked them to quickly move him to a room where they could begin taking care of him. He got some pain medicine while we watched to see if he showed any signs of serious brain trauma overnight. Surgery was scheduled for Monday at 3pm.
The night was fairly uneventful, though his pain remained a constant. We kept taking turns with the arm massage until they finally came to take him back for surgery. They said it would take about an hour.
Sanae and I watched him be wheeled into an OR that looked nothing like what you see in the US, and then the wait was on. One hour turned to two, two to three, and my peace and calm was failing. My son, Nik, called and prayed with me and then just talked about anything and everything for awhile. Finally, after more than 4 hours, Robbie was wheeled from the OR to a waiting room so full of cheerleaders that the staff had a laugh over it. It was also at this point that God sent us Hannah (not our Hannah) who is American but speaks amazing Thai. She got me all the information I couldn't get on my own and she stayed when I felt weak from the sight of blood. She's still here (it's now Wednesday evening) and she's just tucked herself away on a corner of the floor and pops up literally any time there's a need for anything.
Interestingly, the first time he opened his eyes following surgery, I immediately noticed they were their normal color.
The pain was a formidable foe for that first little bit following surgery but they got a regimen in place that managed it and he ended up sleeping through the night. The path has been much easier since that point and we're due to be released from here at some point tomorrow.
We still don't know exactly what happened because Robbie can't remember it. But it seems as though a man entered the scene on a bicycle before noticing Robbie coming and when he saw him, he jumped from the bike. Robbie apparently swerved trying to miss him, and by the grace of God, he didn't hit the man. He did hit the bike, though. Beyond that, we only know Robbie was knocked out on contact and didn't regain consciousness until at some point in the ambulance on the ride to the hospital.
And to answer the million dollar question with transparency, no he was not wearing a helmet. I will be the first to say this was a very bad decision, but I also want to defend him a little. We use the motorbikes similar to bicycles around our property. They are an extremely common mode of transportation in Thailand and the vast majority of the people in our area do NOT wear helmets, even on the roads. They aren't the same thing as a motorcycle but they're obviously still dangerous. Our mistake is that we've allowed ourselves to be impacted by the cultural norms of our region and we stopped putting on a helmet if we were staying close to home. That included driving a short distance on the main road through our village, which is where Robbie wrecked. We still wear them to go into town.
We will not be making that mistake again. We'll be buying new helmets, because the ones we have aren't of good quality and they're half broken already just from being used. And we'll be wearing the helmets even if nobody else is! I'm very thankful that God still provides undeserved protection that allows us a second chance to make a better decision. I know this isn't always the case which makes me doubly thankful we still have Robbie with us.
Thank you so much to everyone who has prayed, encouraged, supported, and helped in any of the multitude of ways people have shown up. We are so, so grateful!