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A Friend in Hand

THAILAND | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [1616] | Scholarship Entry

They took us to the nearest island after my first, second and third aid, failed.

My first aid was chewed tobacco. A passing fisherman rubbed it in gingerly as I planned the opening sentence to the insurance claim that would surely follow. The treatment did little more than arouse concern regarding my vaccination record, so I accepted the offer of a stranger kind enough to share the shame of urinating on me. We watched my arm turn an ominous shade of lavender as capfuls of rice whiskey pooled in my swollen palm. It was time for the melee of experimental medicine to give way to solid, evidence-based care and what better place to find such care than a tiny spit of sand in the middle of the Andaman Sea.

Nursing a wound that reeked of a Saturday night gone awry, I slumped off the boat. A man emerged from scrub in nothing but a pair of ripped jean shorts and spiky leather bracelets, looking more ready for a Norwegian death metal gig than an impromptu surgery. He gestures with a slight nod and we follow him to a beach hut. No fluorescent lights, no jar of jellybeans and no certificate on the wall; just sun, sand and old pots and pans.

He picked up a machete. "No, no cutting! I can wait for a hospital!" A curious crowd formed a circle around the blood spattered sand. This man lived on the island, he knew what to do, I had to trust him. He gripped the handle, I closed my eyes. The faint sound of citrus misting from a sliced lime ushers a zesty tang of relief into my nostrils. I open one eye to see two halves of lime rolling backward and forward on a chopping block. Who uses a machete to cut a lime?! When all this was over I was buying this guy a knife block. Relief is fleeting as he cups my wrist and pulls a can of Diet Coke from his pocket. The can I thought to represent calorie-free thirst quenching is used to pummel sea urchin spines deep into my skin. Each smack sent white hot pain on a circuit around my body. He reaches my fingertips and I snap my hand to my chest, shaking my head. He reaches for the lime and garnishes my bleeding mess of phalanges. "Finish," he says.

Back home, the surgeon flew in experts to marvel at my obscure injury. "Who treated you in Thailand? Whatever they did saved your hand, it's just these spines in your fingers we will need to operate on." Lying in recovery, a subtle sniff of my bandaged hand returns only a metallic whiff of alcohol and unexpected nostalgia for a time it reeked of whiskey, strangers and lime.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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