Bob' Big Adventure...

The Trip Home (long version)

March 16, 1999 - We locked up the house on Siboya and said our good byes to all our friends... "Pop gun pee nah" (See you next year!). The boat to Krabi that morning was quite crowded as Sala had taken the regular long-tail boat to Bamboo Island on a day trip... so we were in Lee's smaller boat along with 16 others and all their luggage. Sixteen is pushing it a little... and it makes for a slow trip. Luckily the mini bus to Phuket was not sold out so there was lots of room for everybody. After dropping some of the passengers at the Phuket airport and some more at Patong beach we were finally delivered to Vichit Bungalows. The plan was to stay here for 3 nights and have a little R&R before flying up to Bangkok to do 4 days of power shopping. Andy and Mel had been there a couple of days with her parents who'd just come in from UK for the pending wedding. After a cool drink and chat with Andy and Mel it was time for a dip in the pool, cool down and relax. Joann, Andy, Mel and her dad were all standing neck deep about 2 meters from the edge, so my plan was to do a little forward roll and give them all a cheeky splash.

WELL, the pool bottom sloped from the side out to the middle, not straight down so as I rolled forward my head crunched into the bottom forcing my chin to my chest. I felt my neck go nap!! When I came up everyone's face was aghast. I couldn't figure out how they knew I was hurt. Then I saw the red blood in the water, I knew my neck was in deep caca. Luckily I didn't loose consciousness. With one hand, I held the top of my head which had a gash that felt like the Grand Canyon and the other tried to immobilize my neck as best as possible. I said "I think I've broken my neck!" Joann at first went white then into auto-mode and helped me to the steps where I said for her to get something to help further immobilize my neck, we wrapped a towel around a couple of times and headed for Andy's rental car. We knew where the hospital was. (Phuket International Hospital) took about 30 minutes. Andy was normally a little hyper, considering what had just taken place he was quite composed and drove very efficiently. At one point the vehicles in front screeched... locked up the breaks and skidded side ways. Andy handled the emergency with great dexterity... no rear end accident. Me, more caca!! The last traffic light before the hospital was red. A van that pulled up beside us, upon seeing my bloody condition, started to ease out into the intersection as a block or decoy and helped us navigate the red light.

I was hustled into the Emergency area where the resident proceeded to suture the 6 cm head gash. X-rays were taken of my neck and the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jiradesh said that C-2 (cervical neck bone #2) had slipped forward but it didn't look broken. They would do a CT Scan to confirm. The scan showed that C-2 in fact was broken but the two sections had moved apart slightly creating more space for the spinal cord instead of the unthinkable alternative. (for the techys: "Fracture at arch of the axis, it's body (right lateral aspect) and left lamina with antero/left lateral slip of it's body are seen. No spinal cord or nerve root compression") Further x-rays of neck flexion and extension indicated that the vertebrae fracture was quite stable.

Proposed treatment was the installation of a Philadelphia collar and 3 weeks of bed rest then re-evaluation. I asked the Dr. Jiradesh to "Cc:" all correspondence and attached images with the insurance company Dr's to my GP in Victoria. (got to love that Internet, eh?) He in turn forwarded the images to the Spinal Unit in Vancouver. After much consultation, everyone concurred that a "Halo" neck brace would be the optimum treatment. This wasn't possible in Thailand so the consensus was that it would be safe to transfer me to Canada in the Philadelphia collar with a medical escort in first class.

March 24, 1999 - Life Flight Inc, a Victoria company, was contracted by my travel insurance company to fly a paramedic over to Phuket with his bag of tricks (including most importantly, a ventilator) and 3 business class tickets to bring us back to Victoria... They loaded me on to the ambulance gurney and adjusted the back to 45 deg during which the ratchet slipped dropping the back... not far but very suddenly and jarringly... now I'm real confident... next... 2 little Thai attendants lifted the gurney and attempted to load it into the ambulance... it was more like a training exercise... they were straining and shaking all the while I was in the air... once in the ambulance/Toyota mini-van I felt very vulnerable perched on the narrow gurney with no locking wheels and no restraining straps... off we go... Joann and all our luggage in the Hospital's courtesy songtaew following behind and me with my legs braced against the back door with visions of it flying open and me trundling down the road with white sheets flowing out behind... very Monty Python'ish... I'd be a hit at the Gastown Bed Race... it only hurts when I laugh

The road to the airport is as always, under major construction, the ambulance has no flashers turned on, but is driving quite cautiously (Thai style). Unfortunately the rest of the Kamikaze drivers on the road just get more frustrated with a slow moving vehicle ( I don't think they know the English word "Ambulance" painted on the back). To further confuse the road traffic. the ambulance driver who has been told to be very careful with his neck injured passenger, wants to do the right thing, so as each pothole or bump is approached he suddenly slows to a crawl causing many near rear-end accidents. I'm sure the following traffic could see my saucer wide eyes facing backwards through the back door windows.

Once safe at the Phuket airport, Thai airways staff were very accommodating, all of our checked baggage was routed all the way to Vancouver. I was assigned an official with a walkie-talkie and a subordinate with a wheelchair. After priority loading the 1.25 hour flight to Bangkok was smooth. On arrival the plane stayed on the tarmac , no jet way. A VIP transporter was raised up to the food loading door. I was wheeled on the isle capable chair, jerkingly out into the unit. The chair had no brakes and the hydraulic lowering was very bumpy. Once on the ground, the unit roared off, almost having an accident with a baggage carrier to an entrance gate and parked on the edge of a main tarmac thoroughfare. Next, the chair (still with no brakes) was moved to a hydraulic platform with no railings, swung out into outer space with large shuttle busses zooming by with inches to spare. Once safe on the ground, I was transferred to a regular wheel chair and delivered by a Thai airways helper to the Amari Airport Hotel. Joann and I had a nice room with twin beds and Blaine, our paramedic was installed in an adjoining room. After a room-service dinner of cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, we called it a day and tried to sleep as best possible, two hours later I could feel the beginnings of pins and needles and a slight numbing, this is where Joann's stress levels peaked. Blaine said it was probably from the long trip up and it may even get more profound, but in his opinion not a big problem, easy for him to say, here have an Adavan or two.

The next morning the symptoms had subsided. Joann went over to check-in early and again Thai International assigned an official with a walkie-talkie and a subordinate with a wheelchair. We were fast tracked through everything and pre-loaded right into the Royal Orchid Business Class, (I can never go back to economy) 18 seats and 4 staff to serve us. I just wish I had felt better.

In Hong Kong we were met by a Cathay Pacific person with a wheel chair but no one to help with hand baggage. The new Hong Kong airport is like a city, stark and utilitarian and not a single baggage cart in sight (not one). We were taken to the transfer desk where Joann proceeded to try and get somewhere to wait that would suit my needs and arrange for pre-boarding. Everyone was very polite but not very efficient. All that could be offered was entry to the Business Class Lounge. It had to do, all the chairs were very nice and "Business" like, but not very conducent with the needs of a medical transfer situation. We were told we would be called by the Lounge staff for pre-boarding, they dropped the ball, by the time we were informed, the departure lounge was sardine tight with no clear path to get a wheel chair to the gate, all I needed was to have someone with a large shoulder bag swing around and catch the back of my neck. Unabashed Joann physically and verbally parted the sea and we slowly made it up to the gate.

The agonizingly 10 hour long flight to Vancouver was the bumpiest cross Pacific we've ever had

In Vancouver I was ambulanced to Vancouver General's Spinal unit... x-ray'd and evaluated... sent to GF Strong (a facility that handles spinal injury rehab) with a Rx to be fitted with a "Minerva" neck brace. This unit is not quite as rigid or debilitating as a "Halo" but non invasive... like no set screws in the skull... whew!

Once fitted... I was told to come back in a week for re-evaluation. We stayed in Vancouver with friends April 1st... then x-ray'd and re-evaluated back at the Spinal unit. The prognosis is good... no surgery required... just wear the brace till the end of June '99. So now I look more like Robo Cop

Needless to say we both feel like we've won the lottery.

June 2nd - I had a CT scan today and the orthopedic surgeon announced the neck looks healed as long as there is no further trauma... so don't have to wear the Minerva brace anymore... in the house nothing... outside just the Philadelphia collar.

June 14th - I was given the OK to drive. At the moment I have good painless extension and flexion mobility but lateral movement is very limited and extremely painful.

July 8th - Today I got the final OK to remove all the support apparatus and start physio. It feels pretty good considering, but I still have very limited lateral movement. Maybe I should make an appointment with a Chiropractor.... (just kidding.. ha ha)