Cambodia Crash Test DummyJanuary 25, 2007
As the adrenalin pumped through my body, keeping me unaware of any physical pain, it gave me the time to contemplate the repercussions of the accident. I sighed deeply, feeling intense disappointment and sadness at the prospect of the pain, immobility and lengthy rehabilitation period that waited for me in the not-too-distant future.
It was only ten minutes earlier when I had passed a horrific road fatality, where I had seen the unfortunate victim’s brain laying on the road a few metres from his body. It was shocking enough to make me realize my own fragility. Most of the time whilst riding in Cambodia I feel safe, but it’s times like this when I realize that being on a bike here leaves one at the mercy of every unlicensed, unskilled, inexperienced or drunk operator of fellow vehicles on the road.
I pulled my bike to the side of the road and fastened the clip on my helmet which Id forgotten to do earlier. Taking off on the road again, my mind drifted back to the other accidents I’d had here, and how lucky I was to have survived them all.
Along the road to Kompong Chhnang there was little traffic. I saw a truck up ahead and as the distance between us shortened I noticed that it was drifting a little back and forth across the width of its lane. With the straight road ahead of us empty, I accelerated to overtake it. As I was passing it, I noticed it drifting across to my side of the road, but as it was not slowing down I didn’t suspect it was turning and expected it to drift back to its lane. Then it suddenly started turning harder to the left. This took me completely by surprise, as I hadn’t even noticed it decrease its speed.
As often is the case in life and death moments, everything slowed down to slow-motion mode. I saw a dirt road up ahead on the left and realized that this was where the truck was heading for. I had a brief moment where I silently chastised the driver for not doing something as simple as checking his mirrors, a head check, or even using his indicators. Then I realized that berating the driver was an exercise in futility because my life was now in danger.
I slammed on both brakes but after a short slide I realised that I wasn’t going to stop in time and was going to get run over the truck. With nowhere to go on the left, the truck seemed as tall as a tower as it moved closer to me.
Still in slow motion, thoughts started running through my head, ‘oh no, not another motorbike accident’, then “oh hell, this is really going to mess me up”. For a brief moment I accepted the fact it was going to happen, but after picturing the pain that would entail, something inside of me fought to make a different outcome. I looked ahead and saw a small gap between the front of the truck and the shops and trees that lined the left hand side of the road. I released the brakes and my bike from its slide and accelerated forward, trying to get through the gap.
Briefly I feared I’d done nothing but increase the force of the impact, but as my bike made more speed, I realised I could make it. I slipped past the driver’s door, and past the front of the truck. A feeling of elation swept through me as I realised that I had escaped what going to be a mutilating road accident. I anticipated that in a short moment I’d be riding safely onwards, albeit with a racing heart.
I still can’t picture exactly what happened but just as I was clear of the front of the truck, a split second later I was hitting the road. The truck must have JUST clipped the rear of the bike, sending me hard down onto the left side of the bike. I hit the road, bounced off, hit my bike and then went flying over the right hand side of the bike and into a tree…eventually finding myself lying in a roadside ditch. The impact didn’t even hurt, and I felt confused as to why I wasn’t still riding forward on my bike.
I looked around. For some strange reason I expected the driver of the truck to be running over to help me (it must have been the concussion deluding my thoughts), but the huge truck was completely gone from sight. I couldn’t even hear its engine. The scene was eerily quiet and was only missing a ball of straw blowing across the street to the sounds of an eerie wind and a rattlesnake.
Being the countryside, I was immediately surrounded by well wishes and helpers (in stark contrast to the Phnom Penh accident I had, where the 60 or 70 onlookers all stood by watching, and someone stole my belongings that were strewn over the road), who did their best to help me. I actually thought for a brief moment that I was unhurt, but that was just the adrenalin talking.
It was a time I was definitely grateful at being able to communicate in Khmer. It soon became apparent I had broken my collar bone and at least one foot. Luckily I was able to communicate these things to the people trying to help me, so I avoided the inevitable dragging, shaking, and pulling that is usually given to roadside accident victims. I was also glad I was able to get myself in a taxi to decent health care instead of being rushed off to the local clinic.
I nearly passed out a few times, and took turns being seated and lying down. At one stage I heard one guy say in Khmer “oh…look, look, look, here he goes, look, look, he’s passing out…” which made me check myself and stay with it.
I got some great care at an international clinic, despite the x-ray equipment not being good enough to detect all the breaks I had. I got patched up and sent on my way, being medically evacuated out to the 5-star Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok. Turns out I had broken, fractured and dislocated bones in both feet – the one that hit the tree being the worst, and a broken collar bone, along with a bunch of tissue damage- cartilage and tendons etc, and the inevitable gravel rash that accompanies these meetings with a road.
My bike riding record now reads 15 years back home without a scratch, and 4 years in Cambodia with four near fatal accidents. It’s enough to have me decide that bikes and me in Cambodia just don’t work. Besides, my wheelchair is more comfortable, albeit it a little slower.