Friday, April 12, 2013

Vietnamese Death Certificate.

There have been instances of regret in my life where I felt completely helpless to contribute to situations that could determine the life or death of somebody else. I think most of us can relate to a particular instance in our lives where we watched something happen when we could have helped in one way or another. There was that time I was driving home from work and a young university girl talking on a cell phone cleaned a guy out who was walking across the street. I was the first vehicle behind her and I watched the entire thing unfold from the point he stepped out into the street, to the point his body rolled off the windshield and smashing it into pieces, to the point where he lay shaking in the fetal positing in the other lane. I was less than a meter away from him on my motorbike and the unsung hero inside of me had no voice that day. I sat on my motorcycle and stared at him on the ground while he was shaking, it’s not that I didn’t want to help, because I did, but I simply didn’t know how. Overwhelmed by shock I remember only a few things after that, one of them being a woman who I recall walking home from work two blocks earlier had knelt down next to him and yelled over to me to call an ambulance. I didn’t, I couldn’t, I had no breath in my lungs and no blood in my veins, I couldn’t move. Judging by the distance she had to walk before reaching the accident, I must have been watching him for over a minute before she took control of the situation. The young girl was of course in hysterics, still not quite believing what had just happened and of course, like me, was no help to the injured man on the ground. I watched for another five minutes as more people gathered to comfort him and help while the ambulance made its way to the scene. I simply drove away in complete confusion of what I had just experienced.
There have been other instances such as riding a midnight train in Australia when the girl sitting opposite of me fell to the floor in a seizure. Knowing enough to stabilize them and prevent them from hitting their head while the seizure passed, I was still concreted to the floor and chained to my seat.  More recently at a beach in Vietnam, four Vietnamese kids went into the water fully clothes with jeans and shirts and started drowning because they didn’t know how to swim. Yet again, within arms distance away I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation than you’ll know what I mean when I say it feels like shit. Knowing that we can help but not quick or brave enough to act, it eats away at my inside. Knowing that those precious seconds of indecisiveness and delayed reaction could cost somebody their life.  After each occasion I always reflect on it and promise myself that if it ever happens again, I won’t be the helpless bystander holding the statue stance. Ironically enough I got to put this into practice sooner than anticipated.
The day after I watched the kids drowning and being saved by other people, I was back at the same beach, in the same place enjoying an afternoon of lazing in the shade. The screams and cry’s for help still echoed in my mind as the warm sand kissed my feet and gentle breeze tickled at the sweat trickling down my back.  But with the breeze brought a familiar sound, a sound I knew and thought about allot in past 24 hours. It was the sound of disparity and fear; it was the sound of people drowning…. Again. The only thing different this time was I was ready for it. I had just spent the past day thinking about all the things I could have and should have done but this time it was impulse that pumped my legs towards the water instead of the fear that cemented them down so many times before.

They were three older Vietnamese men who got pulled out a little ways beyond where their feet could touch. My twisted ankle felt no pain as I did the Pamela Anderson Bay Watch sprint and dive into the water, remembering to spike my headband in the sand before committing myself to getting wet (maybe for the extra effect). I was quick enough to save two of them before more helped arrived to save the last guy. It was all over in less than a minute where I was back, heart racing, sitting on the sand in the shade under a coconut tree. Contrary to what I thought it would feel like to be the hero of the day, I was embarrassed for the men and mostly annoyed with their ignorance of water safety. If I hadn’t of saved them, someone else would have so I didn’t expect a parade and banners to be flown in my favor so the day just kind went on like it was clock work. Personally though, I was proud to finally follow through with my own threats to react instead of stutter. So unlike the previous night, it felt good to know that I did everything I could in a situation where my actions could define the fate of life or death for someone other than myself. I was proud and happy, as I should have been, however little did I know what this new responsibility meant because not all perilous situations have happy endings and unfortunately neither does this story.
I’ve been warned, preached to, educated, and advised about the dangers of driving a motorcycle and still with the consistently proven statistics; it can’t keep me off of them. It’s probably the most encouraging factor as the risk taker I like to think of myself as being. That being said, there are things that can certainly slow me down and what I experienced yesterday was the first time in my life I ever honestly considered given them up. I like to drive fast, in fact I’ve already been in a bad motorcycle accident in Vietnam because of my overzealous throttle grip and still it wasn’t enough to slow me down. I had just dropped out of a 2000 meter decline along a mountain pass heading for Nha Trang on the Central Coast of Vietnam. Maxing my wimpy little 110 cc Honda Win out in top gear down the awesome pristine curvy roads, the adrenaline was still pumping as I checked my rear view mirror to see I’ve lost view my German friend Tim who was trying to keep up with me on his Russian Minsk. I was grinning and cocky about my superior leaning and perfect apex turns with the delusion that I was driving a real motorbike but in reality it’s only a scooter. I cracked the throttle even harder as I went into a long smooth bend and that’s when this motorcycle trip exposed the dark side and reality of the dangers involved with driving a motorbike, especially in Vietnam. I knew by the eerie silence that there had been a bad accident, the shards of plastic and glass lay still and undisturbed like a fresh snowfall in the streets at night. I knew I was the first person to see the accident as the fuel and coolant from what remained of the crumpled motorbike still trickled from the wreck making a fresh stream down the road. Being it had only been a week since I saved those men from drowning, I was reminded of the last time I was the first person behind the scene of an accident. This is one instance is where being the frozen statue probably would have served me better. I jumped off my bike and ran towards the man lying face down in an awkward unnatural bodily position. I saw the cargo truck fifty meters beyond with a trail of debris leading up to it painting a picture of the events that occurred moments before I rounded that same corner. It was a truck and a motorcycle and he lay on the ground motionless, I knew what ever happened, it was bad and bad enough that the next few minutes of my actions could define if this man lives or dies. As I reached the man I was about to extend my fingers to his neck and check for a pulse. I’m not a medical expert in anyway but there was a sudden natural realization that I didn’t need to touch him to know the extent of his injuries. There was no need to check for a pulse, I knew there would be none. The shock factor set in pretty quick as my only reaction was to run back to my bike muttering oh shit, oh *&%#, he’s dead.
The silence that surrounded us when my friend Tim caught up to me was deafening. Even the birds and crickets could sense the tragedy that had just occurred. The driver of the truck was M.I.A and it was just Me, Tim, and the body of this man who’s wife and children are about to go through the toughest experience of their lives. Knowing that there was nothing more that could be done for him and by the odd disappearance of the driver, we knew that sticking around for the police to arrive is a definite no no in Vietnam. I don’t think my speedometer passed 40km/h for the remaining journey into the city as I had to fight back the dry heaving erg to puke inside my helmet thinking about what I had just witnessed. I’ve come to terms with it and knew I was going to see something like it along the way considering the 300,000 Annual motorcycle deaths in Vietnam. But it’s like any realization, like how we know our grandparent has died and no matter how much we think about it or suppress our emotions, nothing can prepare us for the moment we touch their cold hand as they lay peacefully in their casket. It was a helpless and awful thing to see and I may never feel the same way about driving again but as a young reckless risk taker, it’s probably the most important thing I could have seen on this trip. We’re not invincible, no one can live forever, we’re fragile creatures with unrealistic ideas of life expectancy. Life is a gift and sometimes we need reminding of how truly grateful we need to be with our limited amount of time in this world. I know that the only reason it was another man’s body on the ground and not mine is pure luck, I knew the risks involved in what I do but only recently have I realized them. He may have made the ultimate sacrifice, but if it makes me a better driver and prevents another accident similar to this one, his death will not be in vain.
Love , live, laugh, and drive safely.

1 comment:

  1. This must be such a hard thing to experience...
    I know from my last similar experience (just before we left Vietnam), that just reaching the neck of an unconscious man to see if there is still pulse, is in itself very intense.
    Not knowing if that man is still alive,being scared of what that touch is going to reveal.
    Fortunatly for that man, he was still breathing... but this was enough to traumatize me good for a little while and turn me off of motorbikes a little.
    So i cant begin to imagine what it was for you to experience that.
    Anyways, I wouldnt suggest to let go of your motorbike, but definilty to be carefull and drive slowly... that might be saving your life a few times...