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Postcard from Indonesia (2) – STILL Crippled in Bali!

February 1, 2015


In my last post I discussed my journey through the pain barrier caused by severe sciatica. Actually it was more like straight into the pain barrier – SPLAT, like a locust hitting a windscreen. I have been sliding down the glass, oozing self-pity, ever since.

You may recall that something nasty happened to me on a golf course, and by a circuitous and painful route I’ve ended up in a hotel in Bali.

Since Thursday, when I last posted, the pain has continued unabated. But you have to relish new experiences when you find them, and there’ve been a few since then. Mainly pharmaceutical, about which more shortly.

A couple of days ago I managed to get into the hotel swimming pool. Instant joy. No pain! I could swim as though there was nothing amiss. So I sloshed around for half an hour exercising my limbs, thinking that I must be doing some good. But as soon as I stepped out, back came the muscle pain, only worse. Was my body punishing me for my mind’s ridiculous optimism?

So back to the now-familiar routine: crawling around at a snail’s pace, cursing with every step. As advised by the doc back in the UK, my compassionate but cruel wife kept pushing me to walk, and I kept telling her, in the most polite way possible, that I would not – in between unprintable curses and imprecations.

Eventually this morning she got so fed up with my grumpy, ungrateful demeanour that she hauled me off to a hospital to see an orthopod. It was an interesting, not least because we got the chance to see a little bit of Bali on the way. Not much, mind you. Kuta, where we’re staying, is about as dependent on the tourist trade as anywhere in Asia. Hundreds of restaurants, massage parlours and tattoo shops, plus one or two large malls. Traffic police booths plastered with Coke ads. No, not that kind of coke, for which the death penalty awaits. The fizzy stuff.

Speaking of the death penalty, last night we got talking to a couple of Aussies who have been coming here for twenty years. They said that a couple of their citizens are due to be executed within the next three days for drug smuggling. A salutary reminder that Indonesia, for all its relaxed appearance, has its red lines.

As in neighbouring countries like Thailand and Malaysia, the motorbike seems to be the primary form of transport for the young of Bali. Mums and Dads with a little one sandwiched between them, weaving in and out of the traffic. Every country has its own driving culture, and the taxi driver took every bike darting into his path in his stride. What you expect is what you’re prepared for, just as when I’m driving in Saudi Arabia I have eyes in every direction for lunatics carrying out spectacular manoeuvres at speeds that would make Jeremy Clarkson wince.

No such problems in Kuta, where there are too many obstacles, moving or otherwise, to allow any head of speed. So at a leisurely pace we arrived at the hospital, to be greeted by smiling security guards. The first new experience, given that surliness is normally part of the job description for guardians of safety wherever in the world you find them.

By now my latest does of painkillers had worn off, so I was able to convince the staff in ER that my ailment should be taken seriously. Down came the orthopaedics guy, who did the usually battery of prods, pokes and manipulations, and announced that I’d torn a hamstring. Hamstring, I thought? That’s what footballers do when they turn their legs into lances in order to break their opponents in two. Hardly comparable with the simple act of picking up a golf ball. But there you go. It seems these things can get you out of the blue with little provocation. Maybe my hamstring had been waiting for years to go, just as when the string hanging a picture on the wall suddenly gives way, sending the Rembrandt crashing to the floor.

So the good news is that I now know what the problem is. The bad news is that the recovery period is one to three months. Crutches, no golf until further notice. The only silver lining is that I won’t have to walk the dog when we get home. I guess if I was a fit young footballer, they’d be able to get me back into action faster, but in my state of advanced decrepitude I’ll just have to wait for nature to take its course.

Then followed a two-hour wait to see the rehabilitation doctor and enjoy a bout of physio. They very kindly leant me a wheelchair, so I had a lot of fun zapping about the hallway, until I got stuck in the disabled loo and had to reverse out backwards. This was my first time in a wheelchair. One thing that struck me was how kind people were, asking if I was OK, whether I was being taken care of, offering to push me and so forth. But as everybody for whom a wheelchair is an essential instrument probably knows, the kindness sometimes seemed to have a slight edge of condescension. Interesting. Another experience of life in someone else’s shoes.

The rehab doctor was pleasant and helpful. She didn’t really get the joke when I told her that I needed refurbishment as well as rehab. But she will when she gets to be my age.

Onwards to the physio. First, electrocution. The guy put pads on various parts of the injured leg and switched on the machine. It felt like an army of ants crawling over my skin. That lasted twenty minutes. This is supposed to deaden the nerve activity around the affected area. Then deep heat treatment, which involved placing a device on the leg that resembled the top half of a toasted sandwich maker. This felt so good that I fell asleep lying on my front face down, with the unfortunate consequence that I drooled all over the sheet. Very embarrassing.

Then the drugs. Two new prescriptions to add to the ones we picked up in the UK. I now have a veritable treasure trove of pain killers to choose from. Paracetamol, neurofen, diclofenac, cocodemol, aspirin and now tramadol and myonal. My cup runneth over!

I’m pretty careful about what I take. I religiously research the side effects of the various meds, and overdoses thereof. Paracetamol: liver failure; diclofenac: kidney failure and heart attack, and so on. So I researched tramadol. It turns out that one of the side effects is depression and suicide. Great – so if the pain doesn’t send me to a Swiss death clinic, the tramadol will.

I tried out the new combination, but the pain didn’t get better – it got worse. Last night I gratefully accepted the hotel’s offer of a wheelchair, so now my carer – formerly known as my wife – is dutifully pushing me between restaurant, pool and villa.

The question now is do we stay or do we go? The choice is between freezing Britain and balmy Bali. Well, sitting pain-free (it only hurts when I move) in front of the telly watching Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the Aussie Open tennis final, life feels pretty good. But when I get up, the torture starts over again. Andy, Novak, anyone – lend me your leg!

Rolling around in the wheelchair, I find myself wanting to put a sign round my neck saying “I’m not really disabled – I’m just injured”. No shame in being disabled of course, but it doesn’t feel like me – yet.

And hey, I’ve got loads of books to read, nasi gorengs and satays to eat and the company of my beloved wife. We’ll get a driver to take us into the hinterland, we’ll visit temples and I’ll take physio every other day. So I think we’ll be sticking around, even if I do look increasingly like Desperate Dan (too painful to shave).

And that’s the end of this bout of self-indulgent twaddle. Next time, I’ll write about something that actually matters.

But I can’t finish without dedicating the post to two dear friends: Paul Sommers, who not long ago spent six months on his back with a multiple leg fracture, and Fred Le Douarec, who has suffered many excruciating ailments in the time I’ve known him. Compared with them, I’m an amateur in the pain game.

From → Postcards, Social, Travel

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