I’m sitting in the waiting area of a local hospital. All of life is here. There’s the toddler with her hair in a pair of bunches, with shoes which squeak with her every step. There’s a pair of schoolboys with their brown shorts, brown, calf-length socks and brown canvas shoes. There’s the middle-aged woman standing at a payphone talking urgently, with hushed tones to some anonymous recipient. There’s the baby with spiky hair in his mother’s arms. There’s an elderly woman lying on her side comatose, covered in a blanket being pushed from somewhere to somewhere else. And out of sight in the Emergency Room is a good friend of mine.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
This weekend G, a friend from Bangkok, came to visit me. It was a joyful weekend. He’d just become an uncle for the first time on the Saturday morning and was excited about that. We talked for hours about this and that, about everything and nothing. On the Monday morning we both woke at the ungodly hour of 5:45 so that he could drive to work and I could lock the gate behind him after he left. Ten minutes later I was watching the BBC news on TV and starting on my bowl of muesli when there was a ‘phone call. It was G. My first thought was that he’d accidentally left something behind. But no. He said he’d been in a serious car accident, and would I come?
I drove as fast as I could to get there, but wasn’t prepared for what I saw: there were some long skid marks, a trail of debris, a stream of brake fluid, and his white pick-up truck on its side, facing the wrong way in the fast lane of the Asia Highway. There were also three other vehicles, Emergency Medical Services. Two had arrived following a ‘phone call from someone who’d seen the accident, though the first on site had been passing by chance.
Thailand doesn’t have a national ambulance service. Rather, groups of (mostly) volunteers respond to accidents. They do it to gain merit according to Buddhist philosophy. They also get money from the hospitals to which they deliver their accident victims. So fierce is the competition for accident victims in some parts of the country that if members of two different groups arrive at the same time there can be fisticuffs, or worse, for the right to help the victim.
In accordance with Thai law one mustn’t move any vehicle involved in an accident until the scene has been inspected, either by the police, or (more usually) by the insurance company’s agent. G was standing next to his pick-up waiting for both. At least he wasn’t visibly injured.
I risked life and limb to dash across four lanes of the Asia Highway to reach the central reservation. There G told me what had happened: he’d been driving along in the third lane at a moderate speed when he was rammed from behind by another vehicle. He then skidded and hit the concrete barrier of the central reservation, upon which his vehicle flipped on its side and slid a further 20 metres or so down the carriageway. Then his pick-up was hit by another fast-moving vehicle. He couldn’t open the passenger side door, but was able to wind down the window, so he’d hauled himself up through it and out of the pick-up, leaving his shoes behind in the process; he was standing at the roadside in just his socks. The vehicle which hit him didn’t stop. Why? Perhaps the driver was drunk. Perhaps he didn’t have insurance. Perhaps he didn’t have a driving licence. Quite possibly, all three.
After a long wait for the police and the insurance agent G decided to abandon the wait, leaving the scene in the hands of the Emergency Medical Service team, and I drove him to the nearest hospital.
And now I sit, waiting, pondering the frailty of life.
Fortunately, G wasn’t too badly injured – lots of bruising and muscle pains, but the X-ray revealed nothing broken. He was able to walk out of the hospital clutching a bag with a rainbow assortment of different pills.