(NOTE: Those of you who have been following my BLOG will find some of this repetitive. This was a narrative I had prepared at the request of an editor at the local newspaper).
Motoring in Dezhou
On 16 May, I was joyously
motoring along a major thoroughfare in the City of
Back to the Beginning
Why on earth was I in
Back to Dezhou
I was a few minutes behind
the main body of the group. Helge was
perhaps a minute behind me, making sure there weren't any stragglers (to
include our “chase” car no doubt, which seemed to be as equally adept as the
“guide” car in getting lost). The road
was a new, multi-lane highway, wet from the continuous rain we had been riding
through since the start of our trip. As
there are still relatively few privately-owned vehicles in
I've been riding for 30 years - I know what "rider error", like washing-out the front end, or high-siding, feels like. What I recall was feeling something striking me hard from the left-rear, which knocked me down, sliding the bike and I into the taxi I had hoped to overtake. I came down hard on my left side, my shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. An analysis of my GPS track (Global Positioning System - I hand a portable unit on the crossbar) shows I was doing about 37 MPH at the time I went down. And the somewhat tortured “cookie crumbs” show my path, the flip, and final rest at “0 MPG”. I slid into the taxi in front of me, and when my front wheel hit its rear bumper, both the bike and I must have flipped onto the right side. As they say, my day had just ended. I was stunned, down on my side, seeing only the bike and taxi ahead of me, the big twin's engine maxed out against its integrated rev (engine RPM) limiter. Both sides of the handlebar had bent back against the tank, pulling the throttle cable wide open.
Helge was the first familiar
face I saw through my face shield. All
those marvelous trauma systems in that incredible machine, the human body, were
apparently doing their job in holding back the pain. He helped me sit upright, knowing not to
remove my helmet until the extent of my injuries could be ascertained - many
riders have been injured further after initial trauma by overly hasty and
unskilled removal of a helmet. As was
true everywhere we stopped in
Being Forced Horizontal, Again, and Rebelling
An ambulance, and then police, showed up shortly. The medics got me upright, and probed and pushed, moving my limbs around to discover what they could, language being a chasm we were unable to cross just yet. I finally got the helmet off, and was assisted into the ambulance. I've had broken ribs and even a broken collar bone before. Since I was still in shock, I told Helge that it felt like I had only sprained my shoulder, assured him I was in good hands, and bent over to get into the ambulance. The canvas stretcher in back was covered with dried blood and stains; there was almost nothing in the way of equipment on board. The medics motioned for me to lie down on the stretcher – and as I tried, it was then that the pain hit me, hard. After several unsuccessful attempts to get me horizontal by pushing down on both shoulders, and my almost animalistic fight back, I was finally allowed to sit upright in an attendant's seat in back. Pain aside, I was too horrified to lie on that stretcher where so many, obviously, had lain in such dire straights before.
The Hospital in Dezhou
I was taken to the Chinese
Traditional Treatment Hospital of Dezhou, China. The building was old. To my "Western eyes", incredibly
run-down - something out of a bad
Throughout, the medics, police, and hospital staff had been remarkably kind, respectful, and as gentle as anyone could be (the CT scan being the exception); far more so than most of their counter-parts that I've interacted with in similar circumstances in the States. One of the doctors cleared out his office to provide me with the only private room in the entire four-story complex. Of course, it was on the 4th floor. Of course, the entire building had no elevators. Of course, international phone calls required a Chinese IC card that I didn’t have, and couldn’t buy inside. Fortunately, the only phone that could accept incoming domestic or international long distance calls was on my floor, half-way down the hall from where I would be staying. I was shown to my “room”.
The Room – And Day One
No “patient panel”, peeling paint, a bare concrete floor, piles of dust and debris in one corner. The nurses wheeled in one of the few "crank-up" beds. No electric motors here, two giant hand-cranks like the blow valves on an old WWII submarine. Other than the old bed and a decrepit desk, two stuffed chairs, an ancient steam radiant heater, and two screened windows, both always open, the room was bare. They got me into the bed, still wearing my travel clothing (the protective suit I had removed and, after taking out the internal armor and back-protector, thrown away). I’ll bet a new fad hits the streets of Dezhou by the next time I’m there – something tells me a brightly patterned $800.00 “imported” riding suit with sewn-on patches won’t make it to the city and landfill.
The bed was so short; my feet stuck through the end rail a good 12 inches. Two nurses struggled a rusty, four-foot tall oxygen tank into the room which probably out-weighed either one of them, attached a plastic hose to its regulator, and taped the open end of it to my upper lip and into my nostril. They had no mask or "nose breather" like you often see in use in Stateside hospitals. An IV stand was brought in, and a glass bottle of some solution was started, the first of five I received daily once every two hours over the course of my stay. Each one had to be started with a new needle, they didn't have the "hep locks" (heparin locks) used here for continuous IV's, and rather than a continuous drip, they were “pushing a bolus”. My arms looked like a junkie's after the first day.
The room began to fill with more medical staff, some people in official-looking uniforms, and miraculously, a woman translator appeared! The Shandong Provincial Foreign Affairs Office had been notified of my situation, and had sent "Julia" Feng Lin as the first of a rotating team of translators provided 24x7. 24x7 was quite literal, as that night’s interpreter slept in one of the room’s chairs, and since there wasn’t and “call” button, a nurse always slept in the other.
The Bad News
With “Julia” there, I was told the extent of my injuries for the first time, and it was pretty scary; a broken left collar bone, multiple fractures of the 4th, 5th and 6th ribs, massive bruising (but no cuts or abrasions) to the left thigh/hip and severe bruising on the right, and most worrisome of all, the left lung punctured and collapsed from the fractured ribs, with internal bleeding and fluids accumulating in the injured lung – closed thoracic trauma, traumatic pneumothorax.
She said they would have to
operate "very soon", but, because of my status as a "foreign
guest", a bone and thoracic specialist was on his way from a medical
Day Two – The Good News
The next day started off with the head of the hospital and his staff visiting and expressing their concerns. The head nurse and her floor staff came next. They were so kind; because the hospital had nothing that would fit me (I'm 6'2" and 200 lbs.), they had pooled some money and purchased a huge fleece blanket, a bathrobe, and slippers 4 sizes too large for my feet. Nurses went out three times a day to buy my meals from a local restaurant, as they were "ashamed" to serve me the hospital food. A reporter and video crew showed up from the local TV station to do an interview, mainly to show the assistance and cooperation of China in helping a foreign guest in need, emphasizing their desire to maintain good relations. MEDJET Assistance (MJA) began calling me from the States to provide more medically qualified interpretation assistance, notify my wife and doctor, and get air evacuation transport logistics and clearances underway.
Due to the lung damage, any
sort of transport was ruled out for at least three days until I was
"stabilized". MJA informed me a medical evacuation helicopter was
being prepared for transport to a more modern medical facility in Beijing/ From there, they were scrambling air
transport back to my hospital of choice in Seattle via one of their private
ICU-staffed and equipped jet aircraft.
Later came a call saying the local military authorities had denied
permission for air transport, so, a staffed ambulance was being sent
instead. Next came interviews by the
local police. I still hadn't been able
to speak with my wife, who was visiting friends North of Tokyo, Japan. I hurt like hell. The bone specialist from
On the 18th, MEDJET
Assistance and an international medical provider, Global Doctors, called. There was only one phone that could receive
outside calls in the whole hospital – my IV was removed, I shuffled off to the
phone. I was told an ambulance was
set-up for the next day. The local doctors
objected as my condition was "not good", but fortunately, were
over-ruled. My wife was finally informed
of my corrected diagnosis, and arrangements were made for her to meet me at the
My last day in Dezhou, four
officers arrived, and read my Incident Report, standing formally at the end of
my bed, the interpreter translating sentence by sentence. From the look on their faces this time, I
prepared for the worst. Although the
driver of the taxi I had indeed hit did recall seeing another taxi flash by,
the police were unable to find the other vehicle, and were unable to find any
sign that I had been struck. My heart
sank upon hearing this, as I figured this probably meant I was at fault.
Good Cops – No Bad Cops
My sentence? I was wished a safe journey home, and told, “in the future, please always drive in accordance with the Chinese law."! The chief of police, who had accompanied the traffic and investigating officers, apologized for the investigation taking so long. Apparently, the delay was because they had to spend some time convincing the driver whose taxi I had struck not to press for damages, as "fault was not distinctly to be determined". They all rose to hand me a formal copy of the "citation", and shake my (good) hand. I thanked them in turn, and asked what the final and damages would be.
As a foreign guest, they wanted to maintain good relations (had I heard this before?) and no fines or damages would be assessed. I said I felt obligated to at least pay for damages to the taxi. The officers declined. I countered I felt DEEPLY obligated - we went back and forth.
I was finally able to get
the interpreter to sway them a bit - I discovered the taxi driver had lost two
day's wages as his vehicle was in the police yard for investigation. I insisted in making up his loss, or my shame
would be “unbearable”. The police
finally agreed. They levied a “two day’s
lost fares” penalty of 165 Yuan (or Remenbi, about $20.00 US!). Amazed, I
handed over two 100 Yuan bills, the smallest bills I had (and the largest
denomination in use), and asked them to please give the full amount to the
driver. Of course, this was not
acceptable, and an officer was dispatched to get change. Upon his return, two copies of a formal
receipt were given to me, along with my change.
The ambulance finally arrived,
and with a many heartfelt “good wishes”, “bye-byes” and hand-shakes, I was on
my way to
Impact Take Two - You Pay, or … You Pay!
Somehow, on the trip from
Since my only view was
through the rear window, I could only assume the driver had prevailed
again. The ambulance surged forward, and,
just as we came to it, the gate came crashing down, as we screeched to a
halt. Not being strapped in and laying
almost horizontal, I slid forward and rammed into the back of the driver's
seat. A new height of agony. The ambulance somehow got waved through, and
pulled over for a while as I was checked over, sedated, and STRAPPED IN,
sitting upright this time! The ride to
We finally made it to the
Late on my 2nd day in
Day Five – Homeward Bound, and Impact, Take 3!
Less than 8 hours after my wife, Aillene’s, arrival, MEDJET Assistance provided a staffed ambulance for transport to the airport, accompanied by an air-evacuation trained Australian nurse, Simon Robinson, we left for the airport. Ornery that I am, I declined the further use of a wheel-chair once we had cleared passport control (I took it at first as it allowed us to use a “special” fast lane). All of our scissors were confiscated, on course. Walking into the plane via the jet way, I was knocked to the floor by an attendant backing someone else’s wheelchair off the plane. More pain, lesson learned.
With Aillene on one side,
and Simon on the other, he taking my blood pressure, and using a non-invasive oximeter
the whole trip back, I'm sure we rose more than a few concerns on the trip home
At Seattle Tacoma airport, a
I once heard - "An Adventure is a vacation gone horribly wrong". I don't know who originally uttered those words, but they seemed particularly appropriate in my case. Nonetheless, I sit here at home pounding this narrative out on my desktop. My wonderful and understanding wife, Aillene, is the best companion and nurse I could hope for. She's completed her pre-requisites and has just attended her orientation to begin her nursing program at the local college this fall. The protective gear I wore, and had installed on the motorcycle, all did their job in preventing greater injury. No damage to my legs, head, or arms whatsoever. I got to experience the first week of a remarkable tour, considered "undoable" by many, in the company of some incredible riders. An accident ended that vacation, but, began an adventure of a different sort, and I have nothing but good memories and the warmest regard for all the wonderful people I met, and many I never will, who made the whole thing, the good, and the "bad", a grand adventure. I'll sustain no permanent injuries or impairment.
The rest of the Globeriders
are now making their way across
Mike M. Paull
2000 Mandarin BMW R1150GS
2002 Mandarin BMW F650GS
BMWMOA #63045, BMWRA #25250