Lessons in Indian Scooter Crashing

The doctor in the small two room clinic handed me a prescription.“Take this down to the chemist and have him gather everything for you. A few km’s straight down this main road you go through a local part of town. On the left after a deep hill you will see a green plus sign at the side of the road. There is another on the right at the top of the hill but I am certain he is not open right now,” the young doctor explained to me. “Got it. Thank you for your help,” I said gathering my bag and belongings from the small clinic. I would ride my scooter across town to obtain supplies to mind the gash in my shin. The gash I got by bailing sideways off my scooter to avoid driving into a store.

Part of the reason for my diminishing patience in “everything India” was the state of my leg and stomach. Nausea after roughly after every 3rd meal in spite of conservative, healthy eating and $500 dollars worth of shots and prescriptions made me slightly cranky. Holding people’s babies as they take your picture for their new Facebook profile photo was tolerable, but this was grating.

I took Dukkerol for cholera, Doxycycline for malaria prevention and had Twinrix shots against hepatitis. Two different prescription strength diarrhea medications were in my bag, and a supply of over the counter Imodium. Basically, I was two pill bottles short of a walking drug store. I was advised by a worldly travelling friend at home that before I left to do this. “You never know what you’ll need, or if you can find it abroad,” she warned. “Best just bring everything with you, and be your own pharmacy.”

Chemist in India

Scooting into an Indian storefront was one of the most highly embarrassing moments in my entire three months in India. (Second only to vomiting during a Jet Airways flight shortly after it touched down in Jodhpur.) While parked at the side of a road across from a local market shop, I mixed up the gas and brake. It was a simple mistake on my first day ever riding a scooter. As I drove directly at the storefront, I hurled myself off the bike to the right (the best solution my brain could muster in a split second), then I’m bleeding.

“Oh my god, are you ok?” the store owner asks rushing over as a small crowd of ten or so forms around me with audible gasps.  I couldn’t be bothered to reply to her because my brain kicked into survival mode. When you see your own blood pouring out of a wound, an instinctual sort of reaction happens. Fix this. Quickly.

My amazing adrenal system offered me a quick dose of the adrenaline hormone, and immediately I was digging out my first aid kit. A three inch slash in my leg bled out as my friend Steve cleared the scooter out of the storefront. I cleaned and dabbed the wound quickly, but I was losing more blood then making cleaning progress. I applied as many alcohol patches as I could, ripped open fresh gauze and applied pressure. A second gauze roll tied the bloody mess around the back of my calf. The thought of every dirty cow poop covered shoe that had passed into the store flashed through my mind. I didn’t want to seal all of that pleasantness in the wound, but had no choice.

I became known around town. “Oh, you’re that guy…,” they’d say say, then look down at my bandaged limb. “Hows your leg?”

“Well it’s not getting better actually,” I would respond. After four sugar-coated It’s fine’s, I decided to take another approach, the truth.  People stopped me in markets, on the beaches… everywhere. It was as memorable for them apparently.

I resisted adding some snarky comment like “I’ll be performing another first aid self-application demonstration for a large crowd shortly. Stay tuned!” or “It’s over thirty humid degrees and I’ve even got red dusty Goa street dirt showing up in my pants, on my inner thigh. How do you think I am?”

Within a couple days after my initial doctor visit, the leg was infected. I returned to the clinic and was prescribed a strong antibiotic, which eventually halted the infection.

I learned that acetaminophen and ibuprofen were not widely available there. Blood thinners can be prescribed if you fall off a bike to prevent embolism complications. Colloidal silver ointment performs like antibiotic ointment. A doctor’s visit, wound cleaning and prescription writing cost me under $10.

Scooters in Goa

Bearing the war scars of a scooter crash lets you bond with many other accident victims. I used to see people covered in scratches all over their legs and arms, much worse off then me and think, yep… I get it.

Most people genuinely sympathize with injury. It’s human nature. We share information to get better soon and prevent further injury or complications. The travelers in India are more then happy to share stories of “sick”.

Being ill or injured makes you reassess your plans. Doing what you set out to do initially can still happen, it just might be more complicated. You should take the right steps to get well again, whatever that route is. Perhaps visiting a pharmacist, going to a clinic, or taking down time instead of rigorous exploring.

Scooter riding is really an enjoyable, wind in your face experience though, and I wouldn’t avoid it. Just don’t drive into a small Indian tourist shop. Take some precautions until you have some skills. There will be palm trees and sunsets either way, especially in Goa.

Keep in mind when you’re riding that scooter with the wind in your face, about to pull some version of Leonardo-DiCaprio-Titanic “I’m the king of the wooooooorld”, that you’re not actually.

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