Expat Trouble: What Not to Do in the Jungle

by missfootloose on June 9, 2012 · 18 comments

in adventure, Africa, expat trouble, Ghana, Health

Kakum National ParkHave you ever visited a tropical rainforest? A rain forest like Kakum National Park in Ghana, West Africa? They’ve got a canopy walkway and I went across its wobbly structure once, high above the forest floor. It was interesting, yet also disappointing because I didn’t see that much fascinating wildlife up there in the trees. We should have come earlier, I expect, but getting up at 4 am is . . . well, you know what that is.

Photo © stof enzo

Things got a lot more fascinating terrifying after I got solid ground under my feet again. We were four. My mate, and our younger daughter and her boyfriend, who were visiting us in Africa and lusting after adventure. Which they got, if not quite what they had expected.

So, after the canopy walk we were walking on the rubbly jungle trail enjoying the scenery and listening to the birds. We were the only visitors there and all was peaceful.

“Have a look to your right,” my man said. “There’s a great view.”

I took a quick step to my right. My foot hit a pebble, which rolled loose and I lost my balance. You know how that goes. The smallest little misstep can sometimes make you unsteady. Usually you right yourself and keep going. Or you fall and you pick yourself up and keep going. I was not able to right myself.

My leg turned under and I crashed down on top of it with the full force of my 56 kilos (123 pounds).

There was a loud crack. It reverberated through the forest.

Time stood still. The birds stopped chirping. The breeze stopped whispering. All was primordially quiet.

My butt rolled off my right leg. I stretched it out in front of me. It was not straight. It sported a 90 degree angle right above the ankle. Not an angle Mother Nature had intended my leg to have.

Primitive animal instinct took over. I reached down, took my foot in both hands and straightened out my leg. It looked better that way.

Then my Inner Animal gave way to my conscious rational Dutch mind and I had two thoughts.

One: I broke my leg. Two: I am not going to die. (And as you now know, I didn’t.)

My daughter, who’d been walking in front of me, had turned around and watched me straightening my leg. “Oh, my God!” she shrieked. “Oh, my God, Mama!”


My daughter, high on Photoshop

“I broke my leg,” I said.

“I heard it!” she wailed. “I heard it crack!

They gathered around me in horror. Here we were, alone in the jungle, about a kilometer (2/3 of a mile) from the entrance of the forest and our car. On a narrow, steep, rough trail.

My prince and the boyfriend decided to carry me and start down the path, while my daughter would go ahead and get help from the park office.

With helpless me suspended between the guys, my arms around their necks, we started down the path. I was not in pain. I was not hysterical. Possibly I was in shock. I was simply dangling between them like a rag doll with Nikes. Some time later two strong park guards came to relieve the men, which was a good thing because it was not easy going. So with my arms round the necks of two macho Ghanaian guys, I dangled on. I’d never had my arms around the necks of two young sexy African dudes, so this was an adventure. Unfortunately I was not in a state of mind to fully appreciate it. I had hoped for a stretcher. But there was no stretcher. Later I heard the park people acquired one the next day, but it was a bit late for me.

We were a four-hour drive away from the capital Accra where we lived our expat life. But would you believe, there was a regional hospital about half an hour drive away. And not just any old little decrepit African hospital, mind you. No!  A brand new one, equipped with the best and the latest from the Philips company. You’d think I’m writing fiction, but no, it was true.

They moved me onto the X-ray table and the technician tried to position my leg. My Inner Animal took over again and I howled in pain. But never mind, let’s get on with it: I’d broken both big bones as well as chipped my ankle bone. I got drugs, and a nice young doctor set my leg and gave me a temporary cast up to mid thigh, immobilizing my knee. We then got in the car and drove the four hours back to Accra.

Ghana Road

We arrived home late that afternoon. The gates were opened and the welcome committee greeted us, as they always did when we’d come back from a trip. The welcome committee consisted of the gardener, the guard, our cleaning lady, her French-trained chef husband who worked at the Canadian embassy’s lunch restaurant, and their toddler-daughter Emilia. Smiles all around, hands at the ready to help us with our luggage.

Everybody but me piled out of the car. Jerome, the chef, opened the car door for me. His face froze as he saw my cast. He turned around, walked off into the servants quarters and returned moments later tying on his white chef’s apron.

“Madame,” he said solemnly, “I will cook for you.”

And he did. For weeks on end. While I hibernated on the sofa, then learned to walk again, and finally became a normal functioning person again. Every night my man and I dined splendidly on French cuisine. It was fabulous. I felt so spoiled. It was worth breaking my leg for.

Okay, that’s a really big lie. There’s no cuisine haute enough.

* * *

Have you ever had a jungle adventure? Or a medical adventure? Worse than mine? Do tell!

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

YTSL June 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

Oh my, Miss Footloose… falling down and breaking one’s leg is one of my nightmare hiking scenarios! :O

I’m glad you handled it as well as you did in your case.

As for medical adventures: my most traumatic came not in the jungle but, instead, while I was wading in the sea on my 9th birthday. I suddenly felt like my legs had been pierced by 1,000 sharp needles. Turns out that I had been bitten by a large jellyfish — one so large it had managed to wrap itself around both my legs.

My mother — who was the only adult there with a bunch of children (i.e., my friends helping me celebrate my birthday with a beachside picnic and me) — carried me to the car and drove me straight to the hospital. There, I got an injection (of painkillers?) and promptly passed out. I was in the hospital for a few days and night — couldn’t remember how many. Later, I was told that I couldn’t walk for 4 days…

And yes, I still have really bad scars to show for the experience — though fortunately they have healed and don’t look anything like in the days and weeks after the incident, where it looked like someone had whipped me and put out cigarettes on my legs. My poor mother — she told me she used to get the worst looks whenever she walked around with me in tow for months afterwards! ;S
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missfootloose June 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm

What a horrible experience! I had a run-in with a jelly fish myself in Thailand, but only on one finger. It was excruciatingly painful, so to think of you and both your legs gives me the absolute shivers! What also makes me remember the incident so well is the fact that I had my four-year-old daughter in my arms in the water. By the grace of the many gods, she escaped being touched.


Pat June 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Unfortunately I can imagine the excruciating pain of your broke leg. After a ball game in Germany, my teammate fell asleep at the wheel on the autoroute by Verdun and I woke up in river. The blow to my back was so bad, I literally cracked in half … compressed vertebra and split sternum. My athletic career ended in an instant, but there is a silver lining to the harrowing story. In the hospital, I was treated like foreign royalty and my gallant French fiance, who fished me out of water, helped me heal by cooking gourmet meals once I was released.
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missfootloose June 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Your story is so awful! It’s a miracle you survived. Strangely, my broken leg never hurt much, except when they wanted to straighten it out and set it!


MaryWitzl June 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Another great story from you, and one I cannot top. How in the world did you have the courage and forethought to set your own leg out there in the wilds? I’d have screamed bloody murder.

A few months after our second daughter was born, I managed to trip over a mat in front of a supermarket in Tokyo, spraining my ankle. I practically dislocated my poor husband’s shoulder as I limped along with him towards our destination, where I then rested on a friend’s sofa for the rest of the afternoon. Sadly, my ankle healed quickly and I was not able to milk my infirmity for very long. Straight back to cooking for me…
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missfootloose June 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Hi Mary! It took NO courage and NO foresight to straighten out my broken leg! It was pure animal instinct and I didn’t start “thinking” until I’d done it. Which was a good thing or I would have screamed bloody murder and not have done it! And how they could have gotten me down the trail with my leg at a 90 degree angle, I have no idea!


sine June 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

Miss Footloose – another one of your stories I really enjoyed reading! For some reason the “welcoming committee” was my favorite part. Perhaps because I live in Africa as well, it is such an African thing. That is why I love it here, the genuine care of all those people around you.

It seems like most of our encounters with broken bones have also happened abroad as expats or travelers (though never in the jungle, I must admit). I broke my wrist snowboarding in Canada and I remember the worst part being the loud crack and then having to look at your limb at a weird angle. But I did NOT have the courage to set anything, I even had to look away it was so awful. The urge, I admit, to set it straight is strong, for some reason or other, but the fear of pain was bigger in me than that urge!

My son broke his arm playing soccer here in South Africa, and I guess the one thing I have learned as an expat is to perhaps go for a second opinion before rushing into things. Broken bones can usually wait a few days. But your urge to help your kid along and do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, usually blots out your ability to coherent thought. So we ended up going with the doctor who said it needed to be operated right away, leaving two ugly scars and the need for another operation to remove “the hardware”, when in hindsight a simple cast would have done just as well, without any scars, especially in a kid when everyone knows kids bones always heal easily, as long as you put the two pieces in the same room somewhere.
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missfootloose June 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Sorry to hear about that unnecessary surgery! The Ghanaian follow-up doctor in the capital told me that in the US they’d probably operate, but he didn’t want to. I asked what the alternative was. He said: “Mother Nature — it will just take a little longer.” So I opted for Mother Nature. Later I went to the US and had it checked out and the orthopedic surgeon looked at the Xray he’d taken and said: “Ouch, that was nasty! But you’ve had excellent healing!” That was a ten minute visit in his office, which cost more than the original visit, drugs, setting, and the entire 7 weeks of followup visits and Xrays together in Ghana 😉


sine June 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Agreed! I’ve often said that I’d rather have medical care here than in Europe, it’s actually better in my mind. And compared to the US it’s so much cheaper here, and doctors take much more time to actually talk with you.
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Sonia/Gutsy Living June 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I think shock does stop us from feeling pain for the first few minutes. I remember stepping on broken glass and cutting my Achilles tendon in France. That was at the age of 15. My poor mom was alone and there was no welcoming committee at home except for hospital staff and food.
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missfootloose June 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I’ve heard of people doing amazing things, like lift cars off of a child, when in “animal instinct” mode. Shock is probably a built in defense mechanism.


guyana gyal June 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I would’ve passed out with fright, I’m such a coward…though I have been hiking, adventuring.
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missfootloose June 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I might have passed out too if I’d not gone into animal instinct mode. It’s the only explanation I have for doing what I did!


Amanda @ Adventures All Around June 16, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Oh my goodness! I was squirming and cringing through this one. It all started so peacefully… Thank goodness for the shock kicking in so you weren’t in pain as you were carried out by two strong men.

I’m glad you managed to get to help.. And while I shouldn’t really laugh, I can’t help but smile at the fact that this is the first of your posts I’ve read. Miss Footloose indeed!


missfootloose June 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Welcome to my wacky world. And I hadn’t thought of the “footloose” connection to this story! Surely my foot was very loose…


Karien June 16, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Wow, I am jealous of the care you got. It seems better to break your leg in Africa then the UK… I broke my foot on my own doorstep and it was a nightmare. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that I was 6 months pregnant, and while I was recovering from shock on the drive my 1 year old and 2 year old were escaping to the road. I must have sat there fro fifteen minutes an NO-ONE passed by, so I had to drag myself inside on my butt and lure the kids inside with sweets, and convince them to get me the phone… And you can imagine the relaxation of my recovery, no haute cuisine for me… (although I did fly back to the Netherlands to have my mum care for me a few weeks later, yes, on my own, with a broken foot, crutches, 2 toddlers and very pregnant. It was the most relaxed trip I ever had, being whizzed around by ‘special assistance’ in my wheelchair and the kids scooting alongside. Needless to say my friends thought I was crazy, and I suppose I was)
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Keith December 24, 2012 at 7:23 am

While I had pain, I didn’t have access to medical care. I live in Colorado, USA. I was walking to the elevator (I did not slip, stumble or trip) and felt a sharp pain in the middle of my back, when I reached the main floor, the pain extended to my entire back. I had a T6/T7 Compression Fraction. On a scale of 1 to 10, that was a 10.
I woke up at 4:00 AM and had my wife drive me to the ER. The Doctor could see every muscle in my back spasming. The spasming causes the pain which causes the spasming…. He gave me two shots and then we had to find the 24-hour drug store. We pulled up to drop off the script. The shots then put me out for 12 hours. One a scale of 1 to 10, this was at least an 11.
I had another back spasming incident on the scale to 12. Which brings breaking my back down to an 8.
I pray you never have that much pain.


Keith December 24, 2012 at 7:26 am

Correction: While I had pain, I didn’t have problems accessing medical care


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