Expat trouble in the jungle. 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. Not a dangerous animal in sight . . .
Have you ever traipsed through a steamy jungle? A tropical rainforest? Like Kakum National Park in Ghana, West Africa? They’ve got a canopy walkway high above the forest floor. So one day while we lived in Ghana, we went across its wobbly structure to see what it was all about. 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 means.
Photo used by permission © stof enzo
But not to worry! Adventure ahead!
Things got a lot more
fascinating terrifying after I got solid ground under my feet again. We were four. My prince, 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 hiking along the rubbly jungle trail enjoying the scenery and listening to the birds. We were the only visitors there and all was peaceful. Not a dangerous animal in sight.
“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. Not a dangerous animal in sight. (Sorry, I already wrote that.)
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!”
“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 (but not a dangerous animal in sight).
My prince and the boyfriend decided to carry me and start down the path, while our 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.
I’m not making this up
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 equipment 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.
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. Without a word, he turned around, walked off into his family’s 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!
[…] Okay, I did write it and here it is: Expat Trouble: What Not to Do in the Jungle […]
I’m klso quite calm in my own crisis, just other people panicking wind me up. Glad everything worked out for you, you were so fortunate there was a hospital near by
Oh. my! What a terrible adventure – but so worth re-telling in retrospect!
Oh, yes, some adventures are better for telling than for having!
Correction: While I had pain, I didn’t have problems accessing medical care
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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!
Welcome to my wacky world. And I hadn’t thought of the “footloose” connection to this story! Surely my foot was very loose…
I would’ve passed out with fright, I’m such a coward…though I have been hiking, adventuring.
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!
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.
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.
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… Read more »
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,… Read more »
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.
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… Read more »
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!
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… Read more »
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!
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… Read more »
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.