I’m on the brink, teetering on its edge, waiting to fall back into Westernized normality.  The air’s cold outside…so cold I want to ask if we can put the heating on.  Dad’s out to work, massive cat sleeping on the sofa, unclean and colourful “island” clothes spilling out from the dusty backpack.  Why does everything I own look so scruffy now I’m back under the grey British realm?  I drowned myself in the glorious heat of a powerful shower, and now I’m sipping tea, picking at a crusty roll.  Dipping its edges into a small carton of humus, wondering whether the paths ahead of me lead to the same destination…

Coming “home” is always hard.  So much has changed within you, that you can’t help but put up a resistance to what is ultimately the same.  Same old shit on the news, and disappointed comments about the weather.  Family and friendly disputes and everyday stresses replay themselves with such faultless precision, that you can’t believe you ever went away.  You drown it out…sing that favourite song from your ipod that reminds you of standing on top of a pagoda, looking out…out into all that space, all that beauty…oh – the endless possibilities…

What about your future?  Memories interrupted by that nag…Responsibility.  Ordinarily, I would ward it off.  Claw that moment on the pagoda back…the sensations, the wonderment, the colours of my experience, but alas, the words “Anicca, Anicca” circle in my head.

Anicca: the impermanence of everything.

I missed writing the final stages of my trip on this blog.  Partly, because I wanted to get lost in the experience, in the Now, and partly because of the unexpected twists and turns, that took me from Koh Tao (where I last left you) to a hospital bed.  From a hospital bed, to the departure gate.  From the temples of Bagan, to the homestretch…ten long days of silence at a Vipassana retreat on the border.

I have to finish this blog, the account of my adventure, not because I want to keep dwelling in the past and avoid making contact with the present.  Quite the opposite.  I learnt so much about how to live, and just be, that I want to navigate my way through it one more time, so that I might have it all to hand when I take my first steps into, not the same, but an entirely new universe.

*     *     *     *     *

Hospital Beds and Falling Horses

Diary Extract: 2nd May, 2012


1)  I have very small veins.

2)  Wheelchairs are pretty cool…

3)  My hospital room is by far the most luxurious place I’ve stayed since my travels began.  I have a FRIDGE, and a TV, AND a SAFE!

4)  I think I actually look quite sexy in my Thai hospital PJ’s.  Even if the trousers do stop half-way down my shins.

5)  How do I feel about the drip?  It looks gross, my hand all taped up and blood creeping up the tube like that….but kinda cool too.

Lost in Translation

The nurse’s attempt at communicating instructions of how to provide a urine sample….

I don’t know what happened to me.  I’d made it to Bangkok in one piece.  I was staying at a Youth Hostel in Sukhumvit, made some friends with fellow travelers, met an old colleague from my Burma Issues days, and interviewed him about the current situation in Burma, post bi-election victory.  All in preparation, excitement of the pending, highly anticipated trip to Burma.  To BURMA!  The place I’ve wanted to see for all those years.  I was just going to chill out for a bit, get my camera fixed, enjoy some air conditioning, and then an illness crept up on me.  At first it was just that coldy, groggy-head feeling that a couple of paracetamol and a strong coffee can take care of, but then the next day, and the day after that, it got progressively worse, as did my denial.  I wouldn’t have gone to hospital if it wasn’t for Danny and Geraldine.  They swooped in on me, armed with green tea and honey and a thermometer.  Perched on the edge of the bed, they assertively encouraged me to measure my temperature.  38.5 degrees.  “Is that high?”  I asked tentatively.  Sweat pouring down my back as I sat there trembling.  Reluctantly I researched some hospitals, tried to find my insurance policy.  I negotiated with them.  Take my temperature one more time.  “I’m sure its nothing”.  39 degrees.  Acceptance.  I burst out crying, “but tomorrow I fly to Burma!”

Diary Extract, May 3rd 2012

It might be worth feeding back that amid the highly comforting professionalism of the wonderful doctors and nurses here….when they ask how many “poo-poo’s” you’ve done, it undermines their authority somewhat…

Fever’s running high.  Had to have my pj’s and bed sheets changed twice in the night.

The hotel-esque feeling of excitement rapidly changed into a very hospital-esque vulnerability.  Hourly visits from doctors and nurses, countless needles injected into my tired, thin veins.  Even the comedy display of my clumsy waltz with my bedside companion (Mr. Drip) to the toilet, failed to make me laugh by the fifth time I found myself tangled up in some sort of tubular bondage.

I didn’t think I’d be kept in overnight…my flight to Burma was later that day.  Burma.  The pinnacle of my journey.  The country I’ve dreamed of going to since I was 21.  Nobody was really speaking to me.  I didn’t know what was wrong, what they were testing me for, how long I was going to be there for…I asked if I could use the internet.  I needed to make a plan, reschedule my flight…something.  Contact my family.  Anything.  I didn’t know what was going on.

They wheeled me out into the nurses’ dock.  Hooked me up to a computer that was so slow I couldn’t do anything.  My hands were shaking, head hurt, couldn’t see straight.  And suddenly they were all milling around me.  “Time to go downstairs for X-ray.”

“Why am I having an X-ray?”, “What are you x-raying me for?”  My questions fell on deaf, smiling ears, as I was passed from nurse to nurse, down the lift, across the lobby, into the radiation unit.  How feeble I must have looked.  Such a “big woman” cowering like a child.   Parked outside the X-ray room, I gulped back my tears and closed my eyes.  “This is my body, and this is real”.  I looked inwards, and there was fear.  Just plain fear.  Forget Burma for now, forget what could be wrong, embrace that fear, have the X-ray.  I watched as they pinned it up against the white-light.  My murky lungs hanging there for all to see.  They took their notes.   Parked outside again, I started to cry.  I just wanted somebody to talk to me…then a nurse  gently patted me on the shoulder and handed me a tissue.

*    *    *   *   *   *   *    *    *   *   *    *


Medicine taken.  I’ve been temporarily released from my wheelie companion.  I take my first look out onto the Bangkok skyline from my hospital room.

Muted traffic sparkling, just like the ocean.  Sun hidden behind a tower block.

Dropped a metal bowl on my foot.  It crashed and spun before coming to a standstill.  A bruise is already forming.

Observations:  my hair is falling out; clumsy.

2 pm

Because my body is weak and in pain, I’ve disconnected from it completely.  I tried my meditation and I can’t get past this giant wall.  Before, where I felt intense, powerful surges and sensations, I feel nothing.  Its back to day one in the shala, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

I had a dream that I was getting away from something, or making my way somewhere, but with a sense of urgency.  I came to the top of this beautiful, yet treacherous park.  The dusty, golden path, winding through the greenery, so steep that you couldn’t possibly walk it, you’d have to just fall.  Half way down the green dropped away, a ravine on either side.  I was scared, trying to break with scrabbling hands and feet as my body tumbled.  The ravine, always in sight, got closer and closer, and then I saw them.  Black horses.  Lots of them.  Charging up the golden path, dust rising and pebbles breaking under thunderous hooves.  The edges of the path were collapsing and falling down into the ravine.  I was terrified.  I couldn’t stop falling.

If only I could get there before them, or after them, I need to be able to fall into that patch of grass.  I need that!

But as I neared, my bones shook.  The horses began to charge past me.  I don’t know what their mission was, but nothing was getting in their way.  Focused, unaware of anything around them.

I hit the ravine.  A few meters space, before the next surge of horses.  All black.  Jet-black.  I can’t stop.  I try to steer to the edge, left without much choice.  Die if I carry on, die if I fall to the side…

The sound and the beauty.  Their treacherous beauty.  I couldn’t help but notice the animal.  The line of its body, the sound of its heart – so powerful.  The strength in him.  I closed my eyes, and continued to fall.  Acceptance.  This is my situation.  Just fall.

When I opened my eyes the rushing world was beginning to slow.  Green was coming into sight, the ravine coming to its end, and then I saw it.  The horse falling.  So gracefully, on its back.  Mane separated into ten outstretched fingers, two hands cupping the back of his head.  His teeth were bare, eyes white, legs kicking out.  Slow motion.  The sun reflecting off his silky black coat.  Was it me?  Did I cause this magnificent creature to fall?

Couldn’t pause, continued to fall, and had to let it go.

The death of a horse.

Turns out there wasn’t much wrong with me at all.  Severe dehydration, exhaustion, an infection of sorts spreading through my body.  Nothing three days and three nights in a hospital bed couldn’t cure.

It was worth it, all of it, just to get the reassurance, that peace of mind – MY LUNGS ARE OK!  After those ten years of smoking, heavily at times, there’s always been that niggle at the back of my mind, what have I done to myself?  So to hear the words, in soft, broken English, “Your lungs ok”, I almost forgot my culturally sensitive decorum, and launched myself across the bed to give Dr Tanat a sweaty pyjama hug.  Fortunately, I contained myself, and bowed my head as low as my swollen neck would allow, and said, “Kob khun ka, kob khun ka, kob khun ka.”  in true British – cheers, thanks a lot, cheers, thanks – fashion.

I learnt a lot when I was in there.

– How spontaneously and unconditionally kind people can be.  Thank you Geraldine and Danny!

– There’s nothing more comforting, when in a hospital bed in a far away country, than the sound of your family on the other end of the phone.

– In order to live life in the moment, then you must accept death as part of it all.   “Perhaps it is life, death and love that I’m trying to accept, trying to make peace with.” (note in the margin of my battered copy of The Power of Now.)