I take it back. I do want to grow up.

Fellow Daily News columnist Beth Brandon and I have been going back and forth about what is just the right amount of being grown up in this town. The last five weeks of Thursday columns, with us each mildly ribbing the other, ended up being prescient preludes given what happened to me exactly two weeks ago today: I almost died. Because I am not a grown up.

On the day my last column was published, the one in which I described the mild hedonism of traveling with friends in Laos and Thailand, I had a scooter accident.

After a whole day spent on a boat with a cooler full of beer, zipping between one beautiful beach to another, I chose to go on one last adventure that evening, against my friends’ wishes. I went to a party in the jungle and had one drink alone and headed home. There was an accident and a lot of pain and a lot of blood.

My memory of the rest of that night is vague: pain, shock, clinics, doctors and an operating room. I remember being very cold at one point, very confused. I came to during a surgery and although I didn’t really know what was going on, I was shivering enough to ask for more blankets. They immediately knocked me back into the black void of anesthesia.

The next morning when I awoke in a hospital room, the sun was fully up. A nurse came and asked me a few questions and shortly after the doctor and an administrator arrived.

I had hit my chin pretty hard and the clinic near where we were staying on the island of Ko Lanta treated a wound requiring six stitches. But that clinic was not well enough equipped to deal with the 8-inch-long and 1-inch-deep gash I had high up across my right groin. I was transported by ambulance for three hours to the nearest fully equipped hospital. There they operated on my groin.

I had been very lucky to not have severed my femoral artery, nor break my jaw. If it had been just slightly more than an inch to the left, I would had started losing testicles and other important bits.

The medics X-rayed everything and for the most part I was physically in one piece, which made them happy. I wasn’t happy though. Mentally, I was in bad shape.

I was in such shock that I couldn’t process consciously why I felt the way I did. Something was more wrong than the plain fact of the complete mess of a situation I was in.

I did not have my phone on me. The hospital would let me make calls from their phone, but I had no one’s numbers memorized. I could get online with a computer at the hospital, but I have two-factor authentication turned on for most of my accounts, so I couldn’t get into my contacts list because I needed my phone in order to grant myself access. I was able to get on Facebook and communicate with one friend still at the house in Ko Lanta. They were busy cleaning up all the blood I had left there when I walked in the door and asked for help. The scooter, battered, also needed scrubbing.

This all happened on my last night of vacation. I had a flight scheduled that afternoon from Krabi back to Bangkok, then Hong Kong, then San Francisco, then Denver, then Aspen. I was told I was an hour and a half away from Krabi airport. I could still make the flight if I left within the next couple of hours. But I didn’t have any of my stuff, so that wasn’t going to happen.

I did eventually made it back home to Aspen. It was a weird trip back and it is still strange. The wounds and injuries seem so inconsequential to the mental trauma. I don’t care about the chin or the fact I can’t walk well, or that there is a baseball-sized swollen lump on my thigh that doesn’t seem to have a reason for being there. 

The real damage is in my brain. What was I doing? Why did I do it? How many additional ways could I have been more irresponsible and stupid? Probably very few.

I was quick to emotionality; everything made me want to cry. I spent a lot of time trying to think of the feelings I was having, trying to find a way to put it into words. I could not characterize it. That whole trip home I was in a bewildered emotional state. My brain was protecting me, I think. A day after I got home, in the safety of my house, the word “alone” popped into my head and the veil over my emotions came off. In retrospect, I was feeling utterly alone in that hospital and on those planes. The subsequent and immediate emotional breakdown was a catharsis in a way and I am glad it happened in my house instead of on a plane. You really don’t know what you have until it’s missing.

So now I want to attend tea parties with Beth on the lawn of the music tent, stay at home and cook and read books. Be a convalescent Peter Pan.

The bloom on the rose of Southeast Asia has come off. More responsible travel in the Old World sounds a lot more enticing to me. Or maybe just never leaving Aspen again. Yeah, that sounds nice.

 

wendle@wendlewhiting.org

Columnist