Sunday, November 04, 2007

It Had to Happen Eventually


After five years, one week, and one day of driving in Taiwan, I finally got in an accident in which I was injured enough to end up in the hospital. I've actually only had one accident before (a woman who was traveling parallel to me on my right turned left in front of me in an intersection--probably hard for Westerners to visualize), and I did hurt my hand, but not very badly.

This time, I was following a woman who was going very slowly, and was weaving from side to side. I usually feel it is safer to have people like that behind me, so I carefully moved over and waited for her to weave to the right so I could safely pass her. When my opportunity came, I sped up and moved along side her, at which point she weaved right into me, forcing me into the guard rail. I didn't go down, but my leg got pinched between the scooter and rail. She, on the other hand, freaked out and lost control, and ended up dumping her scooter.

I was considering just continuing on and leaving her behind, but I knew I couldn't do that, so I stopped and limped back to where she was. She seemed okay, but she blamed me for going too fast, which is impossible, because until I tried to go around her, I was going the same speed as she was. We argued a little, with me saying that she should not weave back and forth, while she insisted that in Taiwan one must drive slowly because of so many people. I finally just decided that arguing was not going to help, so I just gave her my phone number and left.

After I went to work, I went to a private lesson that I give, but they insisted that I go to the hospital, so I did. There I got x-rays and a cast. Luckily, if you can call something like this lucky in any way, no bones seemed to be broken.

One of the loneliest feelings that I've ever had was in that emergency room. It is right up there with when I had surgery back in the States, and at least there I could talk to the doctors and nurses. When I hobbled into the hospital on Friday night, I had no idea what to do other than to go to the registration counter, which I did. By this time, the pain was getting pretty bad. I'd been stupid enough to "walk" around on my injured foot for over three hours. When I got up to the counter, the woman, who could see that I was in pain, said something to me in Chinese. I couldn't understand. She repeated two or three times, then said very clearly in English, "Are you in pain?" I said I was indeed in pain, and then she said something else and pointed down the hall. Again, I couldn't understand, even though I know all the words she used. I think the pain was making it hard to concentrate. Another receptionist told me, "Go straight," and pointed the same direction. I thanked them and started off to where they were pointing.

About ten or fifteen meters along, I approached another counter, and the nurses (or whatever they are) looked at me as if they were really amused by what they were seeing. At first I was annoyed, but as I passed them, I suddenly felt all of the emotions I'd been holding inside since the crash come flooding up through my chest. I started to shake, so I held onto the wall, and then my eyes and nose filled with liquid and I realized that I was about to start bawling. Just then I heard,
"小等一下." I looked up, and one of the women who I thought were laughing at me was bringing me a wheel chair. I'm sure now that what I thought was their amusement was really just the Chinese way of smiling in an uncomfortable situation.

I ended up being able to keep from crying.

I got in the chair, which was a little too small (when I put my feet on the footrests, my knees were almost up into my nostrils), and was wheeled into the emergency room. There I was treated kindly by everyone, although one nurse crashed a rolling chair into the back of my wheelchair, and a candy striper dropped a bag of ice on my foot from a tremendous height. We all had a good chuckle over my pain from those two incidents, doctors, patients, and nurses alike.

At one point I decided to call the Taiwanese woman who handles my insurance, and she ended up coming to the hospital with one of my Canadian friends. She took care of all the paperwork, and then he took me home and then went out to get me some groceries.

Now I'm stuck at home with a cast on my foot. There is nothing wrong with the rest of me (other than whatever might have been wrong before the accident), so it is a little frustrating that it is so difficult to get around, even in my own apartment.

I've learned some important lessons:

1. Don't drive in Taiwan.

2. If you have to drive, be careful. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security just because you haven't been in an accident "so far."

3. Keep your apartment clean and stocked with basic food and water. You never know when you might suddenly become dependent on others for supplies, or when others might end up coming by for visits.

4. I need to develop a plan for getting out of Taiwan.

Number four is not just because of the accident, but I think the accident has made me realize that the longer I stay here, the greater chance that I will die here. Compared to my home, this is an unhealthy and dangerous environment. Crime might be worse in the States (I've never been a victim), but here in Taiwan, you take your life in your hands every time you walk out of your door. The concept of safety just doesn't exist. Add to that the pollution, the lack of sanitary conditions, and the stress of living in a foreign environment, and it just doesn't make sense for me to stay any longer than necessary to finish my degree.

I don't mean to sound like a candy-ass. I actually really like living here in Taiwan. It's just that, I'm past the age where one believes he will live forever. To be honest, I'm not very excited about life these days, but on the other hand, I'm not in a big hurry for it to be over. There are a lot of ways you can die: you can fall in the shower, a safe can fall out of a plane and land on your head, or you can choke on your own vomit, just to name a few. You can't control everything in your environment, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to at least minimize the most obvious dangers.

Of course all of this could just be the pain pills talking, or the post-traumatic effects of being in an accident. Who knows? A week from now I might be right back out there living on the edge.

I mean, how long do you want to live, anyway?

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