I really like Koh Phangan, in fact, it’s my favourite Thai island. I like it because it attracts a diverse group of people, there are so many different beaches, activities and scenery to try out and once you have a motorbike to ride around on, everything becomes so much more accessible. There’s a great sense of freedom on the island, to explore, have adventures and be totally carefree. Although enjoyable, these pleasures can also turn the island into a bit of a crazy place at times, and sometimes Koh Phangan reminds me a little bit of Never Never Land. You know in the film
You know in the film Hook? When grown up Peter Pan arrives at Never Never Land and sees all the lost boys?
He asks them, “Where are your parents?” Then demands,
Then demands, “Who’s in charge here?”. To which, the answer then appears on a motorbike riding through somewhat sketchily made bike tracks stretching from tree to tree. Then all the lost boys sing in chorus
To which, the answer then appears on a motorbike riding through somewhat sketchily made bike tracks stretching from tree to tree. Then all the lost boys sing in chorus
Then all the lost boys sing in chorus “Roof-i-o, Roof-i-o, Roof, Roof, Roofiiiiiooooooooooo”.
Welcome to Koh Phangan.
Last night Dr Jenn and I were on our way to the West of the Island to watch the sunset before heading off to the south for some market food, when we came across a motorbike accident. Having been on the island for a week and already seeing about 4 people leaving local clinics with bandages, it was inevitable that we were going to see a bike accident at some point. As both of us are trained in first aid, we pulled over and headed to the scene without even thinking about it. When we got there we found a young woman, probably 19-20 years old, lying on the floor. She was bleeding from her face, her elbow and her leg, and she was shaking quite a bit, generally she looked pretty shook up. There was also a crowd of people gathering around her but it didn’t look like anyone was specifically tending to her or taking control of the situation, so without even question – I assumed this position. Firstly I asked if anyone was first aid trained, to which I got silence. Then I asked if anyone had called an ambulance and I got a flurry of different replies, apparently something
Firstly I asked if anyone was first aid trained, to which I got silence. Then I asked if anyone had called an ambulance and I got a flurry of different replies, apparently something might be on the way. Everything from this point onward becomes a bit mixed up, but I remember asking for a guy to call Koh Phangan clinic to get an ambulance, asking Jenn to control the onlookers and I started to assess the girl’s injuries and talk to her to see how conscious she was. The young woman was Spanish so I had to rely on my very rusty Spanish vocabulary to ask her for her name, age and what had happened. I’m not quite sure what information I got out of her, maybe I didn’t manage to translate the Spanish words in my head but I just made sure she kept talking. In all fairness, she was badly scratched and at worst may have broken her arm, but as my priority was to stop her going into shock I told her that she just had a few scratches and it looked worse than it was, while I continued to check her body for any bleeding or serious injury. Whilst I was doing this I was unaware that the traffic was building up on both sides, as cars were stopping to look, and that people were approaching. That was, until a man appeared on my left and commanded that we get her out of the road. Calmly I replied that I didn’t want to get her out of the road yet until I’d finished assessing her, to which the guy started raising his voice and started commanding things at me. At this moment I could feel my heart in my throat as I realised that I had put myself in a very vulnerable position and now I was being aggressively spoken to by someone. That little voice in my head was there again saying You’re under attack – there was my PTSD trigger right when I didn’t need it. At that moment I became very aware that everyone involved in this situation was watching me now, waiting for a reaction. This made me feel like I was under a lot of pressure, simple because I had assumed this leadership position. The only reason I had done this was because, having worked on boats I have very up to date and advanced first aid qualifications and seen as no one else seemed qualified in first aid when I arrived, I stepped up to make sure that the casualty was being tended to. I turned around to face this man who at this point, was literally a few inches away from me and calmly said “I’m the first-aider here and I am not moving her until she’s ready. Can you step back?” and then turned back to the girl. The man then shouted in my face that he was a paramedic but seen as I was a first-aider I clearly didn’t need his help and then stormed off muttering something under his breath. I remember this moment quite clearly because I could feel my heart racing so fast and all I wanted to do was to run away from this situation and cry. Then I started to doubt myself, should I have taken control of this situation? Should I have even got involved? What if my qualifications aren’t good enough? Having then questioned myself, I called back to the guy and said “If you’re a paramedic then we need you, come back” at which, he ignored me so I turned back to the girl and carried on assessing her. One of the cars that had pulled up was a taxi and was shouting that he’d take her to the hospital and after quickly taking this through with the girls and her friends we decided that if she could get up then it was probably best for her to go in the taxi than wait for an ambulance. She managed to get up unassisted and into the taxi. Deciding that we had done the best we could do, Jenn and I continued on to the beach to watch the sunset, where, you guessed it – I burst into tears.
There were quite a few things in this situation that triggered feelings from the attack and as we were on the beach Dr Jenn (putting on her Dr hat) asked for us to talk it out – seriously, having a psychologist on hand at even minor traumas is just the most fantastic thing. After a little bit of talking and crying, and a trip to 7-11 to get a beer, we distinguished that throughout that situation I’d personally had to deal with quite a few things that were difficult for me, so understandably I’d become quite upset. First of all, this incident put us both straight into a very aware state where we had to react, help out and put our first aid training into practice. Having been a natural leader all of my life it’s not unusual for me to do this, especially not in this kind of situation, I’ve actually done this quite a few times with minor injuries but this time, it was different. It was different because at the moment I struggle to feel confident doing things that are ‘normal’ to me, so to take control of a crowd and put myself in charge of someone else’s wellbeing it was actually very stressful for me at this point in my life, however as I was trained to deal with this situation I was under my own moral obligation to act. Regardless of my own discomfort, I had to put this girls pain at the top of my priority and make sure that she was given the first aid and assurance that she needed. As well as this pressure, the girl didn’t speak much English, so we had to converse in my second language, Spanish. The trigger here is that when I got attacked on St Maarten, and I ran into a house for refuge from my attacker and the women in the house only spoke Spanish. This was especially weird because St Maarten is a 1/2 French, 1/2 Dutch island where the majority at least speak a little English but the women who let me in their house only spoke Spanish. So for me, this was the second time I was having to converse in this language in a high-stress situation and last time I was extremely distressed, whilst trying to communicate that a man had tried to rape me. They don’t teach you how to say that in Spanish class.
The worst trigger in this whole situation was when the ‘paramedic’ approached and tried to take control of the situation in what I received as a quite an aggressive manner and I felt like I was being attacked. This isn’t the first time that a man has challenged me, in fact working in Construction and Yachting there are actually quite a few egotistically males that don’t like to see a young woman in charge and in the past I’d had a few different situations where man have either tried to undermine me professionally, come on to me or constantly challenge me to probably try and break me. In the past, I’ve been able to deal with these situations quite tactfully but lately, I feel really, under attack in these situations and handling these kind of egos is difficult for me to do without breaking down under the pressure. I’m actually quite impressed that I held myself together and managed to act as calm as I did during this situation. I’m not sure what the ‘paramedic’ was trying to achieve, whether he was trying to take control and didn’t like the fact that a young woman turned around and told him no – bruising his ego, or if there was something else at play here but either way, I’m quite positive that he wasn’t a paramedic. Having been in a situation before where paramedics have arrived, I know that this is not how they approach a situation, furthermore, had he been, he would have put the casualties needs before his ego and tended to her regardless of what had been said or done. This obviously wasn’t the case, because he stormed off.
I felt quite emotionally bruised for the rest of the evening and questioned myself over loads of things, if I was right or wrong, if I hindered or helped etc. Now that it’s a new day and I can reflect on the situation without the adrenaline and pumped up emotions, I can see that Jenn and I did the best that we could do at the time with the skills and knowledge that we had. I know that I acted calmly throughout the situation (even though I didn’t feel that calm at the time) and I know that I reassured the girl and helped to get her off the road and on the way to help. I’m sure that my Dad would have been proud.
I guess what the most important thing for me to reflect on in this situation is that it’s clear that emotionally stressful situations are still going to have an effect on me because what I’ve been through is still so raw. However, I also know how important it is for me to process these emotions and talk and cry after these events so that I can reflect, move on and get over them. At moments like these when I’m a little shook up after an event or a trigger that Jenn always reminds me of how a gazelle acts when it’s just got away from a lion chasing it – it physically shakes to discharge the overwhelming emotion. As humans we, don’t do this because it doesn’t conform to socially acceptable behavior in Western society, so instead we bottle these emotions up and they get blocked somewhere in our physical system. So instead of pushing these emotions back down she encourages me to let them out, cry and process them, and I’m really grateful that I have a friend who is so knowledgeable and helpful in these situations. I just hope that poor girl has as good a friend as I do to help her get through the motorbike accident.
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