The Accident – Becoming Temporarily Disabled

Before my accident I’d never thought to myself ‘I might die’ and truly believed it.  I look back on my life now and thoughts like ‘oh my God I’m gonna die!’ or ‘This is gonna kill me’ popped into my head all the time.  It’s only now in retrospect that those thoughts were so foolish.  My story doesn’t compare to those with life long disabilities, not at all, but it’s a story I’m going to tell you.

Jetskiing in Phuket in Thailand was something I knew might be dangerous, but at 19 years old ‘dangerous’ is a synonym of ‘fun’ and that’s how I saw it.  I remember even reading a website specifically warning against going jet skiing because of the dangers involved and also its illegality (in Thailand you have to be lisenced to operate a jet ski).

But there I was, 19 years old with my hand pulling the accelerator handle as far back was it would go, the speeds consistently hitting 70kph on the meter in front of me.  All it took was one rough wave, coming in at the wrong angle, popping up at random in the highly unpredictable waters and I went flying.  Not into the water.  That would’ve been great.  No I flew onto the side of the jet ski.

Cars are designed to crumple upon impact of a person or object, with the aim of the weak metal and purposefully designed crumple effect to absorb as much of the force as possible into the car and hence give a greater chance for the victim to survive.  Jet skis on the other hand are designed in the opposite effect, to be strong; to break the thing hitting it in the water not be damaged itself.

I hit the side of the jet ski with my lower spine, and as it seems in all life threatening situations, time slowed down.  As I bounced of the jet ski and casually flew through the air I had time to realize a few important things.  Firstly that it had hit the worst possible point of my body, and that I needed to be prepared to use my arms to swim.  Secondly that my eye contact lenses can easily come out in the water, especially when impacted upon with great force – so it was important to close my eyes.  Thirdly that I might go deep into water, so taking a nice big breath of air would be necessary.

‘I might die’.  Those were my first three words which formed my first thought when I was in the water.  Thankfully just before coming out I had complained to one of the Thai jet ski ‘instructors’ that my life vest was far too big and he grudgingly had provided me with smaller one.  Good thinking Jonny boy.

Those three words have so much more meaning than ‘I’m going to die’.  Those three words imply choice.  If someone truly thinks they’re going to die then they probably are, when you’re in a life threatening situation believe me you do everything you can to live.  If someone thinks that they’re going to die they’re either going to die or are exaggerating their situation massively.

For me those three words meant I had a choice, to live or to die and it was only me that could make the choice based on my next few decisions in the next few minutes.  Patong bay where my jet ski accident happened is a massive bay, there was no one around me for perhaps a kilometer.  I couldn’t see people individually I was so far out, and they couldn’t see me; certainly not hear me.  I couldn’t move my legs whatsoever, waves were periodically going over my head and drowning me, and tides were pulling my lower body in all directions.  Thankfully I was wearing the life vest.

My next few thoughts were ‘This isn’t a game’ followed by ‘the next 20 minutes dictate whether you live or die’.  No movement or feeling in my legs, no one was coming to help me, the jet ski had stopped – about 100 meters away, and I was very much feeling the horrible feeling of unconsciousness starting to take me.  It’s weird.  To genuinely think to yourself ‘This could be at, games are over, do whatever it takes or you’re going to die’.  The worst part was the feeling of dizziness overcoming me.  It’s a truly horrible feeling to know you need to be thinking straight and have your mind let you down.  To feel the corners of your versions start to darken before screaming to yourself to keep you from slipping into the cool, relaxing glove of unconsciousness.  But as dizzy and disorientated as I was, I knew what had to be done.

My first thought was of course to get help.  But this is Thailand, not the UK.  There’s no one looking out for you, no coastguard – it’s you fending for yourself.  I starting swimming back to the jet ski as quickly as I could.  The waters kept nearly pushing it over, but thankfully it was designed to stay up right.  I used all my upper body strength and crawled on board.  I couldn’t use my legs, so with my body hugging the jet ski I heaved myself on board.  It was at that moment that I thought, ‘maybe I can rest a little here’.  A wave hit the side of the jet ski, nearly knocking me of.  Panic surged through me as I realized I had strayed too far out, these waters were more dangerous than I realized even then.

I started the jet ski once more with the advanced training my Thai jet ski instructor had given me “key in, pull handle this way” and started the journey back to the beach.  Every wave, every buffet caused staggering pain, but I knew no one was coming to help me.  This is Thailand, where you don’t even need a license to ride a scooter – where the price of life is cheaper than chips.  This is the country where the most UK tourists get injured every year, that’s right, more the Somalia, Russia, Pakistan – every single country in the entire world and it’s Thailand.

I nearly made it back to the beach before I was intercepted by what looked like some sort of beach patrol vessel.  Ah, so that’s where they were – right next to a deserted area of water.  Well at least they could help me right?  Wrong.  I tried shouting to them to explain things, but they waved me on to a different part of the beach.  I kept trying to explain, but they didn’t speak English and started getting angry.  So be it, this is Thailand after all what can you expect.

So I traveled further down the beach to closer where I’d initially set of, thinking I was so close to being rescued.  Wrong again Jonny.  I was perhaps only 15 meters away from the beach when a wave struck the side of the jet ski.  It pushed me of the jet ski, and the jet landed ski on top of me.  So I was under an amount of water that was very low, all I had to do was stand up and I could breathe.  Oh but wait, my legs weren’t working.  So I tried to get up on my hands so I could crawl, underwater to the beach.  Oh wait, but I can’t because there’s both a jet ski on top of me, and every time I grabbed sand to pull myself forward, the sand simply slid away.  Panic starts to set in again, I didn’t have time to breathe in this time and my heart was racing.

I think for the first time in my ordeal I was glad for a wave, because the next one that was large enough pushed the jet ski of me.  It still didn’t solve the problem of me being underwater though.  So I started swimming through the water, until the water was literally about as deep as my head at which I lifted up my body onto my arms and took a gasp of air.  I looked up, and the Thai instructors were running towards me and I just remember feeling a sense of sheer relief.

Wrong again.

They of course didn’t realize I was injured and went straight towards the jet ski.  Another wave briefly submerged me underwater which is about the time I started screaming for help.  After carefully putting the jet ski away one turns around to hels me, realizes I’m injured and finally helps me out of the water and back onto the beach.

I think lying on the sun bed was the worst part.  My legs weren’t moving.  What next?

Part Two – The Recovery – Thai Hospital