Travel disaster: Injured foot in Vietnam

“I don’t know how I’m going to manage this one,” I told John. “I really don’t.”

“We’ll help,” John said. “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.”

hill tribes in vietnam

Our twins were nearly two when we visited Vietnam.

I knew that was easier said than done. We were sitting in a taxi in the Hanoi airport parking lot, looking at the terminal way far off in the distance – or at least it seemed that way to me. It might as well have been miles.

We had had a grand time in Vietnam. Our nearly-two-year-old twins were the perfect travel companions; we visited many fascinating destinations, and met some wonderful people. Our very last destination was the Bac Ha Sunday market in the northwest corner of the country.

That’s when our travel disaster happened.

Leaving our hotel with twin toddlers in tow, I headed down the old stone steps leading toward the market while carrying Daryl in one arm, and holding Davy’s hand with my other.

I didn’t see the hole, but felt myself falling – directly onto Daryl. In an effort to save my baby during my slow-motion fall, I twisted. And felt my foot pop.

Daryl, terrified by the sudden change, started howling. I, terrified by the thought that I very nearly crushed my son, started bawling. Davy, seeing his mother and brother sobbing, starting crying as well.

And that is how John found us.

I knew from the moment it happened that I had seriously messed up my foot. What I didn’t know was that medical facilities were all but nonexistent in that corner of the country. And thus began an… erm… interesting few days.

Injured foot in Vietnam

Unfortunately, the local clinic didn’t have an x-ray machine. We had to travel twelve hours to Hanoi.

Leaning on John, I hobbled to a waiting car to take me to the local clinic where they informed me the nearest x-ray machine was twelve hours away in Hanoi. John packed up our hotel room, shoved all our gear in the car, stopped at a store to buy a pillow to prop up my foot, and we set off for the big city.

It was 11 at night when we arrived into Hanoi. Our driver dropped the others off at a hotel, then headed directly to the hospital. Although rudimentary, the facilities were at least better than they had been in the village. They had an x-ray machine.

The news was bad. I hadn’t broken my foot, but had torn a whole bunch of ligaments and tendons. There was absolutely nothing they could do to help. It would just take time. Lots of it. And in the meantime, I couldn’t walk.

“Do you have some crutches I can use?” I begged.

It took a bit of convincing, but they finally handed me a pair of crutches designed for a tiny Vietnamese person (I’m 6’ tall) after I left a $500 deposit. No, that’s not a typo.

in hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam

I was very grateful for the relatively modern facilities in Hanoi. Unfortunately, crutches weren’t so easy to find.

For the next few days I hobbled up and down the stairs of our hotel whenever I needed something to eat. I repeatedly checked the Delta check-in information, determined not to miss our flight. The crutches, although about a foot too small, helped tremendously; I could put absolutely no weight on my foot at all.

The day finally came for our flight back to Ethiopia – headed home at last! We stopped at the hospital to return the crutches and retrieve my deposit, then on to the airport. I had an injured foot, no crutches, two big bags of gear, two-year-old toddlers, and one very tired husband. And the taxi stopped about three blocks from the door of the airport.

“I can’t do it,” I told John. “There’s no way. I could hop a little way, but hopping hurts like heck. I can’t hop that far.”

And that’s when we got creative.

John looked around and managed to find a cart – basically a flat piece of wood with four wheels attached. It was designed to put your suitcases on and you could pull it with a rope. Rather than our suitcases, I sat on the board. John, juggling suitcases, toddlers, and a wife on a board, slowly made his way to the airport entrance.

Amazingly, they had a wheelchair there! YES! I sat in the wheelchair while John checked us in. I figured we were set.

I figured wrong.

The wheelchair was great while it lasted, but after passport control we needed to go upstairs and they wouldn’t allow the wheelchair up there with me.

Holding on to the railing, I hopped up the steps, hoping beyond hope our gate was nearby.

My hope didn’t work.

We arrived at the top of the stairs and could see our gate at the end of the hallway. The end of a Very Long Hallway.

And that’s when my sons decided they needed to be carried. By Mom. Only.

I stood there on one foot looking down the hall at my gate about two hundred yards away, listening to my sons howling and screaming for me to pick them up. And I started crying.

John picked up the boys and hauled them down the hallway kicking and screaming. I hopped, on an increasingly exhausted leg, toward the gate. “Delta flight # 465 is now boarding,” screamed from the overhead speakers. I hopped faster.

During our layover in Bangkok I managed to find crutches that fit me and we made our way back to Ethiopia. It took weeks before I could put weight on my foot, but having crutches made all the difference in the world.

I never thought I would be so grateful for something so simple.

Do you have a travel disaster story? Please tell us about it or link to it in the comments!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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4 Responses to Travel disaster: Injured foot in Vietnam

  1. wandering educators December 18, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    i’ve been there, with my disabilities – where the distance from where you are to where you need to go is seemingly insurmountable, and filled with excruciating pain. UGH.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @wandering educators, No kidding! It’s such a short distance under normal circumstances, but when you’re hurting it could be many, many miles and it wouldn’t make much difference.

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  2. GoingPlacessg December 19, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Oh dear… getting injured in a foreign country is indeed a disaster. Hope you’ve got travel insurance coverage to take care of the medial bill.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @GoingPlacessg, the best part of getting injured in other countries is that the financial side of it is something you don’t really even have to think about. Whereas here in the USA, that injured foot could have put us into bankruptcy, in Vietnam I got the help for mere pennies. Wish the USA could wake up and realize tehre is a better way.

    [Reply]

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