Huanggang was not like the China we had seen with sleek skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, Starbucks, 711s – and crowds everywhere. This tiny rural village of simple wooden houses where farmers live and toil as they have for ages was the China I had been eager to see and photograph. Unfortunately it was my downfall, literally.
Our guide had given us free time to wander around, take photos, explore. Voila — a wooden footbridge over a canal of raging water with a pagoda downstream. The perfect shot awaited from the middle of the bridge, or so I thought. In eager anticipation of getting that super shot, camera ready, I stepped on the first plank. Crack! It split, broke in two. Into the canal I went. I seized the canal wall, hoping someone would extricate me before I plunged into the nasty, brown, turbulent water. No such luck. The pain in my arms became unbearable. I could hang on no longer, let go and dropped into the churning canal. Fortunately the water was only about waist deep and I was not swept downstream over the Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfall. But, my precious Canon was history.
Husband Bob and a few others rushed to the scene. The rescue effort was challenging. My arms were shot. I could not use them to hoist myself, even with their help. They pulled me by the arms. Ouch!
Once safe on the ground, I was in disbelief. How could this have happened? It was so unreal, like a scene from a slapstick comedy. Except — it was really me and it was not funny. I had been so excited and thrilled with this trip – finally a chance to visit China, a destination that had beckoned me for years. Now what?
Guide Xiaoxaio rapidly arranged for a driver to take us to a hospital. He insisted on accompanying us, leaving the group behind. The hour long ride over twisty, primitive roads was scenic, but hard for me to appreciate. The lower half of my body was soaked. I was in denial, depressed, devastated. My arms, my shoulder, hurt.
The hospital – not the Mayo clinic, but thanks to Xiaoxiao there was no emergency room wait. I was quickly sent to X-ray. The equipment seemed on the antique side. Each X-ray, and they took many, seemed to take ages. I feared a Chernobyl dose of radiation. While waiting for the results, I asked Xiaixiao if he could find a shop and make a purchase for me. My clothes were slowly drying out, but my shoes were like overloaded sponges. I have very large feet, bigger than most Chinese feet I feared. Not to worry. Within record time, our trusty guide reappeared with a very comfortable pair of shoes, perfect fit.
None of the doctors spoke English. Xiaoxiao, who speaks perfect English, relayed the diagnosis: broken collar bone. The doctor said surgery might be required. Continuing the trip with our group was out of the question. Our compassionate guide arranged for us to return to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, where we had started our tour.
Chinese efficiency in action. We were whisked to a larger town, met by a guide and interpreter who accompanied us in first class splendor on the bullet train. The train was spiffy – roomy and comfortable with a stewardess who served meals. We were too shattered to eat, but were impressed with the smooth, quiet ride. It was impossible to believe we were traveling at up to 246 mph.
The arrival station was so futuristic it was almost scary: minimalistic, spacious, spotless, quiet. Passengers paraded swiftly, silently down long, wide corridors (no shops or advertising signs en route) to exits. Here our train guide turned us over to Miss Koo, the local rep of Spring Travel, the travel agency which had arranged the trip, and Tingting, a bubbly young translator. Both were delightful and showered us with TLC, treating us like dignitaries. They felt I should see another doctor at the big city hospital. They had purchased fast-food burgers for nourishment en route. “Since you are Americans, we figured you would like burgers,” Tingting said. We did indeed.
This hospital was more up to date, but still no English speakers. Waiting rooms were packed, but we were ushered in ahead of all. Here the emergency room doctor confirmed the break, but said no surgery would be required. Maybe we could continue the trip after all?
Since there had been collar bone confusion – surgery or no surgery, I asked if I could see an orthopedic specialist the next day with hopes that he might reconfirm the no-surgery assessment and we could salvage our trip. Thanks to Spring Travel, we spent the night at the five-star Kempinski hotel. Our guardian angels arrived the next morning to escort us to the orthopedic specialist. No English, but lots of back forth conversation and phone calls. I had told Tingting to tell the doctor that even though I am an old lady, I am still active and wanted to continue to enjoy some sports. She said in that case he advised I return to France and see a doctor there.
That did it. End of trip. More whirlwind action and mind boggling efficiency. We could take a flight that night back to France. No time to think. No time for tears. Just pack and get moving.
Before departing for the airport, Tingting and Miss Koo arranged a mini b’day celebration. In all the stress, we had forgotten — it was Bob’s birthday. We sat in the elegant lobby and enjoyed a delicious birthday cake.
Once home, the reality sunk in. The 18-day trip to China had been slashed to 3 ½ days. We saw very little of this intriguing country. We never made it to the Society of American Travel Writers Convention, which had been the main purpose of the trip. And, I had a very painful shoulder.
A broken collar bone is much like broken ribs –not much to do except suffer and reduce movement when possible. After six weeks, I thought the
worst was over, but the black Chinese cloud resurfaced with more bad luck. Somehow nerves had become compressed. My left hand is only partially functional. I cannot type with two hands – which is driving me crazy. I have shoulder pain when I walk. Doctors tell me it is not “grave” (French for serious) and the nerves will come back. When? No one knows, but it could take a long, long time, up to a year, I am told.
My lust for travel has not been squashed. I still crave adventure. It could have been far worse. Spring Travel, Xiaoxiao, Miss Koo and Tingting are to be commended. Thanks to their care, consideration and kindness, we even managed to smile during these traumatic times. Chinese hospitals and the bullet train count as interesting experiences. Spring tried to get a refund for me – faulty bridge. But, they learned the government had not built the bridge. Nonetheless they provided a small sum.
Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts. We are not down yet. Soon we will be off to Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — where I will avoid wooden bridges. Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared