Family

How To Cope With Your Estranged Mother Being In An Accident In Vietnam

7 June 2017

CONTENT WARNING: MENTIONS OF BLOOD/GORE

Step 1: Assume that this can happen anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to climb the Grand Canyon in the rain or trek a Cambodian jungle for your mother to cut the back of her leg. You can simply go to dinner in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and her Achilles tendon can be caught by the escalator. Even in your wildest imagination, you’d never thought the first meeting in years would result in severed muscles and artery. But life changing in the blink of an eye is a cliché you should not give into. Read on to see how you can manage the situation.

Step 2: Don’t assume somebody will save you. Despite your cries for help and for assistance from anybody with medical experience, chances are, no-one will respond. They will stand far enough to not get involved, but sufficiently close to bear witness. Everybody wants a story to tell.

While travelling in a third-world country, expect the ambulance to be busy or stuck in a traffic jam. Expect their refusal to come and aid you. In that case, ask someone to call a taxi while you stop the blood. Use the restaurant’s poorly-equipped first-aid kit to block the veins. Try your best to recall those survival-style, militant movies, and how their characters improvise in similar situations. My personal favourite, for reference, is Saving Private Ryan (1998). Without morphine to ease the pain and Tom Hanks to offer wisdom and comfort, you need to grab bandages and start wrapping. Use serviettes, tissues or cloths as padding as you unroll the scroll. Add loads of pressure. Count on your mother to be as resilient to unspeakable pain as she was while delivering you into the world.

Step 3: Choose your hospital carefully. If possible, transport your mother to the nearest private specialist clinic. Taxi drivers are your best friends. They will carry your mother in and out of their vehicle, cautious of the wound on her leg. They will rack their brains trying to find the fastest route around the gathering crowd of scooters. Their taxis will nevertheless be rendered an immobile beetle among ants hoarding downtown for dinner. At the end of the trip, they will flick on the ceiling light to find the correct change, averting their gaze from the pooled blood on faux leather. And you find yourself wishing that they had said something sympathetic, that someone had cared enough to offer a hand, or at least, a glance of worry. A city of eleven million people. Eleven million fucks not given.

Step 4: Keep her awake and alert throughout the drive. You will be stuck downtown for at least half an hour. In your arms, she grows colder. Her breath fades to the beat of your quickened heart. Her skin pales and defuses the neon lights reflected on it. Ask how she is feeling. She will undoubtedly avoid the question and instead inquire about your siblings, but don’t give up just yet. Talk, as if all these years of separation had never existed, as if your lives were joined. You both have learned to live without one another, but now, talk as if you could not survive without her.

Step 5: Hold her. Tighter.

Step 6: Clean the blood with wet wipes. Time will stretch while you wait at the hospital. You will find yourself staring at your crimson palms and studying the dyed creases. The number you called is unavailable, the automated voice speaks for the fifth time after the beep. Your father’s mobile does not even ring. In that silence, you find anger. And loss. Anger for circumstances forcing you to take responsibility. Loss for an opportunity to have a mother, to be her daughter. You were never ready to grow up.

Someone offers you wet wipes to clean up the blood. Not far from your seat, the night guard urges his young apprentice to mop the floor. The improvised bandage has come undone as your mother is wheeled into the emergency room. Her thinned blood spurts like water from a lawn sprinkler, rather than gushing out as it had before. Your skin cells can recall the difference in viscosity. Even though they crawl at the memory, you remember anyway. You remember how the wine-coloured fluid (its shade more of a shiraz than cabernet sauvignon) surged through her fingers and yours as four hands compressed the wound. You remember kneeling at her ankles, trying to stop your hands from shaking, and failing. Your hands shook so much that the first round of bandaging went inside the wound instead of over it. You remember how the cloth was effortlessly swallowed by layers of skin and muscles and the similar ease with which the cloth was returned when you pulled it out. You remember the fluid’s warmth pouring all over your thighs in those mere instances of bewilderment. And you remember the unused wet wipe in your hands.

Step 7: Ensure that you can pay for an immediate operation. While the doctors take X-rays of your mother’s leg, the hospital’s clerk presents you with a bill for the initial evaluation of the wound and the temporary stitch-up work. It is, of course, absolutely natural to be confused when you first encounter this pink slip. “Shouldn’t this be covered by the government?” you query, all the while thinking of your 24/7 Superclinic that bulk-bills AND accepts PBS. It is also natural for the clerk to be confused when confronted with such a myth. In her mind, she contemplates the illogic behind a universal and accessible healthcare scheme funded by a socialist republic.

Anyway, she says, this is just for now – when the doctors finish looking at the wound, they will give you an estimated cost for the operation. ‘And I must pay it now?’ you ask the clerk incredulously. As soon as possible so the doctors can begin the operation, the clerk replies and introduces another pink slip. There is not enough space on the dotted lines to fit seven zeros. I don’t have any more cash on me, I used it all for the last payment, you manage to utter. We take cards, too, the clerk says, matter-of-factly. You shiver again, from fear and anger. But an emotional outburst will only result in your expulsion from the waiting room.

Gather yourself and follow these instructions: borrow someone’s internet data or buy a SIM card from a street-side vendor. Contact a relative for cash or transfer money into your bank account using 3G.

For tips on budgeting post-traumatic-event, check out our trending guide on ‘How to Maintain Your Affluent Hipster Aesthetic at Uni with an Emptied Bank Account.’

Step 8: Let your mother know you love her, even if you have to lie. The operation will last approximately three to four hours, depending on not only the complexity of the wound, but also the capability of your doctors. When they finally let you in the recovery room at 2am to see her, she is barely alert with eyes half-opened. Her once pale face now carries a multitude of textures and colours. Her skin is pigmented mustard by betadine, and stretched so thin with age that blue veins seem to be embroidered on it. While the skin is mostly hardened by the harsh southern sun, there are smooth tear stains and tracks so fresh that they glisten under the cold tungsten lights.

You wonder why she has cried – is it a) the physical pain, b) anger at a fate so particularly cruel to her, or perhaps c) fear for tomorrow? You realise you want her to feel d) none of the above, and decide to distract her momentarily with, Mum, I love you, so much.

While you cannot remember the last time those words were said, she has said them often enough in those Christmas cards and birthday texts. She cannot afford to call you but you can afford to leave her on read. Looking at the battered woman, whose body is too scrawny to even fill up the smallest hospital gown, you realise you had forgiven her the moment you saw each other for the first time in years. You had forgiven her before the operation, the inner city traffic jam, even before the escalator. You realise that you meant what you said.

Step 9: Anticipate panic attacks as you recover from the event. As your trip to Vietnam draws to a close, your mother will be able to move from her bed to the toilet assisted by cast and crutch. While she loses sleep over unemployment, unpaid hospital bills and unmedicated pain, you will be the one to hyperventilate when faced with memory triggers of the evening. And that is okay. You don’t have to explain to your boyfriend why you have a fit the moment Lorne Malvo dresses his leg wound in Fargo (2014). In fact, you are under no obligation to talk to anybody about what happened, what you felt that night, how you still see flashes of blood pouring out from the cut when you close your eyes. But internalising these thoughts is no better than wrapping the wound up, then leaving it unchecked. On how to effectively deal with your emotions without talking about them, check out the final step!

Step 10: Write, to process your memory of the night. Having experienced the trauma alone, it only makes sense that you work through the memories by yourself, by putting the recollection into words. Visiting a particular phrase over and over again will help make sense of the events, sans confusion. In refining and rewording your sentences, you will be able to the determine the most important and resolute aspect of the night: your ability to make it through, alone.


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