top of page

Because things can change in an instant

Only one thing was certain. I needed to stop the bleeding. Then I could assess the damage.

Direct pressure. But how much pressure, and for how long?

That and so many other questions swirled in my suddenly scrambled brain, but at least I felt calm. Stop the bleeding first, then address the questions. Simple order of operations. I looked down and briefly let up on the pressure. Nope, not yet. It was not pretty.

I had been nervous all day on the motor scooter. Yes, it was an incredibly simple and affordable way to tour that region of Thailand. We didn't even have to sign any papers this time. The woman who owns and operates the little cottage-style hotel where we were staying had inquired if we would want to rent a motor scooter for a day. She counted the days of the week on her fingers, and I touched her hand to show her which day we wanted a vroom-vroom with handlebars.

When we awoke that morning, the scooter was parked outside our door—looking every bit a relic from decades past, sun-faded hot pink and turquoise paint covered with tattered stickers, small tears in the fabric of the seat. We handed her 250 baht ($7 USD) and she handed us the keys, simple as that. We could use it for the entire day, even into the evening if we wanted. I wasn't interested in being out on the roads after dark, though. No thank you.

I knew Andy was excited about a day out on the open roads, chasing after waterfalls we had seen on the map, but I was, just like last time we rented one on Langkawi, concerned. So many things could go wrong. The local people rode these scooters everywhere like it was no big deal—as commuter vehicles, delivery vehicles, taxi services, often entire families crowded onto one bike.

I had much trepidation, though. Driving at high speeds in traffic that feels like it is coming and going the wrong way, with very few rules apparent and lax enforcement even where there are rules; with stray dogs, cows, and occasional monkeys on the road; plus a distinct lack of protective gear, other than our poorly fitting loaner helmets—the list of ways we could end up hospitalized or worse was lengthy in my mind. Anything—the slightest wheel wobble or loose gravel or someone not paying attention for a split-second, could change everything. Andy, meanwhile, was all smiles.

I held on and kept my mouth shut—both to keep from spoiling Andy’s fun, and to keep the bugs out of my teeth.

We had a lovely time at the falls, at all four different “forest parks” we found. We hiked and waded, swam and gawked. Beautiful. I even got a free fancy skin treatment on my feet and ankles from some nibbly fish.

It was four-thirty when we pulled away from the last of the waterfalls. We were all the way across the peninsula on the far west side, and the sun would set at 6 PM. But there was one more place I’d hoped to see, and it was half an hour further north yet.

The west coast of Thailand, specifically Phang Nga and Phuket, was one of the hardest-hit areas when the 2004 tsunami struck, following the Jakarta earthquake. Nervous as I was, especially about driving at dusk, I still felt it would be a shame to get that close and not see the areas that were devastated, learn more about the stories, and pay our respects to the victims . . . and the survivors.

When the sea first began to withdraw on that dreadful December 26, 2004, some people recognized the signs. A ten-year-old British school girl named Tilly Smith had just studied the formation of tsunamis two weeks prior, in school. She was playing on the beach, enjoying an exotic Christmas holiday with her family when she noticed the sea behaving strangely. She hadn't heard about the earthquake, but she sensed the imminent danger from what she could see, and she warned her family. At first, they didn't believe her. She was adamant, though. She had studied the signs and knew things could change in an instant—and likely would. Tilly is credited with saving a hundred lives that day.

Over 200,000 others weren't warned in time and died from that tsunami—the initial three waves and the aftermath that followed. Millions more survived and were left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

By the time we had finished viewing some of the truly sobering memorials to the victims, the sun was low in the sky—5:30. We still had a full hour’s drive, up and over the interior highlands, to get back to our cottage. I knew we were pushing it, but I hoped the twilight would linger. However, a) twilight is notoriously short-lived in equatorial regions, and b) twilight is often the most dangerous time to drive anyway.

I held on as Andy raced against the fading light. We were tired. It had been a long day, and the scooter was not exactly comfortable for two over any significant distance. Our backsides were sore, our legs stiff. Our own fatigue was now an added risk factor. I winced at every wrong-way vehicle, every dog hesitating on the side of the road, every tight, blind curve.

It was all I could do to relax my body, my mind, force the stress down, and breathe deeply. I wanted my body to be a calming presence against Andy’s back, rather than adding more tension to the situation. He had proven himself a very conscientious driver; he was not taking any undue risks, but we had pushed the timing beyond what we’d hoped. I prayed God would deliver us back to our cottage in safety and forced myself to enjoy the scenery, which really was stunning.

When we rounded the final turn and headed up the little hill to our cottage, we whooped with delight and relief. Parking in front of the cottage, peeling off our sweaty helmets and stretching our sore bodies, we gave each other a high-five and thanked God for our safe passage. Never had we ever been so happy to end a beautiful day of sightseeing. Things could have changed in an instant—but they didn’t.

It wasn't until bedtime, after we had walked to a street market for dinner, finished repacking our bags for a big day of bus and train travel, and were relaxed and excited to collapse into bed that it happened.

I reached into a zippered compartment of my backpack for my toothbrush and instead found the business end of my razor—without its protective plastic cap.

I have always had a concern in the back of my mind that this could happen. Usually I look before I reach, or at least feel around gently to find what I need. I did neither of those things this time.

I knew immediately it was bad. Things can change in an instant. I sucked in a sharp breath of air. Andy looked up.

“You ok?”

“No. I just cut my finger badly. I caught it on my razor.”

I hustled to the bathroom to rinse it out, which smarted something fierce, then clamped my other hand down on it, careful to stay over the sink.

Questions swirled through my addled brain.

How bad was it?

Would I need medical attention?

What was open in this small town this late at night?

Would I be able to keep it clean and free of infection?

Would this keep us from using the train tickets we already purchased?

How long would it bleed like this?

A moment earlier, we were relaxed and grateful, happy to be safe and sound, exhausted and ready for bed. Now we were both standing at the bathroom sink, full of questions.

Everything changed in an instant.

We pulled the wound closed as best as we could with a sturdy butterfly bandage, as well as another bandage to hold the first one in place. I was glad I had brought a rudimentary first aid kit along. It bothered me throughout the night, but I was glad for the pain, as it assured me there was no nerve damage.

I changed that initial dressing a day later in another city’s coffee shop’s restroom, moving forward with our travel plans. It is definitely a bad cut, and the end of that finger will likely be a different shape after this, but it looks clean and on its way to healing. I think it will be ok and not really have much long-term impact. I’m grateful.

Things can change in an instant. What do we do with that fact? I am not a big fan of living in fear and stress all the time, bubble-wrapping my very existence and insulating myself from every possible danger.

I don't really have any answers to this question, friend. Yes, we can pray. Yes, we can take basic precautions. Yes, we can work hard to float above our fears and force ourselves to enjoy the scenery and relax.

But we can't guarantee any of that will actually keep us from harm. We didn't crash on our motorbike. Does that mean we are #blessed? But the tsunami did hit in 2004, a thirty-foot high wall of churning water destroying everything in its path. Were none of those people blessed?

Andy and I are at peace with dying, so that’s not really our biggest fear. Honestly, surviving a tragedy—be it a natural disaster or a terrible motorcycle accident—sounds scarier to me than dying in one. Living takes much more courage.

All I have, really, are the things I have read and sung since childhood. Trust and obey. There’s no other way. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. His ways are higher than our ways.

So, I guess we just relax, go about our lives, and try to live them to the fullest—being wise, but not paralyzed by fear, right? Am I missing anything here? Feel free to chime in. I’m still trying to figure this life thing out.


bottom of page