Still pushing hard to meet my friends in Istanbul for early September, I had only been inside Turkey’s borders for one night when disaster struck. The weather in this part of Turkey can get pretty windy. Strong wind gusts when cycling can be less than pleasant and more downright dangerous, but I was determined to carry on in spite of this. Day two in Turkey, after stopping for breakfast in little known Vize I cycled out of town battling strong gusts of wind. Every time a truck would pass me the wind would get swept around the truck and I’d be thrown around, so I’d brace for it. On a slight downhill a truck passed me too close and I braked to steady up and prepare for the wind gust, when my bike skidded out on the loose gravel at the edge of the road. I felt the bike go from under me and my only thought was about falling away from the truck and not getting caught as I went down. Hitting the road didn’t hurt too bad, it was my pride that suffered as I knew all the passing drivers had been watching. By the time I’d started sitting up I was surrounded by a group of drivers with one on his phone repeating ‘ambulance, ambulance’. I sat on the edge of the road feeling a little sorry for myself, I checked all my limbs and everything major seemed to be moving fine albeit grazed and bruised. My left hand was a little sore though, it felt like it had a cramp and I when I looked down it was quite obvious, I’d dislocated my thumb. This was less than ideal. I noticed the men had all began arguing with someone, as it happened the truck driver had stopped when he noticed me fall and the other drivers were accusing him of hitting me. I explained it was the gravel and he was on his way, however in hindsight I wish I’d had a go at him for passing too close. Not that I was really up for an argument at that point.
A short while later an ambulance arrived carrying a bunch of very cheerful (and far too young to be qualified) paramedics. They ushered me into the ambulance but I dug my heels in, what about my bike and all my possessions? I made gestures to the bicycle and the good samaritan drivers all motioned to leave it, literally on the grassy verge by the side of the road. Turkey is pretty trustworthy, but not a chance. After I said no a couple of times one man said ‘we call police, police will collect bike’. Which seemed pretty reasonable to me, so I took their word for it and jumped in the ambulance. Yes I wouldn’t leave the bike by the side of the road but I did leave it in the care of complete strangers and trusted that they were actually calling the police to collect my bike. I began to regret this once I arrived at the hospital, that was until a police officer arrived and announced, ‘I have your bicycle’.
The hospital was a fairly simple regional hospital only really catering to elderly locals and the occasional idiot cyclist with a dislocated thumb. At this point looking at my thumb was making me feel ill and I really wanted them to crack to it, give me some local and put it back in place. Instead they floated in and out of them room, asked me to move several times, poked and prodded and asked me about insurance. Mistake number two for the day perhaps, while I did have travel insurance, I had done away with carrying paper copies of things and had details stored online. The details are perfectly accessible, except that I was no longer in the EU and my British sim card wasn’t working, and as I found out free WiFi is a little rare in Turkey. By some stroke of luck I found a slither of WiFi signal in the corner of the emergency room (no password required – unbelievable), just enough to access my travel insurance details. I happily told the medical staff I found my insurance details, and they didn’t care. There seemed to be some paperwork or bureaucracy issue and having insurance didn’t seem to help. Instead they came to the conclusion that my treatment would be covered for free but that I wouldn’t get a CD of the x-rays, I’d have to take photos of the x-rays with my phone. This was perfectly fine by me. Then the radiologist gave me a CD of the x-rays anyway, so none of this really made sense.
Finally the attending doctor told me I’d get a drip with some random fluid for the pain. I’m a terrible patient so whenever they weren’t looking I was trying to look at what the fluids were called, out of curiosity of course, not because I thought it was just a bag of saline solution. After awhile the doctor came back and started pulling at my thumb, but I could feel everything (no idea what that fluid was but it did nothing). I was getting a bit worried they would forgo the local anesthetic, so I made plenty of noise and he came back with a needle of local anesthetic. After a few minutes my thumb was back in it’s original position, splinted and bandaged with a token fragment of bandage. The doctor said to me that it would need 6 weeks of rest and that I should see a specialist in Istanbul as they’re only a basic regional hospital. I did neither. I thanked the staff and was about to ask for directions to the police station to collect my bike when another police officer arrived and told me to come with him. I would get a special police escort to collect my bike it seemed.
I’d had some time to think clearly by now, and decided that I’d have to get a bus the rest of the way to Istanbul and that it would be best to stay in Vize that night. The young police officer who’d collected me spoke some english so I asked him about the bus station and if there was a cheap hotel in town. I then explained that I would push my bike the few kilometres back to town, at which point his face changed. No, no this was definitely not possible. Apparently he was more than happy for me to cycle on my way but push the bike back to town, no definitely not. After a short discussion with his colleague he explained they would drive me back into town, drop me at the hotel and that I could leave the bicycle there. It was just easier for me to have the bike and all my belongings with me in the hotel so I could go directly to the bus station the next morning, so I insisted on taking the bike. The police officers discussed, made some phone calls and a little while later a van appears. The police had commandeered the help of a van driver, a guy in the back stood holding my bike and I jumped back in the police car off to the hotel. The police even went a step further and drove me around to the bus station to ask if I could take the bike on the bus the following day. It’s possible the police didn’t actually have much to do, but I was very thankful for their assistance.
The next day I loaded my bike on the bus and enjoyed the relaxing, airconditioned ride to Istanbul. Not how I had imagined arriving in Istanbul. I was a little disappointed, I felt like I was cheating by getting a bus. I’ve since loosened up on myself, it’s ok to cheat a little, it doesn’t always have to be a struggle. As for the recommendation of 6 weeks rest, I had a week and a half off the bike in Istanbul while I caught up with friends and did the touristy thing. I then decided that I could carry on, change gears with my index finger and cycle carefully with my thumb splinted. Eventually it got stronger and many weeks later I was able to change gears with my thumb once again. Ultimately, a small hiccup in the plan, nothing I couldn’t manage.
** A big thanks to the Vize Police, Hospital staff and the passers by who helped me out**
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