Stories Mishaps


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Stories Mishaps

  Here is a collection of stories of injuries or medical care I have received over the years, while in Southeast Asia. Some of these would have been funnier if they had happened to someone else.
My 2nd Appendectomy

My run in with Meat Cleavers

The Skydiving Mishap

My 2nd Appendectomy or the reason why I would not let a Singaporean doctor cut hair.

In February 1982 I was living in Singapore. I had been living there for about 1 year. I had just returned from a field assignment in Bangladesh. After being back for about one week, I started having stomach pains and went to the doctor in Singapore. The doctor took some x-rays, and I was told that I had appendices and would have to be operated on immediately. Being new to Singapore, I was a assured that the health care was excellent it was under that assumption that I went to the hospital.

The surgeon Dr. Y.C. Lee assured me that the operation would be simple and quick. He advised me that a small number of patients had an adverse reaction to the anesthetic, but he did not think it would be a problem in my case (I should have taken this as a warning). The operation went smoothly, I was released from the hospital after 3 days, just in time to start my cementing class at Halliburton, my employer at the time. All was well, or so I thought.

In March 1984, my job with Halliburton was finished and I had moved back to Jakarta. I awoke on a Monday morning with a cramp in my stomach. The pain was excruciating, getting worse. A local doctor came over to my residence and gave me some Biscopan, a drug which is suppose to relieve stomach cramps, and I promptly vomited. The doctor said I need to get to the hospital now. So my good friend Alex assured me that all would be well, and drove me from Kebyoran Lama to the Pertamina Hospital about 10 km from my residence.

The doctors that examined me an internist, surgeon, and urologist where mystified as to what the problem could be. They could clearly see the scar on my abdomen showing that my appendix had been removed. I always thought that if the pain became bad enough I would pass out. I was wrong. After 3 amples of Morphine every spot on body was in excruciating pain. If someone touch my ears waves of pain would wash over me.

I had a temperature of 105oF, and a very high white blood cell count showing infection, the pain was so bad I was given an anesthetic. I could not respond, I could here the doctors but could not speak. I was dying and I knew it, I had a feeling of impending doom. The doctors had taken x-rays but could not see what exactly was wrong. They deiced it had to be something with my intestines but they where not sure what it was. I was given a 40% chance of recovery.

I was dying, in my mind I was a hanging over a pit of oblivion by my feet and hands with nothing underneath, if I let go I would die. I was angry, I did not feel that it was fair for me to die in this much pain. It was so bad that I would have let the doctors operate with any anesthetic.

I was wheeled in to the operating room 12 hours after arriving into the hospital. The operation took 4 hours. I was told that the doctor in Singapore had left 3 cm of my appendix in me. That 3 cm became infected and broke. I had Peritonitis, there was a massive infection in my abdomen. My intestines were removed cleaned up and replace. I was still in a great deal of pain for the next 24 hours. I was given several I.V. bottles of antibiotics to bring the infection under control.

It took about 5 days to recover. My bill for those 5 days, including all medicine, operation, room and care was US$1,100.

After I recovered I made a trip to Singapore to show Dr. Y.C. Lee my new scar. He said, "That does not look like my wound." I told him it wasn't and explained what had happened. He then said, "Legally, I did not even have to operate, I could have just inserted a drain instead. Besides, your not the first person to accuse me of taking out a wrong organ!"

At this point I left his office, I was speechless. I was going to sue, but I found out the its impossible to sue a doctor in Singapore, for no doctor would ever testify against another doctor. So I had to let it go. I later found out that the average size of an Asian appendix is 6 cm. Apparently because I am 195 cm tall, my appendix is a little longer, about 3 cm. So as far as I could find out, they took out only 6 cm and left the other 3 cm. Who knew why? But that 3 cm very nearly killed me.

But since that time I have vowed never to go to a Singapore doctor for anything. It is interesting to note that over the years, nearly every single person that I have met has either, came down with a serious illness or died as I direct result of obtaining medical care in Singapore. Whenever I start a new job, I make it very clear that if I need medical care and can't speak, I am NOT to be brought to Singapore under any circumstances. I will either stay in Jakarta or go to Thailand, but never to Singapore.

If you are in Southeast Asia and need medical care your better off going anywhere but Singapore.

What four angry Indonesians can do with meat cleavers.

I had just returned 3 days earlier from a working in Vietnam to the office at 75 Jl. Widjaya. At the time I was working with John Brown who shared this house/office with Jim Swansen and Don Barnsdroff. We sometime worked on projects together, or sometimes separately but at least had a spot were (In the era before cell phones) we could be located.

On June 3rd 1988 after discussing my trip into Vietnam and a couple of other projects we had in the works, I thought instead of lunch, I would go down to the Hilton and get some exercise at Clark Hatch, as was my habit in those days. As it was 12:00 pm (Noon) I took my briefcase and went out to my car SUV Chevy Luv which was parked in its usual spot in front of the house/office.

I had no idea the anything unusual was going to happen has I put the key into the lock and opened the door. As I sat down in the drivers side holding the black Halliburton brief case in my lap, an Indonesian rushed forward pull the door open and  swung hard in a downward stroke cutting the bone in my right forearm in two. The second blow struck across the back knuckles on my left hand locking my index and middle finger in the forward position. At this point both my right and left hands were rendered unusable.

I thought I have to get out of the car NOW! Before I get killed, just sitting in the drivers seat. Using my left foot, I kicked the drivers side door open pushing one Indonesian away, when a second man with another meat cleaver swung directly at my head. I blocked the blow with my left arm and got myself into the open roadway. This was the first time I notice that there were 4 Indonesians in all and 3 had very sharp meat cleavers 1 had a machete and using two motorcycles as transportation.

At that point it was ON! People trying to kill me really pisses me off. Since my hands were useless, I could only use my arms to block. So I was placing some good kicks on to my opponents. But the Indonesians kept there motorcycle helmets on, so any kick I made to the head, only temporarily stunned them.

Instead of running has they expected I chase after them. I received additional blows across my arms and right leg and I was amazed to discover there was no pain, only a numb feeling with each blow. One of the attackers as he was backing up kept yelling "Awas ada ilmu!" He knows magic!

While this was going on the servant from Mr. Jim's house locked the gate so that the attackers could not reach the office. However, this also cut off my only means of escape, forcing me to fight or die trying. This probably a good time to mention that there were 20 cars stopped in the road watching the fight from the safety of there vehicles.

It was unfortunate that I could not use my hands, I kick one of the attackers in the chest hard enough to break ribs, causing him to drop the machete. Had I been able to pick up the weapon the tables would have turned quickly to my favor. As it was, I was holding my own. They were quickly tiring of the fact that I was not about to lay down and die. I was concentrating so hard on where the blows were landing that I was unable to speak. Unlike a movie were the attackers wait there turn, these guys were attacking from all 4 directions at the same time.

After 5 minutes (Seemed like 2 hours) they got on the motorcycles to escape. I chased one motorcycle for 50 meters actually had my hand on the back of his shirt intending to pull him off the back of his motorcycle to break his neck. Unfortunately I discovered that despite what you see in films, it is not possible to close your fist when the bone is broken in your forearm. They took off escaping into the daylight.

One of the Indonesians watching the show asked if he could help. I would have preferred his help 10 minutes earlier when I was fighting for my life, but in the end I took him up on his offer and accepted a ride to the closest hospital which was Pertamina.

After leaving a liter of blood on the floor and back seat of the good Samaritan's car I walked under my own power in the emergency room at Pertamina hospital. They immediately laid me down on a gurney and brought me into the emergency operating room and proceeded to clamp off my arteries without the benefit of anesthetic. This was mainly because my blood pressure was 60 over 50, and the leaks had to be quickly stopped.

Unlike the initial injuries, the clamping of the blood vessels and arteries was very painful. In order to check my red blood cell count, a sample was taken from  my groin as there was to much damage to get a sample from my arms. They needed to see if I required whole blood. That was very painful. In fact the nurse came back 1 hour later saying, "We did not get the sample to the lab in time, we will have to take another sample." My reply was "Forget It! If I die so be it, but there is no way that anyone with a needle is going near my groin again! So as I am still here I guess I did not need whole blood.

I was in the hospital for 5 days. The doctors decided to leave my right arm broken for 2 weeks while they waited to see if there was any bone infection. Unfortunately the bone in my right forearm was cut to a sharp point like a chicken bone, and was very painful. Fortunately, the doctors were very generous with morphine which kept me out of pain enough so I could sleep.

While I was in the hospital I received a call from the American Embassy Security, asking if there was anything they could do. They asked me to come down for a visit. After I was out of the hospital, I went to the US Embassy and met with the head of Security. He wanted to know if I thought the attack was political. I told them I did not know anything yet as I just got out of the hospital. I asked if I could see the US Embassy doctor just so I could ask if he thought I was getting the right medical treatment. The doctor refused because I did not work for the US Embassy. I said, "All I want is a little advice." He replied NO the doctor is afraid that you will sue him.

So realizing that the US Embassy wanted to know if they were in immediate danger, and I was not about to get any useful help, I left. When I asked the Consul General why I could not get some assistance I was told; "The US Embassy is here to explain US foreign policy to the Indonesian government, we are not here for the  benefit of American citizens." When ever I get in trouble in a foreign country, I always remember what I was told.

Interestingly I received visits to my home from Vietnamese Intelligence, Russian KGB, BAKIN Indonesian Intelligence both offering sympathy traditional medicine from Vietnamese (Used by Ho Chi Minh) and an offer to be examined by a Soviet doctor. All 3 organizations swear they had nothing to do with the attack. However, I did not even get a get well card from the US Embassy let alone a personal visit.

It was 3 weeks before I could use my hands to eat and not be spoon fed. I healed quickly after a titanium plate was placed in my right arm. The operation was done with use of a local anesthetic so I could watch the operation. Again after about 2 years I had the plate removed and watch the entire operation using only a local anesthetic. This was good because the doctor wanted to graft a tendon and because I was watching what was going on I was able to make a decision at the time preventing a 3rd operation.

We found out much later that the attack was intended for Don Barnsdorff. Who said, he was working for the CIA. The killers (These aren't rocket scientist) were told to get the tall white guy when he comes out. I just happen to come out first. I don't think Don worked for the CIA. I believe he was just a belligerent drunk that pissed someone off to the point of killing him. He left Indonesia in September 1988.

I am now left with scars on my left and right hands as well as my right leg, that hurt when it rains. I guess all in all it could have been worse. In America I probably would have been shot.

Why jumping out of an airplane is never a good idea.

I am not sure why I listen to Mike Newton ranting about skydiving in 1985? But it was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mike belonged to a Expat skydiving club that jumped out of perfectly good aircraft at an old air field in Serpong West Java, about 4 hours from Jakarta. The first time I tried skydiving, was on a tandem jump. At 5' 4" the dive master, was a good foot shorter then myself. We got into the plane, which took off down the grass runway and lifted up into the sky.

At 10,000 ft people started jumping out of the plane. As I was wondering what in the hell am I doing up here, I made my way to the door with the dive master and myself hanging half way up out the door. As I lifted my hands from the floor of the plane saying "I think I have changed my mind." Since he pushed off at the same time I am sure it sounded like I said; "I think I have changed myy miiiiinnnnnndddd!" as I went hurtling toward the earth.

I think what I noticed the most was that after about  1,000 ft, you loose the sensation of falling as you reach terminal velocity 120 miles per hour. At 3,000 ft. the chute opened and we glided safely back to the ground. Since I was taller than the dive master I had to lift my legs up so that we would impact the ground at the same time.

I must admit it was different and kind of fun. Mike was telling me if you like that, you have to try AFF (Accelerated Free Fall). With this program, you get a couple of hours of ground training the shoved out of the plane at 10,000 ft, free fall with 2 dive masters and then you pull your own chute, and come back safely to earth.

Well even though I did not pay attention to the ground school as I should have. In my defense I was distracted by this cute Indonesian girl. We went up the following weekend.

I put the jumpsuit and parachute on and we took off and got up to 12,000 ft. Mike, myself and another dive master jumped together out of the aircraft and plummeted to the earth. After 1,000 ft, we reach terminal velocity and lost the sensation of falling. As you are falling at 120 miles per hour, there is no doubt whatsoever that if the parachute fails you are going to die when you hit the ground. We free fell for about 45 seconds, I had enough time to look out at the landscape and setting sun. It was quite beautiful. At 3,000 ft, I pulled my rip cord and counted to 10. The chute opened with no problem and I was gliding safely back to the earth.

The wind was against me and the landing site, so I thought I would rather land away from the landing zone, then try to get closer and inadvertently end up in the 6,000  volt power lines. 

This is why its important to pay attention when someone is giving you instruction, on which your life depends.

As I was coming down, I tried to flare the chute to soften my landing. At about the top of a telephone pole, I collapsed the chute. I went back in free fall for the last 40' ft. I stupidly stuck my left hand out to break my fall, I slammed into the ground. As I was laying on the ground I was thinking I must have broken something, I was I thinking my arm. I tried to move but since everything hurt, I felt it best just to lay on the ground a while longer.

After the other skydivers seeing me laying on the ground and not getting up, they ran the 500 ft to where I was laying on the ground and help me turn over. It was at this point I realized I had dislocated my left arm. It was very painful, my elbow moved 4" into my upper arm. Mike and another skydiver offered to take me to the hospital.

In 1985 the toll road between Serpong and Jakarta was not yet built. So we went to the nearest hospital which was Pertamina in South Jakarta 4 hours away. By the time we arrived at the hospital that Saturday evening, the adrenaline had long since worn off and shock had start to set in. I walk into the emergency room and the nurse was called. She looked at my arm, then spoke into a phone. She came over and said, "The orthopedic doctor is out and won't be back until Tuesday. You will have to come back on Tuesday." I said, "Look I cannot wait 3 days, so about if I dislocate your arm and you come back on Tuesday!" She left sensing I was not in a good mood and came back with a syringe.

She said, "I am going to give you a shot of Morphine, you can go to the  clinic on Jl. Kebon Siri in Central Jakarta and they can take care of you immediately." Mike kept asking me "Is it working yet?" My reply was "NO!" Again, "Is it working yet?" "NO!" After about 7 minutes, "Is it working yet?" I smiled and said, "Yeah!"

We got back into the car and went to the clinic. On the way to the clinic I suggested we stop off at the disco, but we decided that the Morphine may wear off if we took any detours we went straight to the clinic. After about 20 minutes the doctor showed up with another man built like a weight lifter. He told Mike you may want to leave for awhile you are not going to like what we are going to do to your friend.

So Mike went to go get some fried rice (We had not eaten since morning). The doctor tells me we are going to relocate your arm. I told him "Not conscious your not." He said, "No, we will be using valium, this will put you to sleep and relax your muscles."

So I was given an injection of valium and to sleep I went. Well not quite, from my point of view, I could see only a bright white light. I felt my clothes being pulled quickly off my upper body at hyperspeed. Then I could hear someone screaming, only I could not tell were the screaming was coming from.

It turns out the screaming was coming from me. Thinking I was in pain (I probably was, but not aware of it from my point of view) the doctor gave me another injection of valium. It took a good hour for me to come too.

Mike and friend having finished his meal, came to get me out of hock. Paid the bill so we could go home. We got back at the staff house around 11:00 pm. The next day when I woke up my whole left forearm was black and blue. Maria this girl I had just met, would help me on the road to recovery over the next month.

I never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane again. Nearly a year later Mike Newton and 10 friends was killed, when a plane they are going to skydive out of crashed.