Tuesday, 11 October 2011

... Breaking the limb

This would be mine...
So there was one tiny detail I omitted from my previous post about living my dream of Mongolian horsemanship. Which is that I did break my arm. You know... a bit.

What happened was this: 
About 10 minutes after the video I posted yesterday, our group cantered into a herd of horses belonging to a nomadic Mongolian herder, grazing happily on the steppe. As we approached, my horse - alongside the horse of a pre-med student named Dan - decided to assert its independence, by bolting headlong into the herd ahead. We yanked back on the reins and yelled 'Ooooozzzhhh' (Mongolian for "Please, for the love of God, slow down") but our horses were having none of it - and spooked the herd into a full-bore stampede.

It was around this point that we started to panic. We tried vainly to turn our horses away from the stampede, but (as I may have mentioned previously) Mongolian horses aren't especially concerned about their rider's directional preferences. They ignored us completely, and as the stampede gathered pace, our horses happily joined in, sprinting in amongst the herd.

After a few long moments of frantic rein-pulling, Dan managed to yank his horse's head sufficiently far to the right that it detached itself from the herd. I tried desperately to follow him, pulling my horse's head furiously rightwards. My steed responded, rather unhelpfully, by banking sharply to the left - leaving me hopelessly off-balance... and flying head first off the saddle, into the air.

My main concern, as I launched through the air, was to get out of the stirrups. My right foot was still hooked in, and I remember being terrified that it would stay there, and I would be dragged foot-first into a stampeding herd of wild horses. I was pretty sure I would not emerge with many limbs intact.

I managed to kick my right leg out of the stirrup - but still landed incredibly awkwardly on the palm of my left hand. Imagine leaping off a galloping horse into a one-handed press-up position, and you get the general idea. All my weight crunched onto my left wrist, which cracked ominously. My horse ran off with the rest of the herd. I rolled around on the ground, clutching my left arm, repeating the phrase 'That hurt' to myself, over and over.

Gaze into the cold, dead eyes of a killer
In the moment I crunched into the ground, I lost two things that were extremely dear to me:
  1. The use of my left arm.
  2. My 100% genuine Armani watch.
(More on the watch later.)

As I rolled around in the dust, Dan cantered over - his horse now fully under his control. "Weren't you on a horse?" he asked, drily. I continued to clutch my arm, repeating the phrase "That really, really hurt..." as often as I could manage.

Our guide, Pujhai, showed his incredible horse-riding prowess, by galloping into the heart of the stampeding herd, grabbing the reins of my horse, and bringing it back to me. I was having such a fabulous time, I tried to jump back on.

It quickly became clear that I could not put any weight whatsoever on my left wrist. So as I kicked my horse into a gallop, I was now clinging on to the saddle for dear life with my right hand, while using my shattered left arm to 'control' my horse even more pathetically than before. The fact was - there was no way I could carry on.

Sam and I got a taxi back into Ulan Bataar a couple of hours later, looking for a hospital that was still open. None of them were, this being late on a Saturday afternoon. Since we had nothing else to do, we went sightseeing in Ulan Bataar.
My arm was totally broken when I took this photo
And this one
I took a stack of painkillers, drank a bit of vodka, and the following morning we jumped on the train to Beiing.
My left arm is also broken here
 And after many more painkillers (and a bit more vodka) we arrived in Beijing.
Holding the camera with my not-broken arm
Immediately after checking into our hotel, we headed to a Chinese hospital recommended by Lonely Planet - the Beijing Family Union. Which is where they X-rayed my arm, and decided that some of the bones were not where they were supposed to be.
That wonky bit of bone should be way more attached to the other bones...
And for a while they thought it was both broken and  dislocated, which would have required surgery.
I cannot wait to undergo general anaesthesia in China...
Fortunately, the consultants decided my broken bones were close enough to their normal position to require no more than a plaster cast. Which (at the orthopaedic surgeon's request) Sammy rather gamely helped to mould onto my arm:
Definitely above and beyond the call of girlfriending duty
After a few more x-rays, the orthopaedic surgeon declared herself happy with her day's work - or at least happy enough to be photographed alongside it:
"I did my best..."
So I'm now wandering around Beiing with a whacking great plaster cast - and an incredibly patient girlfriend helping me with basic two-handed tasks, such as unscrewing bottles, focusing camera lenses, and unwrapping lollipops.
You're a life-saver, Sammy...
I definitely wouldn't say it was how I dreamed of seeing China.

But then again, would I get on the horse again, knowing that I'd only fall off any break my arm?


  1. Ouch, looks -- and sounds -- painful! I hope it recovers soon. (Have you thought about what you can smuggle into NK using your cast?)

  2. I was worried they wouldn't let me in, for exactly that reason!! But we've checked with tour company, and apparently it's fine. Fingers crossed...

  3. This is turning into a real adventure with lots of unique souvenirs :)
    Hope it's not too painful.

  4. I'm totally just catching up on this. Laughing like a loon in the office (normal behaviour) and receiving funny looks from my colleagues (also normal).

  5. For clarity: I'm laughing at the blog in general. Not your broken arm.

  6. Thank you for ringing me first Al, I would not have appreciated finding this out on the blog! From what you say, the incident was a lot more scary than your explanation on the phone. Please , both of you, take care from now on so as not to spoil the trip!