First Aid

Red Cross

I have been wearing my helmet for thirty kilometers, enough time for me to decide that this experiment is a failure. I have carried it for the length of Vietnam, and now I decide to part with it at the next opportunity. As I'm strapping it back onto my rack and digging for my walkman, a car sideswipes a motorbike, sending it into a ditch. While I stuff my things back into the panniers, I can see men gathering around, anxiously fiddling with the motorbike. After verifying that it will start, they turn their attention to the young woman who's squatting on the ground nearby with her hands covering her face. Priorities.
When I walk over for a closer look, I see that the thirty year old woman has had the worst of it. Dry grey dirt covers her face, which has been forcibly dragged along the side of the ditch in the crash. Angry lacerations rake like clawmarks over the side of her face, but she squats impassively as her husband breaks open a cigarette and sticks tobacco to her open wounds as antiseptic and bandage, ignoring the dirt which mingles with the blood on her scratched up face.
Putting on my gloves convinces them that I am a doctor, and the men step aside. The woman looks past me over my shoulder as I squat before her with my first aid kit. Giving her a once over, I see that her mouth has filled with dirt, but she does not complain. Cleaning her wounds and the area around them seems to take a long time, and a crowd gathers on the side of the highway. The edges of her wounds are black with ground in dirt, and I try to scrape as much of it away as I can. I curse my inability to communicate. She won't go to the doctor for a cut-up face, will she? Will she? Unable to decide if I am her first aid or her primary care, I scrape at the black edges of her cuts with alchohol pads. She doesn't even wince. But when I turn aside for a moment, she leans unsteadily on her husband's shoulder.
We sit in a construction zone. Bulldozers have leveled the surrounding area to make room for a highway expansion. A concrete houses sit shoulder to shoulder in the distance. Trucks rumble by. I have melodramatic visions of war-era photos depicting wounded, steely eyed Vietnamese.
A curious student introduces himself. "Please ask her if she will go to a doctor," I say. He nods happily. I repeat my request several times before he says something to her and gets an affirmative response.
I hurriedly finish bandaging her wounds, a stopgap job. After a round of thanks, the couple rides off. The crowd mills around discussing the incident and watching me prepare to ride off.
Then I think, of course she can't afford to see a doctor for a cut-up face. In the glow of softening eyes and effusive thanks, I took her word for it and didn't even think to send her on her way with some fresh bandages and antibiotic cream.
The helmet dangles from my rack until Vientiane, where I swap it for a shortwave radio.

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