September 26, 2009

September 21

It was a day of firsts for me: first time on a scooter, first time really swimming in the sea -- and first time I got stitches, which is related to the scooter part. I was staying on the island of Vis for a couple of days and thought about riding a scooter after noting agencies listed in the Rough Guide that rented them. It sounded like a cooler way of seeing the island than by using the bus that ran from Vis to the other main town, Komiža, on the other side of the island. So I rented a scooter and hopped on, heading across the island at a top speed of not quite 60 km/h. I was more freaked out riding it than I thought I would be, I mean it's incredibly easy to operate, and I know how to drive and how to ride a bike, so the concepts are all there, but I was quite nervous. Maybe it was the idea of how vulnerable I was if I lost control, more so than on a normal bike. I relaxed into the whole thing a bit more by the time I arrived in Komiža less than half an hour later. I did feel like a complete girl though because I didn't have the strength to get the scooter pulled up onto its stand, so I worried at the thought of having to park again (and made a resolution to work on making my arms stronger).

After an afternoon on the beach in Komiža, I started heading back to Vis. I took the longer, old road back, which was an amazing drive (I'll write about it later) and it was made more memorable by being on a scooter, having the openness around me. It was all going so well. I arrived in Vis and went to the gas station to refill the tank before returning the scooter (and felt quite embarrassed at not being able to get the scooter on the stand and not being able to open the seat to access the gas tank. Arg.) After refueling, I just had to go maybe half a kilometer to the rental office. But the office was back the way I came, so I needed to turn 180 degrees from the gas station. I knew it was hard for me to turn so sharply, so I did walk the scooter a bit into the right direction, but when I started off, it all went wrong. I wobbled a bit, then had a moment of panic where I saw I was heading straight toward the sidewalk on the other side of the street at a reasonable speed, and I think I overcorrected, perhaps even unnecessarily accelerated a bit, and the scooter went to the right and I fell off to the left.

Besides feeling some scrapes on my knee and hand, most of the pain came from where I impacted at my mouth. Like when I crashed while snowboarding years ago, I thought I had maybe knocked a tooth loose. I lifted my head from the pavement and blood started to drip down. I didn't know where it was coming from though, I thought from my nose, which didn't make my sense because my nose didn't hurt, but I just didn't think of my chin. Some people seemed to come out of nowhere and rushed over to see if I was ok. I was handed tissues for the blood. A girl kneeled in front of me and I asked her where the blood was coming from that was starting to form a puddle on the ground. She said it was my chin and had a closer look and made a grimace. Wonderful, way to reassure me. She gave me a pile of kleenex and told me to press it hard on my chin. She helped me to the curb and her boyfriend picked up the scooter and pulled it out of the road. They asked the gas station attendant to call for an ambulance. I assumed they were Croatian (I don't remember them speaking to the attendant in English), but they were Czech, and they were wonderful and kind, staying with me until I went off to the doctor. The girl sat next to me and assured me it would all be ok (and told me the cut wasn't that bad, not big, just deep) and did her best to get me to talk about other things to get my mind off how much it hurt. I am so thankful for their help, I don't even know what their names were, but I'll always remember them.

As we sat waiting for the ambulance, not really being sure what sort of medical services there were on the small island, a guy came along on a bike who happened to be from the place where I'd rented the scooter. Shit. No, it was fine, and it was thanks to him that I got to the doctor sooner. He left his bike with us and drove the scooter back to the office, then came back with a car and took me to the medical center. After some wandering around the two parts of the building, when I was particularly confused since I couldn't understand what was being said, I was eventually lead into an exam room and was helped out by two women. I thought the older woman was the doctor, but I think she was a nurse, and then the other was a young girl who assisted. Fortunately Croatians have good English, so they could explain things well enough to me.

The nurse gave me some anesthesia injections and then started with stitching me up. She asked me at one point if my teeth were ok and I said they were. I think I have strong teeth, seeing they survived this and the snowboarding crash. I did feel some crunchy bits in my mouth though and thought they were pieces of tooth, but they were tiny rocks from the road. Heh, I literally ate pavement. After the nurse had done one stitch, a man came in and peered in at my face. I guessed this was the doctor, though he looked like he'd just come from the beach (which perhaps he had). He didn't think much of the nurse's work and some discussion went on between them. Then the doctor summed up for me in English: they could carry on with only a couple of stitches and I would need plastic surgery, the scar would be so bad, or he could give me a stronger anesthesia and do better stitches and it would be perfect. I said to go ahead with the perfect option. I think the nurse had told him I had freaked out a bit at the anesthesia injections, though I wasn't that bad, just a bit whimpery. The doctor was very no nonsense and quick with the additional injections he gave me, but as he put it, a bit of pain, then no pain. Then he started in with giving me what ended up being 7 stitches. The nurse looked in from the top of the table, using it as a learning experience. When he was done, I was left with the assistant who had me get up slowly from the table to have a look in the mirror. I was surprised the wound was so small, and now it was black with the closely-spaced stitches. I also finally washed off the blood that was on my hands and arms all this time, making me feel like Lady MacBeth.

Scab and bruising added to the stitches for maximum ick effect.

I was set up with some paracetamol with codeine (whoohoo!) and had a mostly chilled evening back in my room watching an episode of Mad Men that I'd already seen (they blessedly don't dub TV in Croatia). The pain was better in a day and I mostly went about business as usual, though the bandage on my chin still draws stares and the occasional double-take from people. While walking at Plitvice Lakes a couple of days later, I think people who saw me assumed I had fallen while walking. One tour guide pointed at his chin and smiled and nodded. I wasn't quite sure what he was trying to communicate. And when I returned the car I had rented, I realized it looked a bit bad coming in with injuries ("No, no! This didn't happen in the car!") In a couple of days I'll get the stitches out and see how perfect the doctor's work was. If not, I'll have a life-long reminder of Croatia.