Help Can Come In Strange Ways

Flop… bang… bam… splat!

What the hell did just happen?

I’m face down, laying in the grass.  Several stone steps below me lead to the base of the pyramid temple.

As I slowly analyze my current situation, I realize that I have fallen several steps from the top of one of the Mayan Temples of Copan Ruins.

Copan is a complex of Mayan ruins located one kilometer off from Copan Ruinas, a small town in Honduras named after the ruins.  This complex is best known for its hieroglyph stairs, the best-preserved and most extensive Mayan hieroglyphs known to this date.

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

The Hieroglyph Stairs at the Ruins of Copan

Pain is crawling through my limbs.  Not a pretty or gracious fall.

As soon as my body allows me, I get up.  I look at my arms, touch my face, and dust myself off.  A few scratches in my left arm and both hands.  No big deal, everything is ok.  That is until I look down to my right knee.

It is cut open.  A deep cut.

I don’t feel any pain on my knee; it is still numb from the sharp hit.  As I fell, my knee landed on the corner of one of the stone steps, splitting the skin open like a thin egg.

Copan Ruinas Accident

I know… not my best picture!

Blood starts to gush out of the wound and it makes it’s way down my leg. This is serious.

I make my way up the half dozen of steps I fell to reach the top of the temple, where my daypack is still waiting for me.  Once up, I grab my things and sit on a tree branch that is laying on the floor.  Good thing Copan Ruins is almost empty since it’s almost 9:00 am, one hour past opening.

Once I open my daypack I realize that my first-aid kit is in my backpack at the hostel in Copan Ruinas. Ugh…  If I only had my first aid kit, or at least a tube of Super Glue.  Yes, Super Glue… It was used during the Vietnam War to close bleeding wounds to raise the survival rate of American soldiers.  Today, architecture students use it to close bleeding wounds gotten while building a project model and there’s the need to keep working to meet a tight deadline (been there…).

Time to improvise.  What do I have here…  Water, tissue paper, hand sanitizer, among other things.  Good enough to start.  I take the water and pour it over the wound to clean it.  I don’t like what I see –I can see the patella!  I take my hand sanitizer, pour some over a tissue paper, and put it on my knee.

Pretty words are not the ones coming out of my mouth!!!

If I only had a Band-Aid to cover the wound.  Oh well… I get up and walk a few steps to test the knee.  Everything seems to be in place.

Whether it’s me being stubborn or trying to be a trooper, I continue (cautiously) to see the rest of the complex.  Hell, I’m here, and I don’t know when I’ll come back!

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Being a trooper... er, stubborn

Every now and then I stop to clean the wound as it is still gushing a great deal of blood, and since the wound is too big, the blood doesn’t coagulate properly.

An hour later, after exploring most of the complex, it’s time to leave.  As I walk towards the entrance I ask one of the employees if they have a first aid kit.  Nope.  Then I head towards the ticket booth and offices.  Nada, but they recommend I go to a cafeteria and ask there.  Indeed, the cafeteria sells band-aids, but they only have regular ones.  I need a butterfly band-aid to close the wound, but these will help for now.

I hop on a tuk-tuk and head towards the Red Cross at Copan Ruinas.  Once there, I explain to the only person present what just happened, only to get a “there’s no staff to help you” (in Spanish).

“When will they be back?”, I ask.

“Not sure, but there’s a chance they might not come back today.”

“Ugh… Do you have butterfly band-aids?”

“I don’t know.  The medical supplies are in that other room, but it is locked and the staff is the ones that has the keys.”

“Great”, I respond in a sarcastic tone.

I limp my way up the street towards the only medical clinic in town.  Same conversation happens, but this time no nurses we’re available and the doctor was too busy to see me.  No butterfly band-aids either.  Fabulous…

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Street towards the medical clinic.

It’s time to hit the drug stores.  First stop, no butterfly band-aids.  Second stop, nada.  Same thing happens until I go to all four pharmacies in town.

Now I’m desperate and don’t know what to do.  I go to the hostel to clean the wound again and decide to take the next bus to Guatemala in hopes of finding proper help.

Before leaving to the bus station, I decide to be intrusive and start asking fellow backpackers for butterfly band-aids.  One of them responds, “I don’t have butterfly band-aids but I have wound closing strips, I can give you some.”

My eyes open out of excitement.  I have never desired something as bad as this!  (Ellie, you’re my savior!)

It’s incredible how some backpackers are better prepared than a local pharmacy (at least when it comes to open wounds).  I’m so grateful for Ellie’s generosity and help.

Wound clean and partially close, I make my way to the bus station.  I still need proper care as I’m still bleeding considerably, even with the strip on.

I hop on the 2:00pm Pullman Bus to Antigua, Guatemala and make the longest 7-hour journey of my life.

Guatemala

At the Honduras-Guatemala Border… in pain!

Almost arriving at Antigua, an old lady, Doris, sees my condition and asks me if I have a place to stay.  I shake my head and reply “I have to look for a hostel since this wasn’t planned.”

“Would you like to stay in my house? I have an extra room I can offer.  My son is a doctor and he might be able to help you.”

I say nothing but “YES, Thank You!”

Once at Doris home, her son is not there.  He’s working overnight.  Just my luck!  Doris calls him and explains the situation and wound in detail.  With his better judgment he says it’s too late for me to get stitches.  Too many hours have passed since the accident so there’s not much help there (plus going to the National Hospital means rotting there waiting).  It all comes down to butterfly band-aids (which by the way, there are none in Antigua, so I improvise by cutting medical tape in the “butterfly” shape), the meds he is recommending, and proper cleaning and care.

In the end, even though I couldn’t get much help from him, I’m really glad he was able to recommend a few things, plus, I’m really grateful for meeting Doris, which gave me a roof and food in a moment of need.

Plus, this reinforces my belief of how generous travelers are (as well as some locals) and how willing are they to help others in moments like these.

You never know, help can come in strange ways.

 

Have you had an experience like this?  Has another traveler or local offered you their help?

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Just to bring some humor to my misery… This was my Sacrificial Reenactment!

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Man, what an incident! You should have put some kind of warning on this post for the faint of heart! Hope no one fainted seeing your open wound, blood, and reading about the insides of your knee! What an experience! I wouldn’t want to go through that but hopefully it heals properly!

    • says

      haha! oops! Should have put the disclaimer… :P I hope no one goes through this experience because it’s not the prettiest. Thanks God it has healed pretty good so far. But I’ll have the scar, and the good story! ;)

  2. says

    Norbert, what a turn of events! That wound does look a bit intense, I’m so glad you found some help when you needed it. Reinforces the idea that a saviour will arrive in time!

    • says

      It was intense, and I’m still recovering from it… but everything is good so far. I’m so glad I found Doris and that she and her family were there to help me. They were my unexpected saviors!! :)

  3. says

    Dude, I’d have passed out if I saw my knee looking like that. Seriously. Holy God. I can’t believe you couldn’t get help from anyone there! That just seems insane to me that no one would have butterfly bandaids or be able to stitch you up or anything. That’s a real argument for bringing a first-aid kit with you when you travel.

    • says

      Gray, this is the worst wound I’ve had in my life. I was surprisingly calm, though. I found it incredible how there was no way of finding butterfly bandaids and how hard it was to get proper medical care. Yes, this is a serious argument to always be prepared with an adequate first-aid kit.

    • says

      At first it didn’t hurt that much… but as soon as I sat for the first time… then the intense pain came and stayed for a day or so. Afterwards it stopped hurting, except when I made certain movements with my knee.

  4. says

    Seriously, I got queasy looking at that extreme close-up of your bloody knee! The temple looks really amazing though and it seems like you met some nice people at least.

    • says

      I loved seeing the temple ruins, even when I was in pain. It is so worth visiting it! Yes, so nice there are nice people in this world that are willing to help others in moments like these.

  5. says

    Oh mah goodness I probably would have fainted! I’m glad you finally found help. I had a similar experience with the bottom of my foot (7 stitches) and powered through a 4 hour turtle watching tour. But a 7 hour bus ride and hobbling around town looking for a bandaid?! You are a trooper!
    FYI there are no butterfly bandaids in Costa Rica, either. I keep a steady stash of 2 boxes in my first aid kit.

    • says

      ouchie! that must have hurt! Four hours with your foot like that, you’re a trooper too!! :)
      Yikes, it seems like there’s no way to find butterfly bandaids in Central America. Hmm, should I do business selling them there? lol :P

    • says

      I know! It was horrible!! I was so glad that Doris offered me to stay at her place. I have no idea how I would have walked around Antigua to find a hostel that late, and with the knee in that condition. No infections! I made my best to keep it clean and disinfected all the time. :)

  6. says

    I faint at the sight of blood – sadly there was no advance warning on that photo!! But I got through it – phew. Hope you ended up getting it stitched satisfactorily and it’s all sweet now??

    • says

      Ha! I should have put a warning of “blood ahead”! Well, I never got stitches nor found a proper butterfly bandage while in Guatemala. It wasn’t until I got to the US that I was able to close the wound properly. Once in NY I went to the Dr. to check everything was ok. The knee was severely sprained but it will fully heal in about two months. Since it had been over a week from the time of the accident to the time I found wound closing strips, what I did was remove the scab (since the wound was still pretty open) and “re-close” it properly. Now it looks ok and it’s healing fine. :)

  7. says

    Norbert, Ouch! I’m not squeamish but that cut on your knee was not pretty! Think you’ve shared a valuable lesson there about carrying a first aid kit with you. I don’t know how you sat for 7 hours on a bus with your knee like that. Great you met a generous traveller and a kind local lady.
    Julia

    • says

      Julia, that 7-hour bus ride was under a few pain killer doses… lol Then in Antigua I got some Codeine to help. :) Indeed, carrying a first aid kit with you is so important. You never know when you might need it.

  8. says

    Norbert, you are a trooper to take that picture of your wound. Man, that’s horrible. Hope it heals soon and that lady ho helped you proves what I’m always convinced of: there are angels on earth.

  9. says

    Oh no, so sorry to hear this Norbert. I can’t believe you stayed to see the rest of Copas Ruinas (although it is amazing). So glad you were able to find help in unexpected places. Wish you a speedy recovery and take care not to get an infection, it looks like a really bad wound.

    • says

      Really bad wound indeed, but thanks God it didn’t get infected and it is healing good so far. :) In the end, I think it was worth it to stay in the ruins, even while bleeding, because they are pretty impressive!

  10. says

    Wow! That lucks super painful and a nasty cut!! I always carry super glue with me, you’re right about it great for sealing up cuts. I agree with you that most backpackers are better prepared than some pharmacies.

    There are some amazing people in this world and thankfully you met one of them who was generous to you.

    Hope that you heal quick and it doesn’t get infected!

    • says

      Hey Pete! Yup, at first I didn’t feel it, but after some time it was painful. Super glue… it works great to seal cuts. I’ve used it a couple times, though never while traveling.

      So true, some backpackers can be more prepared than a local pharmacy when it comes to first aid kit items. And yes, so glad there are still generous people in this world that are willing to give a hand when needed.

      Thanks for the well wishes! It is healing fine. :)

  11. says

    Ewwww wow! Looks super painful. Has it since healed nicely? Kinda like that time my BF busted his knee while we were rappelling through a waterfall and it swelled to a size I didn’t even know was possible. We were staying in an apartment in Venezuela though so he had me as his doctor. I love your drawings! SO funny!

    • says

      Hey Mica! It has healed pretty ok, but according to the doctor it is a 2 months healing process. sigh… Oh, late in the day of the accident, my knee was almost the size of a tennis ball. It was huge!

  12. says

    seriously, you’re such a badass for not only calmly maneuvering your way to help, but also by refusing to let a DEEP wound keep you from seeing the ruins! i’m impressed. glad you’re feeling better now, stock up on those butterfly bandages now!

    • says

      I too was pretty impressed by how calmed I was. I’m pretty stubborn and challenging, so I kinda knew that I would push myself to my limits to see the rest of the ruins. Oh, for sure I’m stocking up on butterfly bandages! Lesson learned! :)

  13. says

    Okay is it wrong that I howled at that reenactment? Now THAT was funny. The cut itself though, not so much. Pretty gross. But good to hear your found help and are still with us!

  14. says

    Great place but Oh God .. your injury looked worse ..its bad when you got hurt and struggle for first aid ..It create some negative impact on tourists on the particular destination…No First aid in that place ..really sounds bad .I hope your alright now :)

    • says

      Yes, it was bad… I didn’t know how difficult it would turn out to get proper help. But, it didn’t change my perspective on Copan Ruinas because the place is really charming. Thanks, the knee is improving every day. :)

    • says

      Yes… I’m stubborn… Hey, I don’t know when I’ll return, so I do my best with my time there. :) I’m also glad for those people that gave me a hand!

  15. says

    The dedicated travel blogger worrying more about getting a good pic of that deep wound, and posting it up to put us all off looking at it! Gee, I’m eating a choc and peanut bar and saw the photo and just about lost it.
    Chocolate bar won out though…
    Good to know you are healing up OK.!

    • says

      The things I do to give you a front row of my experience. ;) Ha! I’ve been told that a few times… Jesus, you were bleeding yet you take the time to take a picture (more than one actually). That’s how a travel blog affects your perspective on things… lol

  16. says

    Oh my, that looks like a deep gash. I’d get a tetanus shot if that were me! But I’d probably faint if I saw my patella! Haha!

    • says

      lol… I know… it’s a nasty pic :P
      The knee is healing ok. Thanks!! I’ll have a scar and a slight bump in the area where I had the contusion… but I’ll live! Surprisingly, it has healed pretty good, compared to my right foot toe (which I totally ignored in this post but I also strained it during the fall). Toe still hurts a bit.

  17. says

    OH MY GOD! The second I would have seen blood- I wouldn’t have been able to hold the camera to take the photo! I would have passed out on the steps, probably falling even more! Glad to hear you are okay!

  18. says

    Haha, love the diagram at the end! Do NOT love the idea of seeing my own patella. I also like the fact that you just carried on looking around.

    Must have been a real pain to keep that clean in the tropics. I gashed my foot in Thailand and it tooks ages to shut, I could just feel this horrible mouth of weeping flash opening as I walked about.

    • says

      hahaha! Believe me… I didn’t love the fact that I could see my patella. It was a bit hard to keep clean, not only because of the humidity, but also because many places have dirt roads, so all the dirt and dust was always blown by the wind. I had to keep it covered all the time.

      Ouch… that foot injury does sound painful! :(

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