Flop… bang… bam… splat!
What the hell did just happen?
I’m facing down, lying 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.
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 eggshell.
Blood starts to gush out of the wound, and it makes its way down my leg. This is serious.
I make my way up the half dozen 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 lying on the floor. Good thing Copan Ruins is almost empty since it’s nearly 9:00 am – just 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 only I 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 (including myself) use it to close bleeding wounds gotten while building scale models with a tight deadline, so we have no time to stop. Just close the wound, glue it, and continue working.
Time to improvise. What am I carrying with me?
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 as the sanitizer touches my wound!!!
If only I had a Band-Aid to cover the wound. Oh well…
I get up and walk a few steps to test my knee. Everything seems to be in place.
Whether it’s me being stubborn or trying to be a trooper, I cautiously continue to see the rest of the complex. Hell, I’m here, and I don’t know when I’ll come back.
Now and then, I stop to clean the wound as it is still gushing a great deal of blood, and since the injury is too big, the blood doesn’t clot 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 have the keys.”
“Great,” I respond in a sarcastic tone.
I limp my way up the street towards the only medical clinic in town. The 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…
It’s time to hit the drug stores. First stop, no butterfly band-aids. Second stop, nada. The 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 the proper help.
Before leaving for 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 2:00 pm Pullman Bus to Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. Surely their main hospital will have butterfly bandaids. With this mission in mind, I make the longest 7-hour journey of my life – including the border crossing between Honduras and Guatemala.
After we crossed the border, an old lady, Doris, sits beside me on the bus. Immediately she sees my condition and asks me if I’m ok.
“Well, I’m ok, but my wound doesn’t stop bleeding. I’m on my way to the hospital in Guatemala City to get some help.”
She opens her eyes and quickly replies, “No! Don’t go there! You’ll bleed to death waiting for anyone to see you there. Would you like to, instead, come with me to Antigua? My son is a doctor, and he might be able to help you. Would you like to stay at my house? I have an extra room I can offer.”
I quickly reply, “YES, Thank You!”
Going to Antigua adds another hour of travel, but hey, that’s the hour I’ll be spending waiting at the hospital, at least.
Once in Antigua we quickly head to Doris’ home, and as soon as we enter, we see 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). He prescribes me some meds and a proper cleaning and care routine for my knee.
In the end, even though I couldn’t get much help from him, I’m delighted he was able to recommend a few things, plus, I’m grateful for meeting Doris, which gave me a roof and food in a moment of need.
She let me stay at her home for a few days to get better, which gave me a chance to see a bit of Antigua!
This experience has reinforced my belief of how generous most travelers and locals are, and how willing they are to help others in moments of need.
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?
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