Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore (all in a week!) – ‘Bethany’

I’m writing this blog post from the bottom of my heart and it’s about a girl called Bethany. I met Bethany for the first time when I was on Koh Tao in Thailand in February. It was very brief, she was trying to get a taxi to the port, she was pretty, fair hair with bright blue eyes. I’m attracted to girls with appealing eyes, you can tell a lot about someone from their eyes. She also had a very distinct Yorkshire accent, I like Northerners, from my experience their down to earth and friendly, similar to Welsh people.

A few days later, I was wandering around Phi Phi Island and I bumped into her again. By the following night, a gang of us were getting drunk, exchanging travel tales and watching Wales get thrashed by England. That night, fuelled by alcohol I fell and cracked my rib, Bethany looked after me and took me to the doctor the following day. I can remember joking with her as I popped my pain killer tablets that I owed her one, and that it would be my turn to look after her next. I certainly didn’t comprehend that this statement would actually become reality.

Phi Phi Island

Phi Phi Island (before I cracked my rib!)

Over a week later, we met up again in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Nights were spent getting drunk on ‘Pub Street’ and singing in the back of tuk tuks and in the day a gang of us explored Angkor Wat and visited the floating islands. I probably had most fun acting like a kid all afternoon in the hostel pool with Bethany; she even introduced my anti-technological mind to snap chat! She was fun-loving, energetic and liked to laugh, I could relate easily to all of these characteristics. However, she also had a mature side and when we talked about travelling she was interested in the cultural aspects, I liked that, I had a soft spot for her.

The sad thing was that I then had to leave Cambodia to go back home because I had work commitments. So I promised that after I had completed my month around Europe working, I would fly back out to meet her and we would backpack through Vietnam together. We kept in touch via Skype and email over the following couple of months and started to plan where we would go. Bethany had found out that the World Rainforest Festival was on in Sarawak in Malaysia, and we arranged to meet in Kuala Lumpur and fly there together to start our trip. The script was perfect; we’d fly there, backpack through Malaysia, possibly the Philippines and then head over to Vietnam. The last blog post I wrote was from when I landed in Kuala Lumpur.

The following day I headed to Kuala Lumpur Airport to meet Bethany, who was arriving from Bali, and then we would both fly to Sarawak for the festival.

What then occurred over the following few days was by far the scariest and most dramatic set of events that I’ve ever experienced on a backpacking trip (or any trip for that matter). When you’re backpacking around the world, you become overwhelmed with what you’re doing, who you’re meeting and are riding the crest of an enjoyable wave. However, when things go wrong, you find yourself suddenly back to reality with a heavy bang.

I was waiting in the departure area for our flight to Sarawak and when Bethany didn’t turn up I first thought she must have missed her flight from Bali. With no phone, I quickly turned on my laptop and was shocked to find a series of messages. She had collapsed before leaving her hotel in Bali and was taken into intensive care in a hospital there with a suspected stroke.

Bethany Bali

Hospital Bali…still managed to get my shades on her and look cool in intensive care!

Suddenly, I could feel a rush of adrenaline flood my system; my mind was no longer in ‘chilled out backpacker mode’ and I instantly started to think of what were the necessary steps to take next. I asked the air hostess if I could get my bag off the current flight, I now needed to get to Bali to see if she was ok.

I contacted a friend from University living in Kuala Lumpur to see if she could put me up while I sorted a flight for early the following morning. Rachel, if you read this, I’m forever grateful for your hospitality, when I’m back in KL I’ll be sure to get you a few beers.

By 6am the following day with very little sleep, I was back on the train from KL central to the airport. I was constantly thinking about Bethany; she was too young to have a stroke, was she receiving decent medical care and I knew that she’d be scared there on her own (even though in some of the messages she had sent me, she seemed to be putting on a very brave face!).

Arriving in Bali, I headed straight for the hospital and told the receptionist I was family to ensure they let me in. I didn’t know what to expect, she was in intensive care. Laid in a hospital bed, Bethany looked very different from the girl I’d said goodbye to a few months before in Cambodia. Her face was swollen and there was nerve damage down one side, she was wired to a drip and heart monitor system. However, she could speak fine and explained the whole ordeal to me as I sat on my backpack by the side of the bed. Over the next six hours I sat with her, tried to make her laugh, fed her dinner and watched the nurses continuously top her up with various medications.

Bethany’s mum, Kim flew into Bali from the UK that night, and came straight to the hospital. I had nowhere to stay as I had come straight to the hospital from the airport. Kim kindly arranged and paid for me to stay in the same hotel as her. Kim, I’m sure you’ll read this and I just want to say a big thank you!

The following day, I left the very luxurious hotel, booked myself into a hostel, grabbed something quick to eat and was on my way to visit Bethany. When I arrived at the hospital Kim informed me that the insurance company wanted to fly Bethany in an air ambulance from Bali to a hospital in Singapore. She was scheduled to fly that night.

Bethany’s condition at this time wasn’t really improving; her face was still swollen, she still had a weakness down her left side and that morning she had suffered a mild seizure. I understood that she would receive more comprehensive medical care in Singapore but I was worried about the flight over there. At around 6pm, I was sitting on the bed talking to Bethany when suddenly her eyes started to roll and she seemed to become a bit delirious, she was having a mild seizure. I called the nurses and doctor but they didn’t really seem to do much. I had never seen her have a seizure before and it was frightening, she seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness. I held her hand and kept speaking to her to try and maintain a response. The main doctor there took photos on her phone and sent them to another doctor. This made me realise that there was limited medical knowledge in comparison to what I was used to in the UK.

James Bali

Feeding Bethany in hospital…..hero!

The seizure lasted approximately twenty minutes and Bethany slowly seemed to come back to normal. It was scary and although I couldn’t say anything to her because I didn’t want to alarm her, something definitely wasn’t right.

By 11pm, the air ambulance crew arrived and transferred Bethany onto a portable bed, covered her with a plastic sheet and strapped up her arms and legs. Her head was the only part of her that you could see; she looked extremely vulnerable, innocent and young. The portable bed was then moved into an ambulance and she was to be taken to the airport, and flown to Singapore. For me, this was the worst part of the last ten days; having recently seen her have a seizure, I had limited confidence in the medical professionals and I’ve probably been taken off the rugby field in better stretchers than the bed she was taken in.

People today seem to be slaves to worry; worrying about how they look; worrying about what others think; worrying about things in the future that have not yet happened. I try to make a conscious effort to avoid that worry and focus my attention on the moment, because in reality that’s all we really have. If you instil perspective into your line of thought, all we need to worry about is health and happiness….the rest doesn’t matter. That night in Bali, I couldn’t stop worrying, this was real and I spent the whole night watching the clock. I was relieved the following morning to hear from Kim, they had arrived safely and she was under medical supervision.

That day I didn’t really move from the hostel, my laptop was kept on and I could receive updates from Kim via email. I felt exhausted and a bit disillusioned by everything, I didn’t really want to socialise with other backpackers, my mind was engaged elsewhere, I was thinking about Bethany. When I found out that she would be in Singapore for the next few days, I decided to fly out to see her.

It felt like ground hog day; I was back in a taxi having the same conversation with the driver (explaining where Wales is!), then back in the airport, check in, departures, passport shown, smile at air hostess, sit down, engine on, take off, pop ears, snooze, dribble and land.

From the airport it was roughly an hour on the train to the hospital, she was on the seventh floor, room 738. I’ve been extremely lucky that I’ve travelled to many amazing places around the world and had the opportunity to see many magnificent things. When I walked through the door of 738, what I saw was better than anything I’d ever seen or experienced on any previous backpacking trips. This shot straight to the top. Bethany was sitting up and her big bright blue eyes that had first caught my attention on Koh Tao many months ago were twinkling again; her face was no longer swollen and that fun-loving smile was back. I felt overwhelmed and all the worry of the previous few days seemed to dissolve within the first ten minutes of talking to her.

Bethany Singapore

Bethany trying to be a tourist…

The care she received at Singapore hospital was clearly more advanced and therefore she had improved immensely. For the next three days, I stayed in the hospital with her, sleeping on the sofa next to her bed which gave Kim a break in the evenings to go back her hotel. She was taking so much medication that she was on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, and I tried my best to keep her sane. I did my usual, dancing around acting a fool to make her laugh; the nurses caught me a few times. They probably thought I’d escaped from the mental health section of the hospital but I just smiled.

The doctors let Bethany out a few days ago and encouraged her to be a tourist and see how she feels. We spent the day on the city tour bus, visiting landmark buildings and wandering around the city; it’s not really her, she’s a backpacker now, and she’s not really interested in a generic city (she moaned all the way around, I liked that because I totally agreed with all she was saying!).

In the evening we managed to escape the chain restaurants that conquer every city and we found a food market where all the locals ate. We found a small Indian stall and ordered a curry. An Australian couple sat opposite us and we started talking. Normally in this situation (especially after a cold beer) I’m the one who can’t stop talking, but I zoned out because I was watching Bethany. Bethany was in her element talking about where she’d been, what she’d liked and she was full of enthusiasm. It reminded me of how she was in Cambodia a few months previous; I lost touch with most of the conversation because in my head I was thinking how good it was to see her back like this. I think I even offended the Aussie guy because he was telling a story about him having a photo grabbing some joking sheep’s balls, because I was only half listening I innocently asked him whether the sheep was real. He was disgusted that I’d thought he grabbed a real sheep’s balls; I explained that I was from Wales, grabbing sheep’s balls was normal! When we left the food court, Bethany was beaming, she told me it was the best she’d felt since it had all happened.

Singapore Zoo

Last day in Singapore Zoo…..Wheelchairs and Orangutans!

Bethany flew home with her Mum today and will have to spend some time resting to get back to full fitness. I’m absolutely gutted that we cannot do the trip we had planned, but that’s not important. She’s improving and on the mend, that’s all that counts. She spent the last four months backpacking through South East Asia on her own, and during the last ten days of drama she always put on a brave smile – getting fit again will be easy for her.

She waited nearly three months for me to come back so we could backpack Vietnam together. I’ve ensured her that I will wait until she’s ready to come back and the plan remains the same, Vietnam will still be here.

What will I do now? Readjust my sail, fly to Indonesia, find a beach where I can surf, dive, drink cold beer and look at the stars.

I wrote this blog from the bottom of my heart because quite frankly there’s no other way I could have written it. I’ll finish by saying that when she flies back to the UK, she would have cracked off a little piece of my heart and taken it with her. Let’s hope she brings it back one day 😉