It was bound to happen. I have scaled mountain peaks in Iceland and traversed the mountain passes solo in Greenland, but it took a perfectly benign set of concrete stairs to a pedestrian street underpass to inflict my first major travel incident. A slick step, a heavy backpack, and once split second of lost footing and I was on my bum and watching stunned as blood ran a river down my right leg.
So that’s how I came to make an acquaintance with the public hospital in Riga, Latvia. Let me put it this way – a shallow (but to me much too deep) gash in the leg that spurts blood is a need-attention-now emergency. To the packed, hot, noisy, and exhausting waiting room of the Riga ER, it can wait. So I cleaned myself up best I could with my travel first aid kit and waited. And waited. And waited.
Which gave me lots of time to contemplate the moments immediately after my fall on the steps as streams of people rushed by. The only person to help was a young woman who had been begging on the steps. Of course, wariness set in as soon as the blood seemed under control and I could take stock of the situation. Why was she the only one helping? Would I still have my wallet and camera afterwards? I thanked my cautiousness in always wearing a money belt. If my day bag is pickpocketed, I always have most of my money and passport safely stuffed underneath my clothes. But I’m rather attached to my camera. Nothing happened, thankfully. The young woman with stringy blonde hair and sad eyes dived in with an arm to help me up, then sat me at the top of the steps out of the flow of traffic, whipping out Kleenex for me to hold against the wound. My shoes now have a trail of red through the Nike swoosh I can’t get out. She was sweet and such a blessing. I gave her a chocolate bar and trail mix, since I hate giving out money (who knows what it’s used for), and when I checked my bags and pockets later, everything still intact, I felt shame.
But that’s the world we live in, especially as an easily-marked tourist with a backpack walking from the bus station through a pickpocket heavy area. I decided she was my own angel sent to help amidst the indifference of mass humanity.
So back at the waiting room, rank with sweat and crying babies, I finally get ushered into a not-very-private area with a curtain around the examining area and an older doctor with a poor command of English efficiently patched me up. The nurse (younger, with basic English) relayed his instructions – no stitches should be necessary (it’s a clean wound), but to keep it clean and watch it for infection. Treatment was free – the awesome price of the long wait.
My own little medical adventure. Hopefully more tame adventures lie in store for the next few days!