I remember driving home one night from town along the Srinakarin road – a major thoroughfare running south away from Bangkok towards Samut Prakan. It was a few days before my first child was born and we’d been out with friends, enjoying zesty Thai curries and sipping soft drinks whilst our companions got stuck into cocktails as big as their heads.
As we drove back, warm with the heat of chillies and the glow of companionship, the road became darker as the street lights became more sporadic. The traffic lessened as well, unusual in itself for Bangkok at any time of the day. Clearly it was later than we had suspected.
I continued up an overpass but as I did the two cars in front of me veered suddenly to the left, braking hard as they did so; seemingly to avoid taking the elevated roadway. By this point there was no light, merely a darkness that seemed uncanny in a city so glaringly lit.
Along the side of the road was what looked like left-over construction equipment but I’d ignored it, relegating it to the usual visual noise of the streets in the Thai capital.
Ahead of me a stretch of darkness seemed to cover the whole of the road. My headlights were sucked into nothingness and it occurred to me that the clues of construction equipment, drivers avoiding the road and what looked like a gap in the overpass could very well be a gap in the overpass. The thought that someone, either through ignorance, or incompetence or a lack of care, would leave a roadway open when it isn’t safe to do so doesn’t make sense until you’ve lived in a country like Thailand.
The feeling of not being able to comprehend the information your brain is giving you whilst also aware of an ever growing sense of mortal dread is indeed a strange one, especially when there is no action that you can take that will change the eventual outcome.
Had I have sent the car screaming into empty space my final utterance wouldn’t have been a scream, an expletive or a prayer. It would have been a bemused and frowning ‘oh?’ of annoyed confusion.
Luckily it was just some newly laid asphalt with no road markings and minimal streetlight so we didn’t plummet to our untimely and undoubtedly fiery deaths.
It has stuck with me though, that moment of confused, terrified risk to yourself and the people you love.
On Friday my second son was born, initially what seemed to be a big healthy baby, started to grow into a medical concern.
First they kept him in an incubator box longer than I was expecting. Then the doctor kept taking blood and saying his glucose levels were worryingly low. Then they were concerned about his breathing; his oxygen saturation was under the healthy threshold.
But as this is Thailand there was no explanation, no putting into context, just the facts as they were encountered.
“We want to put him NICU, is okay?” the doctor asked in her heavily accented English.
“Yes, of course.” I replied – you’re the doctor, surely if you think he should be in NICU then get him there now. Stop asking the opinion of an English Literature teacher. My CPR training doesn’t extend to this and I’m not sure I should be calling the shots! – I wanted to yell but didn’t because I’m British.
“Is he okay?” I asked as five nurses crowded around him. One of them looked at me, smiled and said something in Thai. The others gave a little titter before looking round en masse and smiling at me.
I couldn’t make sense of the information my brain was being fed. The doctor, kept saying “okay” but not elaborating on whether my son was okay now he was on the machines, or if he was okay permanently, or if it was that generic, non-commital okay. The nurses were smiling like we were thirteen and I’d just asked one of them out and my son had so many tubes running over, onto and into him, he looked deeply, troublingly, unwell.
I was back on the Srinakarin Road, an empty space in front of me, confusion and dread milling around, committed to a consequence over which I had no control.
All I desperately needed was someone to say, “this is just a precaution” or “he’s going to need quite a bit
of help”, or even “he’s really sick” because then I could at least put my thoughts in order. A combination of poor English (on their part), no Thai (on my part), too many hospital dramas (my part again) and living in ‘The Land of Smiles’ (most definitely their part) led to my emotions flapping around like an unfastened sail in a storm.
So I sat, with my head in my hands – knowing that yelling and shouting wouldn’t help, that he was cared for, that he was safe at the moment.
Eventually the doctor came back and explained that he would be okay, it was just a little bit of help and he’d be in the main nursery in a couple of days at the most.
And asking my permission to move him? Well, she was making sure I was okay with the extra cost that would incur after sending him to the NICU.
The nurses were trying to reassure in the only way Thai people know, with nodding smiles and gentle laughter.
Now we’re at home. My youngest son is asleep on the sofa, gurning and grunting every time he fidgets, jerking his little arms in response to whatever dreams infants may construct. The cat is asleep above him, keeping one eye open, I’d like to thing out of some inate sense of filial protection over the new child but I suspect far more likely in fear for the time that this one can also walk and grab and dribble.
The boy has just come down from his afternoon nap and given his little brother a salival kiss and is now attempting to feed a six-day-old some banana. My wife, recovering from the ordeal of giving birth to another enormous baby is sat next to me eating an apple.
If there is an opposite to the Srinakarin Road feeling of confusion and dread it is most assuredly this.