My Bung Arm - Part 1
Sisophon – West Cambodia
Klaus comes by and picks me up at 1 PM. I just love German punctuality. We take off in his 4 Wheel Drive, headed for the surgery.
I make some light conversation, just to relax us all a bit.
‘Klaus, that's a pretty common name in Germany, isn't it?' I ask.
'Yeah, there are a few of us,' he says.
'Yeah,' I rattle on, 'it's kind of your generic German name, isn't it, like Fritz or if you were English you'd be called Tommy, like in the war, you called English guys Tommy, and we called you guys Klaus or Fritz, and maybe Americans are called Randy or Bob.'
Klaus keeps driving, looking steadily ahead and doesn't say anything, and I realise out of nervousness I've ventured in to dangerous territory. I try a back-peddle.
'Hey! Hey!' I laugh (forced), 'At least we're not (note the first person plural) called Bob, eh? I hate to be called Bob! What a stupid name. Imagine being called Bob Down, or maybe Bob Up! Hey! Hey...'
'Yeah, right...' says Klaus.
We arrive at the surgery and bundle out of the truck. The surgery is clean enough, but incredibly empty and sparse. No pot plants, no fish tank to soothe the fretting mind, no smiling receptionist to take your details and enter them on the computer for posterity (in case something goes seriously wrong).
Just the doctor and what looks like his younger brother. And they both look startled. And I’m so nervous all I can do is nod, smile and point to my right arm.
Klaus rattles off my something about my problem in pigeon Khmer and the doctor motions me in to the examination room in pigeon English. I don’t get his name, and he doesn’t ask me mine.
‘Show me arm,’ he says. I boldly thrust it forward.
‘Swollen!’ he says. OK, yep. ‘Mosquito!’ he continues.
OK, whatever, but what can we do and am I going to die?
‘I clean!’ he says.
He’s incredibly brusque, and I must say I respond to the gentle approach a little more, but maybe he’s just nervous. It’s not everyday you get a farang in the surgery.
I’ll make some small talk, that’ll lighten things up a bit.
‘I guess you don’t get many Westerner’s in here much, eh, doctor? Heh! Heh!’ I say.
‘I clean!’ he repeats.
OK, cut the small talk, let’s just clean the arm. There’s puss around the elbow and the arm is 50% bigger than it should be. It’s a mess. Let’s get to work. Good idea.
He leads me down a corridor with his brother trotting behind, and I leave Hardy sitting in the reception room.
‘See you soon, Klaus!’ I call out. He waves back encouragingly.
We enter what must be the surgery, and I’m told to lie down on the table. It’s a proper padded adustable number, which is encouraging, but the white covering sheet hasn’t been cleaned in a while and there’s blood dotted around the head-rest.
The doctor takes my arm and swabs it with some alcohol, and says, ‘I clean! No move!’
OK, cool, no move.
He then takes out a new razor blade and repeats, ‘No move!’
OK, we’re gonna open the white pussey bits on the elbow, might sting a bit, but I can handle it. If you’re gonna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.
I relax a bit, and look around the room. Over on the opposite wall there’s a calendar with a Swiss mountain scene hanging askew, and further along the ubiquitous oil painting of Angkor Wat. You see these paintings all over Cambodia. In people’s houses, in cafes, Guest Houses and doctor’s surgeries, it seems.
I catch a vigorous sweeping motion out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly there is such a jolt of sharp, stinging pain in my elbow, rifling down my arm that I momentarily dry retch. It’s so intense that I draw inwards and go black for an instant and then involuntarily lurch forward with neck muscles tensed and jaws clenched.
Oh, Christ in heaven! Oh, Jesus! I gasp for breath, and there’s tears flooding in to my eyes and spit coming out through my teeth in bubbles.
The doc has cut a two inch slice right on the end of the elbow, straight through the pussey bits and in to the flesh. Oh, shit. Oh, scheiße!
I look up and see the doctor’s brother peering over my arm, eye’s wide, grinning.
‘What the fuck!’ is all I can manage.
The doctor says something in Khmer and grabs my arm in a vice grip, and begins squeezing. Oh, holy shit-bags in heaven. There’s blood and puss oozing out of the wound and running down my arm, and the pain is turning in to a deep throb, all the way along the bones and in to my fingers which are splayed outward and rigid.
I swear, I curse. The doctor squeezes some more and his brother continues to grin. I’m breaking out in a sweat. My whole body is wet, and I’m suppressing the urge to vomit.
This is hell. Keep it together, Feely. I’m talking myself through, holding touch, walking the wire.
I focus. I close my eyes and pull inside. The doctor keeps squeezing. I breath, forcing the air in and out, slow and deliberate. I feel myself sink an inch or two inside my body. I’m falling, separating.
And then a picture pops up in to my mind: my right hand is inside the pouch of a kangaroo.
All the way in, deep, and it’s the most pleasureable feeling imaginable.
Utter marsupial bliss, something from home, something from deep within the Australian heartland, from a time before even the aboriginals first got out of their canoes, some 50 odd thousand years ago, looked around and said, ‘Hey, nice place! Let’s move in!’
Fancy that memory coming up now! The mind is a beautiful thing.
I was down in Tasmania some years back with a mate, doing the Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Claire walk. Tasmania is an island off the south east coast of mainland Australia, about the size of Rumania (!), and our smallest state.
It’s also pretty much the land time forgot. They’ve got crazy mixed up animals down there that appear nowhere else on the globe. The echidna, for example, is a small, marsupial spiny ant-eater that lays eggs, and suckles it’s young in a pouch. A strange combination of survival skills, but it works.
In fact, most things down there are marsupial, except of course the Tiger snakes, which are aggressive, large and deadly.
And the scenery is wild and beautiful, and in many places, pristine. Rugged mountains, deep rain-forested valleys and spectacular rivers that cut through the rock and spill out in shooting waterfalls on to the plains.
And of course, kangaroos.
Cradle Mountain is a large, 'cradle' shaped rise in the north west of the state, and the walk to Lake St. Claire takes about a week. At the entrance to the walk is a small Bavarian style chalet, surrounded by well watered, green fields.
And oh! how kangaroos love open, green fields, gentle herbivores that they are.
My mate and I set out on the walk, working our way past the chalet and up around the open fields. Right beside us, lounging on the grass was a large mob of maybe thirty kangaroos, taking no notice of our approach. They see a lot of humans around the chalet, so no big deal.
It was a bright sunny day, and ‘roos were half asleep, chewing on some grass, lying on their sides and looking well fed and bored.
So what the hey! Maybe I’ll go over and pat one. Why not? And so I do, and she seems to like it as I tickle her behind the ears. Nice kangaroo!
Hey, maybe I’ll rub her tummy! I call out to my mate, ‘Hey! Look at this! I’m rubbing a kangaroo’s belly!’
He takes a picture, but keeps a safe distance.
I mean, you never know with kangaroos. If they get upset they can split you in two with one swift kick of their hind legs, so you gotta take it slow and easy if you’re gonna get intimate. It requires a sensitive hand.
So then I start thinking, ‘What’s it like in the pouch?’ It’s something you never read about, and doesn’t come up in conversation much.
Nice kangaroo, there’s a good girl! Uncle Feely is your friend!
I slip my hand lower and lower down her belly, giving her a quiet rub, back and forth as I go down, down towards the Inner Sanctum.
The fur is getting softer and softer, and then I get to the pouch, and slowly, slowly I slip my fingers in. No movement from the kangaroo, no body language to say That's as far as you go on the first date, buster!, so I push down further, until my whole hand is sliding in to the pouch.
And then it happens, and it’s hard to describe.
Imagine the softest, most angelic kid-leather mitten, warm and ever so slightly moist. Imagine it enclosing your hand, welcoming, protecting, accepting, holding. Imagine that, and maybe smoke a big joint as well, and multiply by a hundred, and you wouldn’t even be close.
My whole body goes immediately limp, and I sink to the ground beside the kangaroo and lie down in the grass, and I never want to move. I am home.
My mate calls out, a little concerned, ‘Are you OK?’, and all I can do is nod my head.
When I die, folks, I wanna go to kangaroo heaven.
I keep it there, not moving, not doing anything until after about 10 minutes my mate finally calls out that we need to push on if we’re gonna make the first hut by night-fall.
OK, time to pull out, but gee, what an effort of will.
We trudge off down the track, and I’m babbling on and on about the experience, and my mate tells me later that he was seriously concerned about my mental well-being.
Yes, well, they thought Rama Krishna was mad when he returned, stricken, from the all embracing arms of Mother Kali at Kali Ghat. And ditto for pretty little Bernadette when she returned, full of grace, from a meeting with the Virgin at the grotto in Lourdes.
Let them scoff, infidels that are!
When you have lay down with the Great Mother Goddess Kangaroo, who cares?
For the next 24 hours my right hand feels touched by the infinite. It’s light and airy, but also soft, contained and dense. It floats, but it’s also grounded.
Oh, yes, we can but talk in riddles of things mystical. So be it.
Back in the doctor’s surgery I’m getting my arm bound, and there’s blood seeping through the bandages. No stitches, no pain killers, no ‘There’s a brave boy!’, but most of the puss seems to be out, and I’m on my feet and following the doctor and his brother back out along the corridor.
I’m absolutely drenched in sweat and my clothes are hanging off me like I’ve been out in the rain.
Klaus takes one look at me, and I note the look of horror on his face. He'd heard me screaming from the back room.
We pay up, ten bucks in all, and take away some anti-inflammatory pills. Take 3 a day for 10 days.
OK, ‘Thanks, doc!’, now let’s get out of here.
‘When he said he was going to be clean the wound, I thought he was just meaning to give it a little bit of cleaning!’ says Klaus.
‘Yeah, welcome to Cambodia…’, I say, and we pull out from the curb and head back through town.
My arm is still throbbing, and stings every time I move it. Christ, what a day.
Klaus drops me off at my Guest House and invites me up to his house for dinner later on in the evening. He promises some Western food, and maybe we have a little bit of cheese, Felix!, which sounds pretty good.
I’ll be there.
We drive through the Guest House gates, I get out of the truck, I walk to my room, climb on the bed and cash in my chips.