Baikal & Beyond – End of the 2019 trip

After staying a few days in the capital city Tbilisi, we want to spend our last night in Georgia again out in the open again. Shortly before the Azerbaijani border we are looking for a possible place to spend the night. From the main road we take a turn down a side road, from the side road into an unpaved dirt road. We follow this path for a while, along a small stream and past vineyards and small huts, until we find the perfect spot for the last night (for the time being) in Georgia. The originally planned three days have turned into almost two weeks, just because we enjoyed spending time here so much.

We set up the tents a little off the beaten track under a few wild berry-bearing trees. After a short wash in the incredibly fast flowing river we sit down to watch the sunset from our tents behind the slightly sloping vineyards. But with darkness falling the mosquitoes also start feasting on us, so we only turn on the small light of our lamps in order not to attract any more of the greedy little bastards.

Before we can finish our last beer and the leftovers to crawl into the tents and make it a day, a flashlight appears in the distance. Since we don’t know what kind of person to expect somewhere in the middle of nowhere at midnight, we leave our lights on, but otherwise remain silent. Shortly afterwards the beam of the lamp stops on me for a few seconds, but instead of the expected questions on who we are and what we are doing here, a bang suddenly tears the air apart. I fall out of the chair and need a few seconds to puzzle together what has just happened: A local poacher confused the reflector stripes on my suit for animal eyes and pulled the trigger on suspicion. While I make myself audible accordingly, Thomas also turns on our flashlights and two frightened faces emerge from the darkness: The two apparently had imagined a successful hunt quite differently.

Since this dirt road is probably not found by any ambulance one of the nightly hunters retrieves his car, while I try to figure out how many openings have been added to my body and Thomas, in view of the largest hole, tries to suppress his gag reflex. And so 10 minutes later I lie crouched on the back seat of a Honda Civic and wonder how bad a gunshot injury actually is and whether you can still ride a motorcycle with it. The pain when lifting it into the car was the worst I ever had to endure. In the hospital it turns out: A smooth shot through from the thigh to the coccyx and a shattered thigh bone, the journey comes to an end here…

But at the moment I am still too busy to mourn the end of the journey yet. The hospital in rural Georgia, more precisely in Telavi, still has some challenges of its own in stock for me. Since the hospital building still dates back to Soviet Union times, but the beds are made in the US, they naturally don’t fit through the room doors (I guess communism and capitalism even physically dont fit). For each time going to another room, for a CT or X-ray, you have to change from a bed to a mobile couch and back to a bed – which is incredibly fun with an openly fractured femur! Especially if the injured leg is skillfully crushed against the door frame on the way out. It is pretty obvious that the nurses, most of whom have not had any training and probably earn little more than 200€ per month, are overstrained with having to treat a shot German guy.

While I am still being examined, Thomas enters the room and says: “There is some kind of frame and really rugged tools lying outside, I just hope tehy are not meant not for you!” Of course they were. Since I can’t have surgery immediately, the leg has to be stretched, and for this a construction is used that I only knew from the Russian cartoon Nu Pogodi. I wouldn’t even want to use the tool used for this at home in the workshop. A metal pin is driven thorugh my lower leg  with a handdriven drill, and then a weight is attached to that pin stretching the leg. While I can finally try to sleep after all the work is done and some of the questions by the police are answered, Thomas drives back to our camping site. Meanwhile it is dipped in blue light and all our things are loaded into a pickup truck of the police, my faithful DR is driven by one of the officers in rough serpentines to the station. I am told when getting off he can’t help but smile a little.

The next day everything necessary for the surgery is discussed, because with the open fracture a return transport to Germany is not possible, otherwise there is not much to do. But a boy who speaks neither Russian nor English finds his way to my room to examine the injured foreigner. With him he brings – of course – a toy gun.

On the third day at the hospital the surgery is scheduled, so I am not allowed to eat anything all day. Because the Georgian doctors don’t know what to do with the descriptions on my vaccination card, I get a second tetanus vaccination just as a precaution. Generally I stopped counting the injections I get a long time ago. The bone is fixed by an external fixator, the surgeon is coming from a hospital in the capital Tblisi to perform the surgery. During the process I am wide awake, but anesthetized from the hip down. Apart from pulling and pressing on my leg, I don’t notice much of it, except that my nose itches all the time. This is especially annoying with fixed arms. As a side effect of the anaesthesia my upper body starts shaking midway through the surgery and keeps doing so for quite some time. After a while waiting in the post-surgery room my hands have calmed down again, and I feel a rod under the blanket that I think is the railing of the bed. As I move my leg, the railing moves with me – seems like the frame belongs to me now. But  I can finally eat something again – the head of the clinic drops by and puts a waffle ice cream in my hand.

Apart from the post-surgery ice cream, there are some things that are quite different from what you might be used to in  western hospitals:

  • The beds are, as already described, too wide to be pushed through the doors. Each patient must therefore be “repositioned” several times during his stay
  • On a table in the hospital corridor is a sticker of the “Turngemeinde Biberach 1847 e.V.” – probably a donation from a German organization
  • Food and drinks are not provided in the hospital – this is the responsibility of the relatives. Since I was a little sensation in the hospital, this was not a problem for me. The nurses and the guilty feeling poacher brought me bags of food every day. In the morning after the operation I got a pack of apple juice and a kebab delivered to me after requesting a small breakfast and some juice. I had to throw away half of the food they brought, thanks to lack of exercise and the heat I simply lacked appetite.
  • The relatives are also responsible for cleaning the patients, as there is no toilet or shower in the rooms. The toilet in the hallway is an outhouse toilet. Difficult to use for patients with broken legs.
  • The chief physician of the hospital is a notorious smoker. Even when treating patients, the free hand is used to constantly move the cigarette to the mouth.
  • In addition, the senior physician is an impatient choleric – coupled with the partly incompetent nurses a dangerous mixture. I was all the more grateful that the operation was performed by someone else.
  • In bad weather, visitors may alternatively park their motorbike inside the hospital
  • There is no call system with a button in the room to notify nurses. Everyone who has a problem during the night must shout loud enough for them to hear or wait until the morning
  • The blankets provided are of a high standard. These have either fancy leopard fur patterns or Armani lettering

I spend the remaining days in this oasis organizing the return transport, watching MotoGP races, sweating, eating kebabs, learning to answer the question “How are you?” in Georgian with “good” (I simply wasn’t taught the word “bad”) and accompanying the three ??? (a German audiobook series) on their adventures, while mine ends here and Thomas is outside enjoying the Georgian cuisine and landscape. There have certainly been better days.

But one last adventure is still to come: the return transport. Since the journey ends here, the beard will come off after only one month instead of five months as planned. The rear-view mirror I broke off a few days before can be conviniently used for this purpose. For the flight a medic from Germany comes to accompany me on the way. The requested ambulance to the airport is of course delayed and everybody spends the time waiting in their own way: The head of the clinic marvels at the equipment of the arriving paramedic, the arriving paramedic marvels at Georgian self-distilled booze, and I itch my nose all the time again – with growing impatience. On the way out of the hospital I apply the things I learned a few days ago and I repeatedly prevent the fixation on my leg from getting to kiss the door frame. Thanks to the pain meds I can’t feel my leg on the way to the airport, but on the way to Tbilisi we have to overcome a mountain pass again. The Georgian road conditions and driving style as well as the lying position put my dinner back into a paper bag, a look into the pale face of the paramedic accompanying me tells me that he feels the same way about this trip. Fortunately, the rest of the return journey goes by without major complications, and so I finally arrive in Bielefeld, Germany after almost 24 hours on the road.

So the whole trip is over at the end of May after one month instead of the planned five. After long planning and preparation time this is of course disappointing and hard to swallow. Before a long trip with the motorcycle you can imagine many risks, a fall, an attack, wild animals and diseases. But not everything can be planned and so the Pamir and Mongolia have to wait a little bit on me.

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