“To be honest, that right arm doesn’t look good”, says Peťa as she applies our last gauze on the long cut on Mike’s forearm.
Mike sighs. We bandaged his arms and leg but didn´t have enough for his back which took most of the damage. Mike was dragged on the ground for over 50 meters without any protection. As a result, his back looks as if he took a slide on a giant potato grater.
We call the driver who drove us to Tusheti the day before. He has already returned to the lowlands but promises to send us one of his friends.
“Hold on, Mike. The jeep will be here in 30 minutes. We are taking you to the hospital.”
“Good”, says our patient. “In the meantime, could you look around for my shoe? It´s brand new. And it just flew away.”
It really did. Fortunately for Mike, after being dragged dozens of meters along the ground, his foot slipped out of the trapped boot. Not so fortunately, the boot then got catapulted away. We can´t believe that it flew all the way into the river, but after a long and vain search, we have to accept that as a fact.
And that's just the beginning of our list of damages. During the initial mayhem, our gas canister fell out of Kika´s rucksack and her horse kicked it right into the river. Also Mike´s camera ended up on the ground - battery compartment is opened and the memory card missing. We aren´t able to find it, either. So instead of photos, Mike can show his friends only his scarred back.
In the meantime, Vakho returns - we have barely noticed when he galloped away shortly after the accident. As we understand, he also called a jeep. Otherwise, he has nothing to do so he joins the search for the elusive lost shoe. He seems to be a bit lost with us as he can´t communicate and we are taking care of everything without him. I call him to the side and pay him most of the sum we negotiated for the horse trip. Then he speaks for the first time in a day.
I just shrug. “Shit happens.”
Finally, the jeep shows up, driven by a young guy. We place Mike on the middle row of seats and put our backpacks into the leg room so he has nowhere to fall. Then it´s time to go. Direction - hospital in Telavi, 50 miles away. As we know from the previous day, that means 5 hours of driving.
I sit on the back seat and watch over Mike. He feels dizzy as he also got hit in the head - we hope it´s just a concussion. We talk to him, just to keep him awake as we are afraid to let him fall asleep - not that it would be so easy on such a bumpy road.
Eventually, our jeep climbs to the Abano pass. I remember how we had admired the views here on a day beforehand.
“Splendid”, said then Mike. "Even if I had to return home the very next day, just for this wonderful view the trip would be already worth it!.“ Sometimes, destiny has a particulary weird sense of humour."
The ride to the lowlands passes pretty quickly and after some 2 hours, we make it onto the concrete road. Here, our driver seriously speeds up, as if it wasn’t some random tourist on his backseat but his own wife on a way to the maternity hospital. The jeep just keeps picking up speed and after the passing of the first vilage I don’t worry about Mike as much as I worry about myself. In the end, Mike himself has to persuade the driver that he already feels better and it isn´t necessary to hurry that much. Without success - the driver wants to return to the mountains on the very same day.
We reach Telavi at dusk. The jeep heads directly to the hospital, but the city center got closed because of some beer festival and we get stuck in the traffic. When we finally make it to the emergency department, it´s almost dark.
There are already about five people in the waiting room. One holds his bloodied nose, another something on his side which our imagination identifies as a stab wound - it seems that the beer festival has already started to take its toll. We are worried that we will have to wait for ages (our experience from Slovak emergencies), but once the nurse hears what happened, I trolley immediately appears. We put Mike on it and set off on a journey into the bowels of the hospital.
We pass several rooms which look like a construction site and end up in a cozy office occupied by the older doctor. First, he palpates the patient. It seems that none of his bones is broken or fractured. Then, he sews lacerations. And then comes the most painful part. All wounds have to be disinfected and cleaned from dirt. Not an easy task since Mike is at this moment more black than white.
Thirty minutes later, the bottle with disinfection lies empty, a huge pile of dirty facial sponges lies below the trolley and the doctor is complacently looking at his work. Mike is patched up. And really thoroughly - just one more bandage over his head and he could star in some low-cost horror movie. He gets a prescription for the tetanus shot, some antibiotics and is ready to go. The next check up will be in two days.
As we don´t want to crowd the surgery room, only girls are present during treatment as a moral support. In the meantime, myself and Filip pay the driver. We also put down his phone number and license plate as we need at least some sort of proof for the insurance company. Then, we call one solid looking guesthouse from the guidebook. The owner says they are already full but promises to find us something else.
That "something" turns out to be a bedroom of his neighbor. It has only one double bed, so Mike and Kika sleep in it and the rest of us occupy the floor.
I thought I would fall asleep immediately as I am really tired, but it´s not so easy. The whole day was hectic, things went in a blur and only now I have a chance to slow down and contemplate about what had happened. I can´t get the image of Mike dragged by the horse out of my mind. And I realize we were actually very lucky - it could have ended up much, much worse…
In the morning, Mike buys the plane ticket home with the earliest possible departure date. Then we go to see the city. Telavi is the administrative center of the famous winery region Kakheti, but most of the tourists end up in the neighbouring town of Sighnaghi, which is even more beautiful. But this town also has much to see – it has nice wooden houses, old churches, one extremely old plane tree and a square covered by huge metal snails.
For the whole day, Mike shuffles along with us. So, instead of being tourists, we often feel like some sort of slow moving "attraction".
Here I want to salute Mike for the way he handled the whole situation. Even though his vacation could best be summed up by words “short, painful and expensive”, never once did I hear him complain. In fact, he acted as if nothing at all had happened.
In the centre of Telavi
Streets of Telavi
Our wi-fi hotspot in Telavi
Beer festival in the morning
... in the afternoon ...
and in the evening
The next day – back to the hospital to change Mike’s bandages. From this visit, I clearly remember only one scene. Mike sits on a trolley, the older nurse stands behind him, moistens his old bandages with some orange liquid and tries to unwrap them. And right in front of them sits a doctor, comfortably sprawled in a plastic chair, smoking a cigarette and watching the whole procedure. It carries on like this for a while, until the nurse comes to the spot where she can´t continue - bandages are glued to the skin. The nurse tried once, twice, but no success. The doctor sighs, puts the cigarette into the ashtray, walks behind the Mike. Briefly looks at the problematic spot, grabs the bandage…
"Mike, get ready. I think he wants to..."
A strip of red skin appears on Mike´s back, but the bandage is free and whole process can continue. Satisfied doctor returns to his chair.
From the hospital, we go right to the station. There we catch a shared taxi and shortly after noon arrive at Tbilisi. We find somewhere to stay and go and explore the city.
Mike flies in next 12 hours, so we want him to see at least something. We take a cable car to the hill above the city, visit the “Mother Georgia” statue and Narikala fortress. Then we walk down and stroll in the city center. Filip with girls goes for an evening beer, me and Mike have an early bedtime.
We awake around 2:00 am. Mike, in his current condition, has troubles handling his heavy backpacks so I escort him to the airport. We say goodbye at the gate and I return to catch a few more hours of sleep. In the morning, we are heading back into the mountains again.
Addendum: On the next week, we returned to Tusheti to finish the trek to Shatili (no horses or bacon this time). We also visited a place of our accident and tried again to find Mike´s missing boot. We failed, the waters of Pirikiti Alazani must have carried it somewhere far away, to Dagestan or even as far as the Caspian Sea. But our search was not without success - we found the lost memory card from Mike´s camera. And it still worked :)