March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.
I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.
I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.
I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.
A loud scream rings out. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
A moment passes.
What the hell was that? And why am I on the ground? My face is a few inches from the tar, I'm half on my arm and twisted in a strange position.
This is odd. Am I awake? Is this a dream?
What is this wet stuff? Mud? Is that blood?
Is that my blood?
Now I scream.
"YAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH YAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH YAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH."
A crowd of Khmer people are starting to gather, but not coming too close. They're on the edge of the road.
My thoughts aren't running very well.
Okay, something just happened, I'm bleeding, and I'm laying in the middle of a busy road. I guess I should get out of the busy road.
I can't stand.
I half-crawl, half-drag myself to the side of the road. The dust is everywhere in Phnom Penh. It's the dustiest city I've ever been to. Dustier than Arizona. And it's getting in my cuts, clotting into some reddish-brown mud on my arm.
There's a young boy near by. He looks like he's 14 years old, but maybe he's actually 17. I don't think I put it all together at the time, but what must've happened is that he turned a corner at high speed and hit me in the crosswalk. Certainly, he wasn't there seconds earlier when I checked.
An old woman is asking me if I'm okay, or something. She doesn't really speak English.
My right arm is kind of useless. I feel my body with my left arm. Is anything screwed up inside? I can't tell. I'm more scared than in pain. I don't actually hurt, for some reason. It's weird, you get a papercut and it hurts a lot. I've got quite a lot of blood on me and I'm not in pain.
Spoke too soon. There's the pain. I scream again.
I look up. The old woman, the young boy who hit me. The motorbike must've made first contact with my right leg, then my hip, then my back - did I go up in the air? I think so. Then I almost entirely landed on my right arm, and I think I skidded.
I wasn't sure of all this at the time. I'm still not entirely sure how it went.
I ask the old woman to help me to my guesthouse. She does, I pull myself up with her help, and lean on her.
I look back at the boy. I don't get his info and he doesn't volunteer it. At the time I remember thinking, if I'm massively screwed up there's no way he can afford to pay for it, and if it's just cuts and scrapes it doesn't really matter. Get to safety. Forget the kid.
I get to my guesthouse. The staff look horrified, which I take as a bad sign.
Everyone's just standing around staring at me. C'mon, guys.
I look at the head lady. "I need bandages and ice. Lots of ice. Maybe in a bag if we have bags. Multiple bags actually."
They do even better, bringing iodine and cotton swabs in addition to bandages, a bucket of ice, and lots of shopping bags.
I take the iodine, pour some on a cotton swab, and try to clean my cuts.
"YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" I cry out, involuntarily. I almost pass out.
This isn't working.
Oh, the old woman is still here.
"Can you - can you? Clean? Can you clean?"
She understands, and I close my eyes and don't look at it while she cleans me up. At some point, I get two sets of ice triple-wrapped in shopping bags, and I've got one on my leg and one I'm rotating slightly against the upper-right and lower-right portions of my back. It's hot, so the ice is melting and I'm getting wet. Obviously, I don't care, but I do notice it.
"Are there any hospitals in Phnomh Penh? Can you get me a driver?" I say to the chief woman at the guesthouse.
They bring me a motorbike driver.
"Umm... I don't umm..."
The woman blushes. "Oh yes, of course! Sorry!" She leaves with the motorbike driver, and gets a tuk-tuk driver instead. Tuk-tuks are little carriages attached to the back of a motorcycle. Aside from never wanting to see a motorcycle ever again for my entire life (unrealistic, but how I was feeling at the time), I'm not sure I could even hold on to the back of a bike. The tuk-tuk is better.
I'm helped into the carriage. I think I thanked the old woman who helped me - I think so. If I didn't, that's the one of the biggest sins of my life, because she was a saint to help me back and clean my wounds. I should've given her money or at least massive gratitude, or my contact info, or something. I wasn't thinking entirely clearly, but reflecting, I feel mildly ashamed at my lack of gratitude for someone who drops everything they're doing to help me in an emergency.
The tuk-tuk driver heads off, taking me to a clinic. It's a pleasant ride. The colors are vivid. I remember thinking funny thoughts. I was looking at my still messy arm, with its mix of blood, iodine, and dust turned into a chemical mud. I was trying to make a compound word that encaptures this feeling.
Cambodia dust mixed with my blood = clood? clud? clum? ioclum? I think I settled on clud. "Mud mixed from Cambodian dust and blood" = clud.
I think - maybe this is the greatest day of my life. I'd been in a rut. I shouldn't be in a rut after this.
It's air conditioned inside the clinic. There's two rows of hard, plastic seats, and a reception desk forty paces from the entrance.
I make my 40 paces to the desk, bloody and wet and muddy and dirty and beraggled.
The reception desk is long, four or five people could comfortably sit behind it, but there's just one bored-looking Cambodian girl.
I say to her, "I'd like a doctor. As fast as possible, please. I was hit by a motorcycle and I think I'm in somewhat bad shape."
The girl seems rather uninterested in me and my condition, and hands me a stack of papers and tells me to fill them out. I say, "Okay, yes, no problem. But is there a doctor available right now?" There isn't. I sit down and halfheartedly fill out the paperwork, noting that I'm allergic to sulfa drugs, and not really filling out most of the forms. I don't care. I walk it back up to the counter, and the girl takes it without really looking at me.
I wait. Time passes. People come in and out. Reception doesn't pay attention to me.
It seems like a long time passes. I'm not sure how long.
My leg is swollen, even with the ice. I'm making a mess all over the clinic's reception room floor.
After even more time passes and people leisurely stroll around, I'm starting to get agitated.
More time passes. A nurse walks out with a patient, and they gossip a little and they share a giggle. This is ridiculous. I walk back up the desk.
"Hi, YES, you know, I'm kind of really injured, is anything happening here or do I have to go somewhere else?" The girl looks up, and actually seems to see me for the first time and is a little startled. "Yes, yes, I'm sorry, let me check on the doctor."
I sit down. The doctor comes out quickly, says he's going to be with me in five minutes. It was actually only two minutes, which was good.
I'm ushered into a dark room and sit on a table. It looks like a surgeon's tent on the edge of a battlefield. There's metal tools lying around that look sinister. The room doesn't seem particularly well organized.
I tell the doctor what happened, and point out the places that I think are injuries. He presses here and there and asks me how much it hurts on a scale of 1 to 10. I don't really know. I try to follow along.
He feels carefully in my back on the injured areas and it feels like flames are shooting through my body. I think he's checking for internal damage.
Time passes. I forget exactly how his questions and checking went. He tells me he's going to re-clean my arm and it's going to hurt. He's right, it does. He cleans all the crap out of my arm, applies some sort of liquid to it, and wraps it around in bandages.
He applies some other liquid to my leg, and wraps it in bandages.
No bandages on my back.
He gives me some pills. I take them.
"What is all this, exactly?" I ask him.
He says, "Anti-inflammatories and steroids."
I say, "Oh. Okay. Guess I won't be competing in the Olympics this year."
He's friendly enough. He keeps trying to chat with me, but my mind's checked out. Eventually he gives me all sorts of pills, and I go to the front to pay.
The prices. "Khmer Nationals: $25. Foreigners: $50."
This aggravates me, considering a Khmer national put me in this awful place with his horrible reckless driving, going too fast on the wrong side of the road, taking a corner hard, and hitting me. While I was in a bloody crosswalk of all things.
I don't say anything and I pay them.
Trying to recall exactly how things go, I'm not sure how I paid. I must've brought some cash or a credit card with me to lift weights and swim, probably to buy food afterwards. I think I paid by card, which means I probably had my visa card with me. I'm not entirely sure.
I take a tuk-tuk back to my room. I'm exhausted but not sleepy, I've only been awake for a few hours.
I try to position myself in a way where things don't hurt too bad, and then I write many emails to people I've lost touch with, to my family, to a couple good people that I fell out or had arguments with over the years, and things like that.
Two days later, I turned out to be quite sick - I don't know if I had food poisoning anyways, or if the shock to my system meant my immune system was down, or something else. I went to the pharmacist, or "pharmacist" I should say, and he gave me a mix of anti-parasitics, anti-spasmodics, and anti-bacterials, and rehydration salts. Some of the medicine was expired, but one of them cleared up whatever I had. I was laid up in bed mostly for the next week, time passing while feeling delirious. I remember thinking that I don't like Cambodia very much, and don't think I'll come back.
Surprisingly, my life seemed to go quickly back to the way it was before the crash, which I didn't expect. I thought things would change right away, but they didn't.
But it did plant a seed that grew. A couple months later in Korea, I started really taking my life seriously, started writing everyday, started keeping good habits, writing lots of letters, doing lots of work, not frittering away my time. I quit video games, then spectator sports, and then I replaced my passive entertainment with active entertainment, spending time writing, reviewing, building mini-projects, doing business, and selling to entertain myself instead of consumption.
I try to help someone daily. I write every day. I stretch every day, and exercise most days. My body is getting stronger, I was pretty weak and out of shape after I recovered from Cambodia. I cranked my calories super high just to make sure I had enough nutrition to heal, and the weight is finally coming off.
I think about my death regularly, almost every single day. It was raining today in Saigon. I had a coffee, read a book for a while, and then I was out for a walk in the rain, feeling the drops of water hit the top of my head and my face. I'm alive. I notice the colors. I like green a lot, especially in trees.
I think about the fact that I'm going to die - I don't want to, but it's almost inevitable - and it makes things seem important. I shouldn't fuck around. Too many people fuck around. They don't realize this is their one go at it, and the one go can end pretty quickly.
Was March 10th, 2010 the best day of my life? It's definitely in the running. We all die. How many people actually live?
“When you guard yourself firmly and confidently, no one will be able to impose anything upon you. With this one daring, vital energy, your practice will be complete. You need nothing else. If you let your guard down, whatever the practice, it won't work. Firmly fix your gaze and practice zazen.“Concentrate your mind, fix your gaze, grit your back teeth, observe life and death with a sense of urgency, and generate an awareness of imminent death ... Maintain the mind of one who throws himself into the midst of a thousand to ten thousand enemy horsemen ... Practice in this manner and your mind will naturally mature; no longer feeling agitation, you will be able to use everything freely.” - Shosan Suzuki
It was this practice of cultivating "death energy" that helped me get through the greatest trial of my life thus far, unscathed, and, actually, stronger than before.
"Rather than carrying around your own views, it's better to rouse death energy. I adopt the mind of one about to have his throat cut, just as if my own throat were about to be cut.. One who possesses this death-confronting energy will gradually improve ... Religious practice means firmly arousing the mind that vows to detach itself from life and death; not losing sight of this concentrated mind even if you sink to the lowest pits of hell; and vigorously maintaining this mind..." - Shosan Suzuki
Love this article.I believe in relation to keeping death in mind,time is really the king of all assets.
I'm so glad I found your writings.
Found you through Hacker News.
I reviewed the piece on the Million Dollar Question. I agree with you . People tend to sabotage themselves. Fear of failure, or fear of success maybe.
I too think of my mortality daily. you see I almost died 2010/05/05 (stroke).
It certainly does change the lense through which you see the world.
Why only *probably* be cryonically frozen? To me it is (almost) a no brainer decision. Low cost, low probability, but very unique/valuable reward!
"Keeping death in mind" was interesting headline. I heard about this from a blog of an athiest (who btw writes great technical articles & absolute boloney on religion)
Anyway just so that u know. I try to remember death all the time. Not because it inevitable but we (muslims) are advised by their Prophet (PBUH), that most intelligent of the person is the one who remembers death & works/prepares for the life hereafter (not exact words but something along this line. Mistakes are from me if any.)
You said you are strategist/ philosophy student n stuff. Try reading Quran with an open mind. Its a very interesting book.
here's something on ted that seems to have the same 'spirit' as your post. It's just three minutes long. Thought you might want to see it.
> I think I thanked the old woman who helped me – I think so. If I didn’t, that’s the one of the biggest sins of my life
I wouldn't feel too bad about that, I'm not sure that anyone would be thinking too clearly after an accident like that. I know I wouldn't expect thanks from someone who's getting bundled off to hospital.
> I think about the fact that I’m going to die – I don’t want to, but it’s almost inevitable
I love the "almost" in that sentence - not sure if you meant that it's almost inevitable that you will die or almost inevitable that you will think about dieing. I prefer the first interpretation.
Getting hit like that is an experience indeed. I almost pity people who haven't had any serious accident, it's that live changing.
It certainly changed my perspective and, over time, made me less afraid. I've realised how safe we (living in the west) all are. This is safest era in history and yet people have never been so afraid.
Fear is the bain of modern western culture.