A Big Scare (Day 34 – Beni Suef, Egypt)

Yesterday I was witness to one of the scariest sights I have ever seen.  I was following Jeremy when he crashed his bike.  The whole episode has been replaying in my mind in slow motion.  Today I feel a big sense of relief because given how dramatic the crash looked, Jeremy was not seriously injured.  He will be confined to a hotel room for a few days until he can put weight on his left knee, but he is otherwise unhurt.

We were on our way from Giza to Aswan, hoping to put in a lot of kilometres (about 950) to give ourselves a chance of catching the Ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan.  We had been delayed for several days trying to repair a burnt clutch on Jerry’s bike (more on that later), so we had a lot of distance to cover in a short time to stay on schedule.  We left at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning.  We had to be in Aswan Sunday morning before 9:30 AM in order to make the Ferry, which only leaves once a week on Mondays.

We had lost the highway.  Jerry was leading, trying to use the Garmin map in combination with a paper map of Egypt to get us on course.  We were going from one back road to another traveling through small dusty towns and not making good time at all.  Perhaps his eagerness to find the highway made Jerry go faster than he otherwise would have.  When he saw a big speed bump quickly approaching, he applied the brakes heavily.  Unfortunately the bike went into a skid.  A major factor was the new knobbly tires we put on in Cairo.  Designed for offroad riding, they have way less traction on the asphalt than our previous dual off-road/street tires.  Moreover the road had a thin layer of dust and sand on top of the hard surface, making traction even worse. 

Hitting the speed bump at speed (60 or 70 km/h) while in a skid was a disaster.  The bump threw the skidding bike down onto its left side and sent it sliding down the roadway and to the left.  Thank goodness there was no oncoming traffic.  Initially Jerry was pinned under the bike, but eventually he came loose.  The bike spun almost all the way around and Jerry came to a stop on the left side of the road short of where the bike came to a stop, nose pointing back and to the left across the left lane.

As I was getting off my bike, I saw Jerry stand up, take two steps, and then collapse on the ground in agony when his left leg buckled.  When I got to him he was understandably frustrated and in pain, convinced that he had torn his MCL.  A crowd had gathered (even though it looked like we were far away from any villages) and we helped Jerry to a chair in someone’s front yard.  I gave him some Ibuprofen, took off his pants (which were torn laterally across the knee), and had him lie down on a bench for a complete knee exam.  So as not to offend the locals, I used his riding jacket for appropriate draping (the sleeve in particular).  This was a good thing, as when the sleeve moved out of position, a bystander quickly moved in to replace it. 

He had road rash abrasions on his left kneecap, and there was some minor bleeding.  I systematically tested the cruciate and collateral ligaments, as well as the menisci.  Everything was the same on both knees, except the injured left knee had some crepitus on the medial-lateral grind test.  There was a large effusion on the left side, which had developed almost immediately after the impact.  Jerry and I used antiseptic wipes to clean the surface wound and then dressed it with a gauze pad.  Then we wrapped it lightly in a tensor bandage and dug a knee guard (which Jerry had bought in California) out of his bag and put it on.

Jerry wanted to get back on the bike.  While I had been assessing Jerry, Tom had picked Jerry’s bike up and moved it off the to the side.  There didn’t appear to be any damage except for a scratched peli.  I knew that continuing to ride was not an option, but I hoped that Jerry would come to this decision on his own without me having to tell him he’s not allowed.  I told him that we both knew that RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) was indicated.  He said he’d use the highway pegs for elevation.  Only later did he realize how ludicrous that statement was.  Tom then tried a different angle, saying that we would have to support the bike every time he stopped, and that he wouldn’t be able to get on or off the bike without help.  Still Jerry was determined to carry on.  Then Tom cleverly asked me straight out what my advice was.

I said that we needed to put Jerry’s bike on a truck and go to the next town and find a hotel so that Jerry could rest for a few days and where we could monitor the injury.  It takes 4 working limbs to ride a motorbike.  Riding with one leg that can’t support your own weight, never mind that of a fully loaded bike, was asking for disaster.  It would be easy to aggravate the injury because if the bike started leaning over to the left, Jerry would just have to let it drop, likely right onto his injured knee.

Finally Jerry started to come around.  This is a good thing, because if he would have asked us to support the bike and help him get on, I wouldn’t have gone along.  I went to the group of locals who were watching the show, and pointed at a pick-up truck parked a little ways down the road.  I communicated using sharades that I wanted the bike loaded onto a truck.  Somehow Tom knew the Arabic word for hotel.  They understood what we needed, but they wanted money.  It’s amazing how quickly they can find a way to profit from an unanticipated event, such as a motorcycle crash involving “rich foreigners”.

I thought they wanted 200 Egyption pounds (about $40) for the truck.  We discovered later that 100 of it went to the guy who called for a truck, which is a fortune in a country where a cup off perfectly spiced divine arabic coffee costs 1 pound (20 cents).  The other 100 pounds went to the guy who owned the truck and drove us an hour to Beni Suef.  The truck even sustained some damage when Jerry’s kickstand tore up the particle board lining the bed.  It didn’t seem like a fair arrangement.  We’ve learned that almost every interaction we’ve had since arriving in Cairo has involved people trying to get the maximum amount of money that they can from us, sometimes in incredibly convoluted and creative ways.  There are some exceptions, including the internet cafe where I am writing this post, where the people have been incredibly friendly and helpful.  I know it’s part of the culture and that I shouldn’t be offended.  But I dislike constantly feeling like I’m being screwed and that I’m a sucker.  And I am a sucker here.  I am used to paying mostly fixed prices and people helping others without it turning into a business transaction at some point.  Here, some people learn to scam before they are old enough to ride a bicycle.  We are badly outmatched.  It seems that ever since we got to Cairo its been one scam after another.  More on that to follow.

Along the way to the hotel, my bike wouldn’t start after I had stopped at one of Egypts numerous highway police checkpoints.  The others went on ahead while I tried to fix the problem.  Bump starting it wouldn’t work because there wasn’t enough traction.  With three policeman pushing the bike I dropped it into 2nd gear.  Instead of turning the engine over, I immediately went into a skid.  Another downside of the dirt tires I suppose.  I went to plan B – check the electrical system.  The battery still had a good charge according to my gauge, but the electrical system wasn’t working – no lights would turn on.

I took off the seat to check the fuses.  There was a lot of dust in the fuse box.  I removed both main fuses
and a quick inspection showed that they were intact.  I cleaned all the contacts and put them back in.  The effect was magical.  The engine immediately turned over.  That was easy.

When I caught up with Tom and the truck carrying Jerry’s bike, they had been pulled over by the police – probably because the police at the checkpoint had taken it upon themselves to make sure we were reunited and had radioed ahead.  When I got there we continued, with a police escort, to a hotel in the nearby town of Beni Suef.  We carried Jerry up 5 flights of stairs and set him up with ice for his knee and pillows to elevate his left leg. 

However, a couple of hours later, we became concerned because of the amount of swelling in his calf.  It was extremely tight and painful.  Being U of T students, we of course starting thinking of the extremely unlikely, but serious, possibilities.  Compartment syndrome was at the top of the list.  All you medical minded people can freely make fun of us.  The pulses were normal, and there was neither palor nor paraesthesia.  But I certainly didn’t want to attempt a fasciotomy with my swiss army knife. 

So myself and a hotel porter carried Jerry down the stairs, loaded him into a taxi, and took him to the hospital.  He was put into a wheel chair when we got there.  The porter parked him in the waiting room right next to a guy who had nearly severed his thumb from his hand with an axe (or so I gathered from the miming and the bloody wrapping where the thumb should have been).  Within minutes Jerry was in to the see the doctor, who did a 10 second knee exam and then sent us upstairs for an X-ray (which cost 30 pounds).  I took a look at it, and in my opinion as a second year medical student, it looked completely normal.  The doctor concurred.  He prescribed some diclofenac and trypsin/chemotrypsin for the swelling as well as some Egyptian antibiotics.  When I pointed at the swollen calf, he knew enough English to say “edema no problem”.  I guess that’s what we needed to hear.  The consult was 40 pounds and the drugs were 60 pounds.  I tipped the porter 10.  So the whole episode cost 140 pounds ($28).  Hardly worth claiming.  We were back in the hotel less than an hour after we had left.  Efficient system. 

Jerry has been resting in the room ever since.  We will stay until he has recovered to the point where it is safe for him to ride.  According to a translation of the doctor’s note (some of the hotel staff speak English), he should be back on his feet in 3 or 4 days.  He is one lucky guy.

The only damage Jerry’s bike sustained in the crash was some scraping of his left Pelican Case.  We loaded his bike on a truck and Tom and I followed on our motorcycles to a hotel in the closest town (Beni Suef).

4 thoughts on “A Big Scare (Day 34 – Beni Suef, Egypt)

  1. Hey b’y, good luck with the rest of your trip. I look forward to future posts. Good to know that Jerry’s okay.

  2. Thanks for the detailed and graphic update Tyson, and for the skilled help provided to Jeremy. I hope that the rest of your journey is without incident. Wish all of you well.

  3. Hey Guys! I just found your blog and found that I’m heading the same way as you. While I’m still in Cairo trying to organize my visa we might just meet on the ferry next week. How on earth did you manage to arrange your visa in just one day? Also, if you have any idea of where this motorcycle shop is, directions would be more than welcome. The tyres you got are not very good though? Cheers, SteffenSPA aaaaaaaattttttt soas.ac.uk

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