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So, what is it like to get a message from your wife that she’s too sick to ride her motorbike and she’s being told “it’s the only way down” because the support truck and trailer are full. There is no room for you or the bike.
At ten thousand feet at Sani Pass in Lesotho, a small country within Southern Africa, she had to ride down, crashing at least half a dozen times and stopping to vomit as the infection was taking hold. Notifying the tour leaders Jo Rust & Tim Skelton the night before departure that she couldn’t ride, she was told it’s not possible, you must. “There is no other way to get the motorcycle off the mountain”, they said. The morning of departure she again made it clear to them that she was too sick to operate the motorcycle, and was met with the same reply, “You must ride.” Mind you, they were made aware of her situation a couple of days previously with the infection all of a sudden ramping up and becoming much worse in less than 24 hours.
Finally reaching the border of Lesotho and South Africa, Jo Rust approached her and asked, “Ready to go? Only 20 km more!” Her vision skewed and blurred with only the ability to see certain colors, she finally refused to get back on the machine knowing a catastrophic crash was
imminent. After an “Are you sure?” check, they finally asked another injured rider to exit the truck and ride the rest of the way.
A strange decision was made before getting to medical care – they first stopped to find lodging for the rest of the tour attendees instead of going straight to a facility. More delay to care. Finally reaching a clinic, the examining doctor exclaimed that she needed to be transported to a hospital, IMMEDIATELY. An ambulance was summoned and she was loaded in, solo, and off they went. But wait! She was then told by the ambulance driver that payment was due before they would transport her to the hospital. Half delirious, she is handing them cards from her wallet with PIN numbers while they drove to various ATM’s to withdraw cash. None of the cards would function as she was too delirious to realize they were not ATM cards. Finally realizing her error, she messaged another tour attendee to round up the 4500 South African Rand (about 300 USD) so they could get en route to the hospital, a 2-hour ride. Off she went, again alone, pre-septic, in a foreign country, to an unknown hospital without an advocate in the event she lost total consciousness. Knowing she was all alone, she struggled to stay awake and alert until she arrived. Arriving alone, she completed check in and paperwork to be seen by the doctor, something an accompanying advocate could have assisted with. Once meeting the surgeon and realizing she was going to surgery within the hour, she began sending me cryptic text messages while slipping deeper into sepsis. I was 11,000 miles away. “I need you here” she wrote. I went numb.
Into logistics mode I went sorting out flight arrangements, care for our son, house, dog, and all that would be involved. Just before going into surgery, the doctor called me to further discuss the seriousness of the case. “I want to make clear how serious this is”, he stated. “I’m not sure how extensive the effected tissue is; her blood pressure is extremely low.” Keeping it together, I said “Do what you think is right to save her”. He promised he would and would be in touch immediately following surgery. On pins and needles I waited. Eventually, I receive a call and summary of what was found, the extent, and reach. She is intubated and in forced sedation for her own safety. Another surgery followed 18 hours later to confirm that all the infected tissue was removed on the first attempt. I called the ICU nurses to check up on her as I waited to depart. “Please tell her, conscious or not, that Terry is on the way”. I knew she needed to know that. It would keep her going. And, it did.
During the time spent waiting for departure, I spoke to Tim Skelton asking if someone could please go to her. He answered, “No, she is in good hands and I’m checking on her by phone.” I asked if the tour could detour the next morning to at least stop in to the hospital between now and the time I was to arrive to please check on her. Again I was met with “No, it’s not possible. The tour
must go on.” They were only 72 miles away while I was 11,000. I can guess that no one on that tour would have objected to a detour to check in on a dangerously ill fellow rider.
I received constant updates from the surgeon as data is available from the plane and, finally, in Dubai for my layover. Wifi in the airport was good enough to get through to the hospital via Skype to landline. I waited on the phone for ICU nurses to see if she was awake enough to speak with me as she has recently been extubated and brought out of sedation. The phone crackled and I could hear her crying over the phone. “Where are you?” she asked. “I’m 8 hours away. I’m on the way.” I exclaim, keeping it together. The connection failed, and I’m left with that short exchange to satisfy myself that she will be alive when I reach the hospital.
Landing in Durban and making the 90-minute drive to the hospital, we finally lock eyes as I enter the ICU. We exchange a look and read each other as only 28 years together can do. She is relieved and can now finally rest as I’m now sorting out what the next steps will be.
I called Tim Skelton at Jo Rust Adventures to discuss the logistics of her belongings that were left behind. I also asked if they will be visiting her and was told that they are now too far away. We discuss their return trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg after the tour is finished. I asked if they planned to visit, and was told they would be heading straight home without time to stop.
Staying focused, I assist the nurses in changing the daily wound dressings resulting from her surgery. I see the bruises all over her body from the many crashes caused by the ride down the mountain, and I’m sickened. I’ll admit she’s a better off-road rider than I and quite confident when the roads get tough. She clearly wasn’t on her game to crash that many times. More bruises and more questions. More wrong answers given. More and more furious I become.
In no way do I think Jo Rust Adventures is at fault for her sickness leading up to the request for medical care. I’ve spoken to other tour operators before writing this to discuss their emergency plans and protocol for similar situations. Unanimously, they answered that sending someone alone on a medical transport has never been in their plan. Where the grand failures began was to delay medical treatment stating it wasn’t possible, followed by sending her off in an ambulance alone leading to a long search for an ATM for payment. Who would think it would be a good idea to send someone in that condition off in an ambulance, solo, in rural South Africa? And, if that was to be the temporary decision, why no personal visit the next day?
We are still at a loss to understand the thought process behind their decisions to respond.
- – 1st notification that she couldn’t ride was met with a logistical reply about no space on the support truck.
- – 2nd notification that she was too sick was met with “The bike must get down the mountain. There is no room for you”.
- – 3rd insistence of “I cannot ride” was met with disapproval but finally loaded up into the support vehicle.
- – Medical clinic delay while they sorted accommodation for the group, a task that could have been split by the 2 tour leaders.
- – Loaded in the ambulance by herself with NO advocate, tour representative, or friend.
- – Ambulance was allowed to leave without sorting out a payment and Sandy left to organize on her own, finally summoning help from other tour attendees. More delay.
I was 11,000 miles away with the tour group being only 72 miles from her that evening. I begged to have them go to her. “The tour must go on!” I was told. Once again, it was about logistics and equipment with total disregard for human life. I wholeheartedly believe no one in that tour would have minded a detour to check on her.
And when confronted with my dissatisfaction to all of this I was finally told, “We lived up to the terms of service and did all we were required to do”. Really? Unbelievable
This kind of irresponsible action must not stand. To be fair to this tour operator, I consulted colleagues in the motorcycle tour business about how these types of events should be handled. They were appalled to hear of the many failures that took place.
Sandy is fortunate to be alive. I am fortunate to be writing this without being a widower. I am sick to think that I almost lost her. I am so disappointed in how this tour operator handled the emergency and will make an effort to see that this does not happen to anyone else.
There are many reputable motorcycle tour companies operating regionally and globally. I am more than happy to recommend one that suits your needs while having active safety measures in place to respond to emergencies and provide a quality tour experience.
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