Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Meltdown (literally)

Ever since I’d recovered from Delhi Belly, things had been going surprisingly well. Working for the radio station has been an absolute dream; I’d moved into a relatively cheap 100% accessible hotel with a dozen English speaking cable chanels – including ESPN; I’d interviewed a Pulitzer Prize winner and my two students had learned how to edit audio and are ready to become reporters.

The Culprit.

Considering my track record, it was a little too much to ask for. And slowly things started to sour. It started with the purchase of a brand new Chinese space heater I picked up to keep my room above freezing at night. It doesn’t stay cold long here, so there’s no heating in any of the hotels. Before I broke my back I had no problem camping out in near freezing temperatures, but since my body just can’t take it. My extremities chill up quickly and worst of all, my nose gets so cold and clammy that it gives me a slight headache.

The space heater was only $8.00 so picking one up was an easy call. The problem is they are all cheap pieces of garbage. By the time I rolled the mile and a half from Mcleod Ganj to my crib in Bhagsu, the entire mechanism had fallen apart. Screws came undone, heating filaments fell out of the box and after putting it back together only one of the heat coils fired up.

But it did kind of throw out a bit of heat, or at least enough to warm my nose if I stuck it a few inches from the grill. A minor setback, but of course it would lead to more calamitous events.

Next on the agenda was my cell phone. Dan’s co-worker, Helen picked up an Indian cell phone during here trip here a few years back and lent it to me for my stay. It seems like every other shop in McLeod Ganj is a cell provider, so I just stepped into one and within minutes I was hooked up with a new number and a fully functioning phone. I left the charger at the studio where I plugged in my computer. Whenever I saw it running out of juice, I just plugged it in for the day and I was fine. Fine until the charger went missing one day and 24 hours later I was out of phone, with several potential interview subjects trying to reach me. Meltdown number two.

Then yesterday after I had a great class session with two very eager Tibetan reporters the meltdowns started getting worse. As they were carrying me down the dozen steps from the studio, one of the handles on my chair snapped off and I went tumbling down to the bottom of the cement staircase. I managed to avoid breaking any bones, but my elbow took a nice crack and I caught a fat contusion on my left calf. It was nothing to take me out of action, but a thick bit of hurt to carry around with for the next few days. We’ll call the chair meltdown number three and the elbow thwack meltdown number four.

I made it back to Bhagsu and flicked on the heater to try to warm up my legs which were icy cold from the first snow day of the year. Although none of the snow stuck, the temperature never got above freezing so my body never really warmed up. I tried a little experiment and flipped the device on its head to see if the second coil would fire up. Nothing doing, so I put the heater next to my legs, opened the laptop and whipped out a blog entry. Fifteen minutes later I noticed my nose wasn’t cold anymore so I lifted up the laptop and saw that my trick of standing the heater on it’s head worked. Both coils were firing away and the room was getting toasty warm.

When I finished writing, I folded up the laptop and hopped into bed to catch The Tonight Show which was right in the middle of the Conan v. NBC fiasco. Before tossing the covers over my legs, I rolled up my right pant leg to see what was happening with the contusion. This is when I realized the contusion was nothing, but the large patch of white wrinkled skin was something – something big. As the double heater coils warmed me up, they’d also bubbled up my leg. I immediately doused it with water and used another cold water bottle to keep the skin cool (no ice machines up here in Bhagsu). I could feel the skin was loose but I couldn’t tell the extent of the burn. I fell asleep praying that it would just be a red spot in the morning.

But, of course, it wasn’t. The heater (which went completely dead in the middle of the night) had left me with a 9-inch by 4-inch bubble on the left side of my left calf. There was enough fluid in the blister to fill a coke can. Thus we have king of the meltdowns rendering all the other meltdowns meaningless.

When my driver Suresh came to pick me up, he took one look at it and agreed with me that I had to go to the hospital. He zipped me down the harrowing Library road to Delek Hospital, not far from the Tibetan government offices. I’d been to this hospital once in 2000 when it was little more than a waiting room and a doctor’s office. Since that time there’s been an enormous improvement. It’s now a four-story building with several wards, an x-ray machine, a full lab, a pharmacy and even a minor operating room. When I showed the burn to the admitting clerk, he quickly sent me to a western-trained Tibetan doctor who told me I needed to take care of it immediately.

He said he was going to have puncture the bubble and admit me with IV antibiotics. This is not what I wanted to hear, but what he said next was much better. He informed me that the TCV also had a very nice clinic on campus. I had no idea there was a hospital just a few blocks from my office, but I told the doctor I think it’s best if I got treated up there. He agreed and Suresh zipped me up the Library Road, though the main drag in McLeod and up to the TCV.

ADA standards require 12 feet of horizontal for every one foot of vertical. This baby at the TCV Health Clinic is 5:1 - and two stories up !

Oh yeah - there's stairs in the middle of it too!

The doctor at the TCV clinic agreed it was a nice burn, but didn’t think I needed to be admitted. He covered the bubble with iodine then carefully punctured it letting the seepage drain until the blistered skin again lay on my leg. He bandaged everything up, gave me a stock pile of antibiotics and told me to come back in the morning to change the dressing.

Eight inches long by four inches wide. I'm sure I'll be able to show you all the scar when I get home - because it won't heal overnight.

The handle on my chair will get a new weld, the phone has been recharged, the heater is in the trash can, but my leg… That’s gonna leave a mark!

UPDATE: Here's my right leg for the next few months while this heals. This actually happened on Jan. 13 and as of Jan. 18, it's healing quite well. It's a first degree burn, quite wide but happily not at all deep. I go to the hospital every morning where they rebandage it and check for infection (there is none!). So I'm all chocked full of antibiotics which is probably good for UTI's too!
And no, it's not serious enough to get out of work. I'm reading the news in five minutes!


  1. Oh No, Tom. This sucks. Can you feel any pain?? Be very careful to keep it clean.

    Would an electric blanket help? Sue

  2. Damn lucky. That big of a 2nd-3rd degree burn would be really tough to heal. Keep it elevated, little pressure, gentle bandage, and eat well. Andy

  3. Glad it is healing up. Those reports need to power of Captain Crip!

  4. Dude...you are the Bull and the world is your China shop...try to go a few days without breaking anything else OK?
    -Toad (the wanna be conga player)