Nineteen-year-old needs urgent surgery, but travel has been complicated due to COVID-19 outbreak
Nineteen-year-old Calgary resident Cathryn Ferster was riding a rental motorcycle in Ko Tao, an island located in south Thailand.
Ferster and a friend from school spent the past month adventuring around the area, first visiting the Indonesian island of Bali before arriving in Thailand.
The pair met a couple who invited them to join them at the beach. So, strapping on their helmets, Ferster and her friend climbed on the bike and made their way.
Eventually, they came to a snaky and steep road. Ferster could see a turn coming in the distance, so she squeezed the brakes.
Ferster squeezed them again — nothing.
The pair, travelling downward at a high speed, saw a metal barrier quickly coming into view.
Ferster screamed to her friend that the brakes had stopped working, but at the speed they were travelling it was impossible to turn.
They smashed into the barrier. Ferster’s friend was thrown a few feet, hit the ground, and rolled down an incline.
Ferster was tossed under the barrier — and then, the bike landed on top of her.
‘What the heck just happened?’
Ferster remembers lying on the ground, in total shock.
Some locals drove down the typically quiet road where the accident happened and stopped to help.
Ferster’s friend, injured but able to walk, was helped up the hill. But Ferster could tell something was wrong with her body.
“I felt panicked, like, ‘Oh my gosh. What the heck just happened?” Ferster said. “The only thing I could remember that was super painful was my knee was actually squished against the concrete … my knee was just sitting on the concrete and like continuously getting scraped.
“My leg was actually twitching. I don’t think my leg actually knew what was going on at that point.”
Eventually, an ambulance arrived, and seeing Ferster’s condition was serious, transported her alone.
“We were driving and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” Ferster said. “My leg, they didn’t strap it down in the ambulance, so my broken leg was across my body, across my stomach, so every single bump and dip I could just feel my leg popping around and jumping.”
Arriving at a medical facility, doctors started cleaning her wounds and picking rocks out of her legs. Seeing the condition of her injuries, the doctors decided they would be unable to treat her at that location.
Soon, Ferster was on a motorboat, her leg bumping around as waves rocked the boat.
Panic and confusion
Ferster was brought into a hospital on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island.
There, in the emergency room, while the adrenaline and shock began to wear off, she began to panic.
“It was honestly pretty shocking, because nobody spoke English [very well]. They couldn’t figure out what I was saying. So I started panicking and I got really upset,” Ferster said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. My friend’s not here. I’m in a hospital. My leg’s extremely broken. My wrist was super duper swollen, and it really hurt.'”
Eventually, she learned that along with her fractured wrist, she had also fractured her face in two places — above her eyebrow and right under her eye. Her femur bone was snapped completely in half.
“They put the X-ray on my screen, and oh my gosh, my heart dropped, because my bones literally were completely criss-crossed,” she said.
It was clear Ferster would need surgery. Doctors told her she would receive leg and wrist surgery in Koh Samui, and face surgery along with a second procedure on her leg would be completed a week later.
Delays and disappointment
After surgery, Ferster’s family in Canada frantically tried to arrange transport through her insurance to get her sent back to Canada.
Initially, the impression was that she would be moved swiftly. But doctors nixed that, insisting she stay at least five days after surgery.
The insurance company and the doctors took a couple of days to discuss travel arrangements. It was decided that instead of first class, she would soon be transported via medevac.
But the brakes were applied again, when doctors insisted she sign a waiver. Then, the family needed to locate and confirm a surgeon was ready to accept Ferster in Canada. More days went by.
On March 18, Ferster was told a plane was finally ready to fly out four days later.
“I was pretty upset. Then I was like, you know what, I can do it,” she said. “It’s only a few more days.”
But on Saturday, with the COVID-19 outbreak having closed borders and ramping up quarantine efforts around the globe, Ferster was told she wouldn’t be leaving on March 22.
“My dad calls the insurance company and now the medevac is saying, ‘She’s not allowed on the airplane until [she] gets tested for coronavirus,” she said. “So I was pretty heartbroken this morning when I found out.”
Complicating the matter, Ferster’s hospital does not have COVID-19 tests. She’ll need to wait around two days for the test to arrive, and more days while it is sent to Bangkok for testing.
Ferster will need to receive her surgery before March 31, after which the bones in her face will begin to set and heal improperly.
“I just really want to get home, so badly, but we’re just not sure when that’s going to happen now,” she said. “And we want to get me home before the Canadian border closes travel.”
Ferster’s family was going to fly down when she first was injured, but given changes to air travel amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, that’s no longer possible.
What happens next is still uncertain for Ferster. Some days, she says she feels depressed.
“At this point, it’s just feeling really hopeless. They keep changing the time, and I’m just worried it’s going to get pushed to the point I can’t leave,” she said. “I’m hoping that if people hear my story, maybe they can try to put something to get me home sooner.
“Or just home in time before borders close. Or before it’s too late, and I have to have my surgery here.”