For anyone, the loss of an eye is a disaster, but for Steven, who earns his living as a writer and photographer, the consequences of this terrible accident were potentially far more serious.
Two years later, Steven recalls the worst moment in his life:
“I was staying at my girlfriend’s farm in Roi-Et in the Northeast when I noticed one of the family calves wander into the neighbour’s garden towards his recently expanded vegetable patch. The calf was only doing what came naturally to him as the vegetables did look delicious. The neighbour was none too pleased though and started to load up a slingshot.
“As I tried to warn the calf, shouting at it loudly to move away and come back, I stumbled and fell over, right onto the stump of a recently cut bamboo stem, which went straight into the socket of my right eye.
“It was a freak accident, about as likely as me winning the lottery twice. I knew straightaway that it was a very serious injury, even before I called out for help.
“Strangely, it wasn’t as painful as you might imagine.”
Steven was taken immediately to the local hospital in Kaset Wisai where doctors were quick to examine and give him a tetanus jab before putting him in an ambulance and sending him to the larger and better equipped hospital in Roi-Et city centre about 60kms away, where he spent the next ten days.
“After many tests, the doctor eventually told me that she did not feel comfortable doing the operation I needed in case it was more complicated than they thought, so she arranged for me to be transferred to Srinagarind Hospital in Khon Kaen which is highly regarded and has a well-known eye specialist.
“I will never forget the taxi ride to the hospital in Khon Kaen. But before I could take that, I first needed to leave the hospital to buy a change of clothes and use the ATM to get money. I must have looked quite a sight! Despite being on some very strong painkillers and other medication, the taxi ride was one of my most painful car experiences, as every bump in the road felt like a hammer to the head.”
“I knew as soon as the accident took place that I was in serious trouble. But you still cling to that slither of hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s something that they can do, something to prevent me from losing the eye and my sight. That all vanished after the surgeon tried to do an anterior chamber washout only to find that the eye was beyond saving.
“He came to visit me the next day and explained that there was no other choice but to undergo surgery again and remove the eye, and that I needed to sign a declaration form authorising them to do so. I do not mind admitting that this was very upsetting, and I needed a few moments to take it all in.”
The hospital tried to soften the blow with some consolatory news when the brain surgeon assigned to the case told Steven that the bamboo that had pierced his eye socket had stopped less than a few millimetres short of the dura surrounding his brain.
“If that bamboo stump had been any longer or sharper, I wouldn’t be here today to tell the story,” says Steven. “In that sense, I am very lucky.”
Looking back on his decision to undergo surgery in Khon Kaen rather than at one of Bangkok’s international hospitals, Steven comments without hesitation: “Yes, I could have gone to Bangkok for treatment, but after weighing up the costs, which would have been much, much higher, I decided against it. Frankly, I have absolutely no regrets about that decision – the doctors and nurses at Srinagarind Hospital, and in Roi-Et, did a wonderful job.
“And I am certain the outcome would have been the same.”