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George with the US wardens who got him on a plane for home

George Scored Home Run After 369 Days

Saturday, August 31, 2013
PHUKET: The public wards at Phuket's Vachira Phuket Hospital are a place most people try to avoid. To spend a year in one, bed-bound and unable to speak . . . that's hell in paradise.

George Harris did that. And this week, after 369 days in Vachira Phuket bed-bound and unable to speak, he headed for Phuket International Airport and a flight home to the US.

There were a small number of people who gathered at the hospital exit to see him into an ambulance and wish him well.

Phuketwan reporter Premkamon Ketsara was there. Back in June, on a visit to the hospital for another story, she realised there was a problem with George.

George's brother Hal Harris was bidding the ambulance goodbye, too, except that Hal was planning to head to the airport to see if he could fly back to the US with his brother.

Hal gave up a year of his life to take care of his brother after the motorcycle crash on Phuket that left George severely injured.

Hal came to the hospital every two or three days, lovingly shaving 53-year-old George, washing him, and just as importantly, talking to him.

Even though George could say nothing, Hal could see in his eyes the intelligent brother he knew. Without Hal, where would George be?

Sharing the moment with Hal was the hospital's international matron, Methavee Maneesri, an admirably dedicated nurse who tends to Phuket's most broken and beaten expat community.

She and Hal had a falling out as they were both trying to get George home. When trust disappeared, Khun Methavee began to fear that George could be a prisoner on Phuket for years to come.

To the rescue, via an article in Phuketwan and a telephone call from Hal, came US wardens Denny Bowman and Ananya ''Rin'' Insumrun.

Ignoring instructions for them to back away and ''let the courts deal with it'' (which would certainly take years), the pair stared down bank managers, cold-hearted bureaucrats and anyone else who stood between George and his flight home.

When Denny Bowman turned the corner in the hospital ward this week and saw George in bed, George's eyes lit up. George gave a giant thumbs up and reached for Denny's hand.

All of us talked at the foot of George's bed. As well as George's last day in the hospital, it was Hal's last day, too.

He's heading back to the Middle East soon, he thinks, as soon as the right kind of job comes up in the oil business, where both brothers once worked.

George is heading for hospital care in Dallas, close to where his mother and a sister live.

Hal's the kind of brother all of us would like to think we deserve. Most of the friends George thought he had on Phuket, even those to whom he had loaned money, were no-shows at his bedside, said Hal.

The thing all expats should remember, Hal said, as we all nodded, was that a low-cost insurance policy enabled George to fly.

It's a small price to pay to avoid hell in paradise.

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