Being the anxious little thing that I am, I’ve always found mild comfort in the fact that for all the seconds, minutes and hours I’ve spent worrying myself into a mild stupor, convincing myself that disaster (in whatever form) is just around the corner, rarely, if ever, has anything bad actually ever happened to me.

It was based on this realisation (that I’d been wasting time worrying about wasting time) that I decided I should really push my boundaries. And since I sport neither the athletic ability nor the inclination to, say, kayak to South America, I have chosen the next best, but no less stressful option: hopping in a car I can barely drive with a boyfriend who has the intrepid aspirations of Bear Grylls and making my way overland, across the world to the UK.

After 3 months driving around Australia, I’d started to give myself a break. Whenever my mind had wandered into the abyss of will we get struck down by a tsunami or car-jacked or eat bad noodles, I’d pumped the breaks and told it to STFU. I had started to allow myself to think about nice things instead, like what I really wanted out of the year and how excited I was that it was splayed out in front of me for the taking.

It was in this dreamy state of mind that I was running along around the village at Balian Beach, high-fiving my new fitness regime. Of course, I hadn’t wanted to run too far from the beach where Joe had rushed down for a morning surf in case I turned a corner into some sort of child labour factory/slaughterhouse so I was jogging up and down the lanes instead, within the vicinity of our cute little bungalow hotel which overlooked the beach.

The beach at Balian had brilliant sparkly black sand that made it pretty, but a bit grubby at the same time. Joe had read somewhere that the water here was meant to be crystally blue, but the heavy rain and flooded river had churned it up, making it a really muddy and murky brown – not an enticing swimming spot, but surfers came there in their droves from all over the world. The day before I’d done my exercise on the beach and then waded out to my waist to try and get some salt water on my skin in an attempt to calm the heat rash which had broken out as soon as we arrived in Bali. But I hate swimming in water when I can’t see the bottom, and the rabied looking dogs bounding around made me feel extremely nervous whilst I attempted suicide runs to and fro along the shoreline.

Our hotel was joined to another hotel down the road, we’d been told it had a swimming pool which I was keen to check out. I jogged down to the end of the road, but couldn’t see anything, and as I made my way back to the main road, I ran into the couple who’d given me directions the night before. They told me again and I turned around sheepishly and headed back down the lane.

 What I didn’t see was the commotion happening about 150m down the road, at the entrance to the beach.

I kept running, until I heard someone yelling behind me. I remember feeling apprehensive about running back to her, as she waved her arms, signalling me to follow her back down the main road. It’s hard to remember what she said as I got closer, but it was something like; ‘Is your boyfriend the one in the blue rashie?’ to which I nodded, stupefied ‘you’d better come quick, he’s been bitten by a shark.’

She gestured down the road where some wet looking surfy people were stood around a car, moving things about. My heart pounded. I sprinted towards the car. Joe was lying in the back seat. The first thing I saw was a blood soaked towel on his chest completely covering his arm. I was immediately terrified in a way that I’d never felt before – that this was actually happening – not a product of my mind imagining the worst possible scenario – but that the worst possible scenario had been realised.

His face was completely ashen, but clammy with beads of sweat and sunscreen.

‘I’m ok babe, it’s ok, it’s not that bad’ he slurred as I tried to clamber in the back seat with him. I wasn’t convinced. I had no idea what was going on or what had happened under the bloodsoaked towel. I also realised I probably was going to squash him if I tried to sit by his side, and so got in the front seat instead. There was another English guy in the car who seemed to be in control. He sat on the other side, under Joe’s legs. The car slowly drove up to the main road to the highway, where there was meant to be a hospital. It seemed to take an age – like driving everywhere in Bali does.

As we pulled into the driveway of the building my heart sank a little further. It wasn’t a hospital, it was more like the medical centre from MASH.

After a bit of argie-bargie at the door they showed Joe in to room and removed the towel. I’d wanted to look for myself – to prepare myself for what we had to deal with – but I just saw a glance of red – his whole right forearm was ripped open. But - his arm was still there, which had to be a good sign. There was mass confusion and little English being spoken.

There were more and more people in the room, and yet no-one seemed to be doing anything. I could see Joe fading under it all. It must have been about 30 mins since it had happened, and his adrenaline was wearing off. He was in serious, serious pain. It was making me petrified – not only that he was in so much agony, but there seemed to be no options. I didn’t know where there was a real hospital. I didn’t know if any of the people in front of me were actually doctors or just randoms. I didn’t know how much blood he’d lost, or whether he would make it to another hospital.

As they started to dress the wound to stem the bleeding, I walked into the hallway, where our new English friend, who we later learned was called Scott, was already in negotiation. There was no ambulance in the town – and it would take hours to get here, and then hours to get to the hospital in Denpasar.

I felt completely useless. All I could do was hover in the doorway between Joe who I desperately wanted to do everything for, but didn’t know where to start, and the hallway where this person who I’d never met was fighting on our behalf. He was giving directions and arguing the toss with people whilst I shuffled around in a daze. In the meantime, the people in the room with Joe had told him that he needed a blood transfusion. In no uncertain terms, we made it very clear that that was not going to happen. Thankfully before the panel of terrified medics had time to make anymore ‘suggestions’ Scott came back in.

He’d organised a driver to take us to the international hospital in Denpasar, but it was going to take atleast 2-3 hours to get there. 2 or 3 hours! I was almost certain he’d lose his arm by then. And that I wouldn’t know how to keep him awake and lucid for so long. I must’ve had that written on my forehead, because before I even opened my mouth Scott had offered to come with us.

The staff in the medical centre bandaged Joe’s arm and gave him a valium, the first one had to be replaced after I dropped it on the floor, and the spare one I stupidly left next to the bed where he was being treated. Scott told me I needed to go back to the hotel and get anything I’d need. I jumped back in the car with the driver, back to the bungalow, and ran into the reception unleashing some strange emotional diatribe about what had just happened and telling them I would be back later that evening or in the morning. I actually didn’t know. Then I ran into our room to grab our stuff.

My mind was started to overload with all the stuff we had spread all over the place, and we were meant to be leaving on Thursday morning. How was I going to get all our stuff? What was I going to do with the stupid hire car with the hole in the floor that needed to go back to Kuta? Again, I shut all that down and tried to think about what I needed to grab.

The room was a mess. I was in a complete panic and started to shove stuff in my bag. I tried to open the safe to get our passports out but became momentarily dyslexic and couldn’t put the right code in. It started beeping at me and jammed. I started crying. Then I pulled it together – grabbed what I could, a laptop, a folder with all our documents, my wallet, a phone. Locked the door on the beeping safe and ran back to the car.

At the junction of the highway, I jumped out and into the car that would take us to Denpasar. I’d barely spoken a word to the guy who had taken us to the medical centre, but in the typical, beautiful Balinese way, he had just wanted to help – he even refused it when I tried to give him some notes.

In the car, which was more like a mini-van, Joe laid down with his feet near my headrest in the front. He was shivering now, properly in shock, and just wanted to close his eyes. All I could say was ‘don’t close your eyes – you have to stay awake!’ or ‘it’s going to be ok – they’ve stopped the bleeding and we’re going to a real hospital now’. For some reason I’d adopted that tone of voice you use in the car when you’re taking the cat to the vet.

Scott was much better. He bantered away about the motherland, asking Joe questions, reassuring him, keeping him awake, positive and occupied. We had a bottle of water, but weren’t keen to let him drink it in case he immediately had to have surgery.

Scott knew where we were going. He had been to BIMC hospital before, and had arranged for his friends to call ahead and make sure the emergency people were ready when we arrived. I was in awe of this person, who seemed to have come out of nowhere especially to help us. I don’t know how things would have ended if he hadn’t been there.

We drove along the main highway of Bali at an average speed of 20kmph. Apparently there was some sort of secret festival on that day which was slowing things up (it’s usually 30kmph). The road was packed the entire way there with the usual barrage of overloaded trucks covered in tarps and blankets, armies of scooters carrying several generations of families, and the general migh-mosh of Suzuki jiminis, like the hole-ridden one we’d hired. It took about 3 hours to get 70km. I hated myself for losing that other valium, as the first one quickly wore off. Even moreso when the driver took us on a ‘short cut’ down the back roads, which may have been quicker, but had so many potholes it made joe’s arm bounce up and down like a sock in a tumble dryer. More agony.

Street after street, it seemed like a joke, as though we were driving around in circles, but eventually, about 3 hours after we set off, we pulled into the guarded driveway of BIMC hospital. People were waiting to admit him, and quickly what seemed like normal things (from what I’ve seen in House) started to happen. He went straight into emergency and real doctors in white coats started fussing over him. Relief. We were safe. He wouldn’t bleed to death or pass out or lose an arm. He could be fixed now.

Luckily, like most of my administrative traits, I’ve been brainwashed by my father. He’s always said, ‘if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel’. The day before we left Australia I managed to pass this brainwashing onto Joe, and we’d both bought policies with World Nomads. Luckily even more that they weren’t those fusty kind of insurance who don’t cover you if you surf, ski or do anything other than breathe.

As soon as we got through the doors of the hospital, I was given forms to fill out and being told I had to pay random fees in amounts and currencies I couldn’t calculate. I pulled out the insurance policy and Joe’s little yellow vaccination card rather triumphantly, although unfortunately it was no time to gloat about my administrative superiority (damn).

The next hour was a bit of a circus; It seemed like every doctor in Indonesia wanted to examine Joe’s arm; they’d never seen a shark attack before and there was a genuine fascination with what had happened which made me feel a bit more comfortable that they were going to do everything they could to fix him.

After about an hour, the doctor in charge came in and told Joe what needed to happen. He needed surgery as soon as possible to assess what the damage was, and hopefully they’d be able to sew his muscles and tendons back together. No one could tell by looking at the wound how much damage was there until the wound was really opened up in theatre.

They would write a medical report with their recommendation for surgery, which would be sent to our insurance underwriters for a Letter of Guarantee, eg, a guarantee that they would pay the expense of the surgery and any other hospital charges. Once the hospital received that guarantee they could proceed. If it was declined, we would need to pay upfront or consider other options. Other options?? What other options were there? They reassured us that it was likely we’d get the guarantee, and took Joe into the ward to chill out in a more comfortable room. It was about 1pm now. We waited.

Scott came back with a sandwich and a SIM card for me, and then took the ‘ambulance’ taxi driver back to Balian Beach for the handsome sum of 600,000Rp (to be fair, that’s only about $65 for 6 hrs worth of taxi). Another guy from our hotel had tagged along in his own vehicle – I’d never understood whether he’d wanted to drive us back when Joe had been sewn back together or whether he just wanted to make sure I made it back to pay for the room and get rid of our stuff! Either way, I told him I’d be back the next day, gave him my details and told him his services weren’t needed. Nice guy, but I couldn’t deal with him at the time even though I felt terrible that hid driven so far for no reason!

The insurance underwriter was based in the UK, and there was no direct office in Indonesia, which meant that the communication had gone from Bali to Thailand to the UK back to Thailand and finally back to us. Although the medical report was received straight away, because of the time difference, we spent a nervous few hours waiting to hear back. 3 o’clock rolled in, and we were told the surgeon would be available for a 9pm surgery – the anaethetist (who beared an uncanny resemblance to Dr Nick from the Simpsons) came in and explained that because they didn’t know how long the surgery would take, he needed to give Joe an extra large dose of anaesthetic so that he wouldn’t wake up halfway through. That went down like a lead balloon!

Joe finally took off his stinking blood soaked boardies (they’d cut his rashie off earlier) and I helped shower him to get him ready for surgery (don’t worry, neither of us really enjoyed it). He’d been on a fluids drip since we arrived at about 11.30, and had to pee every 15 minutes. More fun for everyone involved. Probably the worst part for Joe was that he’d gone surfing before breakfast, and completely missed having anything to eat or drink, and wasn’t allowed anything pre-surgery. He quickly became more consumed with the agony of starvation than the fact that half his arm was hanging off.

We were still waiting at 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock to hear from the insurer and I was getting more and more anxious. A doctor came and spoke to me about the costs of surgery, so that we could make a decision if the guarantee wasn’t granted – I’d need to pay about $11,000 AU from memory. Naturally we would’ve paid it if push came to shove, and I started to think about the quickest way to move money around. Before I got the chance though, we were told the guarantee was issued and we could rest easy that the surgery would proceed and he wouldn’t be thrown out onto the street with a packet of plasters and some paracetamol. God bless World Nomads Insurance – they’ve been super easy to deal with since too.

The co-ordinating nurse was super friendly (a kiwi who’d worked in Bali for over 10 years). She came in and said I could stay the night in Joe’s room, and that they’d make a bed for me as he wouldn’t be out of surgery until late.

We sat in the room trying to rest, flicking through the channels to avoid adverts for ‘River Monsters’.

Soon the anaethetist came in again to take Joe into Theatre. I could see he looked really nervous – I felt really nervous for him. It was the risk that no-one knew what was required to fix him – that the surgery was going to be exploratory, not necessarily final. As he was wheeled off down the hall, I suddenly went a bit dizzy; I’d been completely overwhelmed and out of my depth all day – and I was still in my sweaty running gear from the morning. I went back in the room and sat on the bed and ran through everything that had happened in my head – what played on my mind the most was the first few minutes of being told about the attack, assuming the worst and seeing him in such a state without really being able to help him. My mind wandered off – what if that had been it, if he’d lost so much blood or if no-one had been able to help us…

A Balinese male nurse walked in just then. All day and I’d been so positive and not lost my cool in front of Joe and there I was in my sweaty running gear blubbering away to myself.

‘Don’t cry Mrs. Your husband will be aright.’ he said. That just made me laugh and I think he was chuffed that he’d managed to cheer me up.

9pm, 10pm, 11pm, 12am, 1am, 2am, 2.25am and finally the anaethatist came in to tell me surgery was finished. It was complicated and fiddly, but it went well, he said. There was no vascular damage, and no major bone damage (just a small chip). They’d manage to locate the ends of the tendons and muscles that had been severed and rejoin them, although some better than others. He hadn’t needed a blood transfusion and his overall health was good – thanks to being the fit young lad that he is. 130 stitches later, it would take about 2 wks for the skin to heal, and about 6-8 wks for the tendons to repair themselves. An assessment in 2 wks would determine whether the internal stitching had worked, or whether the tendons/muscles needed further surgery/graphing to recover fully.

Bleary eyed I walked into the recovery area where Joe was sliding out of the anaesthetic. Instead of waking like sleeping beauty, he went into a distressed panic and started thrashing his arms and legs around trying to get up, then passing out, then thrashing around, looking around with a blank, scared stare. He was tossing and turning whilst the anaethetist (a tiny Balinese guy) and I tried to wake him properly and stop him from pulling at his arm which had all sorts of cords and wraps surrounding it. Then he started shivering uncontrollably until he was covered in blankets with a heater pointed under the covers. About half an hour later he was close to lucid.

‘You want to see the the pictures?’ said the anaethetist excitedly. Before I could politely decline, he started scrolling through the gruesome before and after shots that he’d documented during the surgery. I guess he gets bored in theatre after his job is done. The arm looked dead in the photos. I thought we could save those for later. When I had something in my stomach to vomit up.

The final part of this long and harrowing 24 hour saga was calling our families. I’d so badly wanted to talk to someone whilst this whole thing was going on – but as we weren’t going to know anything until after the surgery, we decided to wait.

Having never met Joe’s parents, I wanted to create the right impression. Since Joe hadn’t given me much content to work with I thought long and hard about my delivery. I decided his dad might handle the news slightly better. So I texted him asking him to call me asap.

‘Hi it’s penny’

‘Hello duck, I’m just on my way to the football, are you alright?’ (think Yorkshire accent)

‘Um, yeeesss… we’re alright now. Joe’s ok. We’re in hospital. There was a bit of an accident and Joe had to have surgery, but he’s ok now’

‘You’ve had a car accident! Are you alright?’

“No, No, Joe got bitten by something.’

'’You what? Bitten by something? By what?

‘A shark’

‘NOOOO? You’re joking? A shark? No way.’

I can’t remember the rest of it – but I explained the damage and what the surgeon had said and under the circumstances I thought he took it quite well. He did advise that under no circumstances should I attempt to deliver the news to Lynne (Joe’s mum). Excellent advice.

Finally I called my mum and dad. It doesn’t matter how old I get, mum and dad are still the best for giving me a level head and calming me down.

Joe had now been moved to the master suite in the ward, views, his own bathroom, and about 17 nurses attending to his every need. As I stood outside I overheard a conversation that reassured me he would be fine, “when can I eat?” he asked.

Scott’s friend Ketut drove me 3hrs back to Balian so I could shower and pick up our stuff (the room was a sty, but someone had washed down Joe’s board and put it on the balcony). Scott then very kindly drove the Suzuki death trap back to BIMC with me and our stuff – I couldn’t have handled having to driving that shit box in my sleep-deprived state so hats off to Scott!

Finally checked into a hotel just down the road from the hospital, I sat in my plush suite alone (upgraded on account of having a boyfriend with a shark-bitten arm) eating cup noodles and thanking my lucky stars. It could’ve been so much worse.

4 days later, the surgeon advised us that Joe couldn’t continue the trip for atleast 6 wks. The risk of infection was too high, and he needed decent medical treatment and physio in the coming weeks. We were too shellshocked by the whole thing to be disappointed about the trip. As soon as we’d found someone to sort out Bob in Singapore, we flew back to the UK.