“It’s weird,” says Nic Brown, 35, from his hospital bed at Maharaj, wrapped in bandages from the chest down. “I spent two years on and off in the Middle East [as a freelance writer]. I saw dead bodies and bullet holes and I had guns pointed at me there. Then I got shot at a bar in Chiang Mai.”
Shooting victim Nic Brown, keeping his sense of humour alive at Maharaj Hospital
Nic, an expat from Canada who has lived in Chiang Mai for about a year now, was one of the victims of the much talked about Nimmanhaemin shooting that occurred at the bar Baan Din last month. Of the three individuals who were shot, Nic was the one who sustained the most serious injuries by far. A single bullet entered his chest, shattered several ribs, tore through his lung, injured his spine and went out the other side. He has been in the hospital ever since, moving from the ICU to a private room just last week. The diagnosis is uncertain – doctors say Nic will walk again, but it could be anywhere from one to four years before he does. For now, he’s bedridden, unable to feel or move anything from the chest down.
“It’s like someone tied a rope around my chest, and I can’t feel anything below it,” he says. “You could carve your initials into my leg and I wouldn’t even know.”
Somehow, Nic has managed to stay in relatively high spirits, despite the fact that he deals with daily pain in the places the bullet entered and exited, and numbness everywhere else. “Staying positive is really the only thing I can do,” he says. “But I’m scared, because I know at some point I’m going to crash, and depression will set in. I just don’t know when that’s going to be, so I’m riding the wave of positivity until then.”
Reliving the Night
So what really happened? Multiple eyewitness accounts, including Nic’s own firsthand recollections, have painted a pretty clear picture. Nic, his girlfriend Bow, and a few friends were hanging out at Baan Din when a guy came in.
“He was a drunk bar creeper, a leerer,” says Nic. “But something else was wrong, something seemed really off about him from the beginning, like he was looking for some kind of punishment.”
Don Prawinmet, 28, a sixth year student in the faculty of dentistry at Chiang Mai University, immediately began causing trouble.
“Clearly drunk with one eye half closed, he started hitting on all the girls,” recalls Nic. “They politely shut him down, thinking he was harmless. Then he grabbed the waitress’s ass. She was farang and she is dating the bartender, so that caused the bartender and the owner to confront him. [Don] was definitely provoking them in a drunk way, which led to them beating the crap out of him. I saw him punched several times, and I saw several weapons – a club, a metal pipe – but I didn’t actually see them using any of the weapons on him, so it’s possible that they were just using them to threaten the guy, though I can’t say for sure.”
Regardless, Nic says he and his friend felt the need to step in before things escalated further, especially when they saw one of the bar staff pull out a pick axe. At that point, one of Nic’s friends lifted Don up and away, and Nic walked him to the door.
“He was saying, ‘leave me alone, I’m okay’ but he eventually left,” says Nic. “At that point we were all getting ready to go. It was about ten o’clock and we were ready to move on to the next bar. I had already written off the incident as ‘just another bar fight’ and I was outside, standing in the doorway when I saw a car pull up, driving slow.”
That’s when everything changed.
“Suddenly it was fireworks – bam, bam, bam,” Nic says. “As soon as I got shot, I knew. My first thought was ‘holy shit, that’s what it feels like to get shot.’ You know, you always wonder!”
Nic looked behind him and saw his friend, Tay, a 17-year-old from Korea, who had also been shot. (Tay’s injuries were significantly less severe, and he was discharged from the hospital last week. The third person shot was the bartender, who was just grazed and whose injuries were comparatively minor.)
“There were five shots total. I remember it so clearly,” says Nic. “I wasn’t scared I was going to die, mostly I just felt detached, like ‘wow, this is so interesting.’”
Nic’s Thai girlfriend of five months, Bow, saw the whole thing happen, and understandably felt quite differently about the situation. “I was crying; I was so scared,” she says. “I was worried he would die.”
Bow and Nic’s friends eventually managed to get him and Tay into a car and over to the emergency room at Maharaj.
“On the way to the hospital I remember thinking, ‘Don’t die, asshole. This will be something cool, you’ll write about this,’ Nic recalls with a smile. ‘I remember arriving at the hospital, them cutting my shirt off, thinking, ‘oh man, I love that shirt,’ them gassing me, counting down from 50 – I reached 12 and then I was out. Then I woke up in the ICU, surrounded by friends.”
Bow, who has spent countless hours in the hospital by Nic’s side, helping to translate messages from the staff, keeping him company and tending to his needs, says that the surgery took about five hours total, and included the suturing of Nic’s lung. A heavy smoker, suffering from chronic bronchitis already, Nic says that the treatment was actually a kind of blessing in disguise: “They removed buckets of mucous and I came out with a fresh new pair of lungs!”
That said, there have been several other complications, including a blood clot in his lung which will require Nic to take a pill every day for the rest of his life. He continues to suffer from daily pain, fevers, occasional infections and of course, the complete inability to use (or even feel) his legs for an unknowable amount of time.
“I was on morphine for two weeks but I chose to go off it,” he notes. “I didn’t want to be addicted. I had my iPod and fell asleep one day listening to Radiohead on morphine and then woke up terrified about the world. That’s when I decided to switch to Paracetamol, even though that means I have to take six to seven of them daily and obviously it’s not as effective.”
What struck me most about Nic’s ordeal is the way in which we as readers react when we hear about an awful incident like the Nimmanhaemin shooting. We think, ‘oh he’s alive, good’ and then we move on. But for Nic, the battle is far from over. In addition to the constant pain and the loss of his ability to walk, the costs of medical treatment as well as legal fees are piling up. He’s spent a month in the hospital so far, with perhaps another month left to go before he can return home (in a wheelchair).
“The good thing has been that friends have been coming out of the woodwork,” says Nic. “A few of them got together and designed a t-shirt with a ridiculous picture of me on it. It says ‘Nicky Bullets’ and it’s been quite a hit – people who don’t even know me are buying it because they think it’s a cool t-shirt.”
Nic’s friends also threw a fundraiser for him in Canada, and another one in Korea where he lived prior to Chiang Mai. Another fundraising party is coming up next month here in Chiang Mai (details below).
“Unfortunately, it’s barely going to scratch the surface,” says Nic.
The Thai government has offered some aid and the governor of Chiang Mai has sent flowers. Nic is going to see if he can get more aid from the Canadian government, and will eventually return there once the court case is finished. He has found a Thai lawyer he trusts, and hopes for compensation from the shooter’s family. The charge will be three counts of attempted murder, but there is no way of knowing when the court case will actually take place.
“My lawyer says it could take awhile if [the shooter and his family] choose to fight it,” Nic says. “But I want to take it all the way. I want justice.”
The shooter is currently out on bail and his family has checked him into a mental institution. While a clear picture of Don is yet to fully emerge, there are rumours of a chequered past and a brother who committed suicide. But the fact that Don shot and critically injured the person who actually helped him escape a brutal beating is hard to swallow. While Nic believes that Don was not aiming at him – but rather at the bar staff who beat him up – he describes Don’s actions that night as “a wild shooting, full of rage. He was trying to kill people.”
Shooter Don Prawinmet, shortly after his arrest
“I don’t sympathise with him,” says Nic. “I can’t. I just hope he gets what he deserves. I hope that justice is served.”
Nic is making the best of his experience by taking the opportunity to focus on his writing. He is currently working on a novel about a tuk-tuk driving farang that will include details from his travels through 18 countries, including Syria, Turkey and Palestine. He is ready to play the role of “wheelchair writing guy” when he gets out of the hospital.
“I don’t want people to look at my situation and make the usual generalisations, that stereotype that Thais are laid back until they snap,” Nic says. “It’s not like that. I was just in the wrong place with the wrong psychopath.”
To donate to Nic’s treatments and legal fees, visit: www.helpnicbrown.com.
On Friday, August 9th, a “Nic Brown Fundraising Mega Bash” will be held at Bar Eve on Kotchasarn Road in Chiang Mai, just east of the old city. Visit the Facebook event page for details: www.facebook.com/events/592503704105097/.