Editor’s Note: While I was vacationing in California over the September 14th weekend, I had a surfing accident. The incident changed my life, possibly forever. As part of this, I decided to write about the accident, the events preceding and following the accident and what I have to do to completely heal again. I sat down and began to write… and write… and write… the words came nearly as fast as the tears. This is a very personal project for me, but, like just about everything I do, I decided to post it to the Internet as more of a healing step. It’s over 5,000 words and very personal. I will post it in segments over a couple of days. Feel free to comment or just move on about your day. The point is that it’s something that changed my life, and I’d like to share it with you. Here now… my Moment of Silence… Part 5.
PART V – Heroes
We learned a lot between the Ocean and the hospital. We learned there are angels among us. We learned that I was not alone in my stupidity. And we learned that this could’ve been much, MUCH worse.
An off duty firefighter was next to come to my side as I laid, still unmoving, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean shore. Waves were lapping against my legs and an occasional stronger wave would pick me up and move me a couple more inches closer to the beach we were sitting on just minutes earlier.
The firefighter knew that moving a person with a neck injury was a big no-no. This was the first time I recalled Edie, the woman who fell out of her scooter earlier in the week. The off duty firefighter and I had basically warned those assembled of the same caution, “don’t move this person. Get help.”
I began to shiver for some reason. I wasn’t cold. Phil, Brett and Chris were all at my side, one of them holding my neck still and my head up in case of a larger wave were to come in and get in my nose.
A lifeguard came over and started barking out orders. He directed Wheezy to start waving a bouie toward the direction of the lifeguard lookout tower so they could get more help. He started ordering folks to not touch me, but that we still needed to get me further away from the water. I had to be drug by my shoulders another 15 feet or so toward the beach to be safe.
It is a simple, yet probably overused phrase, “these men saved my life.” But when you look at the excess of good fortune that showered on me in those key moments after this accident, you understand that my life really was saved by these men.
And it was almost not to be.
Just last year, the City of Huntington Beach, which pays those lifeguards that came to my aid, voted to reduce staffing due to budget cuts. According to a KABC story in April of 2011, one council member called the staffing of lifeguards so they are properly trained all year long a “Cadillac program.”
Then I’m lucky for the Cadillac program, because it allowed me to make it to the ambulance. A competently trained and adequately staffed lifeguard staff was absolutely essential to my safety and security. Those guys saved my life. And they didn’t even get my name. They simply strapped me to a back board, taped me into a cervical collar and put me onto the back of a truck. No thanks necessary.
That’s of course after they had to slowly lift and walk my 285 pound
fat ass frame about 100 yards and up a 2 foot sand embankment to a waiting truck.
My friends had to go back later to even let the guys know if I’d lived or died and give them my name. Heroes is a terribly overused word, but what other word would you use? People who save other people, asking nothing in return.
According to the Newport Lifeguard website, in 2010, Newport Beach saw over 7 million visitors and the Lifeguards had to perform over 2,000 rescues and 5,000 medical aids.
After a short truck ride, I was transported to an ambulance, still trembling and still barely able to move anything. I was then met by the EMTs who brought their own heroics to the episode.
I was shaking too badly to get an IV in me, but those guys did their jobs by calming me down. And the guy who was driving was hilarious.
They were all surfers, presumably, from the way they talked, and they were all very familiar with the type of injury I had suffered.
The guy on my right asked me calm, important questions like my name, age, location. “Do you know what’s happened?”
“Yes, I was enjoying my first day of surfing, how did I do?”
“Pretty good, man, all the way up until you ended up in my ambulance. Can you move your feet for me?”
I moved my toes.
Then he said the most heroic thing you can ever hope to have enter your ears. “Perfect. You’re going to be okay.”
Once my friends and I heard that, it was on. The ambulance driver mentioned that I was surfing in water too shallow and then gave me a solid lesson for the next time I go near a beach, sometime when Hell freezes over, “Check your depth.”
The ambulance guys also mentioned that this happens over 100 times a year – at this beach. And the E.R. workers later confirmed that at least five per year end up involving some sort of permanent paralysis.
Heroes is a phrase commonly attributed to sports stars, cheesy rock songs and comic book characters, but I don’t think I’d ever honestly met a hero before, or been the benefit of a hero’s actions. I can’t say that any longer. Not only did I meet one hero, I met a dozen. The command of those fellas is what pulled me from the surf and kept my injuries from swelling and breaking my spine, then transporting me to the hospital – all with my best friends by my side – heroes, all of them.
Part 6 “When” and Part 7 “Then” posting Saturday.