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… Parts 1-3.
PART I – Silence
It was the silence that I’ll probably remember the most. The complete absence of any sound. It happened only for a brief millisecond. But it was absolute. Black. Silence.
Long away were the sounds of computer keyboards and phone ringtones. Long away were the sounds of waves, laughter and volleyballs that I had heard just moments earlier.
There was absolutely no sound.
It is at this moment that I begin this story, the ultimate moment where I came to a quite literal fork in my life.
This moment lasted only a handful of milliseconds, but the silence still rings in my head. The moment just before the sandy floor of the Pacific Ocean began to split the skin on my face. The moment just after I made the ill-fated decision to catch a wave that seemed a little bigger than the ones I had caught before. The moments just after I learned key rules to body boarding… from the Ambulance Driver who was transporting me to the E.R. The moments just after I had to be convinced to even try body surfing by my buddies – during a 20-year reclamation of my youth. And moments just after I was the one that convinced THEM to go back into the water because I was having so much fun.
It was a moment just after I laughed with old high school friends and moments before I would laugh even harder with those same men – lifelong friends.
The moment came days after another moment of karma and months after moments that could’ve left me floating in the ocean alone.
The moment that changed everything. And yet, I long for it to go back to when nothing had changed. That moment of silence will stay with me forever.
The complete absence of any sound and possibly the last moment I would have feeling in my limbs. Everything was about to change, and it all starts with this total and absolute moment of silence.
PART II – Karma
This story begins 1,653 miles away from where it will ultimately end – back in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. It begins with a 20 minute event that I had forgotten until I was reminded of it during my second day in the hospital.
It started at my new job in the City Market district of Kansas City. I was sitting at my desk, likely dreaming of my pending vacation on Tuesday afternoon when I heard our Service Coordinator, Roxanne, squeal, “somebody needs help!”
Instinctively, I ran out the door to find a very large woman, named Edie, laying face first on the ground under a piece of construction equipment. Her head was just inches below a trailer hitch and there was a piece of equipment on top of her. That piece of equipment ended up being her Rascal scooter that she was taking to the market with her daughter.
Edie was as good of a scooter driver as I ultimately ended up being a body surfer. She came upon a “sidewalk closed” sign outside of our building and decided to pull a u-turn on the sidewalk. Well, there is a rather substantial curb in front of our building and Edie’s scooter didn’t make the turn. The 400+ pound woman simply rolled right off the curb and narrowly missed that trailer hitch.
My involvement with the incident was minor. I simply ran to her, kept her immobilized and had someone call 911. We had a nice conversation – as nice as you could’ve had with a 400 pound woman who is laying with a mouth full of asphalt. And I just helped to keep her calm. Once the fire truck and EMTs came, I just went back to my desk and went back to work.
It ended up taking 6 men to lift her back into her undamaged scooter and she trucked right down to the farmer’s market to buy her goods.
I joked on Facebook that I “saved a life today.” And was being generally facetious about it. I know that’s rare for me. However, as I reflect on that incident, my mind fills with questions: What if it hadn’t been me there? What if nobody had been there? Was I a good Samaritan? What made me rush to her when others around hadn’t?
I remember stories of my cousin Ronnie, who was ejected from his car after wrecking on an icy stretch of road six years ago. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and flew from the car. He was alone for hours as the swelling in his broken neck finally snapped his spine and committed him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Why didn’t he get a guardian angel? What was different?
The lesson I learned from Edie and her Scooter was that there are people who will help – even though you feel like you’re in a dark and cold environment. At those key moments, people will help but you just have to get a little luck to find the right people at the right time
I’m not a terribly spiritual guy, but did karma somehow play a role in what ultimately would be my rescue from a beach 1,600 miles away 48 hours later?
Are there guardian angels? Was I Edie’s? Where was Ronnie’s?
Or is life just complete random?
There will be no answers in this section of my story, only questions. Questions that will lend to more questions as I travel 1,653 miles away.
PART III – Laughter
I’d never laughed so hard. And this was AFTER the accident. This was after I had spent the first day laughing. After I had been made young again by spending a “guy’s weekend” with my bro’s in sunny Huntington Beach, California.
I had spent the first 24 hours in Huntington Beach after a generous gift by my friend “Wheezy” who flew us all out to the coast for the weekend.
“This is what we do now, fly to California for the weekend,” my friend Brett, a writer, kept saying. “This is what we do. Just fly to the coast for the weekend.” He meant it facetiously, but, quite literally, we were just flying out for a few days for a little rest and relaxation. But mostly to laugh. And to feel young. Four friends. Who had grown 25 years. Grown apart. Grown up. This was a weekend to reconnect.
Almost immediately, the roles fit back together like puzzle pieces that had been in different corners of a house. There was the intellectual, slightly hippie vibe of Brett. The laid-back, Steve Jobsian “mountain climber” in Phil. A guy where everything he touches turns to gold. And then my friend, Wheezy, the mother hen of the group. And I say this in a good way. The protector. He had seen for years what had been happening to our little click, how we had talked less and less and generally slowed down. This was the chance to fix that. Or at least to slow down the gentle erosion that time can cause. Wives, kids, e-mails – there would be very few of these over the weekend, just some drinking, some goofing around and, oh yes, lots of laughter.
Then there was my role in the group. The jester. It’s a role that I slipped into like an old baseball mitt you’d find in the garage. Joking, jabbing, giving shit. That’s MY role. And it was just as important as the other three. Our group’s nickname in high school was “The Dirty Underwear Gang” one of those names that just stuck because of its sheer stupidity, and yet it fit us perfectly. Well, the DUG had certainly aged, but once we stepped off the plane, the ages immediately rolled back and we were 18 again. – with less hair.
But I digress. The laughter I’m referring to is what happened AFTER the accident. Oh, sure, the day before we made jokes, talked about how we’d all look “fly” in the hip-hop clothes of the store we walked through. But the laughter was never deeper, never fuller than when the guys started making jokes in the back of the ambulance. IN THE BACK OF THE AMBULANCE. As my body was in shock and trembling from the absolute terror of possibly being paralyzed, the guys were cracking wise. There was a “dirty underwear” crack that I chuckled at. There was a crack about not getting back my deposit on the body suit that I had rented just two hours prior that I laughed out. And then, there was the crack in the ambulance about me doing pretty good for my first time out – except for the, yanno, paralysis.
The ambulance driver asked me where I was from. When I told him “Kansas City,” he said, “oh, we get a lot of midwesterners in this ambulance.”
Ordinarily, these might seem out of sorts or insensitive, but they were absolutely vital to my not completely losing it at that moment in time. My role was the jokester, so that’s what needed to be filled to make the group whole.
The group was whole. The group would not be made less whole. Jokes would fill the seams.
And once the tension was slightly lessened. Once the situation went from life-threatening to merely serious, that’s when the shit REALLY started to fly. In the E.R. we were merciless to the nurses there. Partly because it was clearly a coping mechanism, and partly because the nurses were down with it and giving it back as hard as we were giving it to them.
We were just pestering these poor girls trying to insert I.V. fluids or take a blood pressure. And whatever pain meds they gave me weren’t helping because I started in on them, too.
Chris reminded me that being strapped to a backboard with a C-Collar taped to your head is the perfect time for a “friend” to hit you in the junk. At one point I asked a nurse if my pregnancy test had come back.
The ultimate moment of hilarity was when they began to cut off the rest of my lycra body suit that I joked earlier in the day made me look like “the black Michelin” man. Well, there’s no dignity when a nurse is standing at your toes with scissors and you hear the first cut inches away from your leg. As she got to my knee, I told her, “now, I have trunks on underneath these, don’t cut my trunks.” The nurse nodded and kept carefully cutting the fabric above my knee.
Then she got to my lower thigh. No swim trunks.
Then she got to my mid thigh. No swim trunks.
It wasn’t until she got nearly to the top of my thigh that we found my supposedly “baggy” swim trunks. That were tucked neatly in whatever crevice I had left in my crotch.
The guys let me have it. When all you have left is dignity, it’s hilarious when it is ripped from you. Or rather pulled from you. With both hands.
You really had to be there to understand how totally okay all of this was. Because if you were just walking by the E.R. room, you’d probably have thought how completely inappropriate all of this was.
I was whole. I was complete. I was going to be okay.
It was because of laughter.
Parts 4-8 coming soon….