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… The final 3 parts 6-8…
PART VI – When
One of the topics of discussion in the Ambulance before we took off for the hospital was when to call my wife, Kara. I remember a moment before the doors closed, when I was still flanked by Phil, Brett and Chris, when I said, “should I call Kara?” and immediately, all of us, including me, answered, “NO!!!!”
My wife is a lot of things, an excellent mother, a hilarious wife and the best friend anyone could ever have, but she’s never been real good with bad news. So, we all realized that we needed to time this one a little better.
Just because we didn’t make a call back to her, doesn’t mean that there weren’t calls placed back to Kansas City. Texts and updates began to fly and preparations started to tell my family.
But it was too early to tell them much of anything, because we didn’t know how bad or good it was. I had regained the ability to wiggle my feet in the car, but since the moment of impact into the ocean bottom, I had this terrible sensation in my hands below my elbows. The good news is that I could at least wiggle my fingers, even though it was very painful.
As the ambulance drivers transitioned their care to the hospital ER workers, I kept telling anyone I could that “my sister works in an ER, my other sister is a Nurse Practitioner and my other sister is a Social Worker at a hospital,” as if just saying that would suddenly open up the “big wig” wing of the hospital and get me the “special” treatment. Or maybe I ended up at the Hospital from Scrubs. It wouldn’t have mattered, I was in the best place in Southern California for this type of injury, Hoag Hospital. And the nurses were… sharp-tongued.
Once at the hospital, however, we determined that I needed to call Kara. Phil helped set up the call and Kara had actually been at dinner with her sister who had just lost her step-father. Well, we were only too happy to pile onto the bad day. And while I was laughing literally seconds before I talked to her, once I got her on the phone, suddenly my voice began to tremble.
“Honey, I’m at a hospital, but I’m okay.” Which is, I assume, what people say so that the person on the other end of the phone immediately knows it’s not okay.
The phone call was brief because it was hard for Phil to angle the phone inside of my still-attached cervical collar. But I told her I loved her, which must’ve REALLY freaked her out. At that point, I was wheeled to get an MRI in something that seemed to have doubled as a torpedo tube on the U.S.S. Missouri in World War II.
I will give her credit, however. The first words out of her mouth weren’t “why the $%&# were you surfing??” I will forever thank her for that. Then again, maybe she’s just waiting for the right time.
But there is an unspoken language communicated between a husband and a wife who had been married more than thirteen years. She knew I was hurting and I intentionally kept her away for as long as possible, but that wouldn’t last long.
My stay in the hospital lasted four and a half days. And those days were mostly filled with pain meds, jello and trying to poop. I had all my strength back within a couple of days, and generally got back to about 80% within 48 hours, as the shock of my injury washed away.
On Monday, Kara arrived right as I was being discharged from the hospital, and I was complete again. We booked our tickets to come home Tuesday and spent that evening walking along the beach and finally seeing a California sunset.
It wasn’t really until I was able to walk along the beach, hand in hand with Kara, until I really began to understand the magnitude of what happened – of what almost happened.
As the sun began to fade in the west. As the darkness began to fall on the pier, that’s when she began to cry.
She never did ask the question, “why the f*** were you out surfing?” But the tears said it all.
PART VII – Then
Jump back to the E.R. room where I’m still strapped to a C-Collar and a Back Board, still trembling, and still being threatened to be whacked in the nads by my best friend, Wheezy. He is flanked by Phil and Brett and all three of them are making more jokes than a Saturday Night Open Mic.
Then the doctor came in and explained my test results. I was going to be okay… even if it might take a while.
The tests came back negative for anything broken. Within an hour, I regained all motion in my arms and legs. The pain had all but vanished except for tremendous burning sensations up and down my arms from my elbows to my fingers. The human body is an incredibly adaptive organism. As long as you don’t completely break it, it will work around just about anything you do to it.
What lingered is what continues to linger, a burning sensation in my arms from my elbow to my hands. Several doctors have categorized this as something called “Central Core Syndrome” or, basically, a bruised spinal cord. The doctor I spoke to the other day said “you gave your cord quite a whack.” Well, it’s hard to argue with that.
The seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned to hours. My chart described me a “pleasant” as a patient. But I think that’s nurse code for “smart ass.”
Seconds turned into minutes, then into hours and I finally sent the guys back to the hotel because they looked even more tired than I did (but not before they stopped for some sushi and drinks). Plus, one of the nurses looked like she was about to deck Wheezy for implying she had a “ghetto bootie.” But before I forced them to go home, they never left my side. One of about a jillion signs that you’ve got some good friends on your hands.
I was in for a several-day stay in the hospital, but my mind kept going back to those words… “I was going to be okay…”
Thanks to the drugs, the hours turned to mornings and evenings. The reality started to set into my mind that I needed to get out of the hospital and get back home – which means having to deal with passing all of the tests the nurses give you to get out of the hospital.
For the next four days, the guys were with me nearly every minute of the day, laughing, making jokes, encouraging me to have my first post-accident crap. Yes. These were good friends.
And they did things that they thought I’d never notice. My wallet was filled with $100 for some walking around and cab money when I got out of the hospital. When Phil and Brett flew back the day before I did, they went over and hung out with my son, Brett and brought him back an Albert Pujols shirt.
PART VIII – Within
Here’s a bit of a confession. Part 8 isn’t written yet. I don’t know what words I’m going to put here.
What goes next when you almost die?
What goes next when you almost die, but literally are pulled out of the water by heroes who also double as your friends?
What goes next when you almost die, get pulled out by your friends and you try to put the enormity of the experience onto paper?
My mother taught me to say “Thank you.” And I say “thank you” a lot. I say it to the woman at Sonic who gives me my Cherry Limeade. I say it to the guy at work who sends me a prompt e-mail. I say it to the guy who changes the oil in my car.
Do you simply say “thank you” to the guys who held you in your weakest moment?
Writing this memoir was supposed to be an internal quest to find the end – the meaning. Writing stories are about a beginning, middle and an end. I wrote Part 1 about a beginning. I wrote parts 2-7 about the middle. Part 8 is supposed to be about the end.
Well, the end is this: I got checked out of the hospital. I’ve seen a few doctors. I still have some residual nerve problems in my arms and hands, and you can still see traces of a scar forming on my nose. The end? Not quite.
All my medical advisors expect me to make a full and total recovery.
Full and total recovery.
Medically, I’m sure that is accurate. Already the tingling is lessening. And I’m doing something called “neck traction” for a couple months that looks like something from a Roman Gladiator torture movie. So I’m confident my body will be okay.
But what do you do when you almost die? Do you find Jesus? Do you go find Buddah? Do you devote to be a better human? Do you go to Vegas and start on a gambling binge? Do you start drinking more?
All of these seem like tremendous options at this point.
Random memories continue to pop in my head:
- The “dirty joke contest” I held at about 2 am with some of the nurses on the 3rd Floor at Hoag Hospital. As expected, the quietest, (prettiest) nurse won with these two entries:
What do you give an archaeologist to confuse him? You give him a used tampon and ask him which period it came from.
When is it okay to kick a midget in the balls? Answer: when he’s standing next to your girlfriend and says her hair smells nice.
- I recall Brett while still on the beach seconds after I hit the ocean floor yelling out “He’s bleeding.” And then making sure my head was held above the water as the waves continued.
- I recall how Phil said the least, but stoically was the tallest. He rode with me in the ambulance to the hospital. He was there with me as much as anyone. I remember him talking to me as I was shaking, trembling in the ambulance. I will simply never forget that.
- I remember how powerful that wave was and how wrong it felt. It was a different kind of power. A different kind of energy than the ones I’d experienced the previous 90 minutes.
- I remember the panic attack I had in the MRI room when they tried to shove me into a World War I torpedo tube like I was being shoved into a sausage grinder. I don’t ever suffer from claustrophobia, but I did that day.
- I remember sand coming out of my ear 5 days later. Not just a couple grains of sand, I mean a LOT of sand.
- I remember my pregnancy test coming back negative. That was quite a relief. My requests for a pap smear went unfulfilled.
- I remember hugging my son when I got home. Of all the million times I’ve hugged that little boy, this time was different. Better. The best.
- I think often about Edie, and Ronnie and those 5 people a year that pull the same stunt I pulled that don’t walk away from it on that beach. I think about them a lot.
I guess I’m still processing it all. The memories. The pain. The joy. The laughter.
I do think I’ll try to enjoy life more. This entire trip happened as part of a “We turned 40” weekend with the guys. And 40 is a tremendous milestone, and I’m so lucky it wasn’t an end marker. Maybe I’ll just enjoy the little things more, or chase after bigger things. I really don’t know. But my days surfing are probably over.
If nothing else changes, I guess I’ve got a helluva story.