Editor’s Note: While I was vacationing two years ago over the September 14th, 2012 weekend, I had a surfing accident. The incident changed my life, possibly forever. Three weeks following the accident I decided to write about 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.  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.

This is reprinted from three separate blog posts. I have combined it into one #LongRead two years later.  Soon, I will post a epilogue on how I am managing, struggling and thriving as I celebrate the second anniversary of the accident.

Here now… my Moment of Silence…

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. Pictures I took of surfers just hours before I tried my hand in the same area. Body boarding was my chosen activity.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

The guys… life long friends, soon to be friends for life…[/caption] 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. This is what we do now… Fly to California for the weekend…[/caption] 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.


PART IV – Luck

It was the winter of 2006 when my cousin had his car accident. He laid motionless in the ice and cold for hours after being ejected from his car before a car drove by and noticed him laying near the road.  What followed was the worst of worst case scenarios.  Life flight. Ventilators. Wheelchairs. A life forever with quadriplegia. This section is about luck – both dumb, bad and good.

Huntington Beach

My accident was just that, a true accident.  It was due to a combination of location, lack of awareness and just dumb luck. Huntington Beach is a prime location for well-conditioned surfers.  We saw many of them that morning as we walked the pier.  It is also, however, a keen place for danger because of the confusing surf breaks that are present there.  The best place to surf a break is the farthest break out, where the waves are the highest and the most “pure.”  That is, the energy is traveling in one direction, towards the shore.  In Huntington, there are two and sometimes three breaks because of the way the shore blocks that energy.  The second break is the one I had been body surfing on for 90 minutes previous.  It was my first time body surfing and I was very nervous about it.  I talked with my buddies about it, but we took baby steps and before you know it, I was having the time of my life. It was so powerful and yet, so silly to have water push you forward, but I can certainly understand the appeal.  It was just what I was needing that weekend, to be free. To fly. Luck is defined as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity,” and it is that force, that energy that I had been playing with for an hour and a half.  But I was doing it on the second break.  And, if I do say so myself, I was doing pretty well.

At sunset on Huntington Beach, the sea turns “angrier.”We lost track of Phil. God damn Phil. Captain America. Had to go out to the furthest breakers and took the “rip tide” further down the beach.  So the three of us left the water to go check on him. We eventually found him, apparently after he didn’t find a mountain to climb or a baby to save, and we all huddled back up to take stock of the surfing so far and catch our breath. Wheezy laid his surfboard down on the beach and sat down on it.  Next to him, sat Phil.  Brett flanked them on his boogie board to their left and I sat down on my board flanked to their right.  It was a postcard moment as the sun had just started to go down in the West, past the horizon. For a number of minutes, we didn’t say anything and just looked out upon the majesty of where we were.  Of what we were seeing.  We had felt that power, that energy and we had, for just a few minutes, been able to ride that force.  Our conversation then reopened and we talked boastfully about the waves we had “shredded” and the ones we didn’t catch. It was a conversation between four life long friends whose lives were about to be changed.

It was clear that we weren’t done surfing yet. We had to go back out there and shred more. I never really got surfing before.  I get surfing now.  You are riding the wind.  You are pushing your luck. The four of us all got up and I headed into the water first, followed by my guys.  The guy who had to be convinced to surf was now leading the guys back into the water. I had gotten about 15 feet into the ocean when I noticed that the place we entered the beach was different.  We later labeled it “angrier.”  The waves were a little bit higher and as I hit about the 20 foot mark, I saw a whitecap just starting to form.  This matched the same parameters of whitecaps I caught earlier in the day, the only difference was that I was closer to shore.  I was still standing with the water up to my chest.  I was standing on “the inside.” Which is what accomplished surfers call the place too shallow to surf. (A fun, timely fact I learned from the ambulance driver as he was speeding me to an emergency room.) Plus, the afternoon sun adds to the explosiveness of wave energy. I turned to catch the wave and surf the short 20 feet back to shore. I turned to my right and jumped. Everything was different. Everything was wrong. Instead of being pushed at the back of my butt and back horizontally, I felt a very powerful energy underneath my feet pushing up, vertically.  Instead of setting up at an inclined angle, I had somehow gotten into a declined angle, like I was teetering head-first down a playground slide.  Pointing down.  Pointing the wrong way.  Straight down. It is at this moment that things slowed way down.  I can tell you microsecond by microsecond what happened next.  Not because the energy was any slower, if anything it was faster. I can tell you it was the most real moment of my life. Pitched downward, the energy did not dissipate, rather it pushed me down the 5 feet; down the playground slide into the Ocean floor. I plowed my face into the ground with a thud and I had that moment of silence I referred to above.  Only that moment was followed by even more force, even more power.  Then pressure.  Then pain.  That power continued to drive my face into the ground. I felt my skin start to split open and the wet grains of sand touching me. The power continued bending me backwards as my feet continued to go forward as my face stayed buried in the sand.  I’d imagine I looked like a spandex-wearing seal bent backward into a really poorly shaped “C” as the energy continued to push my body, blocked only by my face in the sand. I couldn’t feel anything.  I couldn’t breathe.  I was underwater. I’m pretty sure I was face down.  All of these specific thoughts popped into my brain in nanoseconds. Then I thought about Ronnie. I knew I had a serious problem.  I couldn’t move my feet. I couldn’t move my hands.  I was still underwater. I had met Luck. A force that brings good fortune or adversity.  And I had met it, quite literally, head on. The thing about luck, though, is that it only encapsulates an event.  Something with a beginning and an end.  This event only lasted a moment, but that meant another moment had to come next. The next moments were kinder, the energy wave passed by me, the boogie board which was providing much of the resistance finally flew away from my body and I somehow (and I honestly don’t know how) flipped face up in the water. I took a quick inventory of what was working.  Hands? No. Feet? No.  But my neck was working and I was close enough to the surface to lift my head out of the water.  At that point, luck started to run my way because my friends that I had sat so close to on the beach just moments before were still very close to me.  Five minutes later and they would’ve been 50 feet away and I would’ve easily drowned. I turned my head to the left and found Wheezy’s eyes.  The first “help” didn’t come out, but I kept his gaze.  The second “help” wasn’t much louder because I still wasn’t breathing, but it was audible.  Brett walked the 3 feet over to me and yelled, “he’s bleeding.” “I can’t move anything. I can’t move anything. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” “Let’s get him out of the water.” The fortune of nearly killing myself “on the inside” also meant they only had about 10 feet to drag me to shore. “Be careful, I’m pretty sure I hurt my neck real bad.” Fortune took away and also gave that day. I was terribly unprepared and undertrained for what I was doing. But had those guys been 5 minutes further away, I easily could’ve drown. Had Phil not almost gotten lost, we might’ve just left after our first tussle with the sea. Had the power of the wave been just a little bit stronger, my neck could’ve easily snapped. Luck. An alternate definition is “favoring chance.”

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 300 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 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. Just over my left shoulder and my wife’s right shoulder is the spot where I had my accident 4 days earlier. It’s much easier to see with someone as pretty as Kara in the picture.[/caption] 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.



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.

And somebody placed a “Newport Beach” Lifeguard Buoy magnet on my refrigerator upon my return.  Classic.They were absolutely great.  Wheezy was a master, rebooking travel, booking Kara’s travel. And he used up all his Southwest points to do it all.  No detail was left unhandled.  Phil and Brett were equal to the task by keeping my spirits up and handling communications back home.  And that was a mighty task as I had a lot of folks to keep in touch with.There are so many details when an event like this happens. What happens with the car at The Parking Spot? Who is picking up the kid from school while Kara goes to the airport? All of this was handled by the guys without dropping a hat.And they kept me laughing.


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.





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