Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why I Will Not Be Going To See "The Impossible" This Holiday Weekend

I don't usually use this blog for personal stuff, but I think it might be helpful to others if I told my holiday travel story. No movies about tropical vacations interrupted by typhoons, please.

When my children were younger, we went to Aruba several times over winter break. We love the island --- easy to get to, reliable sun, sea, and sand, safe, friendly, and neither too large nor too small. So we decided to go back for Christmas this year, with my wife and younger daughter.

We stayed at the Divi golf resort, a few steps from the beautiful beach. (Great place.) My wife and I went in for a swim. She had a little trouble getting out of the water -- the swells had started to get pretty heavy, and when they broke on the shore, the receding water was hard to walk against. I decided to float around for a few minutes more.

By the time I tried to get out, I couldn't. It turned out there was a storm at sea --- an hour later there were very heavy rains --- and the swells were quite huge. I managed to get myself standing in a position where huge waves were breaking over my head but I also could not walk out of the water at all because of the undertow. I took 3 or 4 waves, timing my inhalations, and then a really big one knocked me off my feet and swept me under.

I smashed my head on an submerged rock, came back to the surface, tried to right myself, got knocked down again, and very quickly some people spotted me and pulled me out. They supported me while I walked up to a place I could sit down while they sought medical attention. Within a few minutes my wife and daughter found me, so I was relieved of any decision making. I was taken by ambulance to the Aruba hospital --- only one on the island but only a block from the beach.

I spent the afternoon in the ER, getting complete head and spine CT scans, X rays, blood tests, etc. Diagnosis: First rib on the left fractured; fissure of transverse process of first thoracic vertebra. 6 cm gash in my scalp required stitching. (Lots of blood I gather, but the stitching was almost an afterthought.) Sundry lacerations on my back, and various limbs probably stretched in ways they were not intended to move. But no concussion, never lost consciousness, never aspirated any seawater, neurological, circulatory, and pulmonary function normal. (Well, as normal as they ever were -- I am a Type I diabetic, so that added a little extra drama during the work-up but made no real difference.) Spent overnight under observation and was discharged the next morning. We spent another 3 nights on the island as planned, not partying quite as hard as intended, and returned home on schedule.

So the bottom line is that I have the privilege of sitting here with the Alamo Bowl on TV in the background telling you how much I hurt all over, but there is actually nothing to do about any of my aches and pains except wait for that rib and whatnot to heal themselves. I have been through this business of fractured ribs twice before, and I hate it. (For those of you haven't had the pleasure, the problem is that almost everything you do with any part of your body, breathing for example, involves contracting your rib cage, and that is extremely uncomfortable.)

On the other hand there are things I would have hated worse than complaining about the pain while watching football games on TV, like breaking my neck and being paralyzed, or smashing my face in rather than needing a few scalp stitches, or drowning of course, which could easily have happened. Cardiac arrest might have been another likely failure mode; I was seriously hyperventilating when I was pulled out of the water and I am, as a waitress kindly reminded me the next night, not as young as I once was. (It is nice to be able to tell myself that those endless hours on the treadmill and ellipse every morning for the past 3 or 4 decades were actually well invested. If you think it's monotonous when you do it, keep it up -- you never know when your heart may need to be able to handle extreme stress.)

So I am very, very lucky.

The hospitalization was great, except for when the big guys transferred my overweight, banged-up body off and on the imaging tables. The doctors all seemed to be Dutch (and they tended to be young female, good-looking, and skilled with needle and suture). A thoroughly professional experience. Total cost, including the ambulance, was about $3000. So thanks to everyone at the hospital, and the overnight nursing staff that watched me closely. You were great.

Thanks of course the the folks who pulled me out of the water, whoever you are. I appreciate it, and it should not go without saying, as we all know that there are those of our species who would not want to get involved.

Thanks to Marlyn and Annie for nursing me, and for putting up with my grumpiness when I want everything put just a little closer so I don't have to stretch! Not the romantic get-away I had in mind.

And finally, in the hope it will do someone some good: Even if there are lots of people swimming and you are on a pristine sandy beach, if the surf looks too big when it breaks, get out of the water. The line between fun and catastrophe is pretty narrow.

Now: more Tylenol, please.


  1. Things can change so drastically so quickly. Your story is not only vivid but also seamless in the way it connects the past and present from the rupture of that one moment. It has a real "you were there" quality -- I only wish it didn't have to be you! -- but most importantly, I hope the future arrives soon so that the pain is gone and your healing complete. I'm sure that many many people are also rooting for you!

    Galen Cawley

  2. That is a good post. Thank you for posting.

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