Surfing on San Diego

A Pain in the Neck

I see a parking spot on my right and pull in. I sit there for a moment, watching California’s morning sun glitter on the Pacific. Small waves trip on the shallows and spill upon the shore. I look out at the horizon and find comfort. This parking lot is closer to the ocean than any others I know in San Diego if there is anywhere I can hobble to the water, it’s here. My mother doesn’t have to know.

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Thanks to the stretched ligaments on my left foot that seem to be getting worse instead of better, I have been cooped up in my parents’ condo for a month. I successfully completed a speaking tour through Patagonia’s west coast stores right after I arrived, but since then I’ve been stalling my departure. I’ve massaged my foot. Iced it. Stayed off it. Gone to acupuncture. And rubbed it with Chinese herbs. But it refuses to heal. I can’t surf, I can’t do yoga, and I certainly can’t go back to work on my wreck of a boat.

In addition to the damage from the collision, Swell accumulated quite a list of things to be fixed after the year of heavy use. The biggest job will be dealing with the decks, which are cracking and splitting. They need to be stripped and refinished to keep water from leaking into the sandwiched wooden core. It’s a huge job and I’ll be stuck working on it for too long and too close to Rainui to feel safe. I haven’t shared the scary details of the ordeal with my family or friends, but maybe my subconscious in the form of a sore foot is keeping me from throwing myself to the lion.

The tide is dropping, and one particular sandbar beckons as the second consecutive right peels and spits. With an hour to kill and a bladder full of tea, a swim is in order. My doctor’s appointment isn’t far. A family friend has agreed to look at my foot I have a handful of black pearls for him since I have no US health insurance. I wriggle excitedly into a swimsuit in the driver’s seat; California has been the hottest I can remember this summer and fall.

I open the door, hobble down the rocks, and limp toward the sea. In six inches of water I fall to my knees and submerge my head. The chilly ocean feels like ecstasy in my pores, stinging and tingling. I open my eyes underwater to feel the cold on my eyeballs and then stroke out into deeper water.

I float inside the surfline for a bit, content to be lying in the sea’s embrace again until a small peak outside grabs my attention. I swim out and push off into a clean little line, bodysurfing toward the shore, euphoric to be gliding again. I can’t resist going back for one more.

I head back out and wait until a line spikes up. I swim into position and slide down the face as it sucks up under me. And then an odd warble suddenly crops up, tossing me head over heels as the wave closes out. My head hits the sand while the wave pushes my body toward the beach. I hear and feel a loud crack at the back of my neck.

“Okay. I’m conscious,” I think, floating to the surface. I wiggle my arms and toes. “I’m okay.” I let the water push me in to the shore, and I stand up. Pain grips my neck. I drive myself up the street to my sister’s house, and use her phone to call my emergency nurse girlfriend, Chrissy.

An hour later, Chrissy pokes my left arm with an IV and checks to be sure my neck brace fits properly. “If it’s nothing, we’ll just go home, but it’s your neck, girl. I’m really glad you called me.” Luckily, she had answered and raced to pick me up.

Dr. Healy soon appears and points to the CT scan results. “See right there? You have a fracture at C3.” Tears run down my face at the news. “You’ll be fine in a few months,” he says.

The director of the ER is a fan of my blog, and stops in to say hello. “I’m so happy to meet you, but so sorry it’s here!” he says. He waives his personal hospital fee and explains how lucky I am. Had the bone cracked only a millimeter more, I would have likely drowned before someone found me.

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