bodysurfing

A Pain in the Neck!

 

What the heck, I broke my neck!?

As some of you know, I recently suffered a cervical spine fracture of my C3 vertebrae. In other words, I broke my neck! Don’t worry, I’m ok! I was extremely lucky that my fracture did not effect the spinal column, so there was no nerve damage and I will recover fully and relatively quickly… So that’s this month’s excuse for blog delays! :)

I’ve been lying prone and mostly immobile for more than two weeks now. Luckily, the sea has rendered me thick with patience, as this is not unlike a tough passage. The first few days were the the roughest–unable to lift my head and stuck in the warbled cross-chop of pain meds. It felt like I’d lost control of the ship! My friends and family were shocked by the news. Impossible!? How could this have happened?! But what at first seemed like disaster, has been laden with learning.  The only thing I could do was surrender, get silent, go inward, Listen…

Voyaging aboard Swell has taught me that everything that happens in life can be used to grow. In each adversity there is opportunity, if you choose to see it that way. ‘Maintaining a joyful mind’ is possible only if you are willing to stay present through the hard stuff, too. By raising the sails of surrender, I’ve discovered a new quality of stillness. Rather than self-pity and sorrow, blessings and insights abound. Surrendering to an unchangeable situation makes it possible to hear the wisdom that resides deep within all of us–the stuff we know we know, but store away in some remote inner lock-box. What if we listened more?

Yea, this has been a real ‘pain in the neck’, but in order to live wide open, every circumstance (chosen or not) must be embraced with equal fervor, ridden with equal grace, and accepted with Trust and Love. This means everything we encounter is part of the game; our teachers are disguised in our most perturbing situations and people. How we react to them allows us to choose who we are again and again and again. The option to choose Love or Gratitude or Humility or Kindness or Generosity or Joy never goes away! Lived this way, life becomes an extraordinary adventure of unlimited potential and boundless growth as you challenge yourself to evolve into the best You!! So don’t fret, soon I’ll be back on my feet and better than ever! Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family for showering me with so much love, care, and good healing vibes!

 

My big day at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

 

“Maintain a joyful mind. Nothing wasted, nothing lost. All part of the perfection…” Flying via the birds and butterflies in Coronado–Thank you Dixon family!

And in case you’re wondering, here’s how it happened…

 

On October 8th at 8:29am I sat in my faded green station wagon in one of the sea-side parking spots at Torrey Pines State beach. I’d been getting anxious to get back to my travels, but numerous things seemed to be keeping me in California. I’d been nursing a swollen ankle for a whole month, for which I couldn’t pinpoint any significant injury? I’d been staying off it, ice, massage, acupuncture, but whatever was wrong had been oddly persistent. As the clock struck 8:30am, I reached for my phone to call a family friend’s orthopedic office about scheduling an MRI for my ankle. The doctor had offered to help, as i don’t have medical insurance in the US. I dialed the number…

“This is the T-mobile refill center. Your account has expired. Our refill center is experiencing technical difficulties. Please call back in half an hour to an hour to refill your account for continued service.”

“No!” I thought. Cursing myself for forgetting to refill my ‘On the Go’ service before it had run out.

I looked out to sea. I’d spent much of the last month away from it, knowing I couldn’t get in. But on this particular morning, the feeling to be near it had overcome me. Small waves tripped on the shallows and spilled upon the shore. The horizon was steady, comforting. I felt a sensation of being ‘home’.

The tide was dropping; one particular sandbar beckoned as the second consecutive right peeled and spat. With half an hour to kill and a bladder full of tea, a swim seemed in order. So without another thought, I was zipping up my Patagonia R1 spring suit and hopping down the rocks, one fin in hand. I limped across the short strip of sand and collapsed into my beloved ocean at knee deep. Ahhhh!!

My second wave looked like a beauty. It approached from the north, standing up as I kicked into it. But as I plunged down the 2 ft face, an odd warble cropped up, tossing me head over heels. Totally unexpectedly, my head hit the sand. My body was angled such that all its weight and momentum fell upon the forward part of my head, snapping it backwards in the process. “No way,” I thought…

I came to the surface. “Ok. I’m conscious.” Check. “I can move my arms and legs.” Check. “I’m ok. I’m ok.”

I let the water push me in and stood up at the shoreline. Pain gripped my neck. I knew I was hurt. “I’m alright,” I tried to convince myself, heading carefully for the car. “Ok, what do I do…? My phone doesn’t work. I guess I could ask one of these joggers to call for help? …But then again, I have no medical insurance…Surely I can make it up to my sister’s house where I can use her Skype to call someone…”

I strained to hold my head up each time I accelerated the car on the 3-mile drive to my sister’s house. My neck felt loose, unstable, weak…I made it to her apartment and laid down, but the pain seemed to be getting worse. I called my friend Chrissy, an ER nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Surely she would know what to do! Lucky for me she’d surfed early and had the day off.

“I’m on my way.” She said immediately.

She whizzed me off to the hospital and we walked in the back door, where she said she asked her doc co-worker to come have a look before deciding to check me into the ER.

Dr. Healy firmly recommended a CT scan, so Chrissy and the on-duty nurses—real live angels if you ask me– checked me into a room and stabilized my neck. As they tucked me under the blanket, I thought again and again how grateful I felt to be in such caring, capable hands. Shortly after, I was wheeled off and placed inside the CT tube. The metal machine whirled; my mind did too. Warm tears rolled down my cheeks. I was scared. Back in my room, the pain intensified and I finally succumbed to the offer for pain medication. Chrissy inserted the IV and I floated off on a morphine cloud awaiting the results…

Chrissy saves the day!! Thanks for being my ambulance, nurse, and heroic friend! You made me laugh all day!

 

Meanwhile Chrissy waited for the results to show up on the computer, “Radiology found no fracture!” We both sighed and smiled. She removed the brace. Just then, Dr Watt, director of the ER and a fan of my adventures stopped in to say hello. “I’m happy to meet you, but so sorry it’s here!” He said. The feeling was mutual! I’d been using his Surfline password that Chrissy had given me about a year prior…I never thought I’d get to thank him in person! We were laughing about it as Dr Healy came rushing through the door. “Secure the collar!” He said. “There is a fracture at C3.” He’d reviewed the CT results himself and found the fracture of my spinous process at C3. Good work, Dr Healy!

 

After all the non-stop adventures, remote places, and constant risky business I’ve gotten up to in my short lifetime…it didn’t seem possible that I could break my neck bodysurfing benign beach break in sunny California!? But as unlucky as it seems, I was very lucky. Had the bone been crushed farther, enough to even lightly press on the nerves running through my spinal column, I could have been paralyzed to the extent that I could not even use my chest muscles to breathe. I’m still grasping this…so for now I’m grateful. Grateful to be alive!?! Grateful for the fabulous medical care I received (that includes you, Mom!) Grateful to be a tiny, (but living!!!) fleck in all the Grandness!

 

My hair especially seems to miss the ocean!?–Shorebreak hair, Whitewater hair, Double Over Head hair, Offshore Closeout hair!

Sister Kathleen fearlessly takes on the dreadlocks on Day 6! Right after finding my soulmate (see below).

Dawwwwgg and Capt Lizzy?

Gallivanting the globe sans Swell: 3

A day of offshore perspective between book working...returning to SB Harbor.

A day of offshore perspective between book working...returning to SB Harbor.

Via the wonder of air travel, I was back to Cali just in time to celebrate Sean and Beth’s union, where an  owl feather and a night with fantastic friends helped ease the launch into 5 weeks of solitary book-making confinement in Goleta (thanks to the Ault family for providing me with the most amazing platform to do so). Simultaneously, up close and personal with the harsh reality of human impermanence after many hours spent in the skilled nursing facility with a dear friend and mentor who suffered a stroke while I was away in Bali. We can only learn from those who go before us, carrying on their goodness and love into the future. Her life an inspiration to me always…suffering is so difficult to understand. New lessons, new perspectives and a day in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

A few good sessions at the points and the islands and north of Conception to keep me from shriveling. Surprise visit from mom and dad in Goleta makes for a meal to celebrate all holidays at once!! Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday! Body surf sessions at Sands…odd to be back in Isla Vista…smells of tar and dust and crisp air and purple mountains at sunset and the islands I love so much rest quietly offshore. A day in the shaping room with Jason, after realizing that a surfer is not complete until she knows what goes into making her surfboard. Laying on the grassy cliff in the dark, nibbling chocolate and watching a storm slowly come in off the sea and cover the twinkling stars, lights of the city, the oil rigs, and the squid boats…raindrops on my head. Yogurtland!!!!!!! Lunching and learning with Barry. Rendezvous with Pablini, lawyers are scary, a few more days in Portland to wrap it all up, is it what I really want? Go do some hot yoga and meditate on it…

Precious final hours with Mom, Dad, Sis, Rita…until a hard drive crash adds some parting spice…

After reading ‘Paddling My Own Canoe’ in 2007, I began writing letters to the author, Audrey Sutherland, legend in women’s adventuring. And so it seemed the perfect time to go  meet my hero as my plane ticket back to Tahiti routed me through Oahu, where she lives. So it was back to Hawaii, where Aunty Marsha and Uncle Russel await full of aloha. Russel even lent me his car to head to the North Shore where one week became two.

...Amazing what Audrey was doing in the 70s! read it!

...Adventures alone on the Molokai in the late 1960s! read it!

With my lovely hero, Audrey Sutherland

With my lovely hero, Audrey Sutherland

Audrey alone on Molokai, 1967

Audrey enjoying solitude, 1967After reading ‘Paddling My Own Canoe’ in 2007

Audrey, in her late 80s, still pondering the next adventure with a twinkle in her eye. Hardly having put her paddle down after 8,000 miles of paddling Alaskan waterways alone. Humble, beaming, decided, rich in memories and satisfaction, life worn well, stories over chicken luau and chocolate ice cream. Lessons from Jock, brimming with aloha and expertise, showing me where to skirt the rocks to get out at his spot. The house exuding the character of more than 50 years of housing its legends, sessions at the rare Jockos sandbar, and following Gavin out to Lani’s when I wasn’t sure I want to be out there…broken 6’4” boo whooo.

And the ‘Esalen’ on the North Shore: Crystal and Dave’s place a dream: outside bubble baths with tea, greens from the garden, homemade kombucha, Coconut Bliss!, biomat relaxing, every meal a gastronomical masterpiece, generosity and positivity spilling over! Crystal leading me out to bodysurf Pipeline! Big wave bodysurf sessions galore to test my swimming skills: dolphin dives out the back of the waves changed my life forever!!!!!!, and the SAND!! the most amazingly beautiful sand!!, Little Haven almost made procreation look enticing, sailing with Cole, Jen’s Lilikoi pie, hide and shriek with a herd of kids at the BBQ…another BBQ?! More to recording music than I ever imagined…listening to Jack strum his new album barefoot in the studio, curry and bike riding with Jaime and pushing my bodysurfing limits even further, Royce chocolates: heaven can wait, getting to my feet on Crystal’s Alaia—what a feeling!, surfstoke with Russel, Indie Pyzel: an afternoon on the North Shore through the eyes of one rad 12-year-old girl means treehouses and fruit plundering, handfuls of guavas, fins stuck in the tree and tugging on lilikoi vines.

Ready for anything...my new sea sister, Crystal Thornburg.

Ready for anything...my new sea sister, Crystal Thornburg.

Ready to bodysurf? Follow Patagonia surf ambassador Crystal Thornberg's lead...

Ready to bodysurf? Follow Patagonia surf ambassador Crystal Thornburg's lead...

Couldn’t be more grateful to Crystal and Dave…hard to say goodbye after so much fun. One last afternoon with Audrey, and a stop at Yogurtland…And somehow I bust out a little French and get my boards on the plane for nearly nothing…big hugs and thanks to Russel, my adoptive Hawaiian dad…its off to Tahiti.

Welcome to French Polynesia! The square-faced customs official pushes my bond papers and Swell’s documentation back at me. “No way, this paperwork is not valid…you must have a return ticket to enter the country.” He shut the gates to the outside world and it appeared I would be on a plane back to Hawaii if I couldn’t get him to understand…half hour later…he comes back to apologize. He was able to contact the bank. My bond was valid. And there was Prisca waiting patiently outside…

The following evening I walk across the deserted boatyard to find my dear Swell, waiting patiently for me under the rising moon.