Friday, February 15, 2013

Old Surf Injury and the Mother of All Stingrays!

I grew up around endless orange groves with the taste of salt water on my lips.  In fact, I often stayed in that salt water until my lips were swollen and my hair bleached nearly white.

I loved to ride the waves.  As a kid, we did not have surfboards.  They were not that available in California yet, unless you were into redwood.  Surfing was mostly taking place in Hawaii at that time.  But not for long.  

In the fifties we made do with air mattresses, inner tubes, and our own bodies.  We became quite adept at body surfing, and we had the best teachers: our parents!  

They had us in the water at infancy.  I have no recollection of a time when I was introduced to waves and salt water, because my first experience was probably at a few weeks of age, in my parents' arms.

In the 60s, we had surfboards.  Or at least, my cousin had one! I got on that board as often as I could.  It was undoubtedly too big for me.  But I had a great and tremendous passion for getting on and falling off that board.  

I recall that one time, it was late afternoon, and he was finished surfing and offered me the board.  I had been body surfing all morning and was lazing around in a muu-muu, but an opportunity is an opportunity, so I jumped on it, literally, and surfed in a wet muu-muu, that was clinging to my legs.  I must have been quite a spectacle.

In the 60s there was a renaissance of surfing.  Beach Boys, Pendleton plaid flannel, sun-bleached hair, the surfers' stomp, woodies.  I was in my element.  We spent June to September in a place at the beach, my parents, my sibs, and myself.  

I would go into the ocean with my dad and my brothers, and they are to be credited with teaching me to face my fears, in the form of any wave that was taller than my dad.  When I wanted to make haste back to shore, they all yelled at me to run toward the towering, dark wall of water!  I learned to ignore my instincts for preservation.

The taste of the salt, the wet hair in the eyes, the smell of neoprene and board wax was in my blood as surely as if it had been injected.  

In the winter, it took us 30 minutes to get to the sand. (It is now a nearly two hour drive from that same location!)  But I had my own board by then.  I loved that board and loved to wax it with a bit more build-up at certain strategic spots.  I had bumps on the tops of my feet,  a red nose, and a rash on my neck.

I would go with friends when my brothers were unavailable.  I would go almost daily.  Sometimes a friend and I would get an early morning ride to a bus stop that would take us directly to PCH.  In the summers, I was only a block away.  

I lived, breathed, salt water, fog, and beach glass.  I should insert in here that despite this passion, I did have a life outside of the ocean.  I was a good student, went to a good university, dated, had boyfriends, got married, and had children.

Let's fast forward to the children.

They took to the waves like baby seals.  Suddenly I had a new avocation, that of a life guard to my kids.  I stood in the shallow water because sometimes I had to pull a toddler out of a spin cycle.  I would still go out and ride a wave, on occasion, when I had someone to keep an eye on the kids.  But for the most part, I had become beached.  

I didn't mind so much.  I just figured that it was their turn, and I was enjoying watching them as they became acquainted with the many moods of the sea.  I saw them get slapped down and ground into the sand, and I saw their triumphant faces as they were lifted by a wave for a ride not to be forgotten, ever.  "Did you see that?  Did you see me?"

One day, as I sat on the beach, it occurred to me that all four of my children were swimming like dolphins.  They were zipping up the face of waves, spinning, shredding.  Half of them, half the time, were on surfboards, but a lot of the time they were on bodyboards.  They were getting really skilled with those bodyboards.  It looked like fun.

I was in my 40s then, and I went and got myself a bodyboard.  It cost about as much as my earlier surfboard!  But, I was thinking that I could be with my kids, no matter the conditions, on a bodyboard.  Soon I was bodyboarding every day that I could.  It was so fun, and I got in such great shape.  I found it to be nearly as much fun as surfing and often, even more fun.  There were so many more kinds of turns and movements that one could make on a little board like that, albeit, in a prone position.

It was during this time that I got my first stingray injury.  Holey moley, who hit me with a staple gun?  I stayed sitting on the beach watching my foot bleed and my kids enjoying the surf.  When the pain was unbearable, we headed home and I soaked.

The second time, I was doing the stingray shuffle, but there were hundreds of them in the water.  We floated above them, looking at them.  

Earlier in the day, the OC REGISTER had come out to photograph and interview us, because we were an entire family of wave riders.  I guess in the 80s that was seen as newsworthy. They should have stuck around.  This time, knowing how painful that sting can be if one delays the hot water and epsom salts treatment, we went straight home to soak it.

I hardly recall the third sting's circumstances.  After a while it all becomes a big blur. I think that I had already gotten in a good day's worth of waves with the family and was coming in.  I was dutifully doing the stingray shuffle, when the top of my foot was whacked, anyway, by the mother of all stingrays.  I was instantly stumbling.  I was bleeding as if I had been attacked by a shark, and judging by the looks of the faces of the tourists, they must have thought that was exactly what happened.  "See that, THAT is why I don't let you go in the water.  There are GREAT WHITES out there!"

This time I was carried home, and sat, in my wet wetsuit and all, in tub after tub of salt water and epsom salt mixtures.  The pain made me tremble, and I had no ability to move my toes or even my leg at all.  I was paralyzed and engulfed in pain for 5.34 hours, and then, suddenly the pain was gone.  I limped about for about two weeks, unable to drive myself or do all that much.  

(I was in a writing class and my professor actually came and picked me up!)

I showed my injury to a lifeguard and he said, "Holy Mammacita of all things marine and nautical, that was a biggie! That was the MOTHER OF ALL STINGRAYS!"

About a month and a half later, still limping somewhat, I went to a doctor to make sure that the barb was not under the skin.  It wasn't, thank goodness.  But, I didn't even think about my tendons or ligaments.

I should have.

Fast forward twenty years.

Last November, I thought I might have broken two toes.  Two toes on my right foot were kind of black and blueish, and painful.  I was limping a bit.  After a month or two of that, I made an appointment for a podiatrist.  To cut to the chase, apparently I had developed a neuroma (like a callous) on a nerve between the third and 4th toes on just the right foot.  It was painful, and I was x-rayed and given cortisone injections right into that neuroma.  Kind of felt like a stingray zap, except much slower.

The podiatrist was puzzled.  The location was not typical, and just the right foot, not both feet?  How had I injured that foot?  I mentioned everything I could think of, including the Mother of all Stingrays.

That made his face light up as if his face could say, "BINGO!"  That could be what happened, he told me.  Apparently the slash of the stingray severed an tendon or ligament or two or three.  Indeed, I had two toes there that had lost their flexibility.  And with further observation, it was apparent that those toes were pathetically limp and lackluster when compared to their twins on the other foot.

Those toes appeared to be robust braggarts in comparison.  They had been working out.

It is true that, as a former long distance runner, that a coach of mine, observing changes to my foot post stingray injury, had recommended some changes in my running gait, as suddenly my right knee was tending to blow out at 8 miles.  So, that should have been my clue.

But, in any case, it was too late.  If I had had any severed tendons or ligaments repaired at the time of the injury, maybe those two slacker toes would be more functional today.  But I didn't know and no one told me.  It's not as if these kinds of injuries are commonplace.  But I wish I had known.

And so, in my sorry state of needing injections in my foot, and pads under my lengthy metatarsals, and needing to get rid of half my shoe wardrobe, and to never again be able to wear a high heel on my right foot (and my left foot sulks since it didn't do anything wrong!), or anything else that causes pain, and that means nearly anything...I feel a need to write this sad story.

This is partially to explain why I had to try on every shoe that I own and make a pile of the ones that will no longer work.  Why I recently had to buy a large selection of shoes to try on to find, I hope, one or two pairs that will work.  

It is partially to explain why I am in sensible shoes, sometimes limping or wincing in pain a bit.

And because, as it is clearly apparent at this point, it is a long story.

I was thinking the other day about how some older men with limps will explain that it is an old war injury.

I will be saying, if anyone asks, that it is an old surfing injury.  That is much more glamorous, (and absolutely true!) than saying that I have a neuroma on a nerve in my foot, due to irritation of that nerve, due to severed tendons and/or ligaments that changed my gait and made my toes limp and useless appendages.

Now I just need to find a bodyboarding buddy.  I will teach her how to do the stingray shuffle.  If she has the same shoe size as me, she may also inherit a lot of shoes!