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October 14, 2008

Island Daze (or, Fear and Self-Loathing in Hawaii)

“Loaded like a freight train – flyin’ like an aeroplane –

Feelin’ like a space brain one more time tonight … “
- Guns N’ Roses, “Nightrain”

Starting this post proved much harder than I thought; over the past several days, I’ve been drifting through a narcotic and alcohol induced haze that’s made it difficult to put coherent thoughts together in my head, much less typing them out cleanly on a blank page. I have no idea how Hunter S. Thompson ever did it so successfully.

That’s my way of fair warning that I’m not sure where this is gonna go – but my goal is to give a brief overview of my vacation, as well as an update on my training situation that was very much unexpected.

First, as a point of clarification, the beach views from the previous post were from the island of Kauai, at Poipu Beach on the south shore. Our family last vacationed there eight years (and two fewer kids) ago, and came back with nothing but amazing memories … in some ways, it seemed sad that it took us eight years to go back.

The last time I was there, I spent hours running through sugar fields, across ocean cliffs, and deep into forest trails, saturating my shoes and clothes with enough of Kauai’s infamous red dirt to leave permanent reminders of what an ideal running vacation the island can be. This time, I didn’t have any serious training plans, but I packed my running shoes in hopes of taking one or two mornings to revisit some of those places I recalled so fondly.

My primary goal was to spend a lot of time in the water – either snorkeling, bodysurfing or boogie boarding, or doing some open water swimming to maintain my stroke until I returned home and started racing in the pool again.

Remember my earlier declaration of wanting to swim a one-minute 100-yard freestyle? I wrote that post two days before leaving for vacation, and put it on the shelf to be published here the following week. The next day, I was curious to see just how close I was to this goal, so before my regular workout, I swam an all-out 100 – alone, self-timed, from a push start off the wall – in 1:04. I figured if I could just stay close to that level of fitness and get in one or two days of stroke practice while I was away, I’d return home and successfully break through the one-minute barrier within a few weeks. The pieces of my plan were falling perfectly into place.

Four days later, I found myself in an emergency room in the town of Lihue, after cracking my rib cage in a surfing accident.

My kids and I were using boogie boards in the relatively shallow surf, and everything was going well until I got caught on the top curl of a large wave, then slammed downward as the wave crashed. My chest hit the sand first, and my legs were bent up behind me like a scorpion, with the force of the water driving them further downward. Basically, I was folded in half in the wrong direction; the pain was immediate, and the most severe I’ve felt in a very long time.

(In fact, even as I typed the above paragraph, I stopped to shudder a couple of times. I’m still having some minor flashback problems.)

For a few seconds, as I drifted in the whitewash, I wasn’t able to feel or move my legs, and briefly considered the fact that I might be paralyzed. Needless to say, I was absolutely terrified. Eventually I realized that everything was still intact, but I simply had too much pain to move, and it felt excruciating to breathe – so I just grabbed onto my board and drifted closer to shore on the next couple of waves, until I could place my knees on the sand and crawl onto the beach.

Predictably, within about ten minutes, I went from thinking I was paralyzed, to wondering if I could just walk it off and get back to normal. However, for the rest of the day, I could barely stand upright … and it became obvious that walking it off wasn’t an option. Suddenly, my travel plans included a 30-minute drive across the island for an impromptu visit to the ER.

A chest x-ray showed that none of my ribs had punctured my lungs (hooray!), and I left the ER with a nice combination of meds at my disposal. Between Toradol, Percocet, prescription strength Motrin and Tylenol, I was able to manage the pain well enough to get through the next several days of (somewhat modified) activities. For the remainder of the week, I kept a steady supply of meds on hand, and was continually limping around our beach home and popping pills like Dr House.
You know what else has powerful analgesic properties? Very strong mai tais. They were available in abundant supply in Kauai, and I was sucking them down like a rock star.

(In fact, the whole drugs-and-alcohol theme tied in rather nicely with the book I was reading at the time: Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N’ Roses. No matter how loaded up I was, I kept telling myself that those guys survived an awful lot more. That’s how bad things had become for me – I was justifying my behavior by comparing myself to Axl and Slash. I should probably write a whole post about this band and book someday; some of the stuff is absolutely mind-boggling.)

My first instinct was write this post as an analogy to the Brady Bunch’s star-crossed trip to Hawaii – you know, the one where Bobby finds the bad luck tiki, Greg gets hurt in a surfing accident, Peter gets visited by a tarantula, and that creepy old guy holds the boys hostage in the cave. But even as I staggered through the remainder of our visit, I couldn’t really consider my accident a huge stroke of misfortune; there were just too many things to appreciate in Kauai.

Our kids had a great time boogie boarding and hiking and kayaking and snorkeling, and all three of them can not only pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaii’s state fish, above), but they can identify them by their markings, and they saw them prominently, within arm’s reach, while exploring the tropical reefs of Poipu. They played under waterfalls and stood atop high cliffs and swung from ropes and jumped off rocks into a beautiful river. They attended a luau and took walks on the beach and fell in love with shave ice (an island delicacy – do NOT leave Kauai without trying some). In other words, they got to do what everyone wishes their kids could do.

Best of all - thanks to modern pharmaceuticals - I was able to accompany them for almost all of it. And remember, at one point I thought I had become a paraplegic … so to complain about being in pain during all of the above activities seems awfully trivial.

Of course, my training plans are completely on hold. I didn’t even attempt any running until yesterday, where I managed about 15 minutes of shuffling before calling it quits (I still have pain when taking deep breaths). Swimming is obviously off the table until I can raise my arms over my head again – although I might see if I can tolerate some modified activity in the pool, and hopefully work out some soreness that way (besides, it would be a shame to lose my Hawaiian tan so quickly). Obviously, my 100-yard goal is indefinitely postponed – maybe for a month, maybe for a year … we’ll see how it goes.

The other upside is that I’ve got some extra time on my hands, so maybe I can catch up on some of those blog posts I’ve been meaning to write – although I think I’ll wait until my narcotic (well, technically opioid, but that's splitting hairs) prescriptions run out. It may not seem like much, but this post was kind of exhausting.


olga 10/14/08, 10:08 PM  

Oh, man, I am so sorry. Broken ribs just like that...but I just love how you look on the bright side. We should all learn a good lesson. Hopefully, we'll benefit from lots of new posts - and please, do write them under the influence, what I had experienced with my darling son, stories are usually pretty good when high, very creative:) Recover well!

21stCenturyMom 10/14/08, 10:24 PM  

Lovely vacation, accident not withstanding. Sounds like you didn't let it put too much of a damper on the situation. And for waht it's worth - I went to Hawaii on my honeymoon in 1980 and have yet to go back so 8 years isn't so bad.

I thought you weren't posting at all - bloglines is fubar. So many blogs just show a red exclamation point. I don't know...

Darrell 10/14/08, 11:24 PM  

Just thinking of the scorpion pose makes me wince. Broken ribs will take some time to heal. I bruised my a couple of months ago, the first few running steps are the hardest.

Take care.

keith 10/15/08, 3:36 AM  

Yowza. Hope you feel better soon. That sounds really painful...but it seems like you have plenty of ways of dealing with that!

Ian 10/15/08, 5:12 AM  

Hey Donald,
Sorry to hear of your injury, stay positive and remind yourself when frustration hits how it could have been.. hope the recovery is both quick and painfree

209Mike 10/15/08, 9:39 AM  

Jeez man. That's one hell of a vacation. Sorry to hear about your injury. Nice to hear your take on seeing the positives in the situation. Good luck with the recovery.

mindy 10/15/08, 5:11 PM  

Glad you're ok Donald - at least you're in a beautiful place even though in pain. You totally scooped me on the Brady Bunch reference, I was going to make a comment on that, but you were right on it - nice! Maybe now is the time to write up that post you mentioned about what your plan WOULD be if you ever became paraplegic (but I think how you brought down a major comic strip won out) - either way, your readers won't be disappointed. Recover well.

Makita 10/16/08, 9:53 AM  

OMG! I am so sorry, Donald. I know how frustrating an injury can be... but thankfully it is only a few broken ribs. I, too, shudder to think what could have happened.

Don't rush into training too soon... really take care of yourself.

<<< Hugs >>>

Deene 10/16/08, 11:20 AM  

Oww! what a painful body slam from nature, glad you are okay. those are some powerful drugs. once in a while when i cant handle a migraine i have to get toradol(i don't know the correct spelling).

Rainmaker 10/16/08, 4:33 PM  

Ekk...those waves are dangerous. My dad had the exact same thing happen in Hawaii back a few years ago.

Hope you recover fast!

robtherunner 10/16/08, 8:51 PM  

What an unexpected turn of events while on vacation. I imagine the pain meds and mai tais added a little bit of pleasure to the days events. Sounds pretty good to me ;) Recover quickly.

Rick Gaston 10/19/08, 3:46 PM  

My mom and my stepdad got married in Kauai and we used to go in the summers. It wasn't too far of a jaunt from Honolulu. It's a beautiful place and all the people I've met from Kauai were awesome. Sorry to hear about the surfing accident. Unfortunately I know exactly how that feels except for the ribs thing. I was young at i popped up like most teenage kids do. If it happened now...shudder.

I'm glad you were still able to enjoy the vacation. Your post makes me long for the islands of Hawaii. Kauai was the only other island I visited while I was living there. As for the shave ice. I used to make the 1.5 drive from my apartment near the University of Hawaii to the North Shore to a place called Matsumoto's. They had the best shave ice and I would get the works which was shave ice on top of ice cream and sweet azuki beans. I have a high school reunion coming up, maybe I should attend.

Paul 10/19/08, 10:25 PM  

Man those pictures bring it back for me. I haven't been to Kauai in a few years.. Such a great island. Thanks for sharing.

stronger 10/20/08, 8:50 AM  

Hope you're feeling better Gumby.

Anne 10/20/08, 1:42 PM  

Yikes! Broken ribs are tough to contend with, maxed-out mai tais and Motrin notwithstanding. Glad you're OK and still willing to go back in the water. The image of you curled up like a scorpion is sticking with me -- and likely to keep ME off a Boogie Board for some time.

Spokane Al 10/28/08, 7:10 PM  

Donald, I have been slowly catching up with your great stuff as I recover. And while Percocet seems to help a great deal for my pain, I must say that I have not tried combining it with mai tais.

Thanks for the recommendation and am glad to hear that you seem to be on the mend.

kelly 11/6/08, 3:34 PM  

Wow, what a bummer to have happen during your vacation. I'm glad that you are ok though. Broken ribs take a long time to heal. I've been there and done that. Hope your recovery is fast and that you are feeling good. Keep up the good attitude.

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