Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day 5: Aaron vs. Coral


Morning came and jet lag wasn’t an issue. I don’t know what it is but the two times I’ve gone to Europe I’ve been ransacked by it but when I went to Japan and now here it hasn’t been an issue. Now watch since I’ve said this tonight will be an issue. That’ll teach me to boast about something, I’m sure.

            Anyway, it was morning and time for breakfast which was in the same place as dinner was so I got some scrambled eggs and homemade pancakes and placed them at my table and then I went to go get orange juice, which I can’t stand but milk wasn’t an offering, and when I got back to the table about a dozen sparrow, or sparrow looking birds, were having a party feasting on my breakfast. Two men a couple tables behind me burst out laughing and my drooping of my shoulders in defeat added to their laughter. Was anything going to go smoothly on this trip?

            It was a stunning morning and I had no plans. I actually thought my body would have nothing left in the fuel tank but as I got back to my room I looked out at the ocean and it was all but calling my name. I haven’t been to an ocean in a state where I could go into the water for over two decades. My family up until I was about nine would take a yearly vacation to Panama City, Florida but every time since then I’ve been to the Gulf Coast it was to cover a hurricane and take pictures. That being said I wondered what wonders would be experienced in the water so I got my googles, swimming trunks, and swim shoes and out I went.

            This part of the island as the lagoon which is an area of somewhat shallow water protected by a barrier reef. This is important because this island has had a severe problem with sharks, specifically the bull shark, and swimming is not advised anywhere but here as I heard a story just at breakfast about, a couple years ago, a person being taken by a shark right in front of their mom just 20 meters from shore. I somewhat feared sharks in this lagoon but there were about a dozen people out there and one was fishing which meant they were local so if the local person felt safe out there then so should I.

            I have to admit it was a bit intimidating walking into the water. I love to swim, I don’t do it enough, but I’m proficient at it but there’s something that tugs at the soul as one willingly leaves land to walk into an ocean. Perhaps this could be used as a metaphor for taking a leap, but that’s sort of what it is. Land is safe and the ocean has sharks.

            After getting knee deep I looked behind me where an elderly couple were settling down under the hotel’s umbrellas which once again reminded me of just how alone I am here so I made it a mission of mine to swim out to the reef. This distance appears to be over a quarter-of-a-mile and would further than I have ever swam before but here was a challenge and I wanted to conquer it! That so I walked further, but my googles over my eyes, and lunged outward and went under and was greeted with a festival of life.

            Unbeknownst to me while I was wading out was that my presence had sparked the interest of many fish. There were green fish, black fish, some black slug like things on the ocean floor, coral, and the most miraculous yellow fish with the long tail like thing coming off their heads. One would not know it unless they were fully immersed under the water that there was so much going on. I smiled the best I could but obviously I didn’t want a mouth full of seawater in my mouth so I quickly surfaced and screamed, “Wow!” to which no one could hear, thankfully, but like an excited kid experiencing the ocean for the first time I wanted more so I kept swimming outward wanting to reach the limit of the lagoon.

            About halfway to the waves which marked the end the depth only got to two feet which made swimming tricky because the last thing I wanted to do was feel was that sharped edged coral felt like at speed and also when coming to stop I had to plan the landing much like a helicopter spotting their landing spot. It got deep again and I went swimming at speed and I noticed the fish in front of me all going to the right and a speed I hadn’t seen and I had the silly thought of, “oh look, the fish expressway” but the silly thought was quickly replaced with a, “uh oh!” as I got to it as it was actually a current. This current wasn’t a rip current or anything of a severe nature but it was strong enough that it altered my swimming path and I needed air so I had to surface and not being prepared for the current I had no way to catch my balance and at the same time my foot caught a ridge which tripped me up and to cap it all off there was a drop off right into coral which my left food landed on. There was pain right away on my foot but I thought I just scraped it and I scratched my left hand up as well and my left thumb was bleeding. I thought of trudging on to the end of the lagoon but I figured since sharks like blood in the water I best head back.

            Finding my way back through the coral was difficult as the currents were stronger now and pushing me to the north. The pain in my foot was growing so when I got to a place I could stand I took off my shoe and there was a large black something-rather embedded in my skin. I looked at the underside of the shoe and there was an unmistakable puncture as if it were a tire that had picked up a nail. I’m not a fan of having foreign objects within my skin but this was no time to panic because there was a current that required attention. Again, this current probably couldn’t sweep me away but I had to keep my weight to one side or I would have risked another fall and coral was not on my good side and I didn’t want to have another visit. Besides that coral isn’t to be disturbed and that’s fully fine by me.

            As I got closer to land the current became stronger so I stopped swimming the way I wanted and swam with the current in a diagonal fashion inching my way to the shore and finally I made it. I had been out in the water for an hour and my body was exhausted but this was no time to rest because I had to figure out what, exactly, was going on with my foot. I quickly used the outdoor shower to get the sand of my legs and shoes and rushed to my room and I took off my shoe and there was a large piece of coral that had pierced my skin. I used some tweezers and tried to gently extract it which I did, but then I noticed a bunch of black under my skin in the surrounding area. When it went in it fractured so I looked up “cut by coral” on the internet and I was not a fan of what I read. Oh yes, I know, the internet and anything medical is not a great combo, especially when amputation and death are associated with what one searched. The consensus was this, though, and that was the coral can’t be allowed to stay in the skin or bad things happen. This meant it was time for a small field trip to a store.

            I went to the front desk and explained I needed antibacterial cream and alcohol which he didn’t fully understand what I meant, as English is not common on the island, but he gave me directions to a grocery store.

            It was a short drive and I tried to ask one person that worked there where the aisle I needed was but the only thing she could say in English was, “no English” so I searched and searched and in the far corner I had success but everything was in French! I didn’t know what the antibacterial cream would look like and I looked for something akin to Neosporin (or rather I looked for Neosporin) but there was nothing so I just got the alcohol, checked out, and went back to my room.

            I used my Swiss army knife’s blade and started slowly moving skin about… I know this sounds pleasant but just be thankful you weren’t the one having to do this, and there were about a dozen small pieces of coral and sand in the wound. I worked and worked gingerly (I should’ve been a surgeon with the delicate touch I have!) to remove as much as I could but it just seemed to never end in what was a rather small wound and I realized I needed anti-bacterial cream which the grocery store didn’t and I remembered I drove by a pharmacy the day before so it was the opposite direction of the grocery store so off I went.

            Inside the pharmacy the first person I encountered spoke, as she said, “a little English” and I stated what I needed in words as easiest as I could (anti-bacterial cream isn’t the easiest to say) so showed her a few scrapes and made a motion as if to apply lotion so she went to the back and got me some, and then she also brought out bandages (why hadn’t I thought of that?) and I checked out and went back to my hotel room.

            This was now becoming a bit of a panic because I needed all the particulates removed from my body. I didn’t want paralysis, it going septic, or even losing my foot. Thank you internet for not raising my anxiety levels! Here I am on an island paradise and I’m doing a minor surgery on my foot so as not to lose it. I was losing it, mentally, because I’m 10,000 miles away from home dealing with this situation and I was finally able to see that this is exactly what I wanted in this Aspie Traveler series. This was the unknown and random experience I hoped to encounter. Granted, the consequences of this, if it got infected, were more severe than I hoped to encounter, but this was a test of being on my own as far away from home as possible.

            The internet also said I needed to flush the wound out but the tap water here is questionable (the internet said so) and I remember my grandma using hydrogen-peroxide on cuts and the internet then said use a 50% water 50% hydrogen-peroxide combo so off to the store I went… not so fast. I knew what I needed in English but what would this be in French? I opened up the Google translate app and put it in and I got the word, and I went back to the original grocery story to get that plus some water.

            Back in the hotel I did my final bit of work on it, now about three hours after the original time I got back to my room to address the situation, and there were a few bits I just couldn’t get out so it was then I declared my defeat to the coral and decided it was time to seek professional help which is where I will pick up the story in the next chapter.

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