A Pain in the 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!
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…
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!
Tim DerryOctober 25, 2012
We are all grateful!
NinaOctober 25, 2012
Wow, the only person I ever saw to look good with a neck brace! So glad that you are ok, heal up fast and take good care of yourself you inspiring mermaid:)
Peace and love from Nina and the Ohana in Norway (it snowed here today…!)
JennaOctober 25, 2012
Feel better soon!
Kerry MettertOctober 25, 2012
Thanks for filling us in on what happened. Glad you are doing better. God bless you as you heal. Keep your chin up (no pun intended…well maybe)!
JohnOctober 25, 2012
Oh my Liz. Sorry to hear about your injury. Hoping that you make a speedy recovery!
giles finlaysonOctober 25, 2012
Heh Liz,get better soon,My boat is lying in Phuket after me being run over,arms cut off and now batteling cancer.Life throws alot of curves.
If you want,i have a subscrip to Surfline for u.
S.V. Petrel resting in Phuket
Me,resting in Leucadia
kate dillonOctober 25, 2012
Dear Liz, I am so happy for your outcome! My son Jon Pyzel, who you know, also broke his neck surfing once, rather while being towed. I was grateful then for his recovery and know yours will also be successful. It truly is amazing how close we always are, at every second, to the unknown. I have long enjoyed reading of your adventures, but most especially your interactions with others and even more most especially with your own being. You are living in the gift called the present. Just wanted to say hello! Kate PS You and Dawg certainly would have a lot of hair to talk about!
EmilyOctober 25, 2012
Get well soon, Liz. Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Roberto Chuy MadrigalOctober 25, 2012
HI Liz, have not heard or have seen much of you, now I can consider having gotten an update. Have not seen you since 2006 just before the Rip Curl Search remember? Get well and back out in the surf and to your travels, Besos Chuy
georges le mec de tahitiOctober 25, 2012
Ouahh Bonne chance Liz on t’attend a Teahupoo en forme !!
MoOctober 25, 2012
Liz, you might like the book “Your Body Speaks Your Mind” by Deb Shapiro. Happy healing to you…
SeanOctober 25, 2012
My name is Sean. I live in NZ but was born in Northern California. I’ve been following your travels for a while – they are fantastic, especially as I often visit the Islands you’ve been visiting for work. Anyway, I too recently had a run in with the health system. About two months ago I found a lump in my right forearm. After blood, X-Ray, MRI the Docs still couldn’t tell me what it was (that was about a month and a half into it). Eventually they flew me to Auckland where I saw a tumour specialist and had a biopsy. A week later I got a phone call to say I didn’t have cancer, just a benign growth. As you can probably relate, I was pretty stoked – stupidly ended up splitting the biopsy wound surfing the next day!
Anyway, I am super grateful for the outcome. I’m also super grateful for the care I received through the (NZ) public health system. Unlike you, I didn’t have to worry about health insurance. I had two months worth of needles, scans, flights, accommodation (mine and my GFs) all covered . This made a massive difference to mine and my GF’s mental health as well as to our finances. If my GF and I’d had to pay out of pocket for this, it easily would have crippled us financially. Anyway, the long and the short of this is I’m an American citizen and yet I don’t want to live in a country (the US) where the only way I can get quality health care is if – like you – I know the right people, or if I pay exorbitant amounts of money to an insurance company that I can’t guarantee will cover me when I really need it. Not that you could miss it in the US, but there is a presidential election coming up in the US and one of the main outcomes of that election will result in whether people like you and I can afford health care, or whether we along with 40 + million others continue to risk doing without. I’m (probably inappropriately) urging you to not just be grateful, but to use your ‘relative fame’ for positive change – remind people that November 6th will make a massive difference to the health of Americans. Every vote will count, especially this time.
I hope you get better, promise not to bug you again, just stoked I’m healthy and I don’t want anyone to have to go through what you and I did, without feeling like they have the support of the healthcare system.
chrissyOctober 25, 2012
xo…happy you are recovering……………………..look forward to using that collar for some VIP concert seats
Bob FrancisOctober 25, 2012
Lizzy! What great inner revelation “The option to choose possitive paths never goes away!” I am going to use that, with your permission, to teach college students this next month at the hospital. Learning to smile and comfort patients in the face of any illness is a blessing that returns great reward to whomever practices this art. In your case it hastens your reward of healing without doubt. All the best to you and your world class way of approaching life!
Tom SantanielloOctober 26, 2012
Liz: Get well soon, and wishes for a speedy recovery.
Nate UrbanOctober 26, 2012
Liz, heal quick. With your great outlook on life, wonderful family and friend support, I have no doubt you will!
James ClarkOctober 26, 2012
We are so happy you are ok. Can’t wait to see you over Thanksgiving!
NeilOctober 27, 2012
I’ve been following your blog for a while and your posts never fail to renew my energy as I work hard building my own boat so that I can have some adventures of my own.
This particular post has jolted me into sending you my thanks for your inspirational writing. Your attitude to this mishap is a shining example to us all all.
Thanks again, get well soon and get back out there. Maybe someday we’ll find ourselves in the same anchorage and I’ll get the opportunity to buy you a drink!
Carey AtkinsOctober 27, 2012
We are so glad that you are ok! You are one tough girl but you write like a siren:)
Let us know if you ever need anything…
love, the Atkins family
David HallOctober 27, 2012
Liz, I am so sorry to hear about your unfortunate turn of events. I can sympathize, having broken two vertebrae in my back about 12 years ago. But it certainly sounds like you have an amazing attitude about it, and that’s a huge part of recovery. I also want to say that I am super impressed with your writing, mentality, and perspective on life. I too spent years living on the water. From fishing in Alaska to working on the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico to Fiji and all up and down the Pacific Coast on huge yachts. Now I am raising a family running a business and definitely enjoying life, but I really do miss that time on the water. From time to time I have read a few of your blogs and they have been like good nourishment for the soul. I wish you a speedy recovery and whatever you do please just keep writing, adventuring, and being the type of person I hope my daughter will look up to. All the best! -David
Darryl DavisOctober 29, 2012
I am sorry to hear of what happened. Know that there are many of us about that care for and about you. Please contact if there is anything that I might be able to help you with. Otherwise, let me know where you are these days and when possible, I will hunt you down and hang for a bit.
I knew that you really are a tough chick… anyone else would have been done and literally dead in the water.
JohnOctober 29, 2012
So sorry to here about this Liz, hope you get better soon. Praying for a speedy recovery.
Wisa MillerOctober 30, 2012
Hey Liz I am so happy you didn’t damage anything more. I saw someone get paralyzed this way at Sandy Beach (Oahu). While reading this I was cringing thinking of what could have been. Oh, and I love your hair! Thanks for blogging. You are such an inspiration. Aloha!
Steven B SeshunNovember 4, 2012
So thankful to God you are going to be alright Liz! I replied to your post of this on Facebook, but I’m not sure you got it gurl. Praying for your speedy recovery and complete healing. Be encouraged Lizzy. Love from the Seshun family in South Carolina. = )
Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans that I have for you, not to harm you but to bless you and give you hope for a future. “
Stoke HarvesterNovember 9, 2012
Get well soon, liz. We are wishing you a speedy recovery!
MylesNovember 9, 2012
First, thank you for continuing to inspire me with your courage, passion and obvious love for life! I’m an ER physician who sees spinal trauma on a regular basis and can also tell you that you were very lucky (for no cord damage and for you to go to a great hospital)! I wish you a quick, facile and speedy recovery. Get well soon so you can get back to your travels!
p.s. I can’t help to mention that you were probably in the “supine” position, not “prone” during most of your recovery. I know it’s an unimportant detail, but it’s the Type A personality in me!
Stephen GallieNovember 10, 2012
I’m glad you’re ok! I wish you a quick recovery!!!!
Here in Chalten Town, Argentine Patagonia…where I’m skiing with friends. Yesterday we skied down Glaciar de los Tres glacier, which reaches the foot of Fitz Roy mountain….the snow was great! the place really wild! The view from above gorgeous!!
Muchos saludos from your argie friend
Michael LewallenNovember 18, 2012
I have been following your travels for some time, enjoying the images and descriptions of places and people you have met. The inspiring vocation of teaching us about our planets health from the view point of the sea is so very important. Your accident is heartbreaking and i wish you the best recovery. Get back on the boat soon!!!
DavidNovember 29, 2012
How is it going? I am a Monterey Cal Sailor. I find myself sailing within a few feet of a pair of Cal 40’s. Often for hours. They are quite formidable racers. We have a bunch of us who single hand these 40′ boats. We are not into the distances you are but we are out there damn near every day.
So I look every day for something new and am a little lost with no new words. I would bet there are lots of others. Liz I have had a whole flock of surgeries on my spine. The first four were before I bought this 1979 IOR boat. The last one was to try to make my right foot work again. I had to change a number of things on the boat to be able to somewhat safely be able to sail. I made the changes and still sail as many days as the weather allows. I don’t let the physical changes stop me from being out to sea. So if you are slowed down a bit with your pain in the neck just know that there are a huge bunch of fans out here that just can’t wait to hear of your travels.
SV Brother Goose