A brief jaunt to the clinic for some stitches

Puerto Viejo Travel Blog

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After being stitched up.
Warning: This entry is slightly graphic and, although I've tried to keep it somewhat light-hearted, you might want to avoid it if you get queasy easily.

After a late night in town, both Dave and I woke up relatively early to check out the surf at Playa Cocles. A few people had told us that the previous day the surf was 8-10 ft, and we were more than a little bit skeptical. Shallow, hollow beach breaks are pretty scary even at half that size if they have any power, and when we scoped it out the evening before the waves were barely knee high.

We walked barefoot from our cabinas along the dirt road to the beach, which was about half a kilometer south. The road had lots of little rocks that nibbled at our feet, and I remember exercising particular caution to avoid getting cut up.
While being stitched up. I have no idea why I am smiling :P
When we arrived at the beach there were some nice, hollow 3-4 ft glassy waves coming in, breaking right next to the shore. There were already a few local kids out warming up for a surf contest and getting some nice rides and I was stoked to get out there.

Compared to the previous spots we had surfed this trip, the waves here were much smaller and much more similar in form to the waves I surf back home. Although the water was fairly shallow, the sandy bottom was a welcome relief from the rocky reefs we had been surfing, and definitely a safer alternative to the razor sharp coral of nearby Salsa Brava (One of the heaviest, hairiest waves in Costa Rica). I got a few good lefts and was getting pretty comfortable when unexpected disaster struck.
Foot after being tidied up.Doesn't look so bad now, but it's really deep!
I was paddling into a wave and, upon seeing that it was going to close out, pulled back out of it. Unfortunately, I was too late and the wave carried my board over the falls, with my body quickly following. Normally this isn't too bad, but my board had flipped upside down so that the fins were facing straight up, and the force of the wave combined with gravity propelled my right foot directly onto a sharp fin.

There was a sickening, unnatural sensation as I felt my foot being impaled on the fin and it all happened so quickly that at first I didn't realize what had happened, only that it was probably bad. I looked down through the crystal clear Caribbean water at the bottom of my foot and saw a small hole quickly being obscured by a rapidly forming cloud of blood. I shouted out to Dave that I needed some help and that "I would probably need some stitches.
Waiting for our free prescription drugs.
" I don't think he believed me at first, but nevertheless, as a loyal friend, he paddled into shore. I reached the shore before he did and started hoping around on one foot while clutching the other to stop the bleeding, looking for help. There were a few tourists sunbathing on the beach. They glanced at me quizzically then returned to their quest for skin cancer. By this time Dave had arrived and realized that the situation was somewhat serious. He helped me hop around and we continued to look for help, but most people just stared at us like we were crazy.

It is interesting to note that, during these initial stages, I felt almost no pain in my foot, just a general sense of shock and a rush of adrenaline. In fact, the most painful part of the whole ordeal happened, ironically, at the clinic, which we'll get to later.
Posing with the blood spattered surfboard.

Back to the hopping. We hopped across the dirt road next to the beach and found a lifeguard type person lounging in a hammock. He had a basic first aid kit, sat me down on a plastic lawn chair by the side of the road, and started cleaning my wound. A random local whose name I will never know but whose face I will never forget stopped by to help out. Here things start to get hazy. The pain in my foot wasn't that bad and I remember chatting with Dave idly about how all I would need is a few stitches and contemplating that it was fortunate that, for the first time during our trip, there was a clinic relatively nearby and a hospital not more than an hour away, in Limon. Most of the other places we had surfed were in the middle of nowhere, so this was definitely the preferred place to get injured.
A crude walking stick that a local carved for me to help me hobble around. Costa Ricans rock!
During this time my vision slowly started getting blurrier and I felt increasingly lightheaded. I don't remember passing out, only waking up.

If you've never passed out before, waking up is an unusual feeling. I felt like I had just awakened from an incredibly refreshing sleep, and my first thoughts upon opening my eyes were that I was incredibly glad that everything that had just happened was just a bad dream, and that I was ready to start the day and go surfing. It took me more than a few seconds to realize that I was in fact still injured and piece together what had happened. Someone was holding a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol right under my nose, and, given that we had just had a late night and a few drinks the night before, the scent was less than fantastic. After regaining my senses, though, I felt incredibly alert, coherent, and fine.

We took a cab along the dusty dirt roads to the nearby town of Hone Creek, where there was a clinic with one doctor. I hopped into the back entrance and was greeted by dreadlocked Rastafarian who asked me what was going on. I told him about my foot and he helped me into a nearby room and onto a bed. I talked to him for a bit and found out that he didn't even work in the clinic and that he was just wandering around waiting to hear news about his wife, who was sick in another room. I was grateful for his help, but also slightly concerned with the lack of official protocol anywhere. A few minutes later a woman came in, unwrapped the bandages, looked at my cut, made a cutting motion with her hands accompanied by a clicking sound with her tongue, chuckled, then left. Was I in a hospital or a madhouse?

Not long after a bespectacled man came in and started cleaning my wound. I wasn't sure which one was the doctor and which one was the nurse, as none of them spoke English. After he cleaned my wound, the crazy woman came in again and inspected the cut. She had a syringe like object which I assumed she was going to use to help clean the cut, but I couldn't see too clearly from my vantage point. Suddenly, I felt a white-hot pain in the bottom of my foot, at the deepest point in my cut, as she jabbed it with a needle! I've been told now that the bottom of the foot is especially sensitive and that it contains a higher concentration of nerve endings. I didn't need anyone to tell me this interesting fact at the time, however, because it was probably the sharpest pain I have felt in my life. It was exponentially worse than any pain related to the initial injury. I won't lie, I screamed like a baby and clutched the sides of the bed in a death grip. The bespectacled man chuckled and said "fuerte!", which can alternately mean "strong", "severe", "intense", "violent", "loud", or "grisly." Never before has one word so eloquently summed up a situation.

Fortunately, the anaesthesia from the shot quickly kicked in. Dave came by with a bottle of coke. I don't typically like soda, but the sugary coldness of it was incredibly delicious, and I could almost feel it coursing through my body.  At this point the mad doctor could have begun stitching me up, but she had more plans in store for the incapacitated gringo. She called over the paramedics who watched with bemused interest as she chuckled and inserted her finger into my cut to demonstrate how deep it was! It was probably at least an inch deep, and although I was anesthetized, the sensation was slightly uncomfortable! This was definitely not pura vida!

Finally, the medical work began in earnest, and she began stitching up my foot. Around the 3rd stitch, we heard some sort of animal scurrying about in the ceiling right above the operating table. The mad doctor made a pantomime of me getting up off the table and hobbling home in fear before she could finish the operation. I laughed along - nervously. A few stitches later and the ordeal was finally done. They didn't have any crutches or wheel chairs, so I exited the operating room via my now well practiced method of hopping on one foot. I hopped to a waiting room where Dave picked up the prescription for some painkillers and antibiotics. Both Dave and I were confused as to where we would have to pay for the medical services, but when Dave asked people when we would have to pay, they simply responded "nunca" - never. Even it wasn't providing me with crutches or sane doctors, socialized health care was free hence great!

After an epic quest which is another story in itself (perhaps Dave will update it in his travel blog?), Dave was able to find a taxi to take us back into town. Throughout the entire ordeal Dave was by my side, helping me into shore, finding help, hailing taxis, communicating in broken Spanish, and, so he claims, slapping me out of unconsciousness. Without his help I would likely be a stuffed souvenir for one of those beach-going tourists or an experiment in the twisted dungeons of the mad doctor's laboratory. If you've read this far the least you can do is go to his TravBuddy page and give him a smile. Yeaaaah!

Eric says:
Was on crutches for over a month, and still don't have feeling in one of my toes, but other than that am OK. When I came back to the US and saw some doctors here, they said that the doctors in Costa Rica did an excellent job. If the foot had become infected I might not be walking on it now...
Posted on: Jul 03, 2010
fransglobal says:
Wow, discovered this by accident. Not pleasant at all. Hope no long term damage was done.

As an aside, I was in Puerto Viejo and it must have been within a couple of weeks of the time of your visit there....

Pura vida!
Posted on: Jul 03, 2010
Jelly says:
omg!! I've seen guys get sliced on their heads when there are too many surfers out in HB... I stay on the beach on those days lol
Posted on: Nov 16, 2009
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