Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Funny things were happening with my arm. Suddenly my left arm began drying out and flaking. My right arm was fine, but my left arm suddenly developed a taste for vast amounts of moisturizer.
And I could feel strange sensations in my arm as all the new hardware rubbed against flesh and bone. Sometimes, it even feels like it gets caught against a tendon or ligament [shudder]. It's a strange, strange feeling.
Slowly, time passed. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. Months became years. My writing became a pattern of clichés.
But seriously, time did go by slowly as I was mostly housebound. If it wasn't for the fact that I had just ordered the first two seasons of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on DVD, I might have gone mad.
I couldn't even write or surf the Internet much as it was too uncomfortable to sit at my computer for very long.
Christmas rolled around and I began to venture out more. Thankfully I had done most of my shopping before the accident, and Amazon did the rest.
At physio, I got to do more exercises. I got to lie on my back and, gripping it with both hands, I had to raise a cane over my head. At first, I could barely raise in 90 degrees, or just above my head. Now I can get it about 150-160 degrees over. Still got a ways to go.
Next came The Violin. Still lying down and with my forearms straight out in front of me at a 90 degree angle, I gripped the cane and moved it from my right to left, trying to move my left forearm away from my body while keeping my elbow in place at my side. This works to stretch my shoulder were the Bankart repair took place and the flap of muscle was sown over my shoulder socket to keep my arm in place. This I can only do to about 35 degrees. More work needs to be done here, too.
You're not reading this over dinner, are you?
As long as you're grossed out, here's how my scar was doing after about seven weeks.
Other exercises were added to regime like Walking Up the Wall. Simply put, I stand in front of a wall, put my left hand on it and use my fingers to "walk" my arm up it until my shoulder screams out "Enough already!"
However, the physio is going slower than expected. All these exercises that I've been doing are passive exercises, meaning that the injured area is not doing any work during the exercises it's all being done by the other arm, gravity, or in the case of my physiotherapist, someone else entirely. The normal recovery protocol for a Bankart repair would allow for active weight-bearing exercise at this point; however my arm is still too sore and stiff for this, so we are continuing with just the passive exercise. This will make for a long recovery period.
At least now I'm out of my sling.
Friday, January 26, 2007
We've paddled Sidney a number of times. Not as extensively as, say, Cadboro Bay, but still frequently enough that we've noticed a few unique features of the area.
Finding a place to put in isn't the most difficult of problems; there is a public boat launch in Tulista Park, across from the north end of Sidney Island that offers parking, washrooms, a park, and both a trailer launch and dock. There was also a restaurant in the park, but this may not currently be the case.
There is also a park/protected bird sanctuary where one can launch. This is more difficult to find, and parking is much more difficult—the tag end of Ardwell Avenue that leads in to the launch is restricted to thirty minutes parking. So you can stop and unload, but then have to move your vehicle out of the area before taking off. This doesn't seem to bother too many kayakers—we regularly run into other paddlers there. I think the busiest day was when six other boats were unloading while our group was loading our five boats. Good humour and camaraderie are essential paddling companions, particularly in situations like this.
We have paddled from Tulista Park, following the shoreline up through the heart of Sidney and finally turning back at about Armstrong Point at Roberts Bay. This makes for an interesting scenic paddle; Sidney has a long sea walk that centres on a small park at the end of Beacon Avenue just where it turns into the main wharf. North of the wharf is new commercial and residential development, and a man-made breakwater protecting a bay with moorage for a lot of very pricey boats. When paddling past the breakwater, you have to be careful, as there can be a lot of power and sail traffic in this area. It is important to remember the alternate name for kayaks in an area like this: speed bumps.
North of the breakwater are a number of rocks, visible or not depending on the tide. This proved to be a good wildlife watching area, with the occasional seal, loads of birds, and places to see crabs, starfish, and the like. You do have to be careful though, as the tides do create a number in interesting currents in the area. If you are a birdwatcher, the bay at the north end of the paddle is a protected area, and gives good access to a number of species—particularly from the water. Overall, this is an interesting tourist paddle, leaving a lot of opportunity to pull in, wander through downtown Sidney, grab a coffee, etc.
The northern launch into Roberts Bay, is more interesting. You launch into the bird sanctuary, past a sunken fishing boat hull and out into the larger ocean.
Visible from the mouth of the bay are a number of different paddle destinations. Following the shoreline north and east takes you through quite a few bays, inlets, and passages, and if you continue east, this leads you past the south shore of Coal Island,from Killer Whale Point to Kamai Point, making a reasonable turn around point for a short (less than two or three hour) paddle.
There are alternatives to turning around and following the shoreline back to Roberts Bay. One is to paddle over to Ker Island, and then return. Our most frequent paddle is out to Ker Island, coming around the north shore, paddling over to the rocks between Ker Island and Dock Island, back around the south shore of Ker Island, and then either over to Coal and follow the shoreline back, or simply heading straight back. This route maximizes our wildlife viewing, as there are usually seals out at Dock Island and the Little Group, and there is usually quite a collection of seals, cormorants, and other birds around the rocks at the east end and south shore of Ker Island.
This route is not really a beginner paddle, though. Depending, as usual, on the tides, there is quite a strong current running between Ker Island and Little Shell Island in Byers Passage, around the north side of Little Shell, and around the south-east end of Ker, making this something more of an intermediate paddle. These currents don't show up at the scale of the Canadian Current Atlas: Juan de Fuca Strait to Strait of Georgia.
Nor are they on any of the Canadian Hydrographic Service charts down to 1: 10 000. In fact it wasn't until I picked up the brochure Recreational Boating and Kayaking in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve that I saw any reference to what we had discovered by paddling the area; for kayakers, this area takes some firm paddling. Even more so between Ker Island and the rocks to the west: here the water acts like the waters of Baynes Channel off the Chatham Islands (although not as strong). Currents here max out at about 3 knots, as opposed to the 6 knots at the north end of Baynes.
If you chose to paddle out to Dock Island and the Little Group, there are several things to look, and look out, for. There are some kelp beds at the southern end of the group that often have seals feeding in amongst them. Often the first you'll know about them is a loud slap on the water behind you; the seals check you out from behind, and when tired of your novelty value, suggest that it's time for you to leave. You may also notice little wire cages scattered about on the rocks. These are part of a study being done on goose foraging habits. And then there is what we've dubbed the Sidney Sphinx; a chunk of weathered rock on one of the islets.
The rocks on the east and south of Ker Island are pretty regularly used by seals as haul-outs. So be careful when you approach; they don't need to be scared and you don't need to scare them. The general rule from Parks Canada is to remain a hundred metres off from known nurseries and haul-outs. Also expect to see—and smell!—a lot of cormorants on these rocks. The smell of digested fish is often noticeable well before the hundred metre limit is reached.
It was at the west end of Ker Island at the end of Byers Passage that I first saw one of the most interesting things I've ever tried to photograph. I was being swept west and north by the current here when I spotted crabs hanging from the kelp bulbs and leaves. I've put a couple of photos below, but keep in mind that I was being swept along at 2 or 3 knots, dunking my camera under water, and hoping that I was both within range and pointing accurately without being able to see exactly what I was shooting, so the photos are pretty crappy.
The crabs hang from the kelp, apparently waiting for food to be blown past by the current. I guess it makes sense—why hunt when the food will come to you—but man, they would have to be fast on the draw. As I said, the current here can really whistle along, and any crab-sized snacks would be moving pretty fast too. But there wasn't just one crab doing this, but several, so I guess the practise works.
We usually make this loop around the island the focus of our paddle and then, depending on currents, weather, and how strong our weakest paddler is feeling, we will either paddle directly back to the launch site, or we will cross the channel to Kamai Point on Coal Island and follow the shoreline back. As is usual here on the west coast, the shoreline paddle is gorgeous, with kilometres of stunning landscapes and fabulous views. All made even more interesting from a water-based vantage point.
Between Curteis Point on Vancouver Island and Killer Whale Point on Coal Island are several passages that take you past Kolb, Fernie, and Goudge Islands and allow you to explore around the north end of Coal Island. On a longer trip, you can cross Colburne and Shute Passages and make your way over to Portland Island via Knapp and/or Pym Islands. But this does put you near or across various BC Ferry routes with the attendant dangers.
Apart from the aforementioned brochure from Parks Canada, which gives you a good overview of the area along with a fair bit of additional information on camping and hiking and etc., your main chart for this area would be CHS Chart #3476 Approaches to Tsehum Harbour.
Tulista Park is off Lochside Drive, Sidney, and should be findable with any reasonable city map. The same is true of the Roberts Bay launch, at the end of Ardwell Avenue.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I walked out this morning to a beautiful day. There had been a light snowfall overnight, so the world was muffled and clean. The air was cold, still, and fresh, and the tide was just coming up on full flood in another hour. So there was the end of the flood, the slack, and the beginning of the ebb before the currents really got going. The tide tables confirmed that I should have close to two hours, so it looked like conditions where right for a lovely early morning paddle. So I geared up, slung my boat over my shoulder and headed for the beach.
In all it took what, maybe half an hour?, to get set up and ready to paddle. But when I put my boat down and looked out over the bay again, the Chain Islets had disappeared. And then their warning beacon disappeared. Slowly but surely the mouth of the bay faded away. “But, but, but…” my brain kept sputtering, “I want to go paddling!” I stood there a few minutes more, trying to make it all right, trying to convince myself that it would be okay to launch, but when the lights at the yacht club faded away behind the snow squall, I could only sigh in resignation, pick up my boat, and head back to the house.
Had I been on the water when the squall blew in, would I have been okay? Yes, I really think so. I had charts, compass and an excellent knowledge of the waters I would have been paddling. I have a safety signal light on the boat, I was definitely dressed for the occasion, and had my dunk bag with me. With what I had, I would have been fine adrift for a day, or stranded overnight. I had told a couple of people that I was going out, and had not indicated that t would be anything but a normal length paddle, so eventually I would have been missed. I’m not saying that I was safe as houses, but I certainly felt my preparations fell into the category of reasonable.
To top it off, I made the correct initial decision; I didn’t launch. Conditions had changed, for me, safety had been compromised, and I changed my mind. None of this qualifies me for “wild man” status.
This isn’t the first time I’ve changed my mind, taken altered condition into account, paid attention and cancelled a paddle. Sometimes before launching, sometimes during a paddle, but I am willing to consider the calculus of risk, skill, conditions and sense and make decisions accordingly.
There have been times, most in the first few months of paddling, where a post-experience review has indicated that a different course of action may have been desirable. Or, more precisely, wrung out my clothes, towelled off shivering, and said to myself “Well Christ, that was stupid!” Mostly I’ve been alone on those occasions, and had no one to blame but myself.
Paula (my life and paddle partner) and I started paddling in the late spring, which meant that the nicest days were ahead of us. I was excited by something new, something different, and something more physical coming into my life. I had been looking for a change, what with being in the whole mid-life period, the kids having both moved out, and leaving the farm. I’d stayed for a couple of months in Nelson with a friend, and had pushed my personal limits with biking (Nelson is built on the side of a mountain and along a lake, so it is one of the most beautiful cities for biking. Long stretches of rolling highway along the lake, serious slopes everywhere else), and I was open to new ideas when Paula said she wanted to get back into paddle sports. Our first trip around Elk Lake convinced us that this was a Good Thing To Do, and the purchase of a boat a week or so later seemed preordained.
July was difficult, with only one boat and two people. But by August, I’d begun going off on my own. We were working different times, so it wasn’t so much opportunity to go paddling alone, as it was feeling guilty at having gone paddling without Paula having the same chances I had. I paddled up and down beaches with no particular destination in mind, just getting used to the boat and the water. As is usual, when we get interested in something, both Paula and I reach for a book to start learning about whatever it is. So the library was quickly stripped and we both read book after book about where to paddle. This wasn’t so good. We weren’t planing on going anywhere. We just wanted to paddle our local waters. We read about paddle gear. Also not very good. Other than stoking the consumerist flame, what did we need in order to paddle? A boat. Check. And a paddle. Check. And a PFD. Uhm….. At first we didn’t have a proper PFD. What we had was a water-skier’s float belt borrowed from my brother-in-law. I don’t think Transport Canada even approves these as PFDs anymore (if ever).
But it was sufficient to get us out on the water. Well, Transport Canada has a few other items they want you to have, and we eventually acquired the minimums and then beyond. But ultimately, this is the point of all gear: to get you out on the water. And I got out on the water; from mid-August to mid-September, I was on the water twenty times in thirty days. After that, I backed off a bit, but was still getting out twice or more a week.
As committed as I was to getting out on the water, I didn’t have the necessary breadth of experience to make sensible decisions about what was and what wasn’t a good idea at the time. I paddled to gain experience—experience that would have served to tell me when not to paddle.
I remember launching off of Canada’s smallest federal wharf, Turgoose Point public wharf, one afternoon. The day was overcast and there was a bit of wind, but I was launching into Saanichton Bay, a fairly sheltered bit of water. The water was choppy, but the waves hitting the dock weren’t too bad. Certainly not anything I hadn’t paddled before. By this time I had an old front-zip vest-style PFD we’d picked up for a couple of bucks at a second-hand store. I also had a half-skirt that kept much of the water off your legs as you paddled, but left half the cockpit open to the elements. So with this and a few other items, I set off for to explore the bay.
As I pulled up to the point off the southern end of the bay, I realized that this was a continuation of Island View Beach, which I’d paddled once or twice before. John (a friend and paddle partner) and I had paddled most of the way north along Island View to near Cordova Spit, and then cut across Cordova Channel to make it over to James Island . James was even closer here (about a kilometre away), and as I looked over the short stretch of the channel to the island, I thought that it would make a nice end to the paddle to be able to say “oh yes, I made it over to James again.”
What I wasn’t thinking about was the outflow tide and opposing wind. I came out from the protection of the point and started across the channel, and the further I went, the more the current picked up and the more unsheltered from the wind it became. By the time I was a third or half way over, the waves were approaching three quarters of a metre in height and I had pretty much reached the limits of my skills.
The problem was, I couldn’t turn around. Not that I was physically unable, but rather that it was too much of a risk. First, I would face, for a short time, a quartering sea and the risk of being swamped. This was long before my modifications to the Pamlico, so swamping was a very serious matter. I was also insufficiently dressed for overturning, and worst of all, running with the sea was much worse than facing into it. Facing the waves, or moving at an angle across them, was tough paddling, but not impossible paddling. Occasionally the bow would dig in and the kayak would ship a bit of water, but nothing really serious. Running in front of the waves was much worse. At an angle to the direction the waves were running, waves would regularly break over the back of the kayak and dump much larger amounts of water into the cockpit. Swamping was a very real possibility in this position.
What I had to do was the hard thing; to paddle across the channel and get into the shallower and more protected water near James. Here I could (and did) pull up on the shore, empty the boat, and then make my way back across the channel in much the same orientation I had while paddling over. With short tacks with the waves, and longer ones against, I could minimize the worst of the waves breaking over the back of the boat, and (hopefully) stay afloat all the way back to shore. And no risky turning of the kayak.
These days, this wouldn’t even be an issue (full skirt, more seaworthy kayak, better skills), but that day, that was the decision I made, and I still think it was the best decision at that point in the trip. To not have pulled out in the channel would have been smarter, but it was an intelligence I didn’t have yet. It took trips and decisions like this to generate the intelligence to not make trips like this, if you get my drift.
On the leg back across the channel, by far the more strenuous of the two, I found myself laughing and finally singing. After a few more experiences of this nature, it was Dennis who finally pointed out that you could tell how much trouble we were in by how much I was laughing. The more fraught the situation, the more I changed from chuckles to guffaws. If I was singing, you could figure that certain doom wasn’t more than a few feet behind me. This unconscious habit became so commonly known, that it became a running joke in our paddle group. It even became a shorthand to describe paddle conditions; I once said that paddling back from the Toronto Islands, I may have chuckled once or twice, but certainly didn’t get to laughter. Everyone understood what I meant….
I made it back to Saanichton Bay without any major (read “life-threatening”) problems. But it was one of those times when I did end up wringing out my clothes, towelling off, and saying “Well Christ, that was stupid!”
But it is experiences like this that train you to recognize your limits, your skill levels, and your overall abilities. Having run in front of waves built by wind and current, I can more easily recognize simple wind chop, ignore it, and focus on the underlying state of the ocean. Wind chop can be annoying, but it’s not much more than that. Certainly it’s not something to get bent out of shape about.
On the other hand, recognition of an inflow tide will remind you to watch for currents, standing waves, waves built by an opposing wind, and other standard phenomena. Wind chop may disguise underlying conditions, and it is those underlying conditions that will cause you trouble. So when the underlying conditions are fairly mellow, I am going to ignore the chop and head out into the more interesting places to paddle.
This comes from experience. Experience comes from trial and error. Trial and error comes from exposure. If you aren’t out on the water, you will never get any better. And if you don’t pay attention when you are out on the water, you really won’t get any better as a paddler either.
I don’t insist that you have life-threatening experiences to make you a better paddler. But you do have to push your limits out as you develop your skills in order to continue improving. Paddling a hundred metres off shore can be extended to a hundred and fifty. A five hundred metre jump between islands can become a kilometre.
More formal training helps as well. John and I took a class in basic strokes and braces one evening. When it became clear to the instructor that we were paddling beyond our skill levels, he quickly expanded the lesson to include basic assisted recovery. This was terrific; we would have managed something resembling a recovery had the situation arisen, but now we had a formal, mutually-agreed-on pattern for a recovery. Something we could practise.
The first opportunity for practise came much quicker than expected. At the end of the class, we raced out into the lake and turned around to race back. I managed my turn first, and then pivoted to check on John. This was my undoing; I still don’t exactly know why, but as John finished his turn, I was very suddenly upside down. I wear glasses, and as I hung there, upside down, thinking “well, that’s not what I expected,” I could feel my glasses suddenly shift and then quickly fall away into the black water. I’ve lost or broken a lot of glasses since grade school, so I knew what was happening. I could visualize exactly how they were drifting away from me, and, finally letting go of my paddle, I thrust my hand out to where they should be, caught them, and then performed my wet exit.
What seemed like a long time to me under the water was considerably less time above water. John finished his turn, looked up to see me, and that’s when my head came above water and my first words were “I got them!” He didn’t get it at first, as he was still processing the fact that my kayak was unexpectedly upside down.
We did exactly what we had been trained to do by the instructor; an assisted recovery. Partially empty the cockpit of water, right and support the kayak, re-seat the paddler, pump out, reseal, continue paddling. We got back to the beach and the first question was “Was that practise or an accident?” When I had to confess that it had been an accident, it was announced that we had both passed the course. Couldn’t have written a better final exam. But the real examination took place a few weeks later.
Five paddled out that day. Only two came back. Well, the other three were still out paddling, so they came back later.
Baynes Channel is what turns the trip from Cadboro Bay to the Chatham Islands from a doddle, a beginners paddle, into an intermediate paddle. When the tides are pulling the ocean in and out of the space between Vancouver Island and the Mainland, the currents in Baynes can run up to six knots, pulling an enormous amount of water through an opening that”s maybe twelve hundred metres across. Even without winds, this creates standing waves, vortexes, and upwellings that can make paddling across it a most interesting experience. Add wind, and you often feel like the waves are coming at you from three different directions simultaneously. And Dennis and I had paddled across Baynes less than twelve weeks after I’d started paddling, knowing none of this.
Neither Dennis nor I had been back since, but it was still a notch on our kayaks that we’d made it over and no one else in the paddle group had. This mid-February, our paddle had started out cold but bright, and it hadn’t taken me long to stop and take off a layer of fleece. We launched from Cadboro Bay and headed out around Flower Islet and over to Cadboro Point, just taking our time and looking about. The current in Baynes Channel was running and the outflow current and the wind were interacting to produce some moderate chop moving in all directions, which John, Dennis and I felt was perfect for playing around in. Paula and Louise were less interested in being bounced around and being splashed, so they hung back out of the current.
The three of us ended up a hundred metres or more away from them, and we looked across at Chatham, just laying there in the sun, and I thought about the condition of the water, the beauty of the day, and said “Anybody want to go over?” Dennis, I knew from past experience, may have a quiet and self-effacing exterior, but he has the heart of a tiger (he keeps it bottled in formaldehyde on his mantle), so really, the deciding factor here was John. I think John hates competition because he finds himself powerless to resist it. Dennis and I had made it over to Chatham, so of course John was up for it.
We were not ready for the trip. I was paddling the Pamlico with its half-skirt and no flotation. John was in an eleven-foot Bayou that was equally ill-suited to the trip—but at least he had a full touring skirt. And Dennis was paddling his Advanced Elements inflatable. Of the three boats, his was probably the best choice for uncertain waters. Quite wide, the boat has a very high initial stability, making it quite difficult to flip. And as long as it doesn’t spring a leak, you really can’t sink it.
But ready or not, we’d judged the conditions as acceptable, and were decided. Dennis pulled out his cell phone and we called the rest of the group—both of whom were happily watching shorebirds and being watched by seals—and let them know what we were doing. And we set off.
Paddling with a group is difficult. You cannot just go charging off in all directions, no matter how much you want to (well, you can. But it’s very bad manners and soon you find you don’t have a paddle group). Paddle groups must paddle to the level of the least skilled member, which is really difficult in a testosterone-fuelled environment. Every guy figures his member has way more experience than the other guy’s, so oneupmanship is inevitable. But among the three of us, our skill levels were quite similar, so for any one of us to propose a challenge, it was not certain doom for another to accept it. My assessment, for example, of the skills/conditions equation for crossing Baynes and deciding to go, probably meant that John and Dennis would also be able to manage the crossing. As our skill levels are similar, so too are our risk levels (personal risk-tolerance aside).
And the crossing, while challenging at our skill-level, was not particularly difficult. We experienced some of the interesting features of Baynes Passage, like the moments when the chop or waves seem to be coming from three directions simultaneously, but we stayed reasonably close together, took our time, and soon found ourselves at the north end of the islands.
At the north end of Chatham is Stongtide Islet, a well-named chunk of rock around which sweeps a powerful current during the inflow and outflow phases of the tides. During the inflow, the water seems to break on the northern end of the islet, with the majority flowing into the channel between the islands, and the other being forced west into Baynes Passage. This portion of the water ends up looking like a strong river flow, with standing waves and a lot of noise. The other portion of the water runs between the Chatham islands, exiting at the south into Plumper Passage. But a portion of this flow is caught by a rock formation and forced into a side channel that bends back around a full 180°before bending west again to exit on the south end of Strongtide Islet before being pulled into Baynes Passage. And this was the channel we found and paddled into.
We paddled close to the east side of the channel, as the current on the middle was a bit to strong for our wimpy selves. When we approached the point where this side channel met the main channel between the islands, the water was ripping through the entrance with the power of a river rapids. I was the first to try and make the run against the current into the main channel.
At first I tried a straight-on, hard-paddling run into the current. Not only could I not hold my ground against the water, but very quickly found myself twenty or thirty metres behind Dennis and John. Their laughter and mocking comments cut like a flensing knife through the belly fat of a seal. Well, not really, but they did seem to find the whole thing pretty funny….
Up until Dennis made his move. His thought was to sneak up on the entrance as much as possible, dart across the current to the lee of a rock, and then make his assault from there. It went pretty much as planned right up until he tried he darting across part, and he ended up being swept back until he was behind me. John was next, and his efforts pretty much duplicated both Dennis’ and mine.
It was pretty clear that there was no way we were about to paddle through the opening. But rather than simply turn back, we decided that this seemed to be a bit of fun. After all, these were not conditions that we faced on our regular paddles; rather this was something new and different and, therefore, fun.
The edges of the current were pretty clearly defined, so you could paddle near the edge up until you were forced into the current by the geology of the passage. Then the current would firmly grab you and fling you back the direction you’d come from. Dennis, in his inflatable, was almost immune from the effects that the current had on both John and my boats; when turning into the current, the water would strike the side of the boat with such force that it would be pulled downwards quite sharply. Dennis was just spun, and zipped along until he could pull himself out of the current.
I moved into a backwater that allowed me to move quite close to the narrowest part of the opening in the rocks, and I was setting up to jump into the current while John was a bit further back setting up to do the same thing. And Dennis had just pulled himself out of the current and was paddling back to where we were. I pulled into the current and tipped, recovered, spun, and saw John entering the current. John turned into the current and tipped sideways quite sharply. Sharply enough that he promptly braced to remain upright. A low brace, where your hands and arms remain in close to their regular paddling position, means twisting the paddle 90° and using the flat of the blade to push on the water. John did this and the current promptly grabbed the paddle and shoved it under his boat. It happened so fast that I had to reconstruct the events by going back through the movie in my head five minutes later. John was side-on to the main force of the current. His boat tipped sideways towards the current. He braced, the paddle was caught by the water and forced under the upstream side of his boat. And so quickly that he didn’t have time to let go of his paddle, he was upside down in mid-February in the Pacific Ocean. I was already end-on to the current and was sweeping down towards him as he flipped, and we had just been through the lesson on recovery, so I was pretty confident that we both knew what to do. While John realized he was upside down, focused, and then popped his spray skirt off and performed a wet exit, I zipped in to assist his recovery. As I pulled up next to his boat, John splashed to the surface. Things had slowed so much for me that, although it had been less than thirty seconds between his flip and appearing on the surface, I was already wondering if he was having problems underwater, and whether I would have to go in and get him. But for John, things were happening much faster. By the time I got to him, he had wet-exited, come up to bump his head on the boat, gone back down, and then come up an arm’s length away from the boat.
John shook his head and swore while reaching for his boat and grabbing on to it. After all, even though he was the only person in our paddle group wearing neoprene that day, he still had taken an unexpected plunge into water that was only between seven and nine degrees Celsius. He looked up and saw me practically on top of him and the first words out of his mouth were “At least mine stayed on!” And sure enough, his sunglasses were firmly in place.
As Dennis paddled up, we let him know that things were under control, and began to position the boats for a T-recovery. In this recovery, one boat is pulled up over the other in a “T” and the water is drained from the cockpit before the boat is flipped back upright and the paddler re-enters it. This was going to be interesting in that the cockpits of both John and my boats were as long as the boats themselves. Neither boat had bulkheads installed to provide watertight flotation compartments and limit the amount of water that could be taken on. And, as both boats had been purchased second-hand, were unaware either that flotation bags were available to make up for this shortcoming, or that we needed them.
As we arranged ourselves and got the bow of John’s boat over my own, suddenly John said “Never mind.” As we had been preparing for our masterful assisted recovery, the current had been pushing us along until all of a sudden John was standing on the bottom of the channel and we were near one of the islets. Dennis and I beached our boats and John simply walked his in.
John got out of his wet shirt and put on my fleece pullover that I’d removed much earlier in the paddle. Soon he was warm enough to resume paddling, and we called the rest of our party, who were by now safely back on dry land and talking about where we would all be going for coffee after the three of us returned. We pulled back out into the current and then into Baynes Channel and back to Cadboro Bay. The return trip was taken with a little more care and attention than the trip over, and we agreed that, as John said, paddling back in another man’s clothes; “What happens on Brokeback Island, stays on Brokeback Island.” Yeah, like that was actually going to happen….
But none of this was a mistake. It’s only a mistake if someone dies, otherwise it’s a “learnable moment,” a decision that more experience would have shown to be faulty, or even an amusing anecdote. The next week when the group got back together to paddle, we all had dry bags with a dunk kit. Soon after, I had installed the bulkhead behind my seat, and flotation in the front end of my boat. Paula’s new boat had waterproof compartments fore and aft, and a longer waterline, making it a true sea kayak. And a few months later, both John and Louise had brand new Delta sea kayaks, and the paddle group was meeting in the local pool to practise wet exits and both solo and assisted recoveries.
Certainly some of these responses to the incident could have happened before John went over. But once again we didn’t know we needed to know these things until we had been through the experience. After all, we never paddled alone, and we never paddled far from shore—until we did. We never paddled in anything other than bathtub conditions—until we did. And we never had any problems—until we did.
The theory of risk homoeostasis suggests that we all have inherent levels of tolerable risk. We will go so far and no farther, our comfort zone is pre-set. But it also suggests that the more we develop our skills and abilities, the more risk we are willing to assume and so the balance between the level of risk and our skills remains the same. So, with better equipment and a better skill set, I quite cheerfully approach conditions that were out of my comfort zone a year or more ago. The waves in Cordova Channel? A regular day’s paddle now. The currents in Baynes Channel and around Chatham and Discovery? Old friends now. The risks I now assume are an order of magnitude beyond what I would have considered when I first started paddling. But then again, so are my skills and equipment.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
After a couple of days, I figured out a way to finally properly snuggle Linus.
Only then did I feel like I was finally on the road to recovery. For those first two weeks, Linus stayed near me and watched over me. There wasn't much he could do to help me, but knowing he was there made a difference. When I walked aimlessly around the house, he walked with me. When I came back from the doctor or from physio, he greeted me at the door to ask how I was feeling. When I rested after my exercises, he rested with me.
Three weeks into my recovery, Linus suddenly stopped eating. He seemed mostly okay, he just wasn't eating or drinking. Then he began staring mournfully at his water and food dishes as if he just couldn't remember what he was supposed to do. His urination, what little there was, became more painful. He became weak and his legs started giving out on him. The vet was stumped.
The only choice became sadly obvious.
Linus passed away on December 19, 2006. He was almost 17 years old.
I really miss him.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
After more than 38 hours in hospital (4 of them in surgery having my left shoulder rebuilt after a bicycle accident), the nurse says I can go home. She pulls out a bag of my clothes and says, "Here. If you need help putting these on, I'll be back in a few minute."
I have a new 22cm-long surgical incision in my left arm and shoulder, freshly sutured and covered with a large bandage. My arm is tightly held in a sling. I'm loopy on morphine. How the hell am I supposed to put clothes on?
I can start by removing my hospital gown. It's practically falling off anyway. Because of my arm, it can't be fastened properly around me. Every time I've gone to the bathroom, my ass has been hanging out for all to see.
One little shrug and it's off. Modesty dies quickly in a hospital.
What's first? Well, underwear, I guess. It normally goes on first anyway (unless you're Madonna). Don't see why a busted shoulder should make any difference.
I'm not going to be able to reach down and hook the underwear over my feet while standing up. Bending over hurts. Doing much of anything hurts. And I have no balance. While I might able to get the right foot in the right hole with the right hand, getting the left foot in the left hole with the right hand will be impossible, and trying it with the left hand would probably leave me kissing the hospital floor.
The last thing I want to do is fall down again.
I sit on the bed. In a sitting position, I can hook my underwear over my feet and pull it up my legs with my right hand. Near the top, I can stand up and pull it over my butt.
Ta da. Blue Fruit of the Loom boxers are on.
Well, this procedure worked so well for underwear, it ought to work for pants, too.
And it does. Mind you, I have to figure out how to buckle them and my belt with one hand. It's not as easy as it sounds, but not so hard either.
Socks and shoes go on at the same time, too.
Now comes the shirt. My left arm is clearly not going into any sleeve, so I put my right arm in the right sleeve and then toss the left half of my shirt over my left shoulder. With my arm against my abdomen, I button it (one-handed) as far down as I can go.
When she returns, the nurse seems surprised that I was able to do it all myself. She pretends not to recognize me -- who is this well-dressed man and what have you done with my patient?
Thus beginith my recovery.
My sister is playing taxi driver for me today (as she will for many weeks to come -- thanks, sis!).
The first order of business is to get me out. I have no idea where I am in the hospital. Left to my own devices, I might have been wandering the corridors for years trying to find the exit -- the Flying Dutchman of Jubilee Hospital, ending up a crazy old man who mutters, "I beep at airports -- wanna see my scar?" to anyone who will listen.
But no, my dreams of becoming a human derelict end quickly as my sister finds the way out.
I walk gingerly. Falling down would be a disaster right now. But my first few haltingly hesitant steps are soon replaced with more confident paces. I'm not setting any records, but I start to feel safe on my feet.
Sis has brought the van -- a good thing. I don't think the MG would have been suitable. Climbing in isn't so bad, but the next stumbling block is the seatbelt -- I can't fasten it. I can pull it around myself, but sis has to snap it into its latch.
Can't do up a shirt properly, can't fasten a seatbelt. What else can't I do?
She drives me home, apologizing the whole way for every bump, stop, turn, braking maneuver and acceleration that occurs. Actually, it's not too bad. The right turns hurt the most as the inertia pulls at my left shoulder.
Finally, home. What does a man look like arriving home after major surgery for a crunched shoulder? Like this:
The first thing to do is to make me comfortable. The obvious place is the couch with lots of blankets.
My left arm is useless, so I have to sit on the right end of the couch so that I can use my right arm on the arm rest to help push myself up when I stand. I also need some pillows to support my battered left arm.
The downside is that now I can't curl up with my cat Linus, who has missed me and clearly realized something was up. In fact, we pile up extra pillows on the left side to keep Linus at bay; he's a large cat and likes to walk on me, and god forbid he should walk on my injured shoulder. Still, being home with my cat is a great start to my recovery, and he even seems to understand that although I am injured and can't really snuggle him, I did miss him and am glad for his company.
This is pretty much how I stayed for a couple of days. Sleep was impossible. Between the dull ache in my arm and my back stiffening up, there was no sleep to be had. In fact, I considered it an improvement when I was able to move to various chairs around the house during the night and not sleep in any of them. At least I was moving. But before I worried about my first night's sleep, there was another problem that I needed to face.
I needed to pee.
My bathroom is small. Tiny. The toilet is in a small alcove with little if any maneuvering room. And the transition from standing to sitting is painful and uncomfortable. And I am still wobbly. Pulling up my pants is awkward. So I have little choice. For the time being, I'm going to pee in the sink.
A couple of sleepless nights later, I was starting to smell. I needed a shower.
The only restriction I had about showering was to try and avoid having the shower spray directly on the incision. A little collateral water damage okay. I would also have to change my dressing afterwards. My dressing looked like this:
In order to have my shower, I would have to get undressed and get my arm out of the sling. Then I would gently get in the shower and somehow do all the necessary hair and body washing one-handed, then dry off, then get dressed again. My sister volunteered to stand by if needed. I told her that if she heard a splash and a thud followed by screaming, chances are that I would be in need of some assistance.
In actuality, the shower went well. Slow and steady wins the race.
The only problem was that I couldn't get my underwear on. Because of the aforementioned limited space in the bathroom, I had not yet managed to sit down on the toilet, and sitting down was the only way I could get pants and/or underwear on. Getting tired and a little frustrated that I couldn't devise a plan for my underwear, I had no choice but to call my sister through the closed bathroom door.
"Sis, I have a problem."
"What is it?"
"I can't get my underwear on."
"How did you get them on in the hospital?"
"I was on morphine. I don't remember."
"So I thought you could hold them in front of me. I'll step into them and you can start them up my legs. I should be able to grab them when they reach my calves and I can pull them up myself."
My sister reluctantly agreed. I opened the door a crack, and passed her my underwear.
"Are you ready?" I asked. She nodded.
I opened the door, naked as a skinny-dipper at Mackenzie Bight. She knelt in front of me, holding out the underwear and averting her eyes. I stepped in and reached down to grab the waistband.
"You'll have to lift them higher. I can't reach down that far."
She leaned in a little closer, and lifted them a bit higher. Now I could grab them.
"That's great, sis, thanks. I got 'em. Don't hit your head on anything on your way up."
"Okay, glad I could--- oh, oh, you...."
She turned red and ran.
I went back into the bathroom and chuckled.
Then we changed the dressing. What did my incision look like? It looked like this:
I'm guessing 17 sutures. It's hard to tell, and they were dissolving sutures, so after a couple of weeks they were all gone anyway.
I had two big problems that first week. One, my arm was swelling up. I expected swelling around my shoulder and upper arm. That only made sense, that's where the injury and the surgery was, but the swelling was going down my arm towards my fingers, too. In fact, my fingers soon became giant white sausages. My whole arm was swollen and I was concerned, but the swelling soon passed and my arm returned to normal, Or what passes for normal these days.
The other problem was sleep. Or the lack thereof. After a couple of days, I moved off the couch and tried my bed. But nothing worked. I could not find a comfortable position or place to sleep. Worse, I was getting pretty wired from the Tylenol Extra Strength I was taking. I spent a couple of nights absolutely tripping out on the stuff. I took this picture at 3:00 one morning. Why? Because when you're basically immobile, dead dog tired, and hopped up on Tylenol, there really isn't much else to do at three AM except take your own picture.
My first physio appointment was a week after surgery. It snowed that day. Yes, my first trip out of the house with my busted shoulder and arm was on a day it snowed six inches.
At the rehab clinic, I meet Jim, my therapist. "Bike accident, eh?" he says. "Let's see what you did to yourself."
He consults my chart. "Uh huh, uh huh, hmmmm, uh huh, uh huh. Now that's interesting. Usually you don't see both of these injuries together. Usually, it's one or the other. But not both. Very unusual."
My elation upon hearing this knows no bounds.
There's not much treatment during this first session. Not much can really be done until the swelling in my arm starts subsiding. But he does ask if I have any problems.
"Can't sleep," I mumble between yawns.
"We can fix that."
He asks me to lie down on my back on the examining table, and he grabs some pillows. He sticks one under my head, a couple under my knees, and slides another one under my left arm, between it and my body.
Oh my. Suddenly, I'm totally relaxed.
That night I set up the pillows on my bed the way Jim did. I'm worried about Linus. Our ritual the past few years has been that he always jumps on the bed and curls in between my left arm and my body. If he tries that, it's going to hurt. I settle in with the light off and await Linus's arrival.
He hops up on the bed. Somehow he knows that the left side is off-limits. Without hesitating, he curls up in the crook of my right arm.
We both sleep for eight solid hours.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Over the weekend the flooding was higher than it has been for a several years. The water was even spilling over part of Interurban Road and Roy Road. Karl and I decided to take advantage of the water levels and paddle the kayaks around to see how heavy the flow was on Colquitz Creek.
We had night paddled the Flats a couple days earlier, but the water was a couple feet lower for that trip. We were surprised that we were able to paddle between the two large poplar trees at the north end of the Flats, because usually the water doesn't get that high.
This trip we enjoyed trying to get into the flow of the creek, and back out through the blackberry bushes. I even paddled across Interurban road and returned a tennis ball to a German Shepard that didn't want to get that wet.
I suggested to Karl that we might be able to go down the creek, just a bit, and then get out in Hyacinth Park, just before Marigold Road. I had my branch clippers in case the blackberries or branches got too thick. Unfortunately I forgot about Hyacinth Ave. that we would have to go under.
I went first down the creek. When I saw the water level flowing under Hyachinth Ave. it didn't look like I was going to be able to bend low enough to make it. Several things went through my head: "Which side would give me more height, the right or the left side?" "Should I give up and try to pull the kayak out of the water and out and up through the blackberries on the right or the left?" "If I went through was I going to scrap my head off?" I decide on going under the road on the left side, but it was too late. The nose of my kayak was already going for the right. The water had me sideways on the centre concrete in an instant, and there was just enough time to say, "Oh damn!" Then the pressure of the water flipped me, and I went through upside-down and backwards. A very kind lady took pictures of me on the other side, and shouted instructions for me to get out through the blackberries on the right side of the creek. (Or should I be saying river?)
As I managed to get out of the worst of the flow, and balance on some underwater tree branches, Karl arrived, having dragged himself and his kayak up through the blackberries before the tunnels under Hyacinth Ave. Karl, relieved that I was still alive, pointed out that my paddle was on the other side of the river. Since that paddle cost me $139.00, I had no wish to lose it to the current, so I pushed the kayak into the flow and followed it in an attempt to reach my paddle. I continue down stream a good 30 metres farther than my paddle, before getting to the other side of the current. I figured that I would pull myself out of the river and then go back for my paddle.
Getting to the shore was more work than I thought it would be. I kept getting tangled in underwater bushes and tree branches. I was almost there when the kind lady, who was very worried about me, pointed out that my paddle had come untangled and was passing me on its way down stream. The kind lady said, "Don't worry. I'll get it at the next bridge.
I didn't think she would be able to catch my paddle, so tiredly I pushed back into the current in pursuit my paddle. I caught up to it, because it snagged on the some more bushes. By this time I can barely feel my legs and arms, and it is getting hard to hold onto my kayak and paddle. My boots are again falling off my feet and I am snagged in some branches and bushes. Each time I try to grab a branch, to pull myself a long, it breaks off in my hands. I was slowly breaking all the branches around me, and then watching them float away with the current. I attempted to pull my boots back on again, but only got them part way. It made it difficult to swim, but I wasn't going to give up on the boots yet.
The whole time Karl had been offering to come in after me, but I told him to stay dry, and that I was just tangled. I gave up on pulling the kayak after me, and instead pushed it before me through the branches. I eventually got the kayak close enough to shore so that Karl could grab the front and pull me part way in. I realized that there was something solid under my hands and that it was the concrete path. I pulled myself onto the path and sat in the foot and a half of water that covered the path. Since at that moment I was too tired to stand, I sat in the cold water and reflected on some rather bad decisions.
We emptied my kayak, carried both Karl's and my kayaks back to the Flats. By this time I was shivering, wet, and frozen. We climbed back in to our kayaks and paddled back to our side of the Flats. The wind picked up, so when we pulled the kayaks out of the water, I told Karl we had to get them home right away or I wasn't going to be able to keep moving.
We got the kayaks back in the basement, and I went straight up to the bathtub, turned on the shower, lukewarm, and stripped. Once the shaking returned to just shivering, I went and sat in the hot tub with Karl until I was afraid I wouldn't have the strength to get out.
The next day I found that I had many more bruises than I had thought, and I ached all over, but it had been an adventure, and I will cherish the memories of it.
The kind lady who took pictures of my adventure offered to get her daughter to email me the pictures, but she either forgot my email address or the pictures didn't turn out.
I had taken some pictures with my waterproof, and after the dunking Karl took a few pictures of what was left of me. Those pictures developed as solid grey; maybe the water was just too cold for the film. All I have is memories.
This picture is from January 8th, 2007, a couple days after my Colquitz River dunking.
Karl tests the current near the outflow from the Flats. I stay well back and take pictures.
Monday, January 01, 2007
I could see the light, beckoning, calling.
I have not had any surgery or anesthesia since having my tonsils removed as a child. I have no recollection of being under.
"Go towards the light."
Sometimes things go wrong in surgery. You don't wake up. Could this be happening now? Could the surgery have gone horribly wrong and now I was to find out the answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?
"Go towards the light."
Or was something else happening?
The nurse comes by and offers me a drink of water. It will be my last drink before surgery. She asks when the last time was that I went to the washroom. It's been hours, so she suggests that I go.
She helps me out of bed, and I stagger along the floor, my busted left arm and shoulder in a sling, my right arm dragging my IV rack. I make it out of my little area, but I have no idea where the washroom is.
"Which way?" I ask.
She points to my left. A door is open, with a light shining behind it.
"Go towards the light."
"A fine thing to say to a person hours before surgery," I harrumph.
"Oh great," she mumbles, "it's going to be one of those nights."
It's amazing how much your life can change in an instant. This morning, I was dreaming of an 18' kayak. Now, after tumbling off my bike, I'm wondering if I can go to the bathroom without screaming.
Kayaking is a distant memory.
There was no screaming. In fact, the entire process was mostly painless. I return to bed, and sleep in fits and starts. I awake around 7, about 45 minutes before surgery. Breakfast arrives for the other patients, but not for me. The nurse warns me that should a breakfast accidentally arrive for me, I shouldn't eat it. I haven't eaten in 18 hours now, but I'm not hungry. In fact, I will go about 30 hours between meals. I was never hungry.
The nurse returns to explain the procedure. Around 7:45, the anesthesiologist will come and sedate me. (This never happens.) They will wheel me into the waiting area, then the operating room. The anesthesiologist will then inject something into my IV and put me out, and from my point of view, I will wake up right away in the recovery room. No time will pass for me. I may be a little disoriented, but it should pass quickly. No dreams.
The anesthesiologist does arrive, with questions for me, plus papers for me to sign. Then an orderly comes and wheels me into PreOp.
I don't give it a lot of thought, but it does occur to me that I may be facing my last conscious moments. Mistakes do happen. Things sometimes go wrong. But I'm resigned to my fate. It's in the lap of the gods.
I'm wheeled into the orthopedic surgical room. The operating table is narrower than I thought it would be and there's some discussion of how to transfer me from my bed to the table. Finally, I say that I will walk over to the table. Someone helps me up and off the bed, and I cross over to the table and lie down.
It hurts, of course. Lying down on my back is the most painful position. Someone calls for "shoulder extensions"; the bed is so narrow that my shoulders hang off the sides, and for my mangled left shoulder, this isn't helping.
I'm not aware that the shoulder extensions ever arrive, and now the anesthesiologist has my attention. He explains that during surgery, they will be freezing the areas they operate on. This will reduce the pain when I come around. I'm all for that.
He starts by poking something between my left shoulder blade and neck. He's trying to find a certain nerve or muscle group, I guess. He wants me to tell him when I feel a tingling like a mild electric shock.
"No. Wait. There's a bit of tingle. By the shoulder blade."
"Okay, good. That tells that I'm in the right area--"
Then I open my eyes.
Which is odd because I do not remember closing them.
But my first sensation is a good one. My left arm, even though it feels sore and swollen, also feels attached and whole again.
I focus on a clock on the wall. It's almost noon. Four hours have passed in a blink.
There's a machine beside me automatically checking my vitals. I can feel it inflating to check my blood pressure.
I glance over at my left arm. I have a long bandage stretching from above my shoulder to half-way down my arm.
A nurse appears. She says everything went well, but the surgery was four hours, not the planned two and a half. They found additional damage in my shoulder to repair. They kept re-locating my shoulder and it kept falling out. So in addition to screws and a plate in my arm, they also performed a Bankart Repair. This is a procedure that ties a strip of muscle across the joint to hold the arm in place in the shoulder socket. I don't know it at the time, but this will slow down my recovery, and probaly permanently decrease my range of motion.
The nurse leaves as she tries to find a bed for me; they did the surgery even though they did not have a room to put me in afterwards.
What else did they do to me? They put in a plate and screws to fix my arm. They repaired a small break in the shoulder socket; unfortunately it was where some tendons and ligaments were attached so they had to be repaired. Also, a lot of muscle had to be re-attached as it had come away from the bone. Here's what my shoulder looks like now:
Yes, the plate and pins are permanent. I will never have an MRI and I will beep at airports.
The nurse returns, they found a bed for me. I ask for a drink of water. My throat is killing me -- it's raw from the breathing tube they had down it.
I'm wheeled to my room, pumped full of antibiotics and morphine. I'm tired and I feel like sleeping, yet I also don't want to sleep. Mostly, I just sit dazed, occasionally nodding off.
Karl will visit me around 5:00 PM -- I spent more of his visit asleep than awake. Others will visit me. Louise, Brenda, my niece Kai all stop by. Paula and Bernie visit. For some perverse reason, Bernie is mostly concerned that my right hand still works. Paula thinks I look like I've been hit in the face with a sledge hammer. Not that there's anything wrong with my face, but because the shock of this life-altering moment is still sinking in.
Dinner arrives around the same time Karl does. It's a fish patty thing, which wasn't very good. The mashed potatoes are excellent. The nurse tells me to go easy -- it's my first meal in 30 hours. I nibble at it.
Details are a blur, but I am constantly poked, prodded and checked by nurses. Everything seems to be normal.
I'm sharing my room with three other patients. Across from me is a young guy who's here for the long haul. He's just ordered a tv. He knows all the nurses by their first names. They are asking him for advice on his course of treatment. I'm guessing dialysis.
Beside me is an old lady. I'm never sure what is wrong with her, but she seems to have all sorts of ailments. She is constantly being taken out for tests.
The third roommate is an older man who's left left hand got into a fight with a table saw. I give the victory to the man only because all his fingers are still attached.
Afternoon fades into evening, and into night. It's early in the morning now. And I need to pee. There's no nurse around, so I slowly sit up. My back is killing me. I carefully stand and walk to the washroom, dragging my IV rack. A nurse has already helped me do this a couple of times, so I already got the hang of it. When I return, I stop at the window and look out. I can't see much -- most of the view is blocked by the roof of another part of the hospital. But I can see the tops of some trees, some streetlights, and clouds.
I miss being outside.
And it will be along time before life becomes normal again.
I carefully climb back into bed.
Sleep eludes me.
In the morning, I go down for x-rays. It is there that I see for the first time the steel and pins that are now part of my arm.
Holy jeez. I'm bionic or something.
The rest of thr day is a blur. More drugs, more pills. More blood tests. They want me out -- they need the bed. In mid-afternoon, I get the word. I can go home.
My long recovery begins.