what happened

sunday i went for a walk down the beaches of halkidiki. past the end of the sands i came to a path that led up and inland, and i followed it for a time until i came to a private cottage and decided to turn back.

the sea was on my left and i watched the blue water from my high vantage point as i walked - it was quiet there, far from the restaurants and resorts. i came to be very near the edge of the beach, marked by a long rock jutting out into the sea, which i noticed two men were using as a platform to enter the water for a swim.

i took a step with my left foot and looked down to see the dry ground crumble beneath it. i shifted my weight to my right, and the earth there collapsed too, and suddenly i was falling.

i knew what was happening and tried to catch myself. almost immediately, i put a hand out to grab a root in the cliff face. it swung me into the rock wall and the force either knocked me back or pulled the rung out - i’m not sure - and again i was in free fall. facing up to the shrinking edge of the cliff, i saw my hat and my shoes fall off of me and float away. later i thought about what that must have looked like - a firework of new era and birkenstock.

in the moment though, the only resonating thought i had was one of disbelief. a part of me thought “this isn’t happening. i’m still standing up there, and this is just a fantasy built of imagination and action movie memories”. the rest of me felt the air rushing past, and saw the dust i had let loose into it, and knew it was all real. this all had happened within about two seconds.

i hit the ground and heard myself scream. they were shouts of agony; first in the panic of fear and shock, then groaning whelps of pain.

i had landed on my back, and felt waves of pain all up my left side. my hip was shrieking for attention, but i was immobilized - i was wearing a backpack, which had landed high up, pulling my arms up to my head from my armpits. the padded bag caught my head, my neck, and the rest of my spine, and i have no doubt that it saved my life. 

the adrenaline surged and my first aid mind took over. i looked down and wriggled my toes, then my ankles and my knees. “no big breaks,” i told myself. by now, one of the swimmers was wading through the shallow water. he approached slowly, trying to prepare himself mentally for a sight of mangled gore, i think. i yelled to him “i’m ok”, and asked him to help me up. he looked at me a moment and said “no english” then went back to his friend.

in a situation where a back injury is possible, you’re supposed to leave the ‘victim’ in the position you found them - moving the spine could worsen their condition to huge effect. i was determined to prove to myself that i was ok though, so, left alone, i pulled my arms out of the backpack straps. the right one came easily, but i had to use it to pull out the other. i sat up wincing and looked at my left arm to find my shoulder two or three inches lower than it should have been.

upright, i was able to look at the terrain around me. i was on a beach with huge, embedded boulders all over it. i’d landed on some combination of sand and stone, amazingly right in between three huge exposed rocks- one on either side and one just above my head. the space between them was only maybe three feet wide and i’d managed to fall just where i could fit.

i pushed myself up to my feet and hobbled away from the landing zone, holding my left arm up at the elbow. i sat in the surf and let the salty water burn the cuts on my legs as they washed dirt and sand out of them. i sat there resting my injured arm for about an hour, until a fireman finally stripped down and waded out to retrieve me, and we walked back through the rising tide.

as he strapped a neck brace on me and loaded me into an ambulance, i asked the medic how high he thought the drop was. “nine or ten meters” he said. 30-32 feet. 3-4 storeys.

i spent the rest of the day being shuttled from hospital to hospital, being x rayed and having blood sampled. i arrived at agio pavlos hospital at night, where they finally let the immobilizing neck brace come off. they injected my thumb with anaesthetic and cut off the nail that had been bent backwards. they told me my shoulder is broken in two places, and put the arm in a sling, but also that there are no other major injuries. they let me sit up for the first time in eight hours. the first doctor said i had an angel looking out for me. the second said i was a strong man.

i’m writing from that same hospital, where i’ve spent the past 36 hours resting with a morphine drip in my arm. the director of orthopaedics met with me an hour ago and said i can be discharged this afternoon to be transported to a toronto hospital as soon as tomorrow. it’s not how i imagined returning home, but i look forward to spending my recovery with family and friends.

i have a long road ahead of me but i’m feeling good. i’m able to walk (slowly) and can function most things with just the one hand. there’s lots of little cuts and scrapes and bruises which would probably hurt if not overshadowed by my shoulder, but i know it will all heal. i’ve likely got months of physiotherapy ahead, to re-train my arm’s strength and flexibility, but i’m ready to take that on. there are so many ways that the accident could have been devastatingly worse, so my focus will stay on the good fortune of my survival.