A paddle was suggested a few days before Christmas, and so I met Florence and Matt in Bay Bulls and we soon geared up and were on the water. The bottom of the harbour was flat calm but as I looked out the harbour I could see the effects of the swell along the shore further out. I wondered if we would be able to get inside Baboul Rocks.
I felt stiff from the hike I did the day before, and so I intentionally paddled closer to the shoreline in the little bits of action to try loosen up before we paddled out to far.
We had not paddled very long, fifteen or twenty minutes. I had been watching the waves as we approached a rock garden and decided it was quite doable to go in and have a little fun. Seconds after I went in a couple bigger waves came in, and North Cape Jenny was pulled out from under me as the water quickly sucked out and I found myself over on my starboard side. I braced and righted the kayak. I paddled forward and the waves just kept crashing in, draining out, and coming back in, seemingly bigger each time. This was going to be a little ride! I was pushed around some and ended up sitting to close to the rocky shore for comfort when the water drained out again, and there were some exposed rocks in front of me, preventing me from moving forward. That feeling of “sitting like a dead duck’ came over me. But I readied myself to make a dash over those rocks when the next wave came in and ride the receding water out…
Well, the next wave came in alright, but it authoritatively picked Jenny and I up and shoved us toward the shore. I knew it would be a short ride and I sufficiently leaned against the power of the wave and braced, intentionally allowing my hull to take the brunt of the impact against the rock shoreline. After the impact I found myself under the kayak, and I started to set up to roll up… but my left arm just wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do!
It’s funny what one thinks about while under a kayak, and the world is all white and bubbly. As I was feeling for my spray skirt loop I was trying to remember the last time I had to bail… that time Clyde did the recue in Tors Cove… was it two or three years ago? Was it March? A good pull and the skirt came off and I surfaced.
The water was still coming in and out and I positioned myself so the kayak was between me and the shore. But Jenny and I were being pushed around; I lost my footing a couple times. I couldn’t use my left arm with any sense but was able to hold my paddle in my left hand and wrangle the kayak with my right. I was thinking I must have pulled something in that arm.
I managed to sit on the rocky shore, feet in the water, and put my paddle up high enough so it wouldn’t get pulled out and then I manoeuvered the kayak into position so I could hold the stern toggle. Matt was yelling to me… “Do you want a tow?” My initial plan was to push Jenny out to him and then swim out with my paddle for the rescue.
The water settled enough and Matt came closer and with my right arm I pushed Jenny to him with a hard shove. When I pushed I felt great pain in my left arm and shoulder. With that pain I quickly knew I would not be able to swim out for the rescue. It was time for a B-Plan.
I got up out of the water and held my paddle like a walking staff in my right hand, as I stepped along the icy and slippery rocks. I thought I would walk back along the rocky shore where it was calmer and get back into the kayak.
Every step I took sent a little jolt of pain through my arm and shoulder area, and I wondered if I had been bashed against a rock, but I couldn’t remember an impact on my body at any time. I surrendered to the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to paddle. My arm was weird and tingly and just kind of hanging off me. I tried to hold my paddle in my left hand at one point but couldn’t do it. Florence and Matt would have to tow me back if I did get back in Jenny; likely one of them would have to hold my kayak to make sure I stayed upright.
Matt was calling out to me… “Are you okay?” I answered in the negative and pointed to my arm… I called to him to tow the kayak back and I that I would road walk (we were not that far from the put-in). I heard them talking, devising their plan of action. Florence was saying she would paddle back and get her car, so I knew she would be coming up the road for me. “Do you have your radio?” Matt asked… Nope. My rechargeable battery had stopped working a while ago and I still hadn’t picked up alkaline batteries for it… I searched for the best path through the rocks to the houses above as I gingerly made my way. That arm seemed to hurt a little more with every movement…
As I walked along the road I tried to move my arm to access the damage. My bicep and tricep felt funny but my shoulder didn’t hurt that much, and I couldn’t remember hitting anything hard. I wondered how long this would take to heal up; I had been contemplating a camp trip during the Christmas break. It was a slow walk.
I was maybe half way back when I saw Florence coming up the road. I guess she didn’t see me because she stopped, hoped out of her car, and was looking over the bank. She must have thought I was walking along the shore... Then she turned around and saw me as I walked up to her… can’t remember what was said, but she took my paddle and helped get my PFD off, and drove me back to the put-in.
When we got out of the car Florence grabbed a blanket and tried to put it over my head!!! “I’m not cold” I told her. But she figured I must have been as I was in the water for a bit. Then she got a thermos of homemade turkey soup out of her car. I guess it was her lunch. Have to say that it was really good, although I could only drink the broth as I only had one working hand. I guess she figured when someone is hurt you just gotta keep them warm and fed….
I started to try to get my drysuit off, but that arm just would not work and was painful. Florence carefully helped me with that. Peeling off the drysuit was an agonizing event! She had to pull off my boots too. I managed to get my legs into my pants by myself but couldn’t get them done up. Florence had to help me finish getting dressed. (We’ve since joked about “that time Florence had to dress me…”.)
By the time Florence had me straightened away Matt was back at the cars. With my drysuit off and my street clothes on, I put my right hand on my bicep, feeling around, and worked up to my shoulder… I could feel something was out of place, like a bone was sticking out… This was the first time I realized that I had actually dislocated my shoulder!! Well that meant a trip to the hospital, and a plan was quickly hatched. Florence would drive me in my car, and Matt would follow behind. As I sat in the passenger seat of my car they got out of their drysuits and started to load up the gear. Sitting there I finally had a chance to relax, at least as much as I could. I tried to put on my seatbelt but couldn’t.
The pain was increasing. I guess ‘relaxing’ there caused the adrenaline of the preceding events to wear off, or maybe just not being active allowed my body to feel the pain that had been there all along. Nevertheless, I was glad when Florence jumped in and we started moving.
I can’t remember much of the conversation as we drove to St. Clair’s. I could not get any relief from the mounting pain no matter which way I tried to sit or position my arm. By the time we got to St. Clair’s the pain was quite excruciating at times. She walked me into the Emergency Department when we got there and then returned to Matt waiting outside. She dropped my car at my house and then Matt drove her back to Bay Bulls to get her car.
Standard procedure occurred in the Emergency Department; sign in, give them the particulars… and wait your turn. I had told them I was one-hundred percent sure my shoulder was dislocated, but the nurse on the desk said they couldn’t do anything until x-rays were taken to verify. So I sat in the waiting room, trying to breathe through the pain. It was radiating into my left chest by then, and I had numbness in my arm and hand. My hand looked discoloured too, and now and then it would shake a little.
About an hour passed and they took me for x-rays, then back to the waiting area. Maybe it was the moving around to/from the x-ray department but I was feeling pain like I had not experienced before. There was no relief from it and at times I felt that I might actually throw up, maybe even pass out. I tried to control it by breathing, tapping my feet in some sort of rhythm on the floor, and focusing on objects… can’t say anything really helped but it gave me something to do while waiting.
Finally someone came and said they would bring me into a room in back and get me set up to pop my shoulder back in. I was hoping someone had a gun back there to just put me down! It was only a short walk to ‘the room’ but it was awfully painful.
“We can cut your shirt off, or we can try to remove it…” the Nurse said. I’ve had that polypropylene shirt and microfleece sweater since just after I started kayaking and it was worth trying to save them. I figured there was no way this could hurt any worse. The Nurse gingerly helped me but when it came time to pull my injured arm out of the sleeves an awful shot of pain went through me and I called out in agony! But the shirt and sweater were off and I felt a silly sense of accomplishment…
I looked at my shoulder and it looked to me like there was a bone that wanted out, trying to push out of my skin… The Nurse said she would have to put in an I.V. and I asked her if they could give me something for the pain before they popped it back in. My experience with dislocated shoulders was only through movies, where someone just contorted the arm and popped things back in place, with great screams of pain by the injured person, or the hero of the movie would slam his shoulder against a wall to put his shoulder back in place and carry on fighting the villains… “Oh, we’re gonna put you out” she said… “It’ll hurt too much if we don’t and you won’t feel a thing…” Friggin’ movies… It took the nurse four attempts to get the needle in; three tries in my hand and then a final go in my arm…
The doctor gave instruction as to how much medication to give me, and someone said “it won’t be long now”. The half-dozen faces around the bed went fuzzy and I blinked… but only one time. “We’re all done, Mr. Fillier.” I looked at my shoulder. The protruding bone was gone, and I was in a tube sling, with my arm bound around my body. The pain was gone! They sent me back for more x-ray’s and kept me around for most of an hour, until they could check the x-rays, and my daughter came to pick me up.
The next couple days I was pretty sore and couldn’t move my arm at all. Then each day it was a little less sore and I could start to use my hand to hold things, but I was told not to lift anything, basically not to use the arm until I had my follow-up appointment in ten days with orthopedics.
Almost a week after the incident occurred, Ol’ Wobbly picked me up to go get a coffee. Of course, we talked about my incident, about things that were in my favour, and how it could have been worse… It’s easy enough to sit and contemplate what could’ve been done differently, or think about how worse it could have been, but the fact is that kayaking, like any outdoor sport, carries with it certain risks. We humans feel alive when outdoors and subjecting ourselves to real, and perceived, risky adventures. It makes us feel a little more alive. I mean, really, what is the alternative?