There’s an art to selecting vacation reads, especially when vacationing with children. Short fiction is good. Paperbacks that you don’t mind battering are even better. And Dorothy Project published Barbara Comyns Carr and Joanna Walsh, so they can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. And so I was up to my knees in the first story of Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest just hours before I nearly sliced my foot off.
It was our last day on this trip, last chance for the beach, and while the sea was too choppy for swimming, it was just choppy enough to jump the waves and splash around, and perfect for surreptitious trips wading way way out downcurrent from anything resembling people and pulling one’s suitbottom sideways while releasing a little Hot Habanero from the crampy back door, the most sanitary toilet in all of the Caribbean. Don’t judge. You’d have done the same. A tip for you: rinse your dishes better.
So that might have been what I’d just finished doing when a jutted rock snuck up and paid me back for despoiling the seaside with a slice to the bottom of the foot.
And I had just ordered a mojito before getting in the water.
The gash was impressive, and adrenaline allowed me to sit there for a few minutes letting the waves flap it around. There was something sinewy dangling in it, muscle I guess. Then I snapped to it and realized I probably needed some kind of medical care, and had no idea how to go about receiving it in Cuba.
A guy wearing a Laguna Beach Lifeguard muscle shirt was fetched to the shore as I sat in the sea with foot propped. I needed to shit again but was fairly certain there wasn’t much left in my guts, and the group of vacationers from the south side of the island had taken interest in us, and our things, and weren’t sharing their cocaine. I told my Guy to stay with the kids and the kids to stay with our bag, and limped off with the Laguna Beach lifeguard, though who knows.
The Laguna Beach lifeguard limped me up to the main road where he got the attention of a cop, who in turn hailed a horse taxi and instructed its driver to take us to the medical clinic, and apparently when the cops do this, it means no cost, and so basically I was in an ambulance, with hooves.
I’ll spare the details of a medical clinic in a developing country, because it’s what you’d imagine. The doctor spoke English about as well as I get by in Spanish, so we managed. Procedurally it went down the old way: iodine, minimal water bath, tweezers in the gash and bits of displaced tissue moved where they belong, lifeguard holding down my leg so that the doctor could administer the anesthetic, which had to go deep, and the sutures, which went a little deeper.
There’s some good, relatable middle-aged woman body obsession in the first story of the Jen George book, and while inhaling an alcohol cloth so as not to faint, in a wet swimsuit failing to cover enough of my own gravity-fed mom-body and realizing I should probably put a little more attentive care into bikini area management, I allowed myself a mild hallucination — really just a little one — of a visit from the story’s own Guide. It whispered more-or-less the same things as those to Jen’s Host, how I probably wouldn’t be in nearly so much trouble if I’d lose another ten pounds, how if I hadn’t ordered the mojito on the beach (fuck! I hoped I didn’t leave that waiter stiffed) I wouldn’t have needed to void my bowel one last time and anyway when was I reduced to the sort of person to actually shit in the sea, how I’d think about writing about this experience but actually never would bother, would only turn it into a mildly amusing cocktail anecdote, if I made it home without bleeding to death, how pathetic it would be to die by bleeding out from a cut in the foot after having diarrhea in the sea, about how much shitting of oneself happens in the books I publish and whether such a death would at least inspire a good thesis. And then, words of comfort: at least this didn’t happen to the kids: The Big One technically isn’t mine to break, and The Little One hasn’t yet experienced medical emergency (Jesus! That will no doubt happen some day! Being a parent is the fucking pits!). And at least it didn’t happen to my Guy (a real Tough Guy but not an easy patient). And then I snapped out of it and took another look around the clinic: a perfectly capable doctor trying to distract me while digging into my gnarled foot but without a shared language, we resorted to food.
Do I like mangos? Yes, I like mangos.
Do you like mojito (the Guy later said it was good and strong)? No, but the doctor likes Cuba Libre.
You have pain? Yes, I have some pain.
The relief that it’s mine and not the kids’ is almost enough to make it disappear, but she needs to do another suture and this is outside the area she’d anesthetized, so not for long.
Also in the clinic: the Laguna Beach lifeguard remaining the entire time and serving as de facto scrub nurse, passing scissors and cutting tape and holding legs without worry of malpractice. The doctor insisting that the treatment was free and that I stay off the foot, repeated ten different ways until dumbed down to my level of Spanish. The concern that without a cop around to hail a horse cab, I’d have to pay for it and am clearly not carrying cash. The lack of money for facilities and supplies but not of ability, me, an idiot for needing that skill, needing any services when so do colicky babies and old ladies with blood pressure concerns.
What they don’t have:
— good American pharmaceutical painkillers, my god
— access to Internet from my phone, preventing me from incessantly asking Dr Google how long it takes for infection to set in, for gangrene to form, symptoms of sepsis, dangers of shared medical instruments, etc.
— enough gauze and tape to cover an injured human foot
That fucking sea! I’d shit all over it again if only I could walk.
Instead, foot is now elevated, a slow bleed through the last gauze in town, and I’m finishing Jen’s book, weak Cuba Libre in hand to toast the doctor who saved me, ready to publish more works of varying levels of effluvial incontinence. If I’ve posted this, I’ve even made it home. Thank you, Jen George, for the companion pages and for maybe saving my life.
Lead photo by Bob Jolly.