On my first wave, I didn’t make the drop, and my leash ripped right off my foot. I swam towards the shore over the shallow reef, hoping to save my board from the rocks. Just as I had secured my board and turned around to paddle back over the reef, I side swiped something very spiky with my left foot.
I kept paddling out past the surf. When I finally looked down, I saw a cluster of little blue-purple dots covering my heel and ankle. There were no spikes protruding from my foot, only an urchin’s tattoo indicating where each spine had entered and broken off. I gave up on trying to surf, rode the whitewater in, and limped over the reef to the beach.
After hobbling my way back to the car with Dylan, we had to decide what to do. Our first idea was to get my eyebrow tweezers and have Dylan try to remove them. The always terrifying, post-injury Google search produced some articles advising the use of vinegar or pee to dissolve the calcium carbonate of the spines. Relief! Maybe we would be able to treat the wound without seeing a doctor. But common sense got the better of us, we drove to the nearest medical clinic after consulting a few articles recommending antibiotics to decrease the risk of infection from deep, puncture wounds.
I’ll take a quick moment here to express my true and undying love for Maps.me, a free iPhone app providing downloadable maps that can be accessed offline. Maps.me, you never fail to take us through the skinniest, steepest and least trafficked road in every city. You consistently underestimate the time needed to arrive at our destination. We’re fairly certain you can’t distinguish the difference between a dirt and a paved road. Once, you encouraged us to use a nonexistant border crossing. However, on this day, you delivered! I entered ‘cliníca’ in the search bar and you found something about two and a half miles away. We were skeptical that we found find anything at the provided GPS coordinates. But we were very pleasantly surprised by the Roberto Clemente medical clinic, a clean and organized nonprofit offering medical services on an ability-to-pay basis.
After explaining the circumstances of the blue dots on my foot to the doctor, she brought me to the sala de emergencía. There was a sign on the door prohibiting acompañantes from entering the room so Dylan waited outside.
She explained to me that it was better to remove the spines, since the spines had gone fairly deep into my foot. I lay flat on the table while they used some local anesthetic to numb the area. The first hour went smoothly. I could feel pinching and tapping deep in my foot, as they used needles to clear space around the spine, and eventually a tweezer to pull the spine out bit by bit.
Sea urchin spines aren’t like splinters, they are barbed in the opposite direction of the point. Meaning that removing them isn’t as simple as pulling them out in one piece.
By the second hour, my doctor has commissioned the help of another doctor. As the local anesthetic began to wear off, I could feel the needle’s pokes or the twisted of a foreign object more and more profoundly. I eventually asked if Dylan could get my some Tylenol from the car to help with the pain. After retrieving the Tylenol, he stayed in the room, narrating the progress of the quasi-operation.
I started to yelp in pain. The tingly, numb feeling, that I had come to know and love after my fair share of surgical procedures, was gone after the first hour. I could distinctly feel the motions of the doctors’ needles probing deep into the soft, muscle tissue around my ankle, and the corresponding movement of the spine flicking back into place, refusing to budge. During the removal of the largest spine, I had a strange, but resolute conviction that the spine was lodged into my Achilles tendon and that removing it would sever my tendon irreparably. I broke into a sweat of the sort that only David Foster Wallace can truly describe, that began to smell faintly of sharp cheddar.
From that point on, I only felt the glorious pinching sensation of a local anesthetic injection, after my yells and squirming inhibited their progress.
When they began to throw all bloodied gauze in the trash, the whole procedure was done. We thanked the two doctors, as they gave me my after care instructions and antibiotics prescription. The costs of the emergency room visit, the supplies used and the antibiotics came out to $80 USD. Since I have travel medical insurance, I should be able to get the money reimbursed.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have another experience quite like it – an operation in which I was both conscious and acutely aware of the movement of surgical instruments inside of my body. While I would never willingly inflict harm on myself, we do spend a lot of time trying to find the ‘undiscovered’ in the countries we visit. Maybe we found it in Nicaragua.