Sit down and grab a nice cup of tea kids – it’s story time. And no – you haven’t heard this one before. This is not your typical fairytale, but it’s close. I am going to tell you the story about how one summer I became The Little Mermaid and lost my voice.
Once upon a long weekend in summer, my friend Shannon and I wanted to take a road trip to Vancouver Island. We wanted to visit Tofino, a small town on the island, to go surfing.
Surfing? In Canada?
That would be correct. There are not many places that you can go surfing in Canada, but Tofino is one of them – and it’s world-renowned. Since Tofino is on an island, we had to take a ferry-boat there and then still drive about another four hours. I promise it’s worth the effort, though.
When we got to Tofino, we settled into our campsite just steps from the Pacific Ocean. Amazing! We took it easy for the first night, enjoying our campsite and saving our energy for a full day of surfing the next day.
In the morning, we rented some boards, from one of the many surf shops around town, strapped them to the top of our vehicle and headed to Cox Bay Beach. Because we were in Canada – known for being cold – we had to wear wetsuits. I found the extra weight of the wet suit made it more difficult to jump up onto my surfboard.
Besides the annoyance of wearing a wetsuit, the waves were perfect for learning. They were about four to five feet high and there was enough time to line up and prepare between each wave. Shannon and I helped each other at first, giving each other pointers…but mainly watching each other bail. Once we started getting the hang of it, we went off and did our own thing.
There was one point while I was out on the surf when I saw an amazing wave coming my way. I decided to go for it. I lined my board up and began paddling. I caught the wave perfectly and jumped up on my board to ride it in.
Catching a good wave is a beautiful, electric feeling! I felt like I was part of the wave as I glided along on top of it. At the end of the wave I relinquished into the water and felt the cold water receive me.
I came up from the water and went to grab my surf board that was floating just in front of me. As soon as I reached out my hand, a strong wave came out of nowhere. It was fierce and ferociously knocked my surfboard into me – straight in the throat. It was as ig my surf board karate-chopped my in the neck. With the force I was knocked under the cold water.
As I was underwater, I felt a surge of pain swell up in my throat. I tried swimming to the surface. I was out of air and terrified that I wouldn’t be able to breathe once I reached the surface. My throat was throbbing with pain.
I finally reached the surface and brought my head and out of the water. I was in shock and out of breath.
I tried to inhale.
My lungs filled with air. A huge sense of relief came over me. Still, the pain was throbbing in my throat and tears filled my eyes – rolling down my already wet face. I wanted out of the water.
I leaned on my surfboard for support – weary of its movement – and walked out of the water slowly while trying to swallow the torture in my throat. Slowly I made it to shore and collapsed in the sand.
I sat there alone and in pain – scared that my throat might close up at any minute. I didn’t know if I was even able to speak. I knew that I had to get help.
I looked out into the ocean for Shannon and saw her far out on her surfboard riding a wave. As she finished her ride, she looked up to find me and when she spotted me, waved in excitement at her accomplishment. I hated to ruin her moment but instead of showing her a supportive thumbs up I signaled for her to come in because I direly needed her help. Right away, she realized that something was wrong and came into shore to meet me.
I couldn’t explain to her what had happened because the pain in my throat was too agonizing. I used hand motions and tiny whisper to try to explain to her what had happened. Shannon didn’t waste anytime – she quickly got me out of my wetsuit to drive me to the hospital.
When we arrived to the hospital, I was quickly admitted. It was one of the most laid back hospitals that I have ever been to – the doctor was literally wearing shorts and a t-shirt. ‘Dr. Casual’ checked my body for any major injuries and as his hands neared my throat he went very slowly and gently. Even though he was extremely careful, the second he touched my throat I slapped his hands away.
Immediately, the pain in my throat increased and surged down into my chest. The pain was so overwhelming and I broke into tears. But to cry hurt my throat, too. I felt paralyzed by the pain.
After taking a few deep and calming breaths, the doctor managed walk me over to a bed. Once the pain dulled down they took me for an X-ray. The X-ray technician told me that I reminded her of Ariel from The Little Mermaid because I was little and could’t speak.
I thought this was hilarious because I had told everyone that my summer wish was to turn into a mermaid. Be careful what you wish for!
The X-ray didn’t end up showing us what was wrong with my throat because I had damaged soft tissue. Next, they pulled out an ultrasound to see if they could get a better idea of what damage I had done. The second that they pressed the ultrasound to my neck the same unbearable pain came rushing back and the tears automatically came with it. They decided that an ultrasound was not going to happen.
A nurse came to put an IV in me and gave me morphine to help me deal with the pain. The doctor told me that I may have damaged my trachea and may need surgery. They called for an ambulance to come and pick me up to transfer me to Nanaimo Hospital – four hours away! There was a specialist in Nanaimo that would do a CT scan on my throat to decide if I needed surgery.
This was awful news and meant that our Tofino trip was over. Mine was already over but this meant that – my surfing buddy – Shannon’s was now, too. On top of that, Shannon had to go back to the campsite to pack up all of our things, return the surfboards, and then follow the ambulance all the way to Nanaimo.
While Shannon was doing all that I was laying down in the back of an ambulance, a ride that would last four hours. The ambulance ride was a bit awkward. The paramedic was really nice and chatting with me but I was high on morphine and didn’t have a voice to talk with. He seemed to enjoy talking to me though despite the lack of engagement on my end – and even saw a black bear out the window.
When we finally rolled into the hospital is was about 10 pm at night. Luckily, my Aunt – who lives in Nanaimo – was there to meet Shannon (who had followed behind) and I.
Apparently, while waiting my Aunt overheard all the nurses wondering how in the world I managed to damage my throat. Story of my life. I feel like every time I go to the hospital it’s because of some freak accident that even manages to surprise the nurses.
I went to a room where the ENT doctor waiting for me. He pulled out a funny looking mechanism with a long cord at the end. I took one look at it and realized it was a camera – and it was going down my throat!
He took the camera and started putting it up my nose while telling me to relax – not the first thing that crosses your mind when I have a camera shoved up your nose. The long camera went up my nose and down my throat – UGH!!!
After surviving the camera incident, they took me in for a CT scan. The doctor came out and told me the results. No surgery! The bad news, however, was that my vocal cords were basically just two swollen red tubes sitting in my throat and I wouldn’t be allowed to speak for two weeks. At this news my friend and Aunt burst out laughing – thanks for the support.
So for the rest of the trip, and the following two weeks, I couldn’t speak. Shannon and I ended up camping again in a small town near Nanaimo. I am sure that all the campers around us thought we hated each other since we never spoke a word to one another. Instead, I had to get really good at charades. I also download an app on my phone to speak for me where I could pick whichever accent I wanted – I chose a posh English accent. It was fun at first, but I missed my voice.
You don’t realize how much you depend on your voice until it is taken away. I couldn’t even order a coffee without having to write my order on a piece of paper and slide it across the counter. I think all the poor baristas were expecting the note to say, “I have a gun and want all of your money” – when really all I wanted was a soy, latte.
I may not of had a lot of great conversations for the rest of the summer, but at least I could say that I achieved my summer goal: I became a mermaid.