La Reina swirls with jacks punctuated by tuna.
My buddies and I head toward the cup-coraled canyon, feeling swell. We choose a detour heading due west into the current, finding an isolated pinnacle riddled with crevices. We swim over two morays en route, and I decide to lay down with the third.
I waggle my flashlight to mimic another eel, to say hello, to share a moment. My inquisitive urge to understand animal behavior is unsatisfied. I think: “it’s unsafe to stick-out a finger; I don’t want to lose my finger.” So, I put my fist outside its home; see if it’ll smell me.
It does. Tubular nostrils sense my pulse.
It happened so fast, the emerald eel lunged forward. Fanglike canniniforms plunge into my pinky, stabbing my abductor muscle, deep into my index finger —pulling my hand away was like slicing a knife through papaya. I see the gashes on my pale hand, green smoke rising, instinctively my left hand wraps around it.
My pride hurt worse than my pain.
I felt that sense of calm that comes in emergency situations. That clear-headedness that follows the shit really hitting the fan.
Adrenaline pumped through my body with each heartbeat. Swimming due east, ascending diagonally from 60 feet, I grip the wound and shake my head as green blood oozed between my fingers. The words “fuck” and “stupid” droned through my regulator. The ladder came into view, swinging, I clutch it with my elbow. “Now’s when I loose my front teeth,” I think to myself, as the boat lurches.
I release the wound to grab the first rung and dark red blood pumps out of my hand, dripping onto the dive platform as El Capitan shakily helps me out of my BC. The guest on-board might lose her eyeballs after they pop out of her head; and Kim’s going to lose her lunch. I know where the first aid kit is, and the Captain helps me wrap my bloody hand.
I feel embarrassed when I see my gear strewn across the dive deck, red splashes everywhere.
All I want to do is hide. But instead I smile. I hold my arm straight up with this ridiculously bandaged hand and cut my wetsuit off, and I smile.
I wish the boat motor would work, I wish we didn’t have to skip the third dive, I wish I hadn’t been so cocky with that eel, I wish my hand won’t be a mangled scar, I wish I could go surfing this weekend.
After the Shock
As the doctor unravels the gauze my dressing gets thinner and I get nervous to see it naked. The last wraps are soaked red. My blood drips to the floor. He says something ridiculous like “oh see, it looks good, OK, it’s fine”.
I get on my knees to lower my heart and Fernando, gloveless, holds the bathroom tap open to wash clean the wounds. It’s not as bad as I imagined. But it doesn’t look good either—it looks swollen and gaping. The sink basin is a watery red.
A nurse in a pink hat puts a tablet under my tongue and returns with a Tupperware full of sharps in sterilizer. She pulls-in an office chair so I can sit down. The doctor pours hydrogen peroxide and a red bubble bath soaks my hand. Dan asks to take a picture; the doctor put on his gloves. He answers his cell phone in a cheery voice and I want to strangle him. He puts new gloves on. He pricks me with Novocain, so I feel the threaded needle pulling but there is no pain. It feels like 5 stitches went in. He answers the phone again, and leaves. The nurse dresses the wound, and gives me a tetanus shot in the rump. Now my ass hurts.
Should I take these antibiotics with food? Can I drink tequila? When do the stitches come out? Where can I buy gauze? So many questions. So many emotions. I start to realize I’ll be telling the story of these scars many, many times. I won’t be diving, surfing, swimming or buttoning my own shorts for a week. I’ll be reading, relaxing, and taking another lesson from the Great Spirit: don’t get cocky under there, and slow down, for Pete’s Sake!