This is the first time I wrote down my experience. I needed my wife to understand.
The Coconut Effect
On November 9, 2014, in the late afternoon I was truly in the moment, standing on a beach with the Atlantic Ocean’s warm waters lapping at my feet. I was enjoying the sounds of the ocean and seeing people from all over the world playing and enjoying the moment, a warm breeze carrying the taste of salt water, refreshing me. Although the sun was hidden behind grey clouds, its warmth complimented the day. I was far from my home in Ohio, but as the saying goes I felt ‘I have arrived.’ I had journeyed from Ohio to Liberia to work with an amazing international group of healthcare providers training to care for Ebola patients. I was thinking, ‘I am home’ and ‘Doing what I love.’
In one moment it all changed, courtesy of what will be forever known as the ‘Coconut Effect’. This was not the first time I had left the comfort and security of my home in Ohio in response to a disaster or health crisis in the United States or in a foreign land. Each time I left, I could hear my beautiful wife Jackie say, ‘Come back to me.’ Each time I have come back; perhaps a bit worn out, a few bumps and bruises, an emotional scar or two, and once having been sent back early due to an intestinal virus. Every deployment has been well-planned logistically, with utmost security, and medically that it was so easy to come back. But life is what happens while you are making plans and carrying them out.
But I digress, back to the beach.
Feeling serene, calm, and fulfilled, I left the water’s edge to pick up my day-bag, put my shoes on, and prepare to depart with the team. It was so simple. We had planned rest and relaxation at the beach and our return to base was imminent. Dinner would be prepared and waiting. At least that was the plan.
I remember walking under the palm trees where our gear was stowed. Suddenly, I was racked with pain. Though I tried not to, I felt my body falling and I could do nothing about it. As my body crumbled, I stood above it for a brief moment before being plunged into total darkness. In the darkness I realized I was not alone. There were others there and although I could not see them, I felt their energy. Together we seemed to be floating in the same direction, where we came to an old iron gate. I had been here before.
I had seen this gate in dreams months before, experiencing the same sensations I was feeling now. In the dream, I never felt frightened. Now, I felt fear. In the dream I had opened the gate and felt the energy presences flow past me through the gate. Each time I would close the gate and walk back into the darkness. But now I found myself walking through the gate. The darkness gave way to an intense warm, white glow that encompassed everything. Curiously, just as in the darkness, I could see nothing but I could feel the energy presence of others. I was warm, safe, secure, wanting nothing, and needing nothing. I felt no pain, no anguish, and no fear.
Then her voice softly called to me. I felt love. The voice was familiar as if it belonged to a friend from long ago. She told me to rest and heal, so I rested.
Then she told me, ‘You have done so much. You may stay or you may go back. The choice is yours. If you go back, know it will not be easy.’
My choice was simple. Jackie’s request, ‘Come back to me’ was my choice. ‘But how do I get back?’ I asked.
‘It’s simple, just breathe,’ she replied.
So I did. I could feel warmth. I could see faces. I was looking up at a grey sky through palm tree fronds [leaves]. I could breathe. I felt no fear. At first I could not move my arms and legs; slowly, feeling and motion returned. My medical colleagues were now beside me and I let them take control. From there the day and the next few days blurred as pain and heavy medication distorted my reality. An X-ray revealed a fractured spinous process at cervical vertebra C6, the result of a falling coconut from a 50 foot palm tree. I would be going back to Ohio. The journey home was not easy. But there to greet me was Jackie. I had come back.
Upon my return, a CT scan revealed a C6 vertebra fracture of the spinous process and left lamina and bilateral lamina fractures at C-7. They treated me with more medication, 6 weeks in a hard cervical collar, 2 weeks so far in a soft cervical collar and though this past Monday’s CT revealed healing in process, there is still much to be done.
It has been two months today since the ‘Coconut Effect’. It is the first time I have been able to fully share my experience. Coming back has not been easy. But love is. Thank you, Jackie, for always asking me to ‘Come back to you.’