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Hospital with a broken back for a week

20160208_110547 (2)Continued from

The day faded outside. The surgeon gave me pictures of my broken back. The black and white printouts showed the shattered vertebrae. A trodden on Tim Tam in a stack of good ones. The gravel of the broken pieces stuck in the discs that sandwiched the T12. 30 percent wedge compression fracture. Crushed anteriorly because I was in a slouching sitting position when the sandbank drove up my spine to meet the wave’s pile driver.

Ct scan 1

No way to contact friends

I’d arrived at hospital in wet board shorts. Nothing else. A total cell phone dependent: not a phone number in my head. My mother was in hospital, my sisters in Brisbane and my daughter in India. Who can help me? Finally I came up with a plan how to get my phone and wallet. I called information for my neighbour’s number. Gary’s wife Anne answered and was concerned. Gary called back.  Thanks to him my car and board was picked up from the surf lifesaving club in Burleigh. He used my key to get into the flat. That evening he brought my phone, laptop some clothes and books. I sent a delirious email to work and my students, typing with my left hand. i brok my bak, cant work tomorow


In the room the regime of Endone began. Like slow death on my back. Broken and aching , I watched TV on the claw that raked across the bed from the wall. My finger and thumb found the nurse button. They’d knock and enter. Beside the bed, their eyes on me in a chute of dim light. The nurses followed the protocol. What’s your full name and date of birth? Michael Smith … Are you allergic to anything? No. The nurse parade above and before me ranged from sweet to funny to friendly to dispassionate to humorless. Some missed some feared.

Every two hours I woke. Asked for pain relief every four. The plastic pillow and the plastic mattress sponged my sweat glands. My hair was wet and my voice dry. Nurses questioned my rolling eyes. Everything they did hurt. They rolled me. Harped on my oxygen saturation. They made me breathe. The ligaments that held the vertebra hadn’t ruptured. Saved from an operation. Bending my knee I rolled on my side. Reached for whatever was in reach like a man trapped a week in a car down an embankment. Things. Books, food, cutlery, water, urine bottles.

Over the week I had a cat scan, an MRI and a farewell Xray. Only ceilings I saw. The faces of wardsmen, who shared their jokes, discontent or larrikin masks on the way to the technicians, floated below the white ceilings at my feet. Using the dreaded tablecloth trick they transferred my useless body to the machine. I cursed. The Endone and Tramedo drugs made my moods dark. Hell blurred day and night. Visitors and professionals visited. I was hoarse and nodding, but thank God they came. Without them the black fish of broken surfers would have filled my ward like a sweaty grave. Sometimes depression replaced the courage they’d given. But more than ever attitude was everything and I tried to stay positive.


Copping T12 compression fracture at Burleigh

T12 compression fracture

The wave

Jan 2, 2016, Burleigh Point, 4-5 foot, Gold Coast, Australia, low tide, 7.25am

My first wave was a long barrel from the point to the rocky, four or five foot. It was pretty square and I felt the fin come out then catch, then I tucked in and it was a perfect peeling section. I flicked off and paddled back round with a big grin. There was a guy paddling beside me with a big grin, we didn’t have to say more. The banks were just perfect… or so I thought.

I was opposite the cove when a set came. Five foot, no one inside, right place, I couldn’t believe my luck, I could get in early. Same thing as the first wave. Into it easy, then it sucked out. I felt the fin come out, felt it catch as I went into the bottom turn, looked down the line. The nose caught in some greeny blue backwash or cross swell as I looked down. It didn’t clip. It dug in and I landed in the greeny blue water feet out, knees up, on my bum. Then the thing sucked me over and I felt myself falling in some viscious dark sandy noise, wondering if my board was going to brain me or impale me. I was relaxed in that same knees up position that the back wash had left me in, feet pointing at the point. Where was my board in this thick lip. If I didn’t get cracked across the head, I expected underwater gymnastics and salt water and sand for breakfast, but the sandbank had sucked too dry for that. My arse came down like a sack of dinner plates on concrete with an wrecking ball impact I had never felt before. I felt my sacrum hit like a ball hammer. The shock transferred up my spine to the middle of my back. I was cognitive as the sandbank’s force drove up to the vertebral body opposite my solar plexus and crushed it like a Tim Tam. At the same times as everything went black, big white stars shot down my legs out my feet.

The warning

I’d slept in thinking the surf had dropped off. It hadn’t. I found out when I did my habitual check at my end of the street at Nobbys. I ran back home in my thongs with my empty coffee cup like David Wenham in Getting Square. In five minutes the 8″ 3″ Dick Van Stralen Reef Runner was strapped on the roof. In 15 minutes I had a park at Burleigh in the parallel parking across the road from the Nook. In 20 minutes I was running across the road in my “Such is life” shirt to say Hi to Anthony from the boardroom. He warned me it was shallow. He’d broken his back some years before in similar conditions but he was ok now. He’d had fun surfing wide. Don’t hex me I thought. I walked up the hill. ZZ Top Wayne was up there in his Wayfarers with a few girls. “Five boards have snapped already I don’t like that board’s chances.” he laughed. I laughed. Jogged away. Quickly down the damp shaded path of the Burleigh National Park, careful not to skid on the wet leaf mold. Another surfer just behind me, till he turned off at the stairs to the cove. I jumped in at the point and paddled out without getting smashed, pretty much straight to the take off point.

The ambulance

I may have blacked out a few seconds while I saw the stars. The hospital said I had seawater in my lungs. Blacked out or not I thought the stars meant I was paraplegic so when I tried to kick and I could, I made a mental good news note. My face just broke the surface in front of the hill. No one up there realised I’d broken my back. I made no signs of distress, just pulled the board to me, climbed wounded and whimpering on top. The thought for a moment of continuing to surf came. I did a mental check on myself however and surrendered to the dismal truth. I paddled around the point toward the beach in more pain and fear than I can ever remember. I caught some white water and cut across to the shallow Rocky, went to far and was almost on the rocks. I was lucky to be able to get out of danger by paddling wide. No one paddling out seemed to notice me. I asked a guy to help. Why he said. I broke my back. I didn’t want to argue. He helped me and stayed with me till the ambulance came. He lifted me under the shoulders to stand me up in the shoulder deep water. I felt my top torso sitting on my bottom torso at this tender point in the middle of my back. Not right/nice. “I think its best if I just lie on the board and you push me in.”

On the beach I lay silently face down in the shallows. A crowd gathered. A girl put my head in a lock. The lifesavers came, left, came back with a back board. I said where’s my board? Ten of them carried me. One of them an Aboriginal boy. I saw faces and the sky. I answered their questions. Where’s my board? We’ve got it mate we’ll keep it at the club house for you. A woman walking beside called the ambulance. Call the ambulance, one of the lifesavers said. “I’m talking to them now”. A nurse came into the first aid room did some tests on my feet toes and legs. They asked me for my next of kin. I said my elderly mother is in hospital I don’t want to worry her. They asked if I knew anyone at Burleigh to tell. I said I can’t remember anyone’s name. A man asked me where I was parked – do I want anything out of the car? If I leave my car there I’ll get a ticket. I told him my key was tied into my boardies. He parked the car where the inspectors couldn’t fine me. I wasn’t worrying about parking tickets.

It was a long time after the ambo guys came that we left the surf club’s first aid room. I could just see the dotted ceiling and faces. They rolled me onto the gurney. A girl sat with me in the ambulance. She gave me some painkillers and I told her some stories. I don’t know half the shit I said.

Compression fracture T12


The pain had started getting bad in the ambulance, and kept getting worse in Emergency despite the IV painkillers. They shipped me around, x-rayed me. I looked at the ceiling and their faces. there were a few other patients around at one stage. Some camaraderie. Maybe you’ve just got bruised kidneys. you’ve got no nerve damage.  I lay on my back and bent my legs. The doctor fussed waited and told me like he was telling me bad news. You’ve broken your spine. The surgeon landed beside me for a moment like a migrating bird on his long flight around the wards. You still have ligaments intact. You don’t need an operation. I asked questions. You shouldn’t bend your legs. They’ll know more in the neuro spinal ward. Save your questions for them. Hours passed. Painkillers came. Wardies and nurses shifts finished and started. Night came. Part 2 next




South African court rejects appeal making domestic rhino horn sales legal

South Africa’s North Gauteng High Court has dismissed the government’s leave to appeal a November ruling that lifted the ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn.

The decision came the day before the South African government announced rhino poaching figures for 2015  of 1175 and means that it is now possible for individuals to buy and sell rhino horn within South Africa. However, international trade in rhino horn remains prohibited under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst said there is no domestic demand for rhino horn in South Africa so why would anyone buy it unless they intended it for an oversees market.

“It is hard to see any positive conservation benefits from lifting the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn, particularly at a time when rhino poaching figures are at record highs.”

“Reopening South Africa’s national rhino horn trade will make it even harder for already overstretched law enforcement agents to tackle record rhino poaching.”

It also goes against CITES which urges all Parties to adopt and implement comprehensive legislation and enforcement controls, including internal trade restrictions and penalties, aimed at reducing illegal trade in rhino horn.”

Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF South Africa said it was a blow to conservation efforts.

“There is no market for rhino horn in South Africa so lifting the domestic moratorium can only encourage illegal activity, especially as it is likely to be misconstrued as a lifting of the current international trade ban,” Dr Shaw said.

African rhinos worst year

“For Africa as a whole, this [2016] is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching. The poaching epicentre has spread to neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe, but is nowhere near being extinguished in South Africa: despite some commendable efforts being made, we’re still a very long way from seeing the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.” Tom Milliken, a rhino expert with TRAFFIC.

The North Stradbroke Island mullet run: Fishing in the blood

Mullet Run North Straddie

Last year I went to North Straddie. At Amity Point I asked a guy sitting in a mini bus a few questions about the place. Turns out this thoughtful slowly spoken man was one of the last in a long line of fishermen who made their living out of the winter mullet runs. Part Aboriginal, part European, fishing had been in Rick Perry’s blood for many generations. He told me a documentary was being made about his family and other mullet-run fishing families. This is the story that came about from that meeting.

Read more…


Cool rhino graf from @astro france and @Suiko japan rhinoconection!


San Fran prosecutors call for jail for rhinohorn dealer

“Due to the extraordinary demand for rhinoceros horns, it is estimated that poachers kill three rhinoceroses every day to supply the black market; prices remain at an apex despite international attention focused on the plight of the rhinoceros,” prosecutors said at the sentencing.

“While Quan [the art dealer caught dealing a black rhino horn] did not kill a rhinoceros, he sought to profit from the soaring demand for the horns. In doing so, he contributed to the economic cycle that has pushed the rhinoceros population towards extinction.”

He was sentenced to one year fined $10,000 and banned from dealing in art and antiques for three years.

Future Cecils saved as lions relisted


On Monday, USFWS will list the lion as “endangered” in West and Central Africa and “threatened” in East and Southern Africa.

This decision will prohibit the importation of lion trophies into the US from West/Central Africa.

However, all importations will cease in late January and this ban will remain in place until USFWS conducts a country-by-country review to determine if sport hunting has a positive impact on lion populations in each respective range state.

A similar review led to a ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe beginning in 2013.

Photo of lion in Kruger National Park South Africa by Mic Smith

Elephant ivory for Hanoi and Haiphong busted

Vietnamese customs officials seized more than 2,200 kg of ivory hidden in bags of beans imported from Mozambique during a check at Hai Phong Port on Thursday.
The shipment arrived at the port in northern Vietnam on November 29, but a local company named in the invoice as the receiver claimed it hadn’t ordered the shipment.
Last week another illegal shipment of ivory bound for Vietnam was found but this time at France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport on December 7.
In the biggest air passenger bust of ivory in France’s history, French custom found two Vietnamese in transit boarding a flight to Hanoi with 95kg of elephant tusk items. Authorities suspect syndicate involvement.


4ZZZ 40th


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