Cliff diving in Hawaii – 7/15/13 – Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii

005So I usually reserve TDBS for race reports, but since this incident will definitely put a wrench in my race plans for the next two months, I figured it was worth a post.

Mary and I celebrate our 15th anniversary this month, and we always said we’d go to Hawaii for a “second honeymoon”  since we were dirt poor and a week before starting med school in 1998 when we got married. We had planned for the big trip to be for our 10th, but our oversized Nordic bundle of joy (aka Drew) arrived the day before our anniversary in 2008, and the romantic getaway turned into Mr Friendly’s to go at Baptist Hospital.

Fast forward five years and Mary planned out an awesome 8 days in Kauai, Hawaii’s northernmost island. Kauai looked awesome as there was all the scenery and activities of the other islands with a lot less people. We were booked at the Marriott resort on Kalapaki beach, which was amazing, and we had all kinds of things planned for our week.

We got there on Thursday and basically ate dinner , checked out the beach and went to bed, since the time difference is 6 hours behind. the east coast. Between getting up at 4 am EST and 2 mai tais, I was done. Friday we spent all day in Waimea Canyon (, called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and hiked a couple of miles up on the trails there. Saturday we did the helicopter tour of the island, which was incredible, except I wanted to puke most of the ride. Damn that motion sickness. Sunday we went to the North shore, site of countless pro surfing competitions and a really bad 80’s movie ( . Seriously I think they showed it daily on HBO in 1988.  We hiked 2 miles from Ke’e Beach to a remote beach called Hannakap’ai which is tucked in between the cliffs of the Napali coast. Pictures of this place do not do it justice. Basically a ridiculous over-the-top caricature of paradise, except its real. Sea caves, dramatic lush green valleys, turqouise-clear water, white sand.  Mary was a trooper for finishing the 5 mile out and back route, because it was no joke. Lots of elevation gains, rocks and quite a few sheer drop offs. On the ride home I was devastated because I couldnt find my iphone with all the pics of Hannakap’ai. Mary ended up calling it when we pulled over. I was relieved when I heard it buzz then about had a stroke when I opened the door and saw it precariously balanced on the EDGE OF THE ROOF. Somehow it had survived about 3 miles of backing up, stopping/starting and going over about 4 one lane bridges. I must be one lucky guy, right?

The next morning we had plans of catching the Hawaiian sunrise. I had run a route to the lighthouse at the entrance to our cove the day before and had found a good spot for us to go about a half mile north of our hotel by the golf course. Here you could see the sun coming up with the waves crashing against the shore, which was all jet-black lava rocks. Unfortunately we got up at 5:40 am, which is already late by Hawaiian sunrises. Mary and I basically rolled out of bed and headed out the door. By the time we got to the place I had scouted on my run, it was already pretty light. We had a nice vantage point on the dirt path before the shore but then I saw a green patch in between the rocks below. Mary was a little nervous about going down the steep path in her flip flops, so I decided to check it out to see if she could make it. I took 2 steps and…

Fell suddenly on my butt, and in a moment of sheer terror, felt the momentum carry me straight over the edge. I have one memory of looking at the lava rocks from about 2 stories up, then the next sitting on them in a lot of pain. I could hear Mary yelling to me, but I just kept wondering what the hell happened???. I could feel blood all over my face and hands, and I was sure my left foot was broken. Mary finally made it down to me and asked me for my phone (since she didn’t bring hers in the rush to leave). I searched my pocket and there it was…without a scratch. Mary called 911 and tracked down a runner on the trails above, who in turn got security out to our location. Somehow, between two large, brave dudes (who risked falling themselves) and my sheer adrenaline, I hopped up the cliff path on one leg, and EMS luckily showed up right in time. They strapped me in a cervical collar and a headboard and whisked me away to the only real hospital on the island. Wilcox Medical.  Apparently the paramedics found it unbelievable that a guy with his face bashed in is complaining primarily about his toe. Hey, a runner has his priorities. My face wasn’t that pretty to begin with. At this point I wasnt quite sure what was more incredible – that I my vacation just got thrown in the crapper in 2 seconds, that I almost died, that somehow I was fully alert despite head butting a lava rock at 20 mph or that my iphone is apparently immortal.

I hit the ER and the staff is super nice. The doc (Scamahorn) does a once over and then sends me to the radiology suite to have every last bit of my anatomy scanned. He tried to give me opiates, but I was scared to take them – my mom vomits like the exorcist on them and I had never had anything stronger than tylenol. So I turned him down. After all the imaging, the results came back. Three orbital and one frontal skull fracture, but miraculously no brain bleeds ,  trapping of eye muscle or notable outside deformity. Melon head is good for something, I guess. My left 4th metacarpal of my hand is broken,  a lot of soft tissue swelling in my left knee but no break, and a wickedly dislocated left toe (but again no break). My toe must look pretty gruesome because all I can see are the faces of people looking at it, and “disgust” would about sum them up. Dr. Scamahorn comes back and shoves a needle in my toe so he can try to reduce (i.e. pop it back in place) it. Feels like he stabbed a steak knife into my foot followed by trying to yank the thing off with all his might. Definitely secnd guessing the opiate decision now, but too late for that. No luck on popping the toe back. Ortho comes in a few minutes later and does some Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo move with my toe and all of a sudden I can move it again. Success!! He then says its unstable and wraps it up in a cast, saying I’d have to be off my feet for 4 weeks. BUMMER. My left hand gets the same treatment. Having a hand and a foot out of commission relegates me to a “platform walker” which makes you look even more feeble than a regular one, if thats possible. Before PT can come to get me my walker, Dr Scamahorn comes back with the unenviable job of putting my face back together. I saw my face a few times in reflection in the radiology suite , and it looks like I got in a bar fight with Anderson Silva. Every color of the rainbow is represented on the right side of my forehead and eye area. And lets not forget my left lower lip, which got cut by my teeth completely through. Three or four lidocaine shots that feel like an icepick to the eye, 25 sutures, and about 45 minutes of painstaking work and I’m all patched up. After all of this I finally relent on the opiate front and take some IV morphine, which is ” a hell of a drug”. No nausea luckily and needless to say I felt a lot better. They were possibly going to discharge me, but one look at my pathetic self in the platform walker with PT and Scamahorn decides to push surgery to admit me overnight for observation. This was a good thing, since they tried to transition me to oral Percocets at some point, and I felt nauseated while experiencing a color and light show when I closed my eyes that Jerry Garcia would be proud of. Turns out just plain low-dose oral morphine and toradol did the trick. I got discharged the next day and had the depressing experience of being at a beachside resort without being able to enjoy any part of it. Also, total stareapalooza everytime I left the hotel room, not that I blame them. The stares only increased when I started the long, painful journey back home. USAir did try to get people to change seats, but no one was willing to give the gimp a break for the seats with more room. Luckily Mary and I got seated together, though all the way in the back of both flights. People did seem a little uneasy about the beast in the back with the towel head, black eye and dark sunglasses though.

So, no races for a while, but given that I’m alive with no brain or spinal injuries, I have nothing to complain about. Hopefully I ‘ll use this time to rest up and come back stronger. Still hoping for Savannah, but I may need to step back to the half. I have some follow up appointments this week that will hopefully give me a better idea on my timeline for recovery. Thanks to everyone who has sent me a kind word or checked up on me since the accident – I’ve been overwhelmed by the support!

8 comments on “Cliff diving in Hawaii – 7/15/13 – Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii

  1. Amy Lauren says:

    I’m so glad you’re okay Alex. You will have plenty of races to run when you recover, just focus on getting better now and be thankful all turned out like it did, as you said- could have been much worse.

  2. Jim Lichty says:

    I had a problem in 2011 that required me to take a few months off. My first event back was the Famously Hot Half Marathon and I set a PR I may never beat. Being runners, the notion of rest is an anathema yet I think, in the back of our minds, we all know it is important and beneficial. You’ll be back and better than ever; here’s hoping it comes sooner than you think!

  3. Wes spatt says:

    My brother used to say, it’s funny until somebody gets hurt, the it’s hilarious. Heal up buddy

  4. Palmer Thomas says:

    Hope you get better soon. I’m gonna miss not seeing your name when I scan the race results. I still have a plan for an epic “Brothers McDonald Race to the Death.” It would really complicate things if you off’ed yourself before it happens.

  5. Wow, Alex. You have really been through it. So glad you’re better! And you helped me put things in perspective. I will compete in the Senior Games in Cleveland this week-end, and have been lamenting that my right foot has been flirting with plantar faciitis. Guess I don’t have much to complain about….Feel better soon!

  6. john says:

    What a bummer! The fall is bad enough, but on dream vacation no less. Sorry guy, but it sound
    like it could have been a lot worse. You are young and will heal soon, but I’ll bet you will be more careful on slopes!

  7. aaronwest says:

    Wow, sorry to hear this happen to you, but man, it could have been so much worse. Of all running injuries I’ve ever about, this one takes the cake. Hope you have a smooth recovery and get back out there soon.

  8. Ken Sekley says:

    Best wishes, Alex. Unbelievable. Good thing you have that high pain threshold developed from all the racing! Look forward to seeing you back at it, but don’t rush the recovery!

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