Part One -- The Accident
It was one of those evenings. We were enjoying the tranquil
weather in our home south of Bahia de Los Angeles. Mary Ann was
wrapped around her favorite television shows. I was pacing. I
had planned on going downstairs to listen to some music but I
know me and the volume I was in need of would have disturbed not
only Mary Ann but our neighbors scattered up and down the beach.
I grabbed my favorite Andrea Bocelli, dismissed myself and went
south past Camp Gecko and off into the desert.
From the moment I was out of earshot I put Andrea in his place.
At first everything worked well and sweet Italian arias are
emanating from all my speakers. I was close to heaven and drove
slowly south thinking and absorbing the warmth of the music.
Then the CD began to break up. I stopped and cleaned it and
found a place to park to avoid the vibrations. It still was
breaking up and grew worse over the next few minutes. I was
totally frustrated, angry. I had not been drinking any of my
favorite beverages, which may actually have made things worse. I
turned and headed home in a venomous state of irritation. Since
there was nothing I could do to solve my problem all I could do
By this time it was beyond dusk, almost dark. I stomped the
throttle and was going faster than I've ever gone on that
road (not too much less than 80).
Just south of Camp Gecko there was, in the fading light, a spur
in the road and I took the side road. Big mistake.
After about a hundred yards the road ended and I was still doing
~70. The road terminated into a sweeping boulder field. I tried
to stop but couldn't. Vaca Blanca (Chevy Suburban) and I
want sailing through the various sized rocks as I tried to
brake. But it's hard to influence a vehicle that has very
limited traction. I was hitting my head on the roof and smashing
my back every time we launched and then came bouncing back to
earth. Finally we came to a stop.
I knew I had major problems. I was bleeding from several deep
wounds and many smaller ones. My neck was sore. But my back was
the major problem. I had no ability to exit the car it hurt so
badly. I sat there for half an hour, dripping blood and trying
to analyze what I'd done to my back. At this point my back
was the weak point. After sitting for what I thought was time
enough, I tried backing out of the field. I may have pulled
forward if that appeared simpler, I really don't remember
much. At any rate I re-acquired the main dirt road. I had a
totally chewed up driverside front tire.
I was about a mile from home, so I limped forward on the rim.
After about 20 minutes I got home. My back made it all but
impossible to exit the vehicle let alone walk. There are 19
steps that lead upstairs to our living quarters. I don't
know how I climbed them, but I did. The Marine Corps had taught
me so many, many years before how to reach down within your soul
and make things happen even though they seemed impossible and I
know that helped.
I don't remember arriving at the top step of the case, but
Mary Ann tells me I told her what had happened, went into our
home and spent that night and the entire next day lying on the
couch or in bed hoping my back would stop aching.
Things didn't get better over the next 36 hours. I
couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. But I was big on
whining about a mistake that I had only myself to blame for.
The Pyramid Hotel, near the half way point between Rosarito and
Ensenada was having a Baja Authors Book Signing that coming
Saturday. We were due there to sign my new book. I didn't
know how we were going to do it, but it would happen. Thursday
morning we locked up the house for the 3 days we'd be
absent. Mary Ann drove and I rode in the passenger seat with dog
Dito just behind us, nose always poking holes in the invisible
wall that was intended to keep him in the back seat. It never
has worked and he is a member of our family and we permit him
small encroachments into our front seats.
Not far south of Ensenada I was feeling weak and moved into
Dito's territory in the back seat to lay down beside him.
He was pleased. He is a wonderful dog and somehow he knew
something was wrong with me and tried to empathize in his own way.
Somewhere entering Ensenada from the south I started feeling
seriously ill. Suddenly I threw up what must have been a pint of
blood on the floorboard. Blood covered Dito's entire
blanket and was running off the sides. I was very scared. It was
pure blood and I know how little of that precious substance
Mary Ann drove into the Colon (as in Cristobal Colon) Hotel we
have been patronizing lately. There she encountered some good
friends, Selino and Reina, that run La Reina's restaurant
in Bahia de Los Angeles. This was strikingly coincidental as
they were there regarding business permits or whatever. They
told Mary Ann about a doctor they knew and led us there. As I
was weak enough I couldn't even think about walking, the
doctor left his confines to my office in Vaca Blanca's back
seat. He saw the large amount of bright blood and told Mary Ann
to take me to the hospital immediately. He gave her the
necessary paperwork and directions to the nearest hospital,
which we couldn't locate even though it was only three
blocks from the Colon Hotel. In a panic, she pulls into a Pemex
station and ran from car to car asking if someone spoke English.
Even though I speak adequate Spanish I was by that point unable
to focus. She found a family that could show her the way to the
hospital. They led us there. That family, while I will likely
never see them again, our friends Selino and Raina, and Mary Ann
perhaps saved my life.
At the hospital, they wheeled me to an upstairs room, put me
into a gown and began a process that had me incapacitated for
Part Two -- The Hospital
Clinica St. Gabriel is housed in a small building on the corner
of Calle Cuarta and Espinoza in downtown Ensenada. Two medical
aides were called to the car. Once they determined that I was
too weak to walk they produced a wheelchair and rushed me into a
rustic and narrow elevator and into the bowels of the building.
I was deposited in the only hospital bed in room 4, somewhere
upstairs a story or two from the surrounding inner city.
Dr Jorge Catalan rushed into the room, introduced himself and
began the process of establishing an IV drp from several bottles
into my armp. Two nurses were on duty and they were assisting Dr
Catalan when Dr. Rodolfo Munoz, a gastrointestinal specialist
entered the scene.
My stomach was feeling nauseous once again and within 30 seconds
I had cut loose with yet another large quantity of blood from my
stomach. This issue was at least a quart of blood and covered
the entire corner of the room. The nurses cleaned up the mess
while one of the doctors began an extremely painful process of
inserting a pair of tubes through a nostril and deep into some
pit within my body.
I had assumed in my somewhat deranged state that my bleeding
stomach was related to my prior accident. It was, but not in the
context I had assumed.
The doctors asked about the specifics of the accident and I
"Did you take anything for pain?" Dr. Catalan inquired.
I had taken nothing Tuesday night after it occurred, but the
pain was so severe in my back that I began taking Ibuprofen.
"After several hours I wasn't feeling less pain and I added
a number of aspirin and 4-6 ounces of rum" I said.
"That's what caused your bleeding." Dr. Catalan
said. "You can't mix Ibuprofen and aspirin together;
they eat holes in your stomach."
Now this was truly welcome news to me. I thought I had somehow
run a remote rib or other bone through my stomach; I could not
imagine that much blood in such a short time. For the first time
that afternoon I began to believe I wasn't going to die.
Via the tube entering my body the hospital staff emptied my
stomach of all remaining blood. They pumped icy water down the
tube and into my stomach. A smaller tube, inside the larger one,
was a return for that same water after it had reached it's
destination. After a number hours of the hydration process the
return water became clear rather than red.
While this process was ongoing we were told I needed two units
of blood to replace at least a portion of what I'd lost.
"The bleeding has been arrested."
Doctors Catalan and Munoz told me. As the events of the
evening drew to a close that hospital staff set up a bed next to
mine for Mary Ann. I was glad she'd be there.
For three days I lay there on my back with tubes everywhere it
seemed. I was dehydrated from the loss of fluids but there is
some "setting" time for the stomach to recover and it
must be completely empty during that period. For two days I was
thirstier than I have ever been in my life. I could not have a
single drop of water. When the staff came in every several hours
to pour ice water into my tube, I could feel the iciness against
tangential conduits of my body and I imagined I was drinking it.
But alas I was left totally thirsty and uncomfortable with all
the tubes and needles penetrating me. A personal invasion.
On Friday evening Dr. Catalan checked in for the nth time to see
how I was feeling. Perhaps I was so rewarded now that I knew I
wasn't going to bleed to death that I seemed to feel almost
normal except that my back was now the focal point of my entire
body. It took me several minutes to get out of bed and just as
many to return. Over the three day stay I consumed a small lemon
"If things continue on track tonight, we can consider
letting you out tomorrow, Saturday." Dr Munoz told me. I
was surprised. But I was feeling much more stable since the
bleeding issue had been stopped. The Dr. told me I should have
my U.S. physician look at my back. While I had assumed I had
smashed two disks, the doctor didn't think so. At any rate
that biggest and immediate problem with the stomach bleeding had
been put an end to.
There was a Baja Authors Book Signing at the Pyramid Hotel
starting at noon on Saturday. We've attended this every
year and it is really a blast and, even though I was still in
extreme pain I had a new book out and not ony wanted to be there
but was expected. I had a table and could relax while visiting.
Mary Ann had spent the night at the hotel and she and friends
Suzanne and Pete had set things up for the next day. Then she
returned to Ensenada to gather me up, pay the bill and head
Saturday morning arrived and I took a shower with all the
IV's still attached and dangling from my arms as I tried to
clean up. I dressed in the clothes I had worn to the hospital. I
packed my duffle slowly. It was impossible to bend from the
small of my back. But the majority of my self-perceived life
threatening problems were behind me. I was still weak but ready
to continue on from there. When I heard Mary Ann's voice I
was up and pacing, pulling the IV carrier behind me. We were
both anxious about the hospital bill as we had a limited supply
of cash and the hospital could not take checks. When we asked
for the bill for the three days in the hospital, including both
doctors, all the support, medications, etc came to $768, $350
for the doctors and $418 for the hospital and lab work. I had
received two units of blood when I had first arrived. These
totaled at $430. The entire stay, all inclusive had cost just
under $1,200. Obviously we were well pleased and I can't
begin to guess what this would have cost in the US.
Primarily though, even without considering the cost, the doctors
and the entire hospital staff was very professional and
efficient. I was in pain; I needed constant attention until that
final discharge morning. All my needs were met with smiles and
pleasure in the ability of one person's ability to help
another. The hospital is small; I saw only four rooms that
appeared to be for patients. In fact I believe I was the only
patient admitted during my stay there. But much of that
impression was based on audible information as it was extremely
difficult to venture outside my room.
Once Mary Ann arrived and we had paid the bill, We shook hands
with the good doctors Catalan and Munoz and with the entire
staff. In my eyes at least we had been through a lot together. I
would not for an instant question the quality of this small
hospital in the noisy heart of Ensenada. You don't walk
away from threatening events without carrying a memory,
permanently etched in your soul. And there it was.
The staff wheeled me down to the ground floor and slowly, gently
helped me negotiate the climb into Vaca Blanca. Mary Ann drove
of course and took it slowly until I settled into the passenger
side front seat. We stopped at a pharmacy north of Ensenada to
fill the prescriptions the hospital had issued. As usual, they
were a small percentage of what they would have cost in the US.
On to the book signing at Pyramid Hotel. I wasn't sure how
I would hold up for a full day and night of partying. I knew I
had been given guarded instructions regarding what I could and
couldn't eat and drink. We'd just have to wait and see.
My hat is forever tipped to the good men and women of the
Clinica St. Gabriel.
Part Three -- The Book Signing
I was discharged from Clinica St. Gabriel somewhere around noon
on Saturday. We rushed north to the Pyramid Hotel where Keri and
Mike wee hosting the annual Baja Authors Book Signing. The night
before, Mary Ann had arranged for our friends Pete and Suzanne
to set up our table as we would be late in arriving. They had
acquired a location with a shade umbrella immediately adjacent
to the small platform where several groups of locals would be
performing songs and dances and near the bar where we could
assume good traffic.
As the book is my first and published only recently, we sold
quite a few copies. A number of folks stopped by just to chat
and I was well rewarded by the small flatteries heaped upon me.
I was very weak yet and filled with aches but the warm words of
friends new and old were more than rewarding. But, while money
is always an issue, it was not my driver in writing this book.
Our family home, in rural Ventura County had burned to the
ground several years before, taking all our photographs and
family films of the boys growing up. Afterward I began writing
with an intensity I didn't quite understand. Then one
Saturday not long after the fire I realized that with written
words I was recreating the destroyed images of my evolving
family. The boys are now 27 and 29. We had shared many travels
and out-of-the-ordinary experiences throughout our lives and
times together. They needed to be recaptured.
Son Kevin stood by our table at the book signing for a time
while Mary Ann, Michael and I wandered the event to visit old
friends and make new ones. We purchased several new Baja books,
stole a nibble or two from the booth of a new art and culinary
enterprise just getting underway. Their food was excellent and
quite high end. It is called Giorgio Santini Gallery of Fine Art
and located near kilometer 40 on the old road between Tijuana
and Ensenada. They offer gourmet specialty foods and wines. We
also bought a new-to-us book "California -- West of the
West" after meeting the author and discussing Baja
California, a major subject of his new book. Mary Ann snagged a
copy of the Baja Times newspaper. They have been quite
successful in filling a certain void in English language
reporting on peninsular events.
The afternoon passed too quickly. A trio of musicians had been
playing most of the midday and was keeping the crowd stimulated.
Late in the afternoon Keri had arranged for a group who
performed several forms of Latino dances with great flare while
the rest of us watched and listened appreciatively. It was an
overcast, cold, gray day. I was worn down and at one point had
Michael bring me a sleeping bag from our room. I wrapped it on
top of my zipped up ski jacket and was still shivering. I
guessed my recovery time was going to be longer than I'd
hoped. But it was a fun time regardless. If you haven't
done this event, pen it in for next year.
The formal book signing ended late in the afternoon. Many of us
had signed on for an informal pot luck dinner and shoveled
plates full of creative foods into our faces. Laughter was
everywhere, visiting with friends, many of whom we hadn't
seen since last year at this event. As 8 that evening, Suzanne
opened her highly semi-organized tequila tasting. 6 - 8
people actively participated (and many more inactively) as
Suzanne poured each brand of tequila into small portions into
tiny paper cups and numbered them for identification without
letting the participants know which brand name they were
drinking. There were great discussions regarding which tequila
was the best and the debates of course grew more and more
animated and wordy as the tasting continued. Kevin and I were
observers as he drinks almost nothing and I was on my best
behavior for obvious reasons. By 11 that night we were all in
bed and at least trying to sleep. My lower back was still trying
to kick me for my prior bad behavior and rest was not easy to
come by, but it had been a more-than-full day (week?) and
eventually we all slept. It was rewarding to rekindle old
relationships and make new friends. We were all from unique
backgrounds and age/social/academic/economic levels and it was a
great learning process just to understand each other's
points of view.
In the morning a number of us gathered in our suite to say our
goodbyes. For many of us it would be another year before we saw
each other again. For a few perhaps this was the final
encounter. Life continues and one never knows where she'll
lead us. But true friendships don't fade for lack of a
tangible visibility. We often carry simple memories throughout
our lives forever and gladly, remember the personal experiences
and warm moments shared.
Pete and Suzanne had arranged to spend a week at our place in
Bahia de Los Angeles. They were looking for a house there, or at
least terrain where they could build. My health was stabilizing
and Mary Ann decided I was strong enough I could ride back to
our tiny house in Ventura with Michael and Kevin and dog Dito.
My Ensenada doctors had strongly recommended I schedule a visit
to my doctor in the U.S. as soon as possible. I was arguing to
go south with our friends but they convinced me to go home to
the doc. Bummer.
We packed and chewed the fat and soon the trucks were loaded and
we were hugging for that last time at this stage of our visits.
Mary Ann would help Pete and Suzanne look around the bay for a
place; I would schedule a doctor's visit. And have a week
alone with Kevin and Michael, in itself something to look
forward to. Then we were off to the south and the north, respectively.
Conclusion -- The Ride North
Kevin and Michael had ridden down from Ventura in Kev's
F-150. Ww were returning to the U.S with his truck and the Vaca
Blanca. Mary Ann would ride back to Bahia de Los Angeles with
Pete and Suzanne in their great yellow Hummer. The boys and I
were the first to leave the pyramid, around noon on Sunday. Dog
Dito and I would ride the first leg with Michael driving Vaca
Blanca. We would all stick together until we hit the border for
the sake of security in numbers.
Kev drives pretty fast but Michael and I kept up with him. In
the border line we were settling in amidst the pedestrians and
street vendors wandering through the slow moving traffic My
window was up and suddenly there was a tapping on the glass and
I turned to see Kev, in his truck, acting as a vendor and
wanting to know if we'd like to purchase a cold Coke.
Somewhere he'd picked op an icy 12-pack. He handed one to
Michael and we all laughed. From there on Kev was pretty much
ahead of us.
In the slow moving line, Michael kept his window down. When a
vendor flashed his/her wares or asked if we'd like to make
a purchase Michael always said no but was totally respectful to
the individual. We collected small change and a couple bucks to
contribute to the Cruz Roja (Mexican Red Cross). It had been
some number of years since the two of us had crossed the line
together. I was silently absorbing the manner in which Michael
dealt with the vendors and the children that barely had shirts
on their backs. Some folks differentiate in their treatment of
others based solely on income. I hope I have never done that. I
know Michael has not. In that border line some of us get angry
at all the fussing between drivers looking for the best lane.
Michael stayed in his lane. If another driver had an apparent
need to get into our lane and was polite, Michael always let
Sometimes we get so wrapped around our own axels in our society
and work and general hubbub that we forget that all of us
deserve respect. I've always tried to live for the
improvement of society in general rather than just myself. I had
no need to "train" my children with lectures and
statements and opinions, I just did what I did and hoped our
boys would learn by observation. My tactic had obviously worked.
As I aged I was afraid that my boys would focus on the
disturbances I had caused to our lives and forget the good
things they had learned from me. Sitting in the border line,
creeping slowly forward, I had the time to slow myself down
enough to see that I was wrong.
We neared the actual border and dropped the last of our change
into a child's donation cup. We answered a few polite
questions for the American guard and were waved through. We
headed for the 805 northbound. The remaining drive took us just
under four hours. We had nothing to do but converse and
philosophize -- which we are both big on -- and listen
to a wide variety of music. Michael plugged his iPOD into the
car stereo, selected random playback and we were set for the
entire trip. I reflected on the music he was listening to a few
years back when he was in audio recording school. It had been
too wild for me to care about. But now, a few years downstream,
he was playing music I truly enjoyed. So much so in fact that
I'd previously changed to several of his stations on my
We talked and listened all the way back to Ventura. We were
peers for perhaps the first time. Driving the car wasn't a
place for a parent to make responsibilities for a child. It was
not time to vacuum on Friday or clean up his room. It was just
the two of us, with dog Dito hanging between the back and front
seat and trying to find an excuse to climb forward. As we neared
home I almost wished we had more miles to travel, to continue
sharing equal lives.
Sometimes, I was thinking, I might miss just what great children
Mary Ann and I have raised. Perfect? Never. But close as
you'd want them to be. I could only hope that all parents
have the opportunity to be as close as we were over those too
Alas, we pulled into our rural driveway and were greeted by aged
avocado trees sprawling across our small lawn. Rows of lemons in
the orchards arced gently down toward the Santa Clara River, en
route to Ventura and the Great Pacific. Kevin had been home for
some time. He had his friend Carly with him. We all hugged and
Carly asked how I was doing; she'd heard of my plight and
had tears in her eyes that were more meaningful to me than
perhaps anyone will ever know. When we face an unknown it's
always important to know that there are family and friends
supporting us, even though my problem had been completely if
Mary Ann was not due home for another week and it was a pleasure
to spend time with my children. They are older now and I
wouldn't want to bore them to death with my groaning about
my back. I spent three full days on the couch and in bed. But
they were always there in the background and I enjoyed listening
to them talk and joke about a computer game they share, fending
off a shared enemy.
A few days after our return home I was feeling a little better.
We all went shopping for Mother's Day and shared the
wrapping responsibilities., signed greeting cards and arranging
packages on the dining room table for Mary Ann's
appreciation just a few days away now.
But all that is behind us now, a week later. The five of us are
back together -- when Carly is with us. I have been to my U.
S. doctor. He told me that everything the Ensenada doctors did
was directly in line with what he would have done. My lumbar
disks weren't smashed, just bruised and would recover on
their own over time. He confirmed that the combination of
Ibuprofen and aspirin can eat holes in your stomach, but that I
appeared to be well on the road to recovery.
"Stay away from Alcohol." he told me. I'll do
just that. While it played no direct role in any of the recent
events, it was making it hard for my body to recover. I agreed
with him and I know that occasionally my drinking had made it
hard on my family.
So it's a done deal now. Bad happenings can be used as
tools to improve our futures and I've always known that.
And there are still many more lessons to be learned from this
entire experience. It just might take me time to sort them all out.
Mary Ann and I will be going back to Bahia de Los Angeles soon,
just after Kevin's Birthday. The weather will certainly be
warm by then, and the water blue and filled with sparkling
wavelets and many birds, whales and dolphins. A breeze from the
north will cool us. In that wonderful environment there is more
time to review life thus far and make plans for our futures.
Remote Baja California is the ideal place to dig a little deeper
into the thought process and I can only look forward
respectfully to rejoining her. It's never quite the same
when I'm not with her even though she can be a fickle mistress.