I KNEW something wasn’t right from the tennis ball-sized lump in the centre of my otherwise flat left shin. It was about 12am when I awoke in darkness to the gentle rocking of the boat and the occasional snores of its 10 or so other inhabitants. The first thing I had noticed was the pain, like someone had taken to my leg with a sledgehammer, Mafia-styles. After copping a feel of the boob-like mound I also became worried about the temperature of the thing, it felt like a fucking hot water bottle. This was not good I thought, while getting up to take a piss. As soon as my feet reached the ground from my top bunk I realised I was in worse shape than I thought. Gravity sent a wave of blood to the affected boob/second kneecap thing and I winced with a pain that grew with each limp along the deck of the boat. How the fuck did this happen? I was fine when I went to bed three hours ago? In the dim light of the boat’s cramped loo, I could see my shin was badly swollen so that it dwarfed my right leg from the knee down. Turning the affected leg so I could see it side-on, I confirmed there was a giant kneecap-sized growth on my shin, but instead of kneecap-defining bone and tendons or whatever it was simply red and fleshy. Maybe how a sunburnt fat kid’s knee might look?
Back in bed minutes later and I didn’t know what to do. Sleep wasn’t an option, the pain was too much and seared with even the most minute movement of my leg. Nor could I wake anyone up on the boat – the majority of its occupants, like me, were young Aussie surfers who would have no idea how to diagnose a deformed left shin, let alone treat it. The few sleeping crew members on the boat only spoke Indonesian and me, Australian English. No help there. The only choice was to grin and bear it. Easily the worst (non) sleep of my life.
This story took place in July 2007 aboard one of those week-long boat trips you can take surfing through the islands of Indonesia. They’re perfect for people who don’t have a lot of time on their trips or who are too lazy or inexperienced to travel to the islands themselves (aka my friends and I back then). These boats depart from Bali, stopping at Nusa Lembongan, Lombok and Sumbawa before returning back to the Kuta party-vortex. They’re convenient and fun. The downsides are the crowds they bring to the breaks and the fact it’s likely no one aboard the boat will actually set foot on the islands, thus giving nothing back to the local communities. The night I woke up clutching my leg was the second of six. Earlier that day, I’d been out in the best surf of my life up to that point – pumping five to six foot Desert Point, on the south-west coast of Lombok. Regarded by many as the best wave in the world, it was like shit I’d only seen in magazines. Admittedly I didn’t get any really good ones. I made a couple of smaller tubes but struggled to snag a keeper from the ever-present crowd. No matter I thought, the next day was supposed to be bigger still and I had another five days to get my confidence up and start charging the shit out of some beastmasters. Little did I know, I wouldn’t surf again on the trip.
In the light of day my shin looked even worse and I was forced to lie down on the deck with my leg raised, watching perfect 6ft-plus bombs drain along the reef. I sat on that deck for five days barely moving, getting a ripper tan but my leg not improving in the slightest. Worse still I later had to watch people pulling into tubes at Scar Reef and hear from my mates of epic sessions at Yo-Yos – two of Sumbawa’s marquee waves. On day three I jumped aboard a dinghee with our boat’s cook and once on land I gingerly hopped on the back of a motorbike with him. We screamed down a muddy road dodging chickens and pigs in search of the local doctor. Venturing into his office/hut I gathered from his broken English and his animated hand gestures that I was to ice my shin regularly and take four pills from a packet he handed me, per day. I didn’t know what the pills were but I took them religiously, simultaneously holding a slab of ice from the boat’s cooler to my boob-shin.
When day seven finally came around I was both relieved and scared about the prospect of going to an Indonesian hospital. I was still having trouble walking at this stage. Any more than a couple of minutes on my feet and the throbbing pain in my shin became too much and I had to sit down. I arrived at the Bali International Medical Centre (BIMC) and my fears of a shoddy back-alley hospital filled with dirty instruments were put to rest. The place was clean and modern and I was greeted by a nice Australian woman at the front desk. The place was set up by folks who had seen the need for a place for tourists to feel comfortable to go when they banged themselves up on their hired motorbikes or grew giant boob-like deformities on their limbs. Stuff like that.
The next part I wish now that I had witnessed, or even better filmed with a video camera. Instead I rested my head back on the thin hospital pillow, covered my eyes with my hands and gritted my teeth against the pain…
I’ll put up the second part of the story tomorrow. After that, FearInEnglish will be out of action for a week or so because its author will be straight ballin’, sippin’ rum on a sailboat in the Caribbean and shit.