Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I think I saved a girl from a drowning today

[If you want to skip over the background of this story, jump to the break below]

I remember back to when my ME/CFS was in its acute phase just after the initial viral infection.  During those first 4 or 5 scary months, I was desperate to learn what was wrong with me, and ultimately drove several hours up the coast to a clinic in Santa Barbara that supposedly specializes in diagnosing hard-to-diagnose illnesses.  I remember struggling to find a way to convey to the doctor exactly how profoundly ill I felt on a daily basis.  I finally realized a way to explain it:

"If a crazed murderer was coming after me with a knife, I would have to let him stab me.  I literally could not run away to save my life."

I know that sounds dubious, but I meant it.  A few months later, I climbed out of the acute phase of illness and entered my current phase of being a more moderately ill PWME.  Now, its physically possible to muster the energy to jog or even run if I need to, but I'll pay the price later with intense post exertional malaise (PEM), akin to the worst of hangovers. 

Today I discovered exactly how fast I'm capable of running in an emergency situation.

Over the last 8 weeks, my wife and I have started taking trips to the nearby beach at least once per weekend.  My theory is that the beach is an almost perfect "activity" for a moderately ill PWME like myself.  I can get from the parking lot to the sand in no more than 25 paces, set up my beach chair, and simply enjoy the sort of full immersion of the senses that few other places equal.  I can get regular doses of natural vitamin D from the sunlight and dig my feet into the sand for some "grounding." (I'm not sure that I really believe the alleged therapeutical benefits of grounding, but it feels good to be barefoot nonetheless.)

We also believe that it's good for our eighteen month old daughter be exposed to natural environments as much as possible.  And judging by her joy, my daughter can't get enough of being "owsigh" (outside).

This morning we made our usual weekend drive to one of our favorite beaches in Laguna Beach, about a 10 minute drive away.   We set up our chairs and my daughter began her usual sand play and explorations.  By 40 minutes later, it was turning into quite an eventful morning for someone who's just sitting in a beach chair.  A playful whale repeatedly breached a couple hundred yards off the coast.  While whale sightings are fairly common in Laguna Beach, breaching is fairly rare. This is when the whale launches vertically into the air and flops over onto it's back.  I had never seen it before.  

Later, a WWII era fighter plane buzzed the beach, flying no more than 20 feet from the ground.  The crazy pilot flew so low that it almost looked as if someone could jump up and touch the underside of the plane as it flew by. 

The thin overcast had soon burned off, a few groups of children were playing by the surf, and it was starting to become a rare, sublime morning.  


One thing you should know about this particular beach is that it is not considered a swimming beach.  Signs warn beachgoers not to attempt swimming because of a dangerous eddy created by the shape of the ocean floor.  In fact, the signs even warn children not to go near the water and not to "play tag with the waves."  

At this particular beach, because of the way the land slopes steeply into the ocean, the waves don't break until they are actually on shore.  This becomes quite a show when, as today, the waves were 5 to 6 feet high.  The combination of the outgoing waves slipping underneath the incoming waves in the other direction creates an swirling (but mostly unseen) eddy just off shore.  (I'm not sure if "eddy" is actually the correct term because it's a vertical swirling motion, like a front-loading washing machine, not like a top-loader.)

As we were discussing whether to leave for home, we heard a boy's voice yelling from near the shoreline.  When we looked, the boy stood on the wet sand frantically waving, shouting and pointing toward the waves behind him.  We both squinted for a sharper look and could see a tiny blond head that appeared to be struggling to stay above the surface of the water as the eddy roiled around her.  

There followed an eerie second or two where my wife and I looked at each other trying to determine if this was a real emergency.  After all, children yell and scream all the time, especially at the beach.  We were too far away to hear his words. And the girl could have been playfully splashing, although something didn't seem right.  I glanced around for confirmation of the seriousness of the situation in the reactions of others nearby, but most were oblivious.  One other nearby couple noticed the situation, but they seemed to have the same uncertainty as we did.  I asked my wife, "this is real, right?"  She said, "yes, this is real."  

The next thing I knew, I was out of my chair and in a full sprint down the sloping beach toward the water.  As I ran, I noticed another gentleman in a blue shirt had been walking by the scene, but much closer to the water.  He too turned toward the girl and began jogging toward the waves.  Since he was much closer to the girl, I figured that he would jump in the water first and save the girl and I would arrive in time to help drag her out of the water.

But the man in the blue shirt slowed down and then stopped as he reached the water line.  I wasn't sure why, at the time.  I ran past him and started high-stepping into the waves.  It wasn't long before I plucked the little girl out of the eddy.  She was face-down in the eddy when I got to her.  It was only waist-deep water for me.  As I carried her back to land, I asked her if she was breathing and she suddenly began to cry, which I took to be a good sign.  I could see now she appeared to be about 5 or 6 years old.

By the time we got back on shore, the little girl's siblings and a handful of other adults had come down to meet us.  I assumed that the girl's parents were among them and, by this time, the blue-shirted gentleman started taking an active role in assessing her health.  The girl seemed perfectly fine, although shaken up a bit, so I let the parents take over and walked back to my beach chair.  My wife and I began sort of 'debriefing,' as we watched from afar the crowd of people gathering around the little girl.

Just then I felt a weight in the pocket of my wet pants, and pulled it out to find my iPhone water logged and dead.  But because of the excitement of the rescue, I easily shrugged it off.

Soon, blue-shirted man came over and introduced himself.  He said he was not related to the girl but wanted to thank me for getting him out of a tough situation.  It turns out that he had recently undergone neck surgery and didn't yet have full range of motion.  When he saw that the girl was in trouble, he instinctively moved toward her, but as he reached the water, he realized he might become another victim if he tried to intervene.  

He must have noticed me frown at my phone as he approached because he said that he knew someone who worked for Apple and that he could get me a new phone by telling the friend that I ruined it while rescuing a drowning girl.  He took down my wife's phone number and, to his credit, he actually followed up later with a text message saying that he had arranged for me to get my new phone from Apple.  Alas, my stupid existing iPhone came back to life later that afternoon, so there will be no new iPhone for menot that I'm complaining. 

Blue-shirt man also mentioned that when I first pulled the girl from the water, it appeared that she was not breathing.  He said that after I took two or three steps toward shore, I shifted her in my arms and that's when she coughed up some water and began to cry.  I hadn't notice the girl cough up any water, but I do remember shifting her in my arms and asking her a question, and her beginning to cry soon after.  

A few minutes later, the mother of the girl came over and stood by my chair, thanking me.  It became clear that she felt she needed to explain herself to me, lest I think her neglectful.  I felt embarrassed and wanted to put her at ease, but nothing I could say seemed to help.  I didn't want her to think I was judgmental.  She explained that she is from New Jersey, that her kids regularly play in the ocean there, and that they are strong swimmers.  She didn't think the conditions would be more dangerous here.  

She was a very nice lady, and I hope she understood that I didn't expect an explanation.  The girl sobbed in her mother's arms as we spoke, while her brotherabout eight years oldclung to the mother's leg, crying uncontrollably.  It was touching to witness how much he cared for his sister.  

Meanwhile, my daughter wasn't quite sure what was happening, but she seemed thrilled by the suddenly bustling scene around her.   

With the drama winding down, we packed our things and headed for the car, as our parking meter was about to expire and my clothes (including heavy corduroy pants) were soaked.  

As I write this 10 hours later, I'm still at my baseline health with no sign of a crash yetalthough I wouldn't expect one until at least tomorrow.  But obviously, if I do crash, it will be the most "worth it" crash of my life.  


  1. Brilliant story - and I can relate to being able to act under the influences of adrenalin where my illness would otherwise prevent action. So glad it had a happy ending and here's hoping that "the day after, the day after" is not too unpleasant for you. (For me it's always 2 days later that is worst!)

    Before my illness I too had the experience of rescuing a young boy from waves. I think he was about 7 and had got into bother near rocks (where eddies create deep patches). His father was further out and thought the child was just messing. I raced across and pulled the child over to shallow water & out of the waves, but was thanked with only very dirty looks from the father! I don't think he'd any idea how much trouble his son had been in!

    I still believe I saved a life that day. And I guess that is reward enough really.

    Best wishes

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Sally, and for your kinds words about mine. Best,


  2. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I am continuously amazed at what the human body can do under extreme circumstances. I had a similar burst of energy a few years ago when I raced to the scene of a terrible accident, which involved a woman crossing the street getting struck by a car going full speed. I stayed with the woman until the ambulance arrived. I don't actually remember if I had my own physical crash afterwards, but if I did it was certainly worth it.

    1. That sounds horrific Alyson. It's a good thing you were there for that woman.

  3. WOW!!! So much for resting up for the new baby! What an amazing gift you gave! ��

  4. Wow, this is an event that you will remember for the rest of your life! Even in our condition, we can react to emergencies with full power. Just curious to hear if you can tolerate any exercise yet, and if so, how much. I find that with a small amount of Vyvanse and the weekly testosterone supplement, I can do about 20 minutes a day of either light jogging or biking. Something at least to make me feel a bit in shape given all this.