Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Blood-stained Beach

‘Swimming pool or the sea?’
‘The sea. Yes.’
‘Okay, okay, I’ll take your key and see you later’.

I handed my room key to Ahmed - the hotel receptionist with whom I had a bet on that we would have matching skin tones by the time I left the Sinai.

Like every late afternoon in Dahab, it was warm and I was sticky from the layers and lashings of suncream I had applied during the course of the day.

Despite wearing SPF40, and remaining in the shade over a long lunch, I still had developed pink forearms, which I’d only noticed as the sun had fallen behind the rooftop terrace of the hotel.

I lay in the seawater, welcoming the cool waves as they washed over me. It had been a windy day, and the seabed had been thrown up into the shallow waters, making it impossible to see the floor beneath the water.

I stood up, stepped forward, trying to hold my balance and as I took another step I fell through an invisible gap in the dead coral to the sandy bed below.

I felt a sharp tear.

I leapt to shore and as I fell to the gravelly sands I saw my foot, red.

Staggering to the beachside hut, I cried out; blood was trailing behind me, great droplets congealing in the sand.

Ahmed came running over as I clutched for the trunks of palm trees that made up the bones of the hut. Within seconds, I was surrounded by hotel staff. Shouting instructions, Ahmed held up my foot, another was drenching it with bottled water, and another had run to call the doctor.

I was shaking. Ahmed lifted me gently into the seats, further away from the sand and water, where I lay back. Tears fell down my cheeks.

It hurt, but I was more upset that on my first day alone, I had seemingly proven that I couldn’t cope with ‘Travelling’. I struggled with Tourism and The Third World Way of Life. I struggled with the appropriate response to utterly dire poverty I had encountered behind the glass windows of an air-conditioned minibus in Middle Egypt. And now I was struggling to keep a steady footing in the shallows of the Red Sea.

The young doctor appeared a short while later.

I was grateful for the privacy I had been afforded whilst we awaited his arrival, but now I felt disgusted with myself. How stupid could I be?! It’s a coral reef, dead or not, I should not have been paddling about without my boots. Now a doctor was missing out on celebrating breaking the Ramadan fast with his family because I was too much of a blundering tosser.

My dressing, now soaked with a ghastly mixture of blood and betadine (antiseptic favoured in tropical climates), was removed. ‘Yes. It is deep. You will need stitches.’

Ahmed lifted me again, and I was carried to my room. I lay on the bed, shuddering, as they cleared off the day’s accumulated sunbathing accoutrements that had been carelessly dumped earlier in the afternoon.

In the calm of my room, I felt a stabbing pain in my lower abdomen, and it took me a moment to realise that it was my screaming bladder. I limped, wincing, to the bathroom.

With two men in your room, and walls that rival paper on soundproofing, it was a long, awkward, piss.

Empty-bladdered, I lay back, wrapped only in my beach towel, and the doctor opened his briefcase. I heard the clunk of the catch, feeling a sense of foreboding.

I screamed, cried and sobbed between strained gasps as he injected me with the local anaesthetic at 5 points around the gash in my heel. Ahmed grasped my shoulder, whilst I clenched his free hand.

The doctor looked up, and assured me he would not start stitching until my heel was numb.

5 minutes had passed whilst I was breathing deeply, still sobbing, unable to coherently compose a sentence, nor think with any real clarity.

Recovering myself slightly, the doctor tested the feeling in my heel. I could still feel substantial discomfort as he pressed on the tip of the tear with his latexed hand.

He began to stitch. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I screamed and shrieked at the searing pain of the needle, and the tug as it was tied off.

4 stitches, and it was over. He dressed and bandaged my heel and ankle.

(Swollen and stitched, taken 2 days later)

I couldn’t help but lie motionless, a blubbering mess of sweat, salt water and tears on my face and chest. Regaining some vague sense of composure, the doctor began to calmly explain how to care for the wound. He left, leaving my bedside table loaded with dressings, betadine, painkillers, antibiotics, and a receipt.

It’s been 3 days and I am still limping.

The stitches will come out when I briefly return to Cairo on Thursday and I must wait until then for a verdict on whether I can snorkel once more when I return to Dahab on Monday.

I have promised myself that I will follow Doctor’s Orders.

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