A lot of people, some I didn’t even realized cared, have been asking about what happened to me. While I had an interesting view, all this activity certain revolved around me, as a journalist, I know I did not get the entire story right below. I did feel compelled to write this all down. Some said a miracle happened to me– the chances for survival, let alone full recovery for what I went through, were extremely low. I will get into the details below and I caution, they will likely change as more people are found who know more about my darkness, but the public service message will follow. Am I scared of the ocean? Could things have happened differently that day had I done something different. The spiritual nature of something effected by moon patterns, earthquakes, that covers so much more of earth than land– the bottom line is there are NEVER any certainties.
If I had:
1) heeded shore warnings (the pertinent ones weren’t posted till later that day but I didnt look before hand)
2) Used a leash with my board
3) stayed closer to my partner
4) as an Ohio boy, known what the hell I was doing in the ocean
5) worn flippers
No one may have been put out on Saturday February 2nd on my behalf. One of those things probably could have changed it, but I have to tell you, the part of the ocean I was in, was intense, came up out of no where and was unforgiving. Leashes can break, your friend can be in trouble with you, I could have worn flippers, but sometimes, these things are bigger than us.
Here is my full story:
12:30 PM – Leave Mission
My friend Lelia got off to a late start from the mission on our way to go surfing at Stinson Beach. Actually, I was boogie boarding… she had a small board. Lelia normally went to Pacifica—the beach with the Taco Bell on it—and I had gone there before a lot too, but my favourite was Stinson.
A long sandy beach, it was the first beach I ever surfed at before work one morning in 2007—the idea that you could go surfing before working was foreign to me, moving here from NYC. After my first day doing it I was euphoric the rest of the day—it also symbolized I had arrived in California.
One other thing about Stinson, compared to Pacifica is looking out from the ocean you saw mountains instead of cars driving by and a sewage pipe. I would often take Midwesterners there for their first time in the Pacific. You can drive 35 minutes through the forest or along the sea to get there started out from SF over the golden gate bridge. Doing this—was one of my favourite things to do.
We were late even though there was no plan. We quickly got coffee from Atlas café, parking with the blinkees on in front of the place, and then we were off. I knew a little shortcut around traffic and we arrived around 1:30 PM by my count. I always park in the same place, next to this little restaurant. The beach parking lot is sometimes closed and sometimes you have to pay.
1:30 – Arrive Stinson Beach
We got suited up—Lelia has a little funny hat and talked about how she needed all the coverage she could get because of how cold the water is this time of year—and pretty much the entire year. I had booties and my wetsuit on. I commented how it takes a little bit to feel warm and if I can get through the first 5 minutes, its normally OK from that point on.
As you walk down to Stinson, there are warnings about Sharks. I’ve never seen them there, but they have attacked there before. I’ve also been ‘washer-machined’ by freak waves, and on another occasion warned by Park Rangers not to enter the water since it was too dangerous without seeming to be.
1:50 – Arrive at the beach/enter the water
It was Saturday. There were a lot of people around and when you have car keys you need a place to hide them. One thing about Stinson though, is its probably gotta be one of the richest areas of the country. I hid my keys in a towel and we looked at the water.
It was mostly ‘blown out’ – meaning the waves were not well formed. They were mostly the foamy kind. We wondered if there would be enough to work with—but I secretly knew the waves would be fine by me.
2:00 – Surfing together
We started off surfing together and we caught a few. A lot of the time I don’t catch any. I can remember thinking to myself how today I figured out something about my boogie board – about sitting more on top of it and forward actually helps to catch the wave. I caught a few that day.
Lelia doesn’t know this, but I was starting to get worried about her running me over. I still not the most comfortable with surfer etiquette and to deal with this, I start to move away from her. I went closer to shore and she seemed to go further out.
Earlier in the morning the National Weather Service released a warning about sneaker waves: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/weather/Beachgoers-Warned-of-Sneaker-Waves-189528671.html
One of my doctors also said that he had read there was an underwater earthquake that day around the time of the incident.
There were several that day around the pacific as there always are. Its not clear to me why the NWS ordered a sneaker wave warning or if this incident had anything to do with seismic activity.
By the way the waves looked to me they were large, unsetteled walls of water and plentiful. The first wave hit me by surprise, really hard and I lost my board. My first attempt to duck and cover was met by another one after another after another one. After the first one, I was tired and with no breaks, in sight I didn’t freak out or specifically mentalize what was happening, but I basically thought if this didn’t end soon, it would be too much. I also saw waves coming from two different directions. Not just one which speed up things up quite a bit.
I had gotten much closer to shore than lelia, who reported that she was able to get ‘washermachined’ by the big wave. She counted less waves than I did. My theory is that I was at the parts where the waves were crashing and there was no tube to get into.
So I did something that lore tells you never to do—I turned my back on the ocean and I began to concentrate on treading water. I felt, like my board, if I focused on treading water for as long as I could, the waves would eventually push me to shore.
That’s the last thing I remember. It didn’t hurt. I don’t even remember wanting more air. Darkness followed.
There’s been a pretty significant accounting submitted here:
I’m grateful to this report because it helped me to understand what happened and to try to know those who were involved. However, like I’m trying to do right now, the reporter was trying to piece everything together after the fact. He was not there. So there’s a little bit more here that might be interesting to people.
One person in particular not mentioned is Lelia. After she washer machined—she came on shore to see how I was doing. Then saw the two high school boys pulling me on shore. I have no idea how long any of this took, but those boys must have found me pretty quickly. Clearly these boys and their curiosity about me played a critical role here. I just got a response from their parents, and plan on calling them up this weekend to hear their side of the story.
Lelia was the one who started CPR on me on the shore. They started it so soon that towards the end of it the waves came crashing up towards me again. Lelia was doing mouth to mouth and another person had come up, who I think may have been the third dr, who was not doing CPR fast enough. So a woman Dr came along and took charge of the situation. The Golden Gate National Park Rangers rolled up, and one ranger took over the chest compressions while the other went for a defibulator.
The account of 8 minutes of CPR is hard to reconcile. I’m obviously writing this right now. Lelia claims they did 9 sets of CPR which she thinks took maybe between 4-5 minutes. On average, only 5–10% of people who receive CPR survive.
There was a 3rd doctor there who I will be seeing next week, he claimed they had given up the CPR it had taken so long, but then decided to keep doing it and then I started to come alive again. I stayed that way and the defibrillator did not say I needed it.
One reason this may have turned out so well was the coldness of the water. It may have slowed down my body processes to the point where maybe they thought they couldn’t feel a pulse but it was just a lot slower because reacts were chilled out. The water off Stinson beach is roughly 50 F this time of year.
I don’t remember any of this, but was apparently conscious in some very strange state. The helicopter came and with the paramedics asking lots of questions Lelia didn’t have the answer to, like my birthdate and insurance, she went up to my car.
2:56P – Lelia calls my phone looking for it
I have two phones. A new ipone 5—which was locked—another was my 7 year old DUMB phone which wasn’t. Lelia looked through and called the label “Mommie”. (there was a “dad” for the record). My parents in Ohio were preparing to have friends over when they got the call.
By this point they were taking me off my boogie board, onto a hard board, sticking me with things and I was making weird noises. My parents heard all of this on the phone. Lelia wanted to go with me in the chopper, but they wouldn’t let her. She followed to Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo in my Volvo, where she stayed with me until my parents arrived from Ohio the next morning.
I met Lelia on election night 2012—that’s three months before. It was the Credo election night party in SF at this place called “the Hub”. I started talking to Lelia because in many respects it seemed like just another night to her. She was working on other things there that night. For me election night 2012 was the end of the most unstable 4 years of my life. I was happy Obama had won, but also happy to use it as a sign to move onto other things.
I had kept texting with Lelia off and on, there was a time in November where I tried to meet up with her for a happy hour they wouldn’t let me into —she went to Thailand for a month in December,—but had not seen her again until the Thursday where we hung out for about 3 hours at the bar down the corner from me. I told her there that owned a wet suit had opened up entirely new worlds to me. We said we would text each other when we got up on Saturday.
Saturday Afternoon – > Enter Sandman
This part wasn’t reported in any article. No one I know from before this was present to see what came next. Lelia wasn’t there. I was only able to piece this one together by people who were involved coming to my room throughout the week.
One running gag the entire week was why I was sent to Doctors Medical Center. The nurses kept asking me, as did people on the outside. I don’t know who decided to send me there, but it was said that they have one of two hyberbaric chambers in the Bay Area. The people on the beach didn’t know if I’d been diving and would need to be depressurized.
I didn’t. And it did not seem like a case like this came through Doctors very often despite having this chamber. Doctors patient population serves roughly 90% people who have MedCal or no insurance at all. They seem to have a solid emergency room mostly because of the amount of gang-related trauma cases that come through there. Most nurses after they would casually ask me to YELP them positively, would say they had never had a near drowning before. Others said they normally med-evaced people away from Doctors, not to.
I obviously cannot complain one bit about the place or their abilities. They did everything right, starting from when I came in. From their reports I was covered completely in sand from head to toe. So much so, I filled their emergency room with sand, and was given the name—SandMan.
When I got there they started four IVs, and intubated me. I had feeding tubes, I was not breathing without the assistance of their respirator. From all reports, there was sand all over the emergency room by the time they were done with me.
It was decided here that they would put me in what was later called the ‘frozen buritto’. Essentially they wrapped me in cold, reducing my body temperature to 90 degrees. This, like the pacific ocean was intended to slow down my bodily operations so it could prevent any brain damage while by breathing became closer to normal. In order to do this, they put me in a coma—paralyzing me and putting me to sleep.
A cat scan was done which showed normal brain activity. I’m not sure whether this was shown to many people at the time or if there was still a lot of question about whether I would be normal when I got out of the burrito, but this was where a lot of my friends and loved ones had a hard time that I don’t really know what to say about it.
Saturday Night -> A Game of Telehphone & The Breaking Up the Shakras
Lelia, on her way, by herself to this hospital with this guy she sorta knew with parents at least 20 hours away, decided to reach out to more people on my dumb phone. She texted my friend Lauren from burning man.. she texted my business partner tom—who told her to reach out to my friend Jessica, Tori and all the other right people, it seemed like most of my San Francisco friends and business people were put in touch with my parents.
My dad set a rule, which was followed. There would be a Facebook embargo. I like facebook, but I’m really happy about this one. Not being able to respond to people and the amount of amplification this ended up getting once the embargo was broken, would have put a lot more people into worry, but also would have taxed the people at the center of things even more.
After all the texts were done, Lelia sat next to me in the ICU while I was a sand covered vegetable buritto. She was all alone there until 10 PM. I don’t know what to say about Lelia in general, but waking up in this place, I can certainly tell you that wetsuits open up some really interesting worlds. People who do not have anyone to go through the hospital with them are less likely to receive the best care. I’m not saying anything bad about anyone in particular, but having Lelia there was incredibly important—everyone on the STAFF of the hospital kept telling me days later. I’m not sure if she said things to them, her mother was a nurse, or if it was just her, but they all seemed to know her name.
Later that night, a band of my SF friends including Jessica & my roommate Chris decided to venture out to Doctors Hosptial. Chris packed me a bag which would come in handy for sure—but Jessica brought my sound healing bowl & healing people who actually knew how to use it. This was an ICU in a rough neighborhood after 10PM on a Saturday night. These people see a lot, there have been gang fights in the emergency room—they had never quite seen this before.
It took me days to know this had happened. But I think this worked on a practical level—it got me more attention and notoriety in the hospital. I also think the sound waves of these bowls after break up the shakras. The spiritual beyond is another question, however, I appreciate it and can’t help but think it played a role here.
It was also said that later this night, Frank, the “respiratory specialist who smokes” as he described himself, did something called respiratory toilet on me. He used this vacuum to suck all of this sand out from inside my lungs. They did not find very much sea water there, which was a good thing. I don’t remember any of this—one week later, I was still coughing up some sand.
Sunday -> The Visitors
My burning man friend Lauren came to visit on Sunday morning. I didn’t know about this till I was discharged. Lelia must have slept through it. I don’t know who else came during this time. There could have been others. I think I’ve found you all.
Around 11 AM my parents arrived in SFO from Detroit. It was decided that my friend John Reed would pick them up. His car was in the shop, so without telling anyone, he went out to rent one—brought them breakfast and picked them up. I don’t recall John ever meeting my parents before but it seemed like someone thought he had. He said they just looked completely shell shocked and frazzled.
I do not know anyone who probably had a harder time with this ride than my parents. From getting this call out of the blue, to having to go all the way out here not knowing the outcome, putting them through this is probably the thing I feel worst about this.
When they got to Doctors Medical center, they seemingly spent 2-3 hours with Lelia before she left with John Reed. Friendship is really made up of shared experience. I really don’t know what happened there exactly, but my parents have a bond with her now that reveals some serious experiences they had together.
The Super Bowl happened this night—and the San Francisco 49ers were in it. I obviously missed the entire thing.
Monday – Awakenings
Apparently I was coming in and out of it all day. But may parents went home and then were called back around 9 PM because it looked like I was coming back.
All I remember in between the waves and waking up there was darkness. I don’t know what could or should be read into this. If I was alive the entire time, even at some low level, the insides of my eye lids are dark. That’s what it looked like. The period of two or so days that I do not remember did take up time.
I fully remember the waves as I explained above, but what I didn’t explain there was how I didn’t think I was going to get out of there and how at peace I was with the whole thing. I was focusing on treading the water, I wasn’t freaking out which may have been what slowed things down to a point where I was barely alive long enough to be dragged through everything I was back to consciousness.
But when I woke up in that hospital bed—looking at the calendar that said Monday and my parents in front of it, I knew where I was. At first I was surprised to be there, or anywhere for that matter. Then I felt that “ooooo you’re in trouble” feeling when you see your parents standing there after you’ve done something bad and in many ways that hasn’t really left me.
My parents left for the night – and that what came next was probably the worst part of my experience. If I came back to life, I had to work back up to things we all normally take for granted like, going to the bathroom, eating, drinking and walking. I knew where I was and why, but nothing about in between. My nurse that night, who ended up being one of my favourites didn’t really know the answers to any of my questions.
She was my favourite because she got me to do things like sit up in a chair, eat, go to the bathroom on my own (I didn’t understand how to use the catheter and it was something that would go off every 2 hours). But that night was dark, alone, with bleepie bleepies and pokings every two hours that wouldn’t end till I got discharged on Friday.
Tuesday – I’m Alive
I started the day sitting up in a chair. I ate the clear liquids breakfast my first morning—I must say, this was by far the best one. I have joked about this with many people, but towards the end, I stopped eating the hospital food and the subway across the street was legitimately fresher. I heard rumours about the cafeteria having good food, but I think they gave us what was left over or something. It came in plastic trays like eastern airlines. The ocean spray plastic juice things I drank so many of as I got my sense of smell back started tasting like plastic.
I only had one little window that was far away leading to the outside world. I had no idea where I was, I sort of had an idea of how I got there. This is where I began two fixastions in my mind– what happened when I wasn’t awake & where is this place. You’ve seen the fruits of the first one here… it wasn’t till Thursday night that I was able to google map on my iphone that I knew where I was. I was 20 mins from home with no traffic, near my friend Dave’s house, but it was impossible to get there.
Why did people think this hospital or neighborhood was so bad? I didn’t know. There wasn’t anything more these icu people could have done. I had so many doctors coming in and pokes and bleeps that I couldn’t get any sleep.
Today a lot of friends came to visit and I was able to hang out with my parents almost all day. It was really reassuring maybe more to them than me. John Reed came by with Sarah and brought me this flower I still have. Tori, who makes the trains run on time at our company, brought this massive bag of cookies that I used to gain favor with nurses and just about everyone else the rest of the time I was there. (its funny because she made them with some special wheat or something, this hospital was the only part of the bay area that seemingly had not gotten the memo that California grows fresh things or the whole foods movement;). Richie, who I had planned to see the new Arnold movie with came to the hospital instead. We made a plan to see it the following week. Richie and I drove down to Cupertino to see the Last Stand of the Last Stand the following Tuesday night. I try to keep my word on things.
I was on oxygen and they were concerned about my lungs drying up. The hardest thing I had to do every 15 minutes was do this sucking exercise to expand my lungs & cough to try to get more crap up. Both were hard since I had CPR. I don’t think I broke any ribs, but I was incredibly sore. I think my lungs may have actually been better that I was sucking, but it was so painful to move after that.
Later this night they actually talked about moving me out of ICU. That was a good sign. Thursday was thrown out about leaving. These days were really long to me—maybe I used every minute of them to try to get out of there.
Wednesday - Facebook!
Wednesday morning, sort of first thing, I got wheeled to a regular floor. They wouldn’t let me walk up there. If I would have walked, it would have certainly tired me for the day, but that would have been ok with me.
The big headline this day, was I was able to use my iphone again. I sent a note to my company to tell them I was ok—and really only missed two days of work entirely. Someone, and its fine that she did this, broke the Facebook embargo. I love facebook— I spend way too much time on it—but it would have been REALLY bad if all those people knew before Wednesday. But since I was able to answer things for myself, breaking it this day did two things:
1) it made me feel GREAT to have to much love and support
2) tired because people sent me all sorts of intense things I didn’t have the energy to deal with.
Things started to take on a normal feel towards the end of the day. Danny came to visit for like 6 hours. I don’t know if you know any De Bonis’s, but they have this presence. One surprise guest to came visit, my friend I refer to as “surfer girl”. She was the first person I ever went surfing with at the first place I ever went surfing, Stinson Beach. I am still happy they brought me out that day & about all the worlds my wet suit has opened for me. She brought this trail mix which I swear helped me to make it to discharge day on Friday.
Then later that night Lelia snuck into to the hospital. Visiting hours were over, but apparently, she has a way of bending the rules. It was nice that she still wanted to talk to me considering all she didn’t sign up for.
Thursday - It’s a miracle !
Word started to circulate through the hospital that I may be leaving. From being the sandman, to my interesting spiritual ceremony, to the fact I had paying insurance and parents that cared, all set me apart from the regular population there. They aren’t used to kindness @ doctors. I had gotten a TON of balloons from my DC friends and we knew we’d be moving on soon, so we asked the nurse if she’d give them away to other people. She acted surprised—“people don’t give anything here.” Well there’s a first time for everything.
One by one, people came through, some I’d seen before, others who I’d never met before and those were the creepiest ones. The first respiratory guy who didn’t think I was going to make it. My first ICU nurse who just looked at me from the doorway in shock and surprise as I walked in circles around my room. I had never met my lung Dr. before—my parents knew him. I did not—he certainly must have saved my life somehow.
The climax of all of this was when the head of surgery came in. She seemed like a tough woman. She started to tear up. She said the last person she saved went to prison for life. A lot of her patients end up back there sooner than later with bigger wombs from gang fights. She didn’t normally help people that seemed to have a future.
Then my very first nurse in the ER came in. She knew why I had a bandage on my leg. They stuck something into my bone for nutrients; I apparently didn’t like that too much. She began to give me a history of all the holes all over my body. She knew my body better than I did. It seemed like almost none of them had seen anything like this before—and certainly had not had too many near drowning cases. One nurse said I was her first in 16 years. One reason may be that people who have what happened to me, don’t normally make it to the hospital.
They all did everything right. They did such a good job I didn’t even realize all the stuff they did and I probably never will.
Later that night Jessica came over.. and it was still hard to piece together what exactly she did that night. My Sound Healing Bowl had traveled with me to the new room. All the nurses asked me what it was. There was a guy screaming across the hall, my mom thought he had hospital dimensia, but the default method no matter what there was to inject. While they wouldn’t use it on hime, I really wanted to nurture the nurses curiosity in the sound healing bowl. While it doesn’t cure pain, the sound does chill everyone out. I intend to bring some bowls with me—if I can find them—to my follow up appointment.
More than what Jessica did for me, my hope is this sound healing may be an expensive, lasting good impression on this hospital, its population and its practitioners.
Friday – I get to go home
I’ll be honest here. When they did the test, walking up and down the hall—they were measuring whether my lungs provided enough oxygen. I thought I had failed. There was about an hour where I didn’t know if I should tell my parents about it or not. I didn’t think I could stay there any longer. I was already not eating their food anymore. I wasn’t getting any sleep with all the pokes and bleeps and lets weigh you at 4:30 in the AM.
I did eventually mention something to my parents—they tended to take an optimistic view. They were right. I had gotten the oxygen numbers and my heart rate inverted from when I was walking. This concern wasn’t just based in those numbers though. I didn’t feel right. And as they were releasing me—walking down the hall did make me light headed. I knew getting out of there was the right thing to do, and since I agreed to stay at my parents hotel near by the first night, I thought if I was wrong I could probably get back there quickly.
Walking outside and having my dad drive me away in my car, for the first time I was able to see just how small the Doctor’s Hospital was. I saw some of the places people mentioned, but I didn’t think the hood was as bad as everyone was making it out to be.
Saturday & Beyond
By night fall, I slept. Got up the next morning—and while I was a bit shaky, I somehow convinced my parents to let me drive home back to San Francisco. I knew the way. Everyone knows no matter what time of day I-80 pretty much has traffic near Berkeley. I drove the 30 minutes home, in traffic without stopping.
I thought this might give my parents confidence, but if anyone knows what its like to have drive with a jewish couple that’s been married for over 40 years—this was probably our best option.
Later that night I ate dinner with my roommate Chris and his friend Surfer Matt. It was a nice way to ends things I guess—one week later. Matt told me my biggest mistake was not wearing flippers. I’ll add it to my list. Beyond that the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern California is a particularly dangerous and rough place. I’ve always known it was cold, but the deceptions, that’s another thing. Not even flippers can get you out of sometimes.
I should recover 100%. I’m not there yet. I don’t have the reserve energy that I used to. I’m also not trying to make big and lofty statements about anything. I tried really hard to be a good person before all of this, I don’t plan on changing that. If I can say one thing, a little less than a week after discharge, about what I value:
My family, my friends, my California driver’s license and my ability to walk this earth to try new things everyday again—in that order.
– Dan Beckmann, 2/14/2013, The Mission District, San Francisco