Monday, February 14, 2011

Broken tailbone

I failed to mention this a year ago when it happened, but during spring break last march (2010) I broke my tailbone way up in a quarry in the Santa Cruz mountains. I was sliding down a steep gulley carved in the Santa Margarita Sandstone, attempting to access a bonebed. I can't even remember if I got anything or not, but at one point, I realized I could not go back up as I had done before.

The dreaded gulley I dropped out of, right onto my #@!.

I looked below me - I had another ten feet of gulley or so before it dropped off. It looked like a large talus cone of sand about fifteen feet below me, which is also exactly what you'd expect, you know, at the bottom of a gulley like that. It looked like a six foot drop or so, nothing bad - I've jumped off cliffs down to the beach from a little bit higher with no consequence, so I thought I might as well. So I slid down to the end, and dropped down, with both toes pointed downhill. Only, the drop ended up feeling a little longer than 6 feet. When I landed, my feet bounced off the "talus cone", which was in fact a thin (1 inch?) veneer of sand over a smooth sandstone surface, my legs flew up in the air, and I fell back onto my tailbone. Now, this wasn't like my feet slowed me at all - all this took place within a second, and I effectively fell the entire distance with my tailbone intercepting 90% of the impact.

The red line shows the distance I fell onto my tailbone.

Naturally, I sat there writhing in pain for a good fifteen minutes, after I crawled out of the hot sun. Luckily no one was in the vicinity (it was pretty embarrassing), or perhaps if they were, they were driven away by a ten minute string of expletives. I've never broken a bone before (except a possibly less serious tailbone break during a snowmobile mishap in 2006), and I gotta admit, the pain was pretty intense. It's strange, it was really dull, but so intense it made me nautious for the better part of two hours. It took a while before I felt like I wouldn't puke from it. And damnit, I had just eaten a nice homemade lunch - I didn't want it to go to waste! Fortunately, after a while I kept on prospecting, and found a beautiful partial Imagotaria downsi (early walrus) dentary.

Chris Pirrone surveys the dreaded quarry.

In December I returned to the locality with my buddy Chris Pirrone, and we found a LOT of bone. It appeared as though an entire mysticete dentary (the single largest bone to ever evolve) that had formerly been about 5 or 6 feet long had eroded out of the cliff into about thirty pieces and was beyond salvage. However, we did find what appears to be an Imagotaria metapodial, which will be nice when I get it prepared. Anyway, I took these photos of the gulley, and when we returned to the site, it looks like I fell 8-10 feet instead of 6. Fun!

Anyway, the day I broke my tailbone, I continued my day and hit up about four more localities - sure, driving was awkward as hell, but standing didn't hurt one bit. In fact, it seemed to help. I actually ended up finding some great stuff that day. I thought about returning home, but I realized all I'd be doing there would be sitting around, which would hurt more than a day of fieldwork along the pretty coastline. What really sucked was the drive back to Montana - I had to pull over every hour and a half or so to get up and walk around.

The moral of the story is: be careful, and don't get cocky (or, overexcited and lose track of your surroundings). And if you must do what I did, land sideways with one foot downhill, like you're surfing. Never go face down, or facing the cliff (I can imagine a faceplant into the rock wouldn't be too nice). Or tuck and roll.

It's now 11 months later, and my tailbone still hurts if I sit in a bad chair for a couple hours.

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