Feeling terribly guilty that Jack had had to suffer along with me, I was determined to muster the energy to find a waterfall up in the hills, and try to ease the pain of not being able to swim or surf. As Jack and I wandered down the road towards where we’d heard there was a catarata, we approached a man with a severe limp on the sidewalk. As we attempted to pass on the right, he greeted us with a huge smile and said, “Bienvenidos a Golfito.” There are beautiful mountains and waterfalls here, he explained in Spanish. Waterfalls? Enrique happened to be on his way to the waterfall, and enthusiastically demanded that he lead us there. Buena manifestacion. I couldn’t complain about the pain in my ears or my leg from the shot when I saw his condition. It appeared as if he’d been crippled by polio. He drug his right leg along even though it looked like it didn’t want to go.
By the way he spoke and greeted people through the town, it was clear that he didn’t let his bad leg slow him down. His one-eyed dog, Poopy, led our parade up the hill and into the jungle. He showed us medicinal plants and we all bathed in the cool fresh water. As we walked back out the trail we ran across a group of three clean-cut men with collared shirts and leather belts. They, too, knew Enrique and Poopy. They spoke about acres, views, and property lines. I wondered how much longer Enrique would be able to bathe and find peace at this waterfall. “Oh, and if you happen to need an attorney while you’re here, give me a call,” said one of the men as he handed a crisp business card to Jack. “Thanks a lot,” I muttered sarcastically. The juxtaposition of our two groups was odd, but it reminded me that each moment and place on my “path” was precious, fleeting, and often transitory. Over the week my health deteriorated. I went to Elvis everyday, showed him the cheek opposite the day before, and took the needle. Afterward I would have a fever and ache in my leg from the shot and the medicine. I had no energy and chores aboard Swell mounted. Jack patiently took care of me, but as his time dwindled I knew I would soon have to take action to improve my condition. After heaping stuffing, turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes and pie on our plates, we sat around Tim and Katy’s and shared stories and good times with the group. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better meal. I made jaws drop at the pile of whipped cream I slew atop my pie. But when would I see food like this again, I wondered? Thanksgiving dinner was but a distraction from my problem, though. I still had a fever and could barely hear out of either ear. Tim and Katy would watch over Swell while I went to up to the capitol and found an ear specialist. I flew to San Jose with Jack and apologized as he left for Santa Barbara the following morning. I wished so much that I could have shown him a better time. But like always, he pointed out the positives and tried to make me feel a little better about the whole nightmare. That very morning I got an appointment to see an ENT specialist. The doctor put little cameras into my ears to show me what the infections looked like. I couldn’t understand everything she said, but the gist I got was stay out of the water and use the eardrops she prescribed three times a day. Not even in the shower could I get them wet.
A few days passed. I stayed in hotels and rested in the air-conditioned dryness. Still, I wasn’t feeling much better. More time passed and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. My dad booked me a frequent flyer ticket and a day later I found myself in my parents bed in San Diego where I laid for another twelve days between doctor appointments. The holidays approached, I missed Swell, but my ears still pulsed as if the little infections were throwing a hip-hop concert in my head. It seemed I would never feel good again. Ebola of the ear? I’m still not sure, but just like everything else, it’s amazing how you learn to appreciate your health once it’s gone.
All photos in this article appear courtesy of Jack Buttler.