Have I told you the one about the time I had to scrub live coral out of my friend’s skull with a toothbrush? For someone who usually needs an anti-nausea pill at the sight of blood and guts, I got an odd satisfaction out of jamming an old toothbrush into the gash on his head and going hell for leather.
As seems customary when telling a story, I will set the scene. It was dusk and we had been surfing all day on a pristine left-hand reef break off the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. I paddled past my mate and told him I was going back to the boat. “Righto” he replied, “I’ll get one more and then come with you”.
Looking back it was like one of those instances in a horror movie when the guy tells someone “I’ll be back soon”, only to go into the garage and be hacked to pieces by the serial killer. The end result resembled a similar scene but my friend is still here to tell the story.
The waves were so perfect that everyone’s confidence grew as the day went on. I sat in the channel watching on as he attempted a turn that a few hours earlier would have seemed ridiculous. As he came unstuck, I could see him enter the shallow water head first, hands by his side. This isn’t going to be good, I thought, knowing the razor sharp reef that lay below the surface.
As he surfaced, the excruciatingly painful sound spewing from his mouth confirmed my suspicions. As he paddled towards me I could see the blood pouring from his head and face onto his board and into the water around him. I had difficulty finding the sources of the bleeding, except for the section of his head that had been scalped.
After a few minutes of frantic paddling we were back onboard the boat, the first aid kit laid out on the deck with the crew pouring litres of fresh water over his head to locate the source of the bleeding. As the blood washed away the source came clearly into view. There was a two-inch long hole in his head and yes, a large piece of coral was embedded right in the middle of it.
At this point, I hesitated and looked around for someone who may have some kind of medical training or at the very least the stomach to deal with this. The only person who came forward was the boat owner; a guy who was in his mid 60s, had spent too much time in the sun and was 80% blind due to a severe bout of tropical malaria in the 1960’s.
The old guy came at my mate with a bath towel, promptly blindfolded him and assured him it was for the best as he wouldn’t want to watch what was about to happen. As he blindly pawed his way around my mate’s head with his giant sausage-like fingers, attempting to locate the gash I thought that this is possibly a great script for a new Python skit should they ever decide to reform.
Pulling a toothbrush from his back pocket, he asked me to hand him the bottle of peroxide from the first aid kit. His rough measurements were based solely on the fact that he couldn’t see a damn thing and my mate winced as the burning sensation and bubbling of the peroxide kicked in. Luckily the blindfold stopped the excess peroxide from running into his eyes. As the scene unfolded in front of the rest of us we each sat there silent in a state of mild shock as my mate’s head bubbled and foamed as the peroxide went to work killing off the live coral fragments still lodged in his scalp.
“Right, take this and give it one hell of a scrub” said the old guy as he blindly thrust the toothbrush into my upper wrist. I spent the next half an hour using every speck of elbow grease I could muster scrubbing the coral from his head. I was sure that some of the grime that had built up under the old guy’s fingernails over the years had made its way into his head. After the scrubbing was complete, we both sat there with a beer and assessed the damage. I could barely bring myself to look at his scalped head and face.
To this day, my mate waits patiently for his chance at revenge. The blind, old man with the sausage fingers is still talked about and his legend grows with each retelling of this account.