Against a Rock

April 6, 2008
By Kristine Beckmann, East Setauket, NY

It was the summer between eighth and ninth grade, the summer that my left hand spent surrounded by a fluorescent green cast. I had gotten wrist surgery as soon as school was over and was doomed to wear a not-entirely-waterproof cast for the duration of the summer vacation. I remember because it was that cast that gave me more trouble than I deserved while I was away at summer camp. Earlier that year, I won a scholarship to environmental conservationist camp in upstate New York. To my eighth grade self, it was the absolute coolest thing in the world. Up until that year, I had never been away from home for more than a weekend. So it’s understandable that I was thrilled to spend a week in the mountains with a few of my good friends.

Camp DeBruce is located somewhere in the Catskills, about a five hour drive from Manhattan. Some of the important things I learned while I was there were how to fire a rifle (and eventually how to kill a fake deer), how to identify edible plants in the forest how to shoot an arrow with only one useable arm. The most influential part of my trip, however, came on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of a hike through the woods.

I should start by saying that I hate hiking and I would never agree to do it willingly. I don’t care how beautiful the foliage is, walking for 3 hours uphill through woods that had no pronounced walking paths is absolutely not worth it. But, my cast prevented me from swimming, searching for salamanders in the slimy creek bottom and canoeing (the counselors had no faith in me whatsoever and were convinced that I would tip the canoe over and fall in) so I decided to go on the never-ending hike through the woods.

By the time we reached our destination, about half of the party was on the verge of collapsing from a mix of dehydration and exhaustion. We broke into small groups for lunch. I was sitting there with my peanut butter and granola sandwich when I spotted what we had been looking for. The waterfall was a fifteen foot wide stream of water that cascaded over the top of the ledge and broke on the rocks poking out of the stream twenty-five feet below. The colors of the trees surrounding it were a strange mix, ranging from plain old yellow-green oaks to those red-leafed ones that I’ve never seen anywhere but in the Catskills. After all of the other kids got bored, they set out to build a dam a couple yards upstream from the top of the waterfall. I complained and moaned for a while about my crippled state which got me nothing except my friends’ disposable Kodak cameras with the command to “take pictures of us!”

After a while, I climbed up the ledge and walked out into the middle of the stream where my friends were building their dam. Not the smartest idea for someone wearing a cast that can’t get wet. I managed to soak my shoes thoroughly in the murky water, causing them to make an obnoxious squishing noise when I trudged across the rocks and grass at the edge of the stream. I didn’t know it at the time, but soggy shoes would soon be the least of my problems.

The counselors, who at least had the common sense to stay out of the water that smelled like sewage, called everyone back down from the top of the waterfall because we needed to head back to camp before it got dark. So we all climbed down one by one; the pathway was only wide enough for one person and really steep and we were all afraid of bumping into someone and falling off.

I still don’t know what happened. One minute, I’m climbing over the edge of this rock and the next minute, I’m hearing the girl next to me scream my name. Everything went black for the few seconds that it took me to fall. The next thing I was aware of was this huge, throbbing pain in my head. Then, as the water began to seep into my clothes and my cast, I realized what had happened. I had fallen off of the waterfall.

I didn’t think I could do it, I mean, earlier that day on of my friends literally said to me, “Haha, don’t fall off the waterfall, Kristine. You don’t need another arm in a cast!” I never realized that foreshadowing actually happened in real life. But there I was: soggy, freezing and in extreme pain, staring up at the sky in the middle of the stream at the end of the waterfall. It took them a while to find me, but when they did, I was in shock and couldn’t talk. I was consciously aware of three things. One, my head hurt like hell. Two, I was going to smell like pond scum for the next week. And three, my mom is going to be pissed at me for getting my cast wet.

Suddenly, my counselor’s head popped into view inches above mine. The first thing she did was ask me to sit up. By this point, I had regained some of my higher-level brain functions and some part of me knew that you did not move someone with a head injury. However, she dismissed my feeble protestations as the ramblings of a person in shock and helped me sit up. Why is the sky spinning? The sky’s not supposed to be spinning… I thought to myself as my vision faded in and out. Eventually, she managed to pull me out of the water and helped me up the rocks back onto the path. My cast full of water made my arm feel like a dead weight dangling at my side. I can still remember the look on my best friend’s face when she saw me limping up the path that led out of the woods and to the van waiting for me on the main road. She looked like someone had just killed her puppy. Of course, I wasn’t helping at all because other than walking, there wasn’t much I could do other than stare into space and mumble incoherently.

After the ordeal, the head counselor told me to go wait in the nurse’s office while he waited for the nurse to get back from her lunch break. He left the second part out, though, maybe with the intent to calm me or stop me from panicking about the medical attention I clearly needed and wasn’t receiving. Finally, my counselor (the nurse was still MIA) drove me to the hospital about five hours after the fall. We actually had to turn back just as we reached the entrance to the hospital because another girl at camp had gotten pegged with a basketball by her counselor during a game of dodge ball. You’ve got to love the efficiency of state-funded summer camps.

As it turns out, the other girl’s injuries were far worse than mine. I walked away with a mild concussion and a soggy, stinking, dirty cast (the hospital people didn’t feel like taking the time to change it) and she had a compound fracture in her elbow. It didn’t seem fair to me; with the amount of pain that came with the whole incident, there should have been some more interesting medical problems. I fell twenty feet without breaking a bone. So now when I retell the story to my friends, I always feel compelled to exaggerate some of the details to compensate for the lack of injuries. Over the past three years, the waterfall has grown about fifteen feet higher and my head injury has gone from “smacking my head against a rock” to “a mild concussion.”

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