Strange, sometimes, where and how old memories resurface. For me it was in a seafood restaurant where the Lindsleys ate out this past Tuesday night during our beach vacation. You know how in seafood restaurants at the beach they hang all kinds of "beachy" stuff on the walls to create that atmosphere - shells, stuffed marine life, fishnets? As I was munching on some shrimp, I looked up to see a huge shark jaw, teeth and all, hanging on the wall. And as I sat there with the family I had, as happens from time to time, memories of something that happened to me many years ago.
I kid you not: I, Steve Lindsley, was bitten by a shark. And here's the skinny.
Summer 1980; I was heading into the 6th grade. Every summer my family packed the car and headed south on I-95 to Daytona Beach for two weeks (someone on my mom's side of the family had a house in Holly Hill, just outside Daytona). On the morning of said incident the family discussed: should we take in the beach in the morning and then Cape Canaveral in the afternoon, or CC in the morning followed by an afternoon beach excursion? Everyone voted for the latter - except me. So I guess you could say what happened was partially my fault.
We arrived at the beach and, as was our habit, my brother and I jumped out of the car, grabbed our floats and headed for the waves. I had just ridden a wave in, hopped off to turn back out when........I felt something on my foot. I froze. And I don't know if it was my subconscious immediately going into defense mode, but the first thing that came to my mind, oddly enough, was, "It's your Dad. That's right, it's your Dad. He's snuck out in the water without you noticing, swam up underneath you and grabbed your foot with his hand as a joke. He'll pop up any second now.......any second......just wait, he's coming......." And about then is when I looked up the shore to see my Dad sitting in his beach chair reading his book.
It was at this point that I went into full panic mode. Running past my brother I headed to the shore yelling, "Shark! Shark!" He quickly came in with me. As the water got more shallow I began looking down to see what my foot looked like. It hadn't really hurt until I saw it - or perhaps more appropriately, what was left of it. The top layer of skin and muscle had been opened like a suitcase to reveal bone, tendons and tissue. That's when I remember it first hurting.
By this time Dad realized something was wrong and ran to meet me at the shore (Mom, as fate would have it, had taken off on a beach walk and wouldn't join us until later). I remember him taking me by the hand and running with me to the lifeguard chair. As we got closer, the lifeguard got off the chair and grabbed his first aid kit. He told me to lie down on the sand, which I did, and began tending to me. Two images come strongly to mind here: first, a crowd of folks immediately gathered around me, all crooning their heads to gaze in on the "victim." The second thing I remember was when the lifeguard poured a bucket of fresh water on my foot to wash out the sand. That, as you can probably imagine, did not feel so good.
For some reason I did not get an ambulance trip to the hospital - instead we all piled back in the Green Volvo station wagon and headed for the hospital. My brother sat in the front passenger seat and I laid across the back with my head in my Mom's lap, foot raised to ward off the throbbing that was increasing with each passing minute. I remember crying, "I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!" and my mother trying to console me until she finally yelled out, "NO! No, Steve, you are not going to die! You are going to grow up, you're going to get married and you're going to have kids!" To which I responded, "Yeah, but I'm not gonna take them to the beach!" - demonstrating that the Lindsley humor still prevails even in times of turmoil and bodily injury.
The rest of the day was pretty much a blur - I remember bits and pieces: meeting with doctors and nurses, being the "celebrity shark bit victim" in the hospital. I remember lying on an uncomfortable table for the longest time with Mom on one side and Dad on the other (not sure where brother had gone), looking dead ahead at the inside of my foot. By this time I was on all kinds of pain meds, so I didn't feel anything really - just very surreal to be looking at the mangled thing in front and realize it was attached to me.
The time eventually came for the surgery. I was wheeled into the operating room and immediately met by strangers with half their faces covered in masks. You can understand how this would be more than slightly unnerving for an 11-year old. A familiar voice informed me that he was my surgeon and would be fixing my foot up; nothing to worry about. Then he said he wanted to strike a deal with me - that he'd tell me when I was given the gas to put me to sleep, and if I could count from one to ten he'd personally give me $10,000. When he said go I remember going "12345678910, I did it!" But later I found out (and had witness verify) that I barely got to "2." Oh well.
Anyone who has been put to sleep for surgery knows that coming out of it is a very discombobulating sensation. First thoughts of consciousness were a wall in front of me and a clock. Eventually someone wheeled me to a room where the family were waiting. My mind was still in a fog, but I remember hearing that the surgery had gone well and that "I did great" - which is kind of funny, if you think about it, since I didn't really do anything except lay there unconscious. I also remember at one point my mom asking me if I needed anything, anything at all; and somehow in my state I remembered that it was Tuesday night, and it was almost 9:00, and that Charlie's Angels always came on at 9pm on Tuesday nights. I never got to watch this show growing up, though I always wanted to (and honestly, what 11-year old boy wouldn't want to watch Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson in prime time??) So I went for all the marbles and told Mom and Dad what I really wanted to do was watch Charlie's Angels. They frantically searched for the TV remote! The show came on and I was elated - but much to my dismay, I fell asleep before the opening credits completed. A wasted opportunity that I will never fully forgive myself for.
I spent three days and nights in the hospital and was finally released to go home - well, home to our Daytona Beach place. We were supposed to head back to North Carolina that week, but the surgeon wanted us to stay longer for follow-up. Each day was a routine of getting carried from the bedroom to the living room couch and watching TV, then back to bed at night. I remember getting mounds of mail every day from well-wishers back home, and that I read them and re-read them. At my last visit with the surgeon I was kind of down - what kid wouldn't be when informed that you were starting the new school year with crutches and a special slipper on your shark-bitten foot? The doc picked up on my despondent state and told me he didn't know why, but he just had a feeling that in no time I'd be running in races and track meets with no problems whatsoever. Seeing as how I ran some 10Ks with Dad the following year as well as running track in middle and high school, I guess the guy knew what he was talking about.
They say that the shark was probably a sand shark, approximately 4-5 feet in length. These sharks naturally swim along the bottom of the ocean floor, which would explain why I didn't see it. They also don't like human flesh, which I am told is the reason that I still have a foot today. More than likely I frightened it (imagine the irony!) and it bit me in defense, got grossed out over human flesh and swam away. And that was it. To help remember this little encounter I sport a large scar that reaches from one end of the top of my right foot to the other - reminding me of the two torn tendons and 32 stitches they had to put on both the inside and outside. I also have a story to tell, and have told many times (my apologies, by the way, to those of you who may have heard it before). The one thing I don't have are many people who can truly relate. The shark bite fraternity, as you might imagine, has a fairly small membership. Perhaps I'll see if there's a Facebook group or something.