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SURFING SOAPBOX:Value our quality healthcare

In the back of the mind of every person who travels is the worry of being injured in the middle of nowhere. Yesterday that worry became a reality for me.

I was surfing fun 4- to 6-foot waves in the south of Chile with Keith Malloy and Raph Bruhwiler. A whole slew of cameramen on the beach were documenting our every surfing maneuver.

In conditions like this with a group of pro surfers and a film crew on the beach, the stakes out in the water can get pretty high.

When I took off on a high tide, overhead left, my concern of getting hurt became reality. Bottomturning on the waves, I could see the overhead pitching lip approaching. Normally when there is that much backwash I would not have gone for another maneuver, but with the film crew on the beach, I went for it.


And paid the price.

Once I hit the lip, I came down with the lip and met the three-foot high backwash head-on, which pressed my head into my toes.

Soon I was being helped from the water and taking an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital, which was 45 minutes away.

With some funky old neck brace on, my fullsuit (wetsuit) and booties, my main concern was that the ambulance driver was going to crash as he raced through the twisting and turning mountain roads.


Once at the hospital it was like going back in time 30 years — the hospital was not modern.

One example of their outdated technology was the old rusted typewriter they used in registering me into the hospital.

I lay on a backboard shivering with blankets and a hot water bottle underneath that I gripped as if it were one of my young.

Holding onto it, I worried that I was going into hyperthermia because no one in the ambulance or at the hospital was monitoring my vitals, as I shivered uncontrollably for nearly an hour.

I spent the day in the hospital basically fighting the language barrier and for the most part the doctors as well, before leaving with what they were calling a bruised spinal cord.

I have some numbness and tingling down my right side and no doubt will be going to the doctor when I arrive home to see how severe my injury really is.

One thing I can tell you firsthand is that we take a lot of things for granted in the United States — and one thing is for certain that I will not take for granted again is our medical care.



  • JAMES PRIBRAM is a Laguna Beach native, board member of Clean Water Now, professional surfer and founder of the Aloha School of Surfing. He can be reached at

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