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The surf hitting the rocks on Moonstone Beach near Cambria. 

I saved a life recently. I think I saved a life but they could have died. If they did, I tried.

“They” was he and “recently” was Cambria where we spent Labor Day weekend with friends who have a place there. Haves and have-nots populate the world and if you are a have-not, it helps to become better friends with the haves.

I’ve been saying Came-bria for years but it’s Cam-bria, like the ancient times crawling with spiders, insects and hard-bodied brachiopods.

There were none of those around but Cambria is full of cute shops, lush gardens, good restaurants, a gorgeous coastline and clean, refreshing ocean water.

Cold water makes you feel alive. So does pain, but people don’t normally seek out pain. However, a dip in the ocean is restorative.

I took mine in front of the Sea Chest Restaurant (known for delicious oyster stew). Eight or so surfers were skating down the steep waves on the outside. I worked my way in slowly and dunked four times — one for each kid — and then walked up the dirt path to a bench overlooking the beach. I sat down, flicked the sand off my feet and put on my sandals. A blond woman in her 40s sat next to me. I asked her how she was doing.

“Good, except my son just got hit on the back of the head with the nose of his board,” she said. “He’s bleeding. We have four boys and we’ve seen our share of emergency rooms.”

I told her I had been hit by a board on the back of my head too and had nearly died. I always add the “nearly died” because I think it adds weight to the story. If I don’t get the reaction I’m looking for from the “nearly died,” I include “and I almost bled out.”

I’m not sure if the nearly died and bled out is true but I did get whacked on the head in Mexico about 15 years ago. I bled through a couple of beach towels and in my gradually improving version of the story I was minutes away from stroking out, having a heart attack or both.

I must have sold the story to the mother of the hurt surfer because she asked “if I would mind looking at his wound.”

“I’d be happy to,” I said.

I know that medicine was my calling. I have always felt like a doctor trapped in a writer’s body. This was my chance to break out and be the healer I had always imagined myself to be.

She beckoned to a blond kid who looked to be about 16. He walked toward us with a short board under his arm.

“This man has had some experience with head wounds and he’s going to look at yours and see if you should get stitches,” said the mom.

“Experience?” You can say again. Did I tell you I almost bled out? I narrowly escaped death.

“How are you feeling?” I asked kindly.

“Good,” he said. “It was totally worth getting hurt for.”

My colleagues will understand that I was checking for signs of concussion that might include headaches, nausea and slurred speech.

His speech was fine except he was 16 and leaned toward using lots of “likes” and “dudes.”

I asked him to turn around so I could examine the back of his head. It was a cut, possibly a laceration, between the top of his neck and the bottom of his skull. The cut was about a half-inch long and a quarter-inch wide.

I’m glad it wasn’t a subdural hematoma — even though I don’t know what that is but it sounds awful — so I stayed away from mentioning it. The cut, possibly a laceration, had stopped bleeding and was clotting nicely like milk on a cheese farm. The blood was either clotting or his thick blond hair was keeping it from moving like reeds in a swamp.

I turned toward his mother. I had a medical diagnosis, a course of action and a recommendation for dinner.

“It’s not bleeding anymore and the cut, possibly a laceration, is not deep or wide,” I said. “What I would do is clean it, put on a butterfly bandage, watch it carefully and check it tomorrow.”

“Checking it tomorrow” is in the medical water.

His mother was relieved. I felt good because I had obeyed the Hippocratic oath, the one I had taken many, many minutes ago that said: “Do no harm but if you do, don’t leave your cell.”

Now, it was time to address my patient, which I did without calling him “dude” or using the word “stoked.”

“I think you might want to stay out of the water for a couple of days,” I said.

They thanked me. I would have turned down money had they offered it, but they didn’t. That’s not why I do this work in these, post Cam-brian times.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.

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