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Big Sur Slide

“A series of storms in the winter of 1983 caused four major road-closing slides between January and April. The March slide north of Big Sur closed the road between Big Sur and Monterey for approximately two months. Another major March slide, occurring south of Big Sur near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, was at the time the largest slide to affect a state highway; it took over a year to completely clear that slide and reopen the road between Big Sur and San Simeon.

The road south of Big Sur was reopened to local traffic over one year later on March 21, 1984; it officially reopened to through traffic on April 11, 1984.”

— Fear of Failure, James Aarons

When mudslides occur in Big Sur extreme devastation results, washing all human footprint from the face of the mountains, dumping it into the ocean hundreds of feet below. When the Northridge earthquake hit southern California, block after block of human construction was destroyed. The difference is the southern California natural disaster caused the structures to fall and become trash that needed to be rebuilt, and the land reused. When Big Sur has a slide, the entire mountainside falls into the ocean, and the process of carving virgin land into roads starts all over again.

Big Sur became part of my practice territory when winter rains closed the road to Monterey. Usually, I wouldn't drive that far; it takes too much time. But these folks couldn't get up to Monterey anymore. I received a call from a local named Honey Rose. She was a midwife for many of the alternative lifestyle seekers in the remote enclave called Big Sur. She asked if I could find time to spend a Saturday at their ranch in Big Sur. A mare was lame and they had a lot of young goats needing castration, plus all the animals needed vaccinations. And she would see if the neighbors needed me as well. I looked forward to the call.

I arrived at Honey Rose’s house about 1:00 in the afternoon. Living in the Big Sur area for twenty years, Honey developed a network of friends and neighbors. She was the midwife to this population, helping many of her neighbors deliver their babies. She and her family were caretakers on a parcel of land overlooking the ocean. A California senator owned the place, and Honey’s family lived in a doublewide mobile home behind the gated entrance. Now, because of the rough winter, the house was ripped open; a third of the double-wide mobile home sheared off when rushing waters washed away the stilts supporting that part of the house. The place where the bedrooms used to be was now an ugly opening, covered by blue tarp.


"Hi, I'm Honey Rose and this is my partner Neil," she said.

"I'm Dr. Aarons," I replied smiling when I noticed her three children were dirty-faced and barefoot.

The two-acre property was perched in a quiet location between the road and the ocean on a wooded cliff eighty feet above the beaches.

"What a cool place," I said, looking around.

"Come this way, Doc," Honey said. Neil ran ahead to put a halter on the horse. "Yesterday morning we found Sadie stuck in the gully. We thought she was caught, but when we went down we realized she could have broken the front leg, that right one. Still we were able to get her up here for you to look at. I bet it took us an hour to do that, right Neil?" she asked, pointing out the exact path they guided the horse up. He nodded.

The mare was calm, Neil was doing a stellar job hanging onto the end of a loose rope; her lameness made it difficult to move anyway.

"Tug her lead, Neil. See if she'll move for us."

He did, she didn't move. She couldn't move the front left leg forward when asked to step ahead. That usually occurs when the foot is sore, commonly when a nail penetrated the hoof, a common scenario in wet soil with old nails from previous projects.

"How did you get her up the hill?"

"We put a rope around her butt and tugged and pulled, that's why it took so long. She can't use that leg at all," Neil replied.

Nodding, I began my exam, formulating more differentials as I felt along the leg. "Maybe she was kicked in the shoulder," I volunteered when I found no abnormal areas along the leg or hoof.

I walked in front of the horse, bent down, and grabbed the foot. Keeping the leg straight by walking backward I slowly pulled the thing up as an entire unit. I was trying to move only the shoulder joint. By keeping the leg straight out and moving it up and down like a heavy handshake I was looking for signs of pain or discomfort, but the mare paid me no mind. "It isn't the shoulder, either," I decided.

A tried a posturing test; if I lined the leg up straight and made the horse put weight on the leg by pushing at her from the right side, then the leg could support her weight. That let me know there was little likelihood the leg fractured; there was no way the mare could stand any weight on the leg if it were.

The radial nerve roots come out of the neck vertebrae just before the shoulder area, and any damage to the shoulder region can cause a nerve paralysis such as this one. One typical scenario is when the horse slips, and the leg goes all the way forward and all the way out sideways, a situation that could easily have happened during the rainstorms when the dirt hillsides became slippery from the rain. The place they pastured the horse was pretty steep, and I could envision the mare slipping down and forward into the ravine. I offered a guarded to poor prognosis, and Honey and her partner Neil asked me to put the horse down. Honey went inside the house while Neil and I euthanized the mare. She wanted to explain the problem to the kids.

It wasn't a fracture; it was a nerve avulsion, the nerves supplying her leg muscles were not working, specifically the radial nerve; in this situation, there was no impulse to excite the muscles to move the limb forward.

A new beach is being made! Problem is no one can get to it. The Cal Trans guys who hang around these slides say that the pebbles continue to fall for days, pattering down the slopes, sounding like sporadic rain.May 2017






Audiobook coming soon



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