It took a split second for Sally Dixon’s beach vacation to turn into a lingering health nightmare after she fell into a knee-deep hole someone dug in the sand and didn’t fill when they left.
She broke her leg, endured “probably the most horrific physical pain I’ve had in my life,” had to undergo surgery, is still unable to walk six weeks later and expects to pay thousands of dollars in medical bills.
The 58-year-old mother is urging people to never walk away from the beach at the end of the day without filling in the holes in the sand they or their kids have made. When she posted her story online, she said she was shocked to discover many people didn’t know that should be done.
“I’ve been to the beach a million times with the understanding that everybody knew it was beach etiquette to fill your holes,” Dixon, 58, who lives in Milton, Georgia, told TODAY.
“I’ve never stumbled or tripped over a hole… this could happen to anyone.”
'Rolling around in pain'
On Aug. 21, Dixon had just started a vacation with her five sisters in Gulf Shores, Alabama. They had dinner and watched the first episode of “House of the Dragon” when Dixon and one of her sisters decided to walk to the beach and dip their toes in the water. The shore was just across the street.
It was evening, so they used the light on their phones to illuminate their way to the water’s edge. A few minutes later, they turned around and started to walk back.
“I took a couple of steps and I just fell. I didn’t really know what had happened to me,” Dixon recalled.
“My leg went down to the knee, straight down, but my body kept going forward… when I came out of (the hole), I just instantly grabbed my knee and was rolling around in pain.”
The awkward position and force of the fall led to a fracture of her tibia plateau bone, the flat top portion of the shinbone. A fracture here means breaking the bone and injuring the cartilage that covers the bottom part of the knee, the Orthopaedic Trauma Association noted.
After Dixon’s sister called 911, the beach patrol came to put Dixon in the bed of a truck to get her off the shore. An ambulance met them and took her to the emergency room. When Dixon told doctors what happened, they didn’t seem shocked and told her such cases happen frequently, she said.
The broken leg required surgery, pins, a plate and four screws to line up the bones and keep them stable. The treatment left Dixon with 17 staples in her leg. She spent four days in the hospital.
Holes are a hazard to humans and turtles
When her husband drove from Georgia to bring her home, she had to lie flat in the car for six hours on the drive back.
“I left my vacation never having slept in the beach house we rented,” she wrote on Facebook as she shared her ordeal and post-surgery photos. “Please! Please! The next time you vacation at the beach please remember this post.”
Beachgoers digging holes in the sand can injure themselves, too. Earlier this year, a teenager died when a 10-foot hole he and his sister were digging at a New Jersey beach collapsed, completely burying him.
Such collapsing sand holes are "often-lethal events," according to an analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Besides causing potential injury to humans, holes in the sand pose a risk to nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, noted. Researchers from the center wrote they have noticed more man-made holes being left on local beaches.
Other beach communities have also been pleading with visitors to fill in holes in the sand.
🐢 Sea turtle nesting season is approaching 🐢 Beachgoers, PLEASE FILL IN HOLES before leaving the beach ⛱ This large...
More than six weeks after the accident, Dixon still can’t put weight on the injured leg and has been using a walker to get around.
She can’t drive or go grocery shopping and had to take short-term disability from her job in the mortgage business.
Her health insurance is covering the cost of medical treatment, but she still expects to pay thousands of dollars in co-pays.
Dixon said she tries not to dwell on the fact that someone’s carelessness caused so much pain and inconvenience.
“I try not to be mad about that because I was like, people don’t understand. They think it’s a small thing,” she said. Her message to others: Leave the beach as pristine as you found it, which means filling in the holes in the sand you or your kids made.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com