Daily Archives: September 19, 2015

Looking for answers

It was a day that started with hope and ended with both of us in a hungry exhausted heap nearly 12 hours later. 

We took a taxi to the hospital and arrived about 8 am. At the intake desk of the ER I handed over a note that Sue translated into French for me that outlined my problem and what I thought was important medical history, along with a sealed envelope from Dr #2 in Bora Bora, the contents of which are unknown to me. They took me right in and made Jack wait outside. After a few minutes a nurse and a doctor came in and read my note. The doctor examined me and was quite concerned about my inability to push upward against her hand on the top of my left foot. She ordered an X-ray of my lumbar spine. I was in a lot of pain all morning so the nurse gave me a shot of something but I don’t think it had any effect.

I had spent most of the passage from Bora Bora in our bed crying, not just from the pain, but from this stupid kick in the ass. I cried more over this injury than when we were dismasted because at least then we had a clear path and a foreseeable timetable to put things right and move on. With this, I have no idea how long it will take to get better, and my whole identity has been shaken. I consider my good health, my strong back, my flexibility, my physical energy, my control over my body, as fundamental to who I am. Take those away and I have to rethink my sense of self. I’m 64 years old and I’ve never had any health problems beyond a few sprains and broken bones. 

When my mother was in her nineties I accompanied her to the eye hospital for a cataract operation. The intake nurse ran through the usual questions. “And when was the last time you were admitted to the hospital?” she asked. Mom closed her eyes to think. After a moment, the nurse gently prompted her. 

“Was it within the last month?”

“Oh no,” I said, and looked over at Mom. At the sound of my voice she looked up at me, then to the nurse. 

“1951,” she said emphatically. That was the year I was born, more than 50 years before. These are the remarkable genes I was born with. 

The doctor didn’t see anything in my X-ray so she got authorization to do a CT scan, which they did about 1pm. After the scan I joined Jack in the waiting room where he was enduring the daytime programming on the local TV station, which he said consisted of some incomprehensible game shows, a couple of talk and call-in shows, and an afternoon of Telemundo soap operas dubbed into French. I had wisely brought my Nook so at least I could read and mostly tune out the bad acting and bizarre costumes. There was no food available anywhere, just vending machines for water, coffee, hot chocolate and Coke. It’s no wonder diabetes is on the rise here.   

 I was still sitting in a hard metal chair in the waiting room for the scan results at 4pm so I went back to the desk to ask about it and also asked them to remove the IV needle. They told me it would be a few more minutes so I went back to the waiting room. The place was now full, like any ER you’ve ever been to, with the hallways lined with patients in stretchers and wheelchairs. The waiting rooms were also nearly full. Sitting does not feel good, but lying across a few seats with my head in Jack’s lap got me into a reasonably bearable position. Two hours later I went back to ask again. Just a few minutes, they said, but after another hour I told Jack I couldn’t take it anymore and walked out. “But we’ll just have to come back for the results!” Jack said, running after me. “I don’t care,” I whined. It was just too painful to sit there and neither of us had eaten all day. 

By this time it was dark. There were no taxis at the hospital or on the streets. We started walking toward town and it actually felt ok for the first half mile or so. It just felt great to be out of a chair. Jack kept scouting for a cab. We were on a busy spur into town and the cars whizzed by leaving a dusty wake. We plodded on.

Then a nice Tahitian lady picked us up and took us the rest of the way into town to the marina. She asked where we were from and we know by now to say “near New York” instead of “Pennsylvania” because very few people have heard of Pennsylvania. She gasped, “It’s a sign! I’m going to New York!” and she told us how she had spent a few weeks at a language school in New Zealand and was going to do the same in New York this coming winter. She wanted to know all about New York and told us she even bought a heavy jacket. You’ll need it, we said, and when we told her her English is already quite good, she smiled brightly. 

We got back to the boat just before 8pm and I was never so glad to take my shoes off and lie down. 

To top the day off I got an email from the watermaker repairman. He just left the island and won’t be back until next week, so our hopes of a quick repair job went out the window. 

Tomorrow we’ll go back to the hospital and learn the verdict. 


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Tomorrow will have to do

He had that time worn, weary, heard it all before look complete with wispy white, gone to seed, unshorn, unkempt hair set off against a gentle, patient half smile seemingly embossed on his face. Sue from Macushla graciously agreed to come along to translate and hold my hand. After hearing Sue’s French translation of my meandering English explanation for this early morning consultation, the doc asked a question or two. No, Bora Bora has only an X-ray machine which would be a waste of time and money plus the discomfort to the patient…he let that hang in the air for a moment and then asked what she was taking. He had no argument with the meds, just that he liked this over that a little better but we would have to get our patient to Tahiti which has a brand new MRI. This would involve transferring Marce from Escape Velocity to the dink and a short, probably choppy ride to the Mai Kai dinghy dock, transferring our favorite patient out of the dink, walking through the club to the owner Teiva’s kindly offered car for a ride to the airport where we would have to find a way through the airport into an airplane where she would have to sit even though she hadn’t been able to sit up for our entire stay in Bora Bora! No this wouldn’t do.
Maybe a plan B was called for. 

I’m a simple man with a simple plan, which is to tuck M into our stateroom and drive straight to Papeete which, with any luck at all, should take about 35 hours, tie up Escape Velocity to the town dock marina and get M to the hospital. She liked the plan and as luck would have it tomorrow morning’s weather promised relatively calm seas and a window long enough to make it to Papeete the following day in the daylight if we could average at least four and a half knots. We hadn’t had a chance to install the redesigned masthead bit so once again the burden would fall to the Volvos. 

I’m not used to doing everything myself so everything had to be thought through carefully. The day dawned beautifully and I soon found our mooring gear comprehensively twisted around the mooring ball but with very little wind I was able to get it sorted and we were headed for Passe Tea Vanui, Bora Bora, by 6:30 am. I settled in for 35 or so straight hours at the helm. As you Escapees know I hate to go backwards, it just feels like defeat but just the same, this feels right. We need to know what is going on with Marce’s back or at least give it a name.  

 It’s always sad to leave a beautiful harbor and as I turned to watch Bora Bora fade into the mist this was no exception. We had a calm sea state as promised and a little current to push us along but I knew it would turn against us during the night so I kept the starboard engine turning over at a good clip monitoring the engine which will overheat if given half a chance so discretion was the order of the day. It was a balancing act of keeping M as comfortable as possible while maintaining a daylight arrival the following day and making sure the engine didn’t overheat. 

It didn’t take long before the motion of EV at sea hit Marce’s already overwhelmed stomach and in addition to enduring serious back pain, nerve pain, and nausea while taking handfuls of pills, from the sound of violent retching from the head, I could hear out in the cockpit it would be safe to say that you could add sea sickness to the butcher’s bill of this night’s torture for her. It would be a long night. 

Normally we do six hour watches at night but tonight my watch will never end so I concentrated on managing the engine and trying to find EV’s groove as the sea state evolved. There was no need to check the clock. During the night the wind picked up and so did the waves and countercurrent, all of which conspired to rob the piggy bank of our extra speed salted away during the day. 

Eventually I realized that I had to either raise the jib or start up the port engine for a little extra push. I wanted to get M to the hospital that day, but the wind as usual was on the nose so it was back to Doctor Diesel for the handy bloke.

I expected high winds and waves while coming out from the lee of Moorea which would be torture for Marce but for the first time in four crossings of this stretch of ocean it was realitively calm and we made reasonable time. Marce got permission on VHF radio to enter Passe Papeete and we tied up near our old slip at the town Marina. At 4:00 pm it was too late for a run to the hospital. Marce was in no shape to travel anywhere so tomorrow would have to do. 

Come to think of it, I was in no shape either.


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