First let me thank everyone who sent good wishes to Jack. It means so much to us, believe me.
Jack has improved a lot in the past two days. After our initial Night of Hell the antibiotics started to work their magic and we think the fever is gone for good. Along with that Jack is back to his old talkative self but is understandably still weak and below par in energy. A couple of good nights’ sleep has helped but we think it will take a bit longer before he’s back to 100%. His knee is still swollen so obviously the infection isn’t quite kicked and we’ll be keeping an eye on that.
We can’t believe our good fortune that this emergency happened after we arrived in a town. For the previous week we’d been slowly making our way along the north coast of Flores Island, mostly alone and mostly stopping at quiet anchorages with no village nearby. On top of that, our phone and internet hotspot ran out of credit and we had no way to top them up until we got to a town. That meant our communications were limited to VHF radio and our Iridium devices, certainly enough to summon help if we needed it, but definitely limiting our options for immediate nearby assistance. Being in a crowded anchorage with tons of nearby help within hailing distance made all the difference.
Here’s how you know you’re not in Kansas anymore: At the hospital, the nurse gave me the rundown on the meds Jack would be getting and told us they would be sent up from the pharmacy shortly. I went to the front desk to pay our bill while we waited but the clerk told me I had to wait until the meds were actually delivered before she could take payment. I asked if I could use a credit card and she said yes.
When the meds arrived I went back to the desk to pay and found a man with an IV in his arm and an IV trolley beside him sitting behind the counter at the sole computer. I handed the clerk my credit card and she passed it to the man at the computer, who proceeded to generate our final bill and process my payment. He explained the procedure to the clerk at each step, and when he was finished he stood up, wheeled his IV trolley back across the hall to the examining room next to Jack’s and lay down on the exam table. I watched this mouth agape, then turned to the clerk.
“Is he a patient?” I asked. She looked up sheepishly.
“Yes,” she said, and that was all she was going to say about that. She handed me the final printout and receipt and we were free to go.
Most of the boats have left Labuanbajo for Komodo National Park, about 20 miles away. We aren’t going anywhere for a few days, and anyway I don’t think Jack is well enough yet to take the two hour walking tour we had planned at Komodo. We’ve applied for our visa extension and need to go into town tomorrow to complete the process and we hope we can start to plan our departure soon after that. We’d also like to get some diesel fuel because the unreliable wind in these parts means more motoring than normal and we don’t want to be caught out with no backup fuel. Our next scheduled rally destination is 200 miles west.
Today I have Jack parked in the cockpit with his leg up. I’m doing laundry and trying to get the boat cleaned up and back to normal. We hope to catch up with some posts about our great experience at Pasarwajo on Buton Island and share some wonderful photos now that we’re topped up and back online in the normal way.
Thanks again for hanging in with us and for all the good healing thoughts. They worked!
We have plenty to write about from the last two weeks and some great photos to share. But in the moment I want to tell you about how real life still happens even when you live on a boat, and how much we rely on our community of other cruisers and the people whose villages and towns we visit along the way.
Yesterday we motored about 16 miles to complete the lovely but long and mostly windless journey along the north shore of Flores Island. Several of our overnight anchorages were scheduled stops in previous years of the rally but this year none are on the itinerary. Even our next destination isn’t really a rally stop, but rather Labuanbajo, the tourism gateway to Komodo National Park, giving us a fairly generous break in the schedule so we can each plan our own way to explore and enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage site. Jack and I were really looking forward to meeting up with the other boats, restocking in a real supermarket, maybe eating out a couple of nights before we ventured to the land of the Komodo dragons.
We arrived at the anchorage about 10:30am and Jack lay down for a quick nap. Two hours later he was still sleeping in the cockpit, unusual for him, an experienced catnapper. We’d both been eager to get into town so I woke him, then woke him again a half hour later. He couldn’t seem to come fully to consciousness and as I pressed him to get up, it became clear he was foggy and not comprehending what I was saying. Then he tried to go to the bathroom and couldn’t get his legs under him and stumbled down the steps. My normally alert and surefooted husband was confused and unable to control his body. I was terrified.
It took some doing but I got him back into the cockpit but as I pressed him to tell me what was going on he remained unresponsive, unable to put words together. I waved our friend Mark over when I saw him pass by in his dinghy. “We have a problem,” I said. Mark came aboard and immediately saw the condition Jack was in. He asked if we have a blood pressure monitor. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? But our monitor is on its last legs and while it seemed to be working properly, the readout was illegible, even with fresh batteries.
Mark left to get his own monitor and came back a few minutes later with Craig from another boat, who brought a monitor and an oxygen sensor. Jack’s O2 level was fine but we couldn’t get a BP readout on Jack. And both Craig and Mark agreed that Jack needed to get to a medical professional ASAP. While Mark set about working on logistics, he and Craig suggested it might be worthwhile consulting Dr. Sandra on another boat. A few minutes later Sandra came aboard and proceeded to do a routine neurological evaluation. She didn’t think Jack had had a stroke, but of course couldn’t rule it out, and thought perhaps his symptoms were the result of an apparent high fever from a two-week-old injury to his knee that looked to be infected. She also urged us to get him to a hospital right away to be sure and to get the appropriate meds to treat it.
Once that decision was made our circle of sailor friends shifted into high gear. While I gathered passports, insurance info and cash, the others arranged transport from a local hotel, rallied more help to get Jack safely ashore in a dinghy and me ashore in another. Susan was designated our point person and communications link and came with us in the taxi.
Within about 20 minutes we arrived at the hospital and a nurse listened to the onset of symptoms and took Jack’s bp and pulse (both normal) and his temperature (high.) We had a bit of a wait before a doctor came and he was immediately concerned with the look of Jack’s knee and ordered both blood work and an X-ray. While we waited for those the nurse started an IV of saline, electrolytes and paracetamol for the fever.
An hour later the IV and air conditioning had brought down the fever to almost normal and Jack was once again able to respond to questions, although it was a while longer before he could recall his own birthdate.
Susan was good company, keeping us both distracted and entertained, as well as keeping the boater community back at the anchorage informed by phone about Jack’s condition. Eventually the doctor came back, and as far as I could discern from his excellent but accented English Jack’s infection has affected his knee bones and we’d be going home with a fistful of various meds to treat the infection, reduce the fever, alleviate the pain and support his immune system. Total cost for everything was 2,640,000 Rupiah, or about $185 US, well below our insurance deductible.
It was difficult to find a taxi to take the three of us back to the waterfront until an HR employee at the end of his shift offered his own car and driver to transport us. When we got back to the hotel, the manager who had arranged the original taxi and helped Jack to the car made sure we knew he was at our service for whatever we may need. We are so grateful to the complete strangers who stepped up without hesitation to help.
We realized Jack hadn’t eaten since breakfast, adding low blood sugar to his woes, so we quickly ordered food at the hotel bar, but three bites into his burger Jack developed violent hiccups that he couldn’t shake and we wrapped up our food and rallied the transport teams to get Jack and me home to Escape Velocity.
Back onboard Jack continued to hiccup for hours as we tried every remedy in the book. Finally they stopped but then his fever spiked again, higher than before. I was afraid I’d have to get him back to the hospital at 3 am. I spent about an hour sponging him down to cool him off and that brought the fever down, but then the hiccups started again. This went on all night until, completely exhausted, Jack finally fell asleep and the hiccups stopped.
This morning I waited as long as I could before waking him to eat a few bites so he could take the next round of meds. And wouldn’t you know, the hiccups came back. Curses!
It’s now 10:30am. The hiccups are gone again, at least for now. The doctor from the other boat just stopped by to check on Jack. She’s a rehab physician from the Netherlands and we know another Dutch rehab doctor, Monique, whom we met along with her neurologist husband Pieter in Panama back in 2014. Monique and Pieter were at Isabela in the Galapagos when we limped back after our dismasting and were part of the Schulz Cocooning Team that soothed and comforted us in those first weeks of emotional trauma. As fate would have it, they know each other! So twice in our sailing adventures Dutch rehab doctors came to our rescue. What are the odds? They are both special people.
Jack is asleep now. We’re hoping a few days of the antibiotics will show improvement and Jack is taking the doctors’ advice to rest and recuperate. I feel like we dodged what could have been a very serious bullet. My job now is to figure out how to repay the generosity and kindness of so many people who pitched in when we needed it most and continue to offer help. The world is truly a beautiful place.