ONE SMALL STEP TO THE TEN­DER, ONE GI­ANT LEAP TO THE ER

Passage Maker - - Gear Products - By Cap­tain Sue LaNeve

Mar­itime Univer­sal Truth #1: Reck­less choices rock boats. Or they sink them.

My hus­band and I con­sid­ered our­selves sea­soned mariners. Thirty-five years aboard seven ves­sels of in­creas­ing size and com­plex­ity seemed to sub­stan­ti­ate that rank. Sea­soned mariners un­der­stand the un­cer­tainty of trav­el­ing aboard a boat. When Mother Na­ture’s fury kicks up her seas, we re­spect­fully bow. When an un­ex­pected main­te­nance is­sue presents, we in­hale deeply, down a cold beer, and get to work. We’ve gained wis­dom through ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence and choose ad­ven­tur­ing with care over ground­ing on a rocky ledge, run­ning out of fuel, cap­siz­ing, and/or drown­ing.

Mar­itime Univer­sal Truth #2: Sea­soned mariners do not make reck­less choices.

Read on and you’ll un­der­stand why I’ve had to de­mote my­self from sea­soned mariner sta­tus. This is a tale about a fool­hardy de­ci­sion rooted in ex­cite­ment and im­pa­tience—truly the def­i­ni­tion of reck­less. I am em­bar­rassed to tell the story as it re­sulted in an ac­ci­dent equally laugh­able and fright­en­ing. But shar­ing it might pre­vent oth­ers from mak­ing the same po­ten­tially fa­tal er­rors in judg­ment be­fore and af­ter the event. Per­haps it might even save a life.

Re­mark­ably, I still have no mem­ory of ex­actly what hap­pened. In fact, right af­ter the ac­ci­dent, when asked, I sim­ply had no an­swers. Sci­ence tells me my pro­tec­tive brain focused its at­ten­tion on sur­viv­ing—not on build­ing a mem­ory. Yet at the odd­est times, scat­tered im­ages have emerged. Emer­ald. White. Opales­cent.

Sit­ting in front of the TV the day af­ter the ac­ci­dent, I sud­denly burst out cry­ing as I re­mem­bered be­ing sub­merged, look­ing up through translu­cent emer­ald wa­ter. Some­thing white, an­gu­lar, and il­lu­mi­nated rocked above the sur­face.

Beau­ti­ful green. Green wa­ter. You are underwater. In your clothes. Some­thing is weigh­ing you down. SETTING THE SCENE

Pro­logue to find­ing my­self in this predica­ment: My hus­band, Don, and I had been head­ing north on an­other cruise to New Eng­land. We’d cov­ered the 1,500 or so miles from Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida, through Lake Okee­chobee, north­ward along the east coast and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, through New York City’s Hell Gate, and along Long Is­land Sound to New­port, Rhode Is­land.

We’d docked In­vic­tus, our Kadey-Kro­gen 55 Ex­pe­di­tion trawler, at Fort Adams State Park to at­tend Kadey-Kro­gen’s 40th anniversary week­end cel­e­bra­tion. Then we de­parted with the plan to spend a cou­ple of months exploring the coast of Maine. But first, a Fourth of July stop in Bos­ton Har­bor.

Pre­vi­ous vis­its to Bos­ton had only been by car. We’d loved the city. But as sea­soned mariners, ar­riv­ing by boat al­ways in­ten­si­fied that ex­pe­ri­ence. Plus, we’d be cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day in the town where an act of civil dis­obe­di­ence—dump­ing 342 chests of tea into Bos­ton’s har­bor—pushed our orig­i­nal 13 colonies closer to a war for in­de­pen­dence from Eng­land and op­pres­sive rule. The op­por­tu­nity to hear the Bos­ton Pops live and see an ex­plo­sion of fire­works made this historic port ir­re­sistible on In­de­pen­dence Day.

Pass­ing Bos­ton’s outer is­lands that day, we had ex­pe­ri­enced our usual ex­cite­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion of en­ter­ing a har­bor new to us. We’d booked a moor­ing in down­town Bos­ton, want­ing to be in the heart of the ac­tion with­out a hefty dock ex­pense. As we se­cured In­vic­tus to our moor­ing ball, a dozen wa­ter shut­tles taxi­ing folks around the har­bor threw wakes in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Hol­i­day boaters swarmed the area with no con­cern for oth­ers. We knew we were in for a rough time, but we were in Bos­ton Har­bor. We’d en­dure.

That evening, the night be­fore the hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties, we’d dropped our ten­der, eas­ily mo­tored the short dis­tance to shore, and fallen in love with the many restau­rants, bars, per­for­mance artists, and historic sights Bos­ton has to of­fer. The har­bor had set­tled by the time we re­turned to the moth­er­ship. We high­fived, feel­ing con­fi­dent in our de­ci­sion to moor there.

Overnight, the weather had cooled. The day dragged as we waited to de­part for shore. Fi­nally, sun­set ap­proached and it was time to head in. Nor­mally, Don would se­cure the dinghy to In­vic­tus or dock and board first. I’d hand him what­ever I car­ried, then join him. But it didn’t hap­pen that way. Not that af­ter­noon. Bos­ton was wait­ing, as was a cold hoppy draft at The Black Rose.

Stand­ing on the swim plat­form with my purse hang­ing from one arm and a bag con­tain­ing some snacks and a blan­ket on the other, I fid­geted and sighed, wait­ing for Don. He knelt, his back fac­ing me, try­ing to un­lock a steel ca­ble we use to se­cure our Bos­ton Whaler ten­der when we are moored or an­chored in a busy har­bor.

He’d fi­nally opened the lock and was coil­ing the steel ca­ble. But my ex­cite­ment bat­tled pa­tience; I imag­ined the dis­cor­dant sounds of the orches­tra warm­ing up in the Hatch Me­mo­rial Shell. “Come on,” I said, pulling in the dinghy pain­ter with my left hand, bring­ing the ten­der closer to me. Lift­ing my foot to step onto the Whaler’s flat bow, I let go of the plat­form sta­ple just as a hol­i­day boater sped by. There was a wake, a wave... I am look­ing up. Emer­ald. White. Opales­cent. So beau­ti­ful.

I clearly re­mem­ber be­ing underwater. But noth­ing be­tween the mo­ment I stepped off In­vic­tus and saw those beau­ti­ful col­ors above my head. For­tu­nately, evo­lu­tion prompted a fightor-flight re­ac­tion, sav­ing my life. SUR­FACE! You must sur­face or drown.

My sneak­ered feet kicked, fight­ing the weight of the bags hang­ing from both arms that were pulling me deeper. My left arm tried to reach for a white edge I’d seen through the wa­ter’s sur­face, but I could not lift it. My purse, hold­ing a new iPhone, keys, and wal­let, sub­merged be­neath the opales­cent green, hung from that arm.

Maybe it’s caught on some­thing.

My more prag­matic right arm had no in­ter­est in prob­lem solv­ing. Although it shoul­dered a heav­ier bag con­tain­ing a now wa­ter­logged blan­ket, it eas­ily shot up above my head. Kick­ing harder, my legs pro­pelled me up­ward to­ward that white edge— the swim plat­form. I grabbed hold with my right hand, pulled my­self above the sur­face, and gasped for air. “Oh no! Sue! Give me your hand!” I don’t re­mem­ber see­ing Don. But I’ll never for­get the in­ten­sity of his voice. With my right hand hold­ing firm to the swim plat­form’s edge, I tried again to lift my left arm. A sharp par­a­lyz­ing pain that stabbed my shoul­der blocked the at­tempt, adding to the ab­sur­dity of be­ing underwater in my clothes.

“I can’t.” With only one func­tion­ing arm, I yelled for Don to un­fold the swim lad­der. “And don’t touch me,” I growled, like a wounded an­i­mal.

As if I were dan­gling over a vast canyon, my legs locked like a vise around the lad­der, and my right hand held on for dear life. I let go of the rung, slung the wa­ter­logged bag hang­ing on my right arm onto the plat­form, and grabbed hold of the lad­der again to keep from fall­ing back in the wa­ter. Each ac­tion caused ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain, re­quir­ing re­cu­per­a­tion be­fore my body had the en­ergy to per­form the next. Lean­ing against the lad­der to keep from fall­ing back­wards, my right hand eased my purse off my left arm, then threw it on deck, too.

Don waited to help me board as in­com­pre­hen­si­ble pain un­leashed an evil al­ter ego. My words snapped like rub­ber bands. “I have to do this my­self.”

To as­cend the lad­der, my legs would have to un­wrap them­selves. With one foot on a lower step and my right hand hold­ing a higher step, I again tried to grab the swim plat­form with my left hand—for­get­ting it was the one con­nected to the shoul­der that now felt as if a hatchet might be stuck in it. I howled, fell back in the wa­ter, latch­ing my right arm around the lad­der.

With fight-or-flight still pow­er­ing me and with teeth grit­ting to en­cour­age my ef­forts to pull my­self on­board us­ing just my right arm and feet, I grabbed the high­est step with my right

hand and boosted my­self up with my left foot on the lowest step. My left arm dan­gled, use­less. Even­tu­ally I reached the swim plat­form, crawled on board, and be­gan to sob.

“Hey!” Don’s voice sounded good­hu­mored. “I can’t be­lieve you fell in! You okay?” A smile draped his face and then evap­o­rated. “Why are you cry­ing?”

In ret­ro­spect, I know why he’d been con­fused. I’m a strong swim­mer. I’d fallen in the wa­ter. No big deal. Why was I so up­set? Muted by my own con­fu­sion, I had no an­swer. “Sue? What’s wrong?” Wrong? What could be wrong? Bos­ton Har­bor! Cooler weather. Pic­nick­ing on the Es­planade. The Bos­ton Pops and July 4th fire­works. My sob­bing grew un­con­trol­lable.

“I’ve screwed up our night,” I moaned, wait­ing for my left arm to be­have nor­mally and quit hurt­ing. “It’s still early,” Don said. “How’d you fall in?” We’d only boarded our dinghy to go ashore a thou­sand times be­fore. He reached to hug me, but my al­ter ego barked, “Don’t touch me!”

“Okay, okay!” Prob­a­bly fear­ful I might bite the hand that touched me, Don took my purse and bag into the cock­pit and gave me a minute to calm down. “But se­ri­ously. How did you fall in?”

That nig­gling ques­tion again! I tried to make sense of it. A wake, a wave…I stared into the wa­ter as Don waited for me to an­swer.

“I don’t know what hap­pened. There was a boat. A wake. I guess I fell,” I said. “And this wa­ter is dis­gust­ing!” An al­gae bloom had turned the har­bor into what looked like a cesspool.

As I sat safely on deck and tried to calm down, I be­gan to fully com­pre­hend some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong with my left arm. Any move­ment re­sulted in mind-numb­ing pain. “I might have hurt my­self.”

To my amaze­ment in this rec­ol­lec­tion of events, what up­set me more than my pain was the dis­gust­ing wa­ter into which I’d fallen. I needed a shower. Im­me­di­ately. Some­how, I man­aged to stand up. Don helped me into In­vic­tus’ saloon and my bath­room.

Re­mem­ber the shower scene in Psy­cho? Imag­ine me as both ac­tors. I am Janet Leigh stand­ing un­der the hot wa­ter, my slight­est move­ment to un­dress trans­form­ing me into Anthony Perkins as the wicked Mother, stab­bing my own shoul­der.

“I can’t do this! I can’t move my arm. And it hurts. It re­ally

hurts!” I cried.

Don never left my side. For­tu­nately, I wore a but­toned top that he helped ease off. Each slight move­ment caused hor­rific pain. There was more un­con­trol­lable sob­bing. Much more. Af­ter sim­ply let­ting the wa­ter bathe me, Don in­sisted I lie down and try to re­lax, re­al­iz­ing I might be in shock. We needed to eval­u­ate the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion. “Did you try to stop your fall with your arm?” he asked. I couldn’t re­mem­ber. But it made sense. We ex­am­ined my left arm and shoul­der. We found no bones stick­ing through skin, but I could not lift it. Our hy­poth­e­sis? When I’d fallen into the wa­ter, per­haps I’d grabbed some­thing and dis­lo­cated my arm.

The un­bear­able pain sent Don search­ing for painkillers. An old pre­scrip­tion con­tain­ing codeine hardly helped. Plus, Un­cle Google re­minded us that a dis­lo­ca­tion tends to swell rapidly, which would make it worse. It would need to be re­set quickly to re­duce long-term is­sues.

WHAT TO DO

Should we call the Coast Guard? Noth­ing seemed to threaten my life. No boat hazard ex­isted. In de­nial about the se­ri­ous­ness of our sit­u­a­tion, we de­cided to dinghy to shore.

Don cre­ated a sling from a large scarf to im­mo­bi­lize my arm. On deck, he sup­ported me as I kneeled and then sat on the plat­form. The har­bor seemed calmer as if the uni­verse had come to our aid. With the ten­der’s bow and stern tied close to the plat­form, Don helped me ease my­self aboard. Be­sides the in­cred­i­ble pain each mi­nor move­ment caused, it was a rel­a­tively easy, sta­ble board­ing—I wasn’t car­ry­ing any­thing this time.

Dock­ing, dis­em­bark­ing, and Uber­ing to the hospi­tal chal­lenged ev­ery ounce of my abil­ity to bear pain and show courage. Im­ages of a doc­tor yank­ing my arm back in place gave me the shakes. Luck­ily, or un­luck­ily, I didn’t need it. My shoul­der wasn’t dis­lo­cated. It was bro­ken.

I learned a new word that night. Com­min­uted. The x-ray re­ported a min­i­mally dis­placed, com­min­uted frac­ture in­volv­ing the humerus sur­gi­cal neck, greater tuberos­ity, and the lesser tuberos­ity. In plain English, the shoul­der end of my arm was frac­tured in three places. The bad news? There were many pieces. The good news? Those pieces were mostly in place and surgery would not be nec­es­sary. In­stead, my shoul­der would be im­mo­bi­lized for months. Af­ter the bones healed, phys­i­cal ther­apy would reed­u­cate my mus­cles on how to func­tion.

When I de­cided to write about my ex­pe­ri­ence, I picked Don’s brain for more de­tails. The splash of my body as it hit the wa­ter alerted him that some­thing un­ex­pected had oc­curred. He’d spun around but I was gone. Then he saw my head a foot underwater. The ten­der, which had ric­o­cheted on its pain­ter, was about to hit me, which might have knocked me out. He’d been able to kick it away, only to re­al­ize later that he’d also kicked the steel ca­ble into the har­bor. Bum­mer. But he had prob­a­bly saved my life.

I feel deeply grate­ful for re­tained con­scious­ness to tell my tale. If af­ter read­ing, one ac­ci­dent or death is pre­vented, some good will come out of it. But should you ex­pe­ri­ence a trauma, work hard to shake it off and get back in the sad­dle. I am aboard In­vic­tus once again, but work­ing through some PTSD, imag­in­ing ev­ery­one on­board fall­ing in. Still, I’m al­ways game to set out on an­other ad­ven­ture and wish all a safe jour­ney.

n

Nine months later, Sue and Don count their bless­ings at Sea Spray Ma­rina, El­bow Cay, Aba­cos, The Ba­hamas.

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