The English patient……..

Posted May 3rd, 2012 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P3280006, originally uploaded by melandnick.

(The pic is not really relevant to the story but I don’t have one that is and I like this picture)

I want to explain that I started to write this blog at 4am in the morning and under the influence of some pretty strong drugs so if I veer off a little into fantasy then please bear with me, since reality is in the eyes of the beholder.
A few days ago Mel and I had been talking about how it will be when we return to the UK. How we will take great pleasure in the seemingly simple experience like heading to our local pub for the best Sunday roast dinner, cuddling down in bed to watch a movie with Dave our cat or walking in the beautiful fields surrounding our home.
You see, this trip has been all about experiences and they really have been coming at us thick and fast. Mel wrote the last blog but she actually missed quite a bit out which was mine to write about and true to form I was too busy experiencing to actually blog about it.
I promise the missing stories will follow very soon but to give you a taster here is a very short synopsis:
In the Tobago cays we narrowly missed being smashed and dismasted by a very large catamaran dragging its anchor and also saved them from being wrecked on a reef. Our trip would have ended there and it certainly would have ruined their day.
We ran Borne hard onto a reef on the perilous and lightly visited East coast of Martinique and thanks to Robert (the Hood), escaped with barely a scratch.
Being a leap year, Mel asked me to marry her. I like to think I am not totally stupid so of course I said yes before she could change her mind.
We have agreed to send Borne back to the UK by Cargo ship.
Then of course there is all the usual stuff, deserted anchorages with white sandy beaches, beautiful blue skies dotted with wispy sheep…..sorry, I mean clouds (the drugs!), BBQ’s on the beach with people we have come to regard as good friends. Hunting for the dream fish (the all consuming search for the mythical 10Kg+ snapper that I see in my dreams but have yet to tempt in front of my spear, sailing in perfect trade winds (we found them at last) etc, etc…..
Back to the present.
I suppose I should explain that I am writing this while sitting in a hospital room on the French island of Guadeloupe.
What happened was this:
Tues 3rd April
Mel and I had a great day. We were anchored off a small group of French islands call Les Saints, the closest to paradise that we have found in the Caribbean. In the morning we took the dingy and motored a couple of miles to one of the deserted outlying islands and there, with the whole island to ourselves, we spent the day spearfishing. Though there were not a lot of large fish, the coral reef was rich and in every hole sat a small lobster. When under the water, we could hear whale song and I saw three turtles. Mel is turning out to be quite a natural freediver but this was her first time with a speargun in her hand and I am quite distressed to report that the days score was: Nick – 1 fish, Mel – 4 fish.
My woman was a natural hunter….how proud was I?
We headed back to Borne and while we were relaxing down below we had a visit from a young couple, Heather (American) and Phillip (British) who were anchored just behind us who invited us back to theirs for a drink. We got changed and headed across and were joined by another British couple. The six of us spent a couple of very pleasurable hours sipping BAD rum (brought to the party by me) and indulging in great conversation and a lot of laughter. After, we headed back to Borne. My rule has always been that if you kill it then you need to eat it and we had fish for dinner. Mel fried up the squid that I had shot and after we had munched that I went out on deck to tend to my two fishing rods which are almost always seen pocking out from the sides of the boat when we are at anchor.
That’s when the pain started. I came down below for the main course. The fish were simply fried in butter and served with only a lemon but no less delicious for it. Mel had shot a Squirrel fish, a yellow tailed snapper (a baby dream fish), a glass eye (the best of the bunch) and a type of jack called a blue runner.
By the end of dinner I was really in some discomfort and stayed up for a while stretched out on the saloon berth while Mel went to bed. I figured I had eaten something bad and Mel suggested that I might have swallowed some bad water when diving as we think this made me ill in Gomera so I figured I would try to sleep and would be OK in the morning.
During the night I threw up and slept very little
Wednesday 4th April:
In the morning I was in real pain so I crawled into the front cabin and spent the day in bed.
In the afternoon Mel dug out our emergency medical book and looked up appendicitis. The pain was getting worse and had gone from a bad stomach ache to an excruciating pain in my right side just above my hip. I also had a bit of a fever and somewhere deep in my brain I must have linked these symptoms with appendix problems. Mel read out the symptoms from the book: upper abdominal pain developing into localised burning pain on the right side, some vomiting and fever with the only cure being urgent operation……oh hell!.
It was late afternoon and the Doctors surgery was closed on Wednesday. It still didn’t seem so urgent as it might still be trapped wind or a little food poisoning….I hoped.
We decided to reassess in the morning so I made myself as comfortable as I could curled up in the front and Mel spent the night in the saloon. It was another sleepless night for me but after a peak in pain during the early hours it seemed to be a little better.
Thursday 5th April
In the morning Mel helped me to get up and that was when the pain really hit me. My organised German side got Mel to pack an overnight bag with my documents, laptop and change of clothes etc and we dinghied in to a small pontoon by a pretty hotel on the beach near our anchorage. The walk to reception was only a 100 meters but seemed to take forever as Mel helped me up the hill. As we got there a Hotel shuttle bus was about to leave for the main town and they assumed we were staying at the hotel so we jumped aboard. We were dropped in the town about half a mile from the Doctors and after a slow walk we then had a 2 ½ hr wait before we were seen by a very friendly but totally professional lady doctor. I was still not taking it really seriously as I could make myself reasonably comfortable when I was sitting or lying down and I was shocked when the doctor calmly explained that she was calling for a helicopter to take me to the hospital on the mainland (Guadeloupe) for urgent tests. Minutes later an ambulance arrived and we were taken to the small island airfield only to be told that the Police helicopter that had been called was on another emergency job so I was to be ferried by boat. We ended up by a small dock where a 10 meter workboat waited with three crew onboard. As soon as I was on board they slipped the lines and I had to shout a quick farewell to Mel and we were off for the 20 minute ride across to the main island. The seas were rough but the small boat was powerful and heavy with a small wheelhouse in which I wedged myself and she powered smoothly through the seas. Suddenly the crew started shouting excitedly and pointing. Behind us the tail flukes of a massive whale reared up and smashed flat into the sea sending a cascade of water high into the air. As the spray settled the whale did it again and as we watched behind us he continued until we were out of sight. This was a very special experience for me. I have seen many whales and dolphins and have even swum with both but I have never seen a whale raise his flukes and I had told Mel that this was one of the things I hoped to see on this trip. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I wear a silver whale tail tied around my neck and that other than changing the cord a couple of times it has not been removed in the last 17 years or so and I see it as something of a good luck charm. Seeing the real thing waving at me at such a time sent me a special message that everything would turn out OK. On arrival there was another ambulance to whisk me to the hospital. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for the kindness and high level of professionalism shown by everyone involved.
Once at the hospital I was again checked by a doctor and after a small wait I was showered (a rare pleasure these days) and taken for an ultrasound check. They had already decided to operate straight away and the ultrasound confirmed that my appendix had burst. I met the surgeon, a bear of a man with big round shoulders and a grim face but a sharp sense of humour, and was told that he had four quick operations first then I would be number five. Mel had arrived at the hospital. It seems her day had been more traumatic than mine. After preparing Borne with the help of Mike from “Nubia” and Robert (the hood) from “Timpetee” she and Robert sailed her over to Guadeloupe and after Robert headed off for the ferry back to Les Saints Mel came to the hospital. I will let Mel tell her own story about this as it was not nearly as simple a trip as I have portrayed it.
About seven o’clock Mel accompanied me to the surgery and said goodbye at the door. I had my first moment of real fear. I hate to be put under anaesthetic. I think it’s a fear of not being in control, of not being directly responsible for what happens. I have always considered myself pretty level headed and fearless but when they laid me on the table in the operating room and strapped my arms down so they could knock me out I was scared.
I remember opening my eyes to see the surgeon talking angrily with the anaesthetist and saw I was still in the theatre and got the impression that I should not be awake yet and then I was out again. My next memory is chatting to the young intern who had taken me for the ultrasound and who had been in the operation. She told me that I had woken up three times before and each time had asked for a cheeseburger and fries (I hadn’t eaten or drunk all day). After a while in recovery I was taken to my room where I read until late then slept in small batches for the rest of the night.
Friday 6th April
In the morning the surgeon came to see me. All had gone OK but he explained that I was very infected and that it had been a very urgent operation. He showed me the small incision in my side (still open to drain the bad stuff….yuck!) and I asked him what would have happened if I had left it any later and he made a cutting motion with his fingers from my neck to my groin. Mel came in as he went out and sat with me for most of the day. We discussed how lucky we were. It’s difficult to accept that given another day or so I might have died. Our journey has been full of danger but it has all felt quantifiable and in the end reasonably controllable but to be put at risk by something as uncontrollable as infection is almost unthinkable. The Gods have always been kind to me and when I consider the possible outcomes if this had happened anywhere else I realise just how lucky I am. Had I fallen ill crossing the Atlantic then I would probably not be around to write this and had it happened on any island other than a French one which is considered to be France and therefore free healthcare for EU citizens then I would be in a hut somewhere being operated on with a machete….I kid you not!
Later Mel returned to the boat and I settled down with a good book until I slept.
Saturday 7th April:
The Vampire!!!!!!
I woke up early in the morning in a lot of pain and needing to use the loo. It’s a long and painful journey. The toilet door is less than a meter from the bed and it takes me about 20 minutes to get there and back. Yes, I could call the for a nurse but I can still walk, just, so my pride won’t let me. The sequence goes something like this:
1Shuffle up a little in the bed (takes time to move the 3 or 4 inches I need)
2Press the button and wait for the top of the bed to go as high as it can
3Sit up. This is a long and painful process as I can’t put any pressure on my stomach muscles without agony.
4Swing legs off bed…see number 3.
5Now the hard bit…to stand up….still in a bent over, sitting position.
6Try to stand straight. This takes a couple of minutes and needs to be done slowly.
7Shuffle…..very slowly…..to the toilet door dragging the drip stand with you. This last part is very important as you are attached to the drip and the stand is required in step 9.
8Locate yourself with the loo behind you and move the drip stand (drip is in the right arm) to the left side.
9With right hand on handle screwed into the wall and left hand using the drip stand for support you lower yourself onto the loo.
To get back to bed you then repeat the above in reverse order.
Now if that isn’t traumatic enough there is the vampire. A blood sucking beast of huge proportions…meanus mosquitos maximus …to give him his latin name.
I know he is waiting for me as he taunts me by buzzing right in front of my face only to disappear as soon as I make a weak swipe at him (my reactions are not very good at the moment).
He bit me this morning when I went…..in a place where he could never have bitten Mel…..and frankly I am not happy.
Once back in bed I called the nurse for the first time to ask for some pain killers and she plugged in a bottle of something good to my drip and that’s when I started to write this blog. Its 7.40am now, I am a slow typist and I have a bite on my neck and on my arm so I know that the vampire escaped with me when I left the toilet. He seems to be full up now as he has left me alone for a while, of course, he could be sitting on a wall somewhere stoned out of his head on my blood.
The Surgeon has just been to visit. It’s a Saturday and he made the trip in just to see me. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to the staff at this hospital. They are fantastic. Almost everyone is smiling and they all try very hard to communicate with me in broken English. I feel safe and in good hands here.
The Surgeon has said that if I had my appendix removed normally I would be back on the boat by now, instead I am laying in bed almost unable to move. This is because the infection was so bad and he tells me I might be here a little while but would not be drawn on how long.
All in all I feel very fortunate. I am on the mend and my worry is for Mel who is having to look after Borne on her own but we have great friends on board Timpetee and Nubia who are moving their boats to be with Borne and keep an eye on her and Mel.

3 Responses to “The English patient……..”

  1. Paul says:

    Hi Nick, omg I am so sorry to hear this has happened to you but also so relieved to hear that you are ok. It sure does make you wonder who is looking out for us sometimes as like you say if you had been anywhere else!! I’m still laughing at the story about the mossy, lol. I’m writing this on the 8th May, please blog again to let me know if your fully recovered….Paul

  2. Michelle Sterckx says:

    Nick sorry to hear about your burst appendix, how lucky u r 2 b where u were, I am a great believer in fate and luck, fortunately both were on ur side. Send my love to Mel and I hope u get out of hospital to spend her birthday together. Love 2u both and take care Michelle xxx

  3. Hi Mel, hi Nick!
    We hope you guys are fine and Borne sits high and dry on a homeward bound ship. We’ve arrived in Horta, but we haven’t been in the water, yet. It’s a shame, I know. But jeez, it’s freezing cold! There’s one low pressure system after the other coming in, flying water in the harbor (one yacht sunk after a mayday in the outer harbour, not good), we’re happy we’ve made it just in time, although our engine didn’t fire up, and we had to carry all that dirty Diesel up here. I think I will have fixed it (injector pump) be next Saturday. So your bazooka hasn’t been used either. We haven’t seen a whale, yet, but ran on it. Poor creature. Must have been really painful experience, I guess. Boat is fine, no damage.

    TIMPETEE’s position is 33°3N 048°2W. They let the remains of Beryll pass them and will head N to the Azores, then.

    Fair Winds,
    See you in June

    Steffi Volker Jonne Line

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