Pieces in italics are from Sian.
“There’s Only One Kind Of Folk – Folk.”
I have a T-Shirt with that saying on the back. Sian bought it to me because it resonates with us. This blog entry is probably going to send shivers up a lot of cruisers spines, but what we really want to get across here, is that serious shit can happen out there, but when you reach out to people for help, the results can be heart warming.
As we spend time cruising we often discuss the ” what if….” not to be pessimistic but to have an idea for action as necessary.
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Hawksbill to Highbourne
Wednesday March 23 found us anchored off Hawksbill Cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. For some reason during the night we has a small surge from the south rolling Sonas slightly even though there was an easterly wind. The first cut to our south was some distance away.
Around lunch we discussed whether we wanted to stay another night or head south to Big Majors anchorage for a less rolly night. We decided to stay put. We instead decided to take a walk with Bella using the sandy path across Hawksbill to the beach on the Exuma Sound side.
“Flip flops or Trainers?”
“Flip flops of course!”
We got Bella into the dinghy and anchored it off the beach by the entrance to the cross-island path. And off we set. It was an easy flat walk for a quarter of a mile then it went up hill a bit onto some limestone rocks. We got to the top of the hill and looked down the steep rocky path onto the beach, and decided that this was far enough for a couple in flip flops so we turned back.
As we went back down the rocky part of the path I turned and held Sian’s hand to help her down. Once down I turned and began walking, and that is when it happened.
Sian screamed, and I turned around to find her on the ground.
“I think I’ve broken my leg!”
For those of you who have seen the movie Alien where the alien pushed out of John Hurt’s chest, you will relate to what I saw.
One of the bones, I don’t know which one, was pushing the skin out the side of her foot and as she held her leg up her ankle was just swinging free of her leg. The look on her face was one of complete shock.
It felt like a 10 second thought process but it was probably more like one second where I thought “I need to pop that ankle back in if we are to get down this hill and better to do it now while she already is in shock and before she realizes she has pain.”
I stepped to her and grabbed her foot and popped the ankle in as best I could. She just looked at me and asked “what did you just do?”
“I put your ankle back into your foot.”
And then we looked at each other and both thought “how the hell are we going to get back to the boat?”
I got her up and put her right am across my shoulder and she started hopping down the sandy path on her good leg. We hadn’t gone more than ten steps when we knew that this was futile. I was going to have to leave her there and go get help. Just then we saw a white shirt though the bushes and a young man turned the corner. The shirt had the logo of Not Enough, a mega yacht that was anchored off the island.
“Can I help you guys?”
We explained what happened and he took Sian under the other arm and helped us hop another few yards. He then decided that his was not going to work and scooped her up into his arms. He told me to run ahead and get his colleague who was on the beach with their clients.
I got onto the beach and called for the other crew. He came over and I explained what was happening. He ran back and told the yacht’s clients was was going on and, to their credit, they asked if they could come help.
The two guys, who we later learned were Calvin and Justin, got Sian to the beach. I had pulled our inflatable dinghy onto the beach ready to get Sian on, but they told me they were going to take her to the yacht’s tender and bring her out as it was bigger and more stable.
I got to Sonas before them and we managed, with some difficulty as there was significant wave action, to get Sian off their center console and onto Sonas. Soon after more help arrived. A couple who were out on their dinghy and saw what was happening came to Sonas. She was a nurse and they had splints on board their boat. While Nancy began the stabilizing process on Sian, her husband Dana helped Paul get Sonas ready to move.
This off season I have made a diligent effort to update our medical supplies, including a medical bag for our dog as this is her first Bahamas cruising season. I felt I had done as much as is reasonable. I was wrong. When it came down to it I did not have appropriate splints or wide enough bandages. Or stronger painkillers than Tylenol.
We needed to move as we had no cell or other signal apart from our In-Reach, at Hawksbill. ( And I didn’t think that this was quite the emergency to activate the In-Reach’s SOS function). Nor was there any facility for getting Sian quickly airlifted. I made the decision to motor the two plus hours north to Highbourne Cay. The alternative was Staniel Cay, with its airport, three hours south. However the marina there is not somewhere I thought getting Siân off the boat was feasible nor was I comfortable leaving Sonas for any period of time if we were both Medevac’d. I made the gut decision to go north to Highbourne. Which also happened to be closer to Nassau should we have to get there there by water.
With Sian on a couch on the salon holding the handheld radio so we could talk, we headed to Highbourne Cay. As we passed north of Norman’s I remembered the significant air traffic going in and out of the airport there and at the same time realized that I wasn’t aware of an airport at Highbourne.
Did I misstep?
I soon was within range of the cell tower at Highbourne and jumped on their web site to confirm that they did not have an airport – but they did have a sea plane ramp! I radioed in and told the lady that we had a medical emergency and required a Medevac.
She quickly got the resort manager Jason on the radio who advised that they did not have an airport, it might be best to go back to Normans. I asked about their sea plane ramp and the possibility of a Sea Plane.
“Are you requesting a sea plane for your wife?”
“Absolutely, if you can get one!”
“Give me a few minutes to make a call.”
It was indeed just three or four minutes and he came back to advise that the sea plane company that they use to provision the island had a plane already in the Exumas and they were diverting it! I was to get into the marina’s fuel dock and tied up ASAP. Which I did.
Jason and Mark came on board as soon as I tied up as did a doctor who was on a boat in the marina. They firmed up the splints round the leg, brought a medical back board and, as gently as they could strapped Sian onto it and four of them moved her onto the dock.
They walked Sian down to their center console and laid her gently on the deck, and moved out towards the sea plane ramp. A few minutes later the plane landed and tied up at the ramp.
Pilots Ricardo and Dusty, jumped out and Ricardo came over and reassured Sian that they were going to get her to a hospital quickly and she was in good hands. They then changed the seat configuration in the plane to have two seats facing each other, and placed Sian across the seats, and strapped her in.
Before they closed the doors Sian was able to see me and she waved. And I guess that is when I was no longer in control of things and I felt extremely emotional as I watched the plane take off.
I cannot thank the Highborne staff enough. They went above and beyond and I will be forever grateful.
On the plane Dusty stayed with me, explained what was happening and upon landing Ricardo stayed with me until I was loaded into the ambulance. Such kind people.
Mark helped me move Sonas to a slip. Sian called later that evening o say hat she had been admitted to the Emergency Room at the private Doctor’s Hospital in Nassau, which the people at the marina had highly recommended over the public hospital. And Bella and I spent a lonely night at Highbourne.
It had been a hell of a day.
Thursday March 24.
I paid for the slip at the marina office and asked for Jason’s contact details. Once things were more settled I wanted to make sure that we were able to reach out and thank him and his team. Stevie the dockmaster helped me untie Sonas and I headed for Nassau. The WX wasn’t exactly kind, calling for 4-6 foot seas between Highbourne and New Providence. And unfortunately they were from the south east, putting them on my starboard stern. This rendered the stabilizers useless and the auto pilot could not hold the course without regular broaches. I ended up manually steering the four and a half hours into Nassau.
When I got within radio range I called Bay Street Marina and asked for a slip for a week, which they were able to give me. I also told them to advise the dock hand that I was single handed and to grab the lines I prepared ahead of time.I got tied up successfully and checked into the marina by 2:30. David in the slip next to me asked why I was on my own , and I explained the circumstances.
After giving Bella a quick walk, I headed up to Doctor’s Hospital which was less than ten minutes from the marina. They had already taken images of Sian’s leg and moved her into her private room. She had three breaks, one lengthways in her fibula and two in her tibia and her ankle was broken. They had her in a soft cast. She told me that the doctor decided not to operate but to get her back to the US as soon as possible. They were working on a Medevac
Friday March 25th.
Yesterday I had tried to update Aetna ( our health care company) on what was going on, but wasn’t successful. I finally got through this morning and a case manager called me back with minutes. After updating her I got a call from Craig their Medevac provider. I told him that the hospital was trying to arrange a flight. He advised that if the company the hospital used was based in Nassau that might be quicker than using them, as they were Miami based. I told him I would find out and call him back.
Meanwhile the hospital had started the doctor to doctor transfer process to the hospital in Miami, which was their standard procedure. I wondered if we could instead get a transfer to Jacksonville. I called Craig back and after checking with Aetna he told me that I had been approved for a flight to Jacksonville instead on Miami.
I called the lady at the hospital and told her that I wanted a hospital in Jacksonville instead of Miami. And that is where things got difficult. She told me that the surgeon in Miami had already seen Sian’s images and had accepted the transfer. It was set. After I pushed back she told me that if I could find a hospital in Jacksonville to talk surgeon to surgeon reviewing the images, given it was now Friday afternoon, and accept the transfer she could change it.
I first spoke to the international transfer lady at Mayo and she could not handle it. I then tried Shands Trauma and that did not work out either. Eventually I told them to go ahead with the Miami transfer. I called Craig back and told him that we were going to Miami and that the service the Nassau hospital uses is US based. He arranged for his company to do the Medivac on Saturday morning.
I then told him about Bella. Saying that unless they could also Medevac her, then I needed to stay. He called me back to say Bella could come too, but that she would not be allowed on the ambulances on either end, so I would have to get my own transport. Craig was excellent and kept me updated on every step of the Medevac process.
When I finally got back to Sian in the hospital she told me that the surgeon in Miami has asked for an ankle reduction to be done prior to her being Medivac’d. That the surgeon in Nassau was going to try and do it tonight or, failing that, Saturday morning.
It didn’t happen. AND IF WE HAD KNOWN HOW CRITICAL THIS WAS AND THE IMPACT IT WOULD HAVE LATER ON WE WOULD HAVE INSISTED ON IT!
Saturday March 26th
We were being Medivac’d today. I went into the marina office and extended the slip rental until April 8th. That would give us two weeks to get things sorted out and for me to get back to bring Sonas home.
Last night I had dinner at the restaurant by the marina and David from the yacht in the next slip joined me. I told him I was leaving Sonas there for a couple of weeks and he offered to keep an eye on the boat, make sure the lines and fenders were protecting her etc. That was a great relief.
Craig had advised that the Medevac jet was landing in Nassau at 9:45. I had booked a taxi the night before and made sure the driver knew that Bella was with me. We got picked up at 8:45 and we were at Jet Nassau by 9:15.
The jet arrived accompanied by two great nurses who got Sian from the ambulance, hooked up to on board monitoring equipment. Bella and I followed, with the nurses sharing their snacks with Bella! I held onto Bella as we took off, she shook the whole way across and didn’t stop until we were off the jet in Fort Lauderdale. We had flown into FLL as Craig had advised that the entry process was easier than Miami, especially for Bella! The customs guy asked to see her Rabies certificate which I had on my phone and she was in!
Sian was picked up by the ambulance and transferred to Doctor’s Hospital Coral Gables. I got a dog friendly Uber for Bella and I and checked into a dog friendly hotel ten minutes from the hospital.
We weren’t home, but we were closer!
[Sian’s skin had been under pressure from the break for so long that the resultant blisters and ulcers meant that she could not have surgery for 10 days. She eventually had the surgery on Monday April 4. She was discharged on Wednesday April 6 and we drove to Jacksonville, where she is now facing a long rehab recovery. Paul leaves on Wednesday April 13th for Nassau with his brother Peter to bring Sonas back home. We look forward to getting back out on Sonas as soon as we can, but only when it is absolutely safe for Sian to do so.]
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Sian and I could not publish this blog entry without highlighting the help and support we had during this ordeal from simply awesome people.
Calvin and Justin from the yacht Never Enough. Two strong young men who did what was necessary to get Sian back to Sonas.
Nancy and Dana, nurse and husband who helped at Hawksbill.
Jason, Mark and the magnificent team at Highbourne Cay, for the exemplary work they did in arranging the sea plane and minimizing the pain to get her from Sonas to the aircraft.
Ricardo and Dusty, the pilots on the sea plane, diverting to get her and gently getting her on board and to Nassau.
Randi, our case nurse from Aetna who focused on clearing our path through it all, and Craig from the Aetna Medevac company who worked all hours on Friday and Saturday to make it happen, and followed up multiple times after we got to Miami to make sure we were being taken care of.
And, while we did not detail Sian’s experiences at the hospital in Miami, we must give a shout out to the doctors and nurses there who put her back together again and put her on the road to recovery.
There were others as well, the staff at Bay Street Marina in Nassau who worked with me to extend Sonas multiple times even though they were full. The ambulance crews in the Bahamas and Florida, the pilots and nurses on the Medevac jet who looked after Sian and took Bella aboard as if she was their pet.
And finally our friends and neighbors in Jacksonville who drove down I95 to get Bella, cared for her in their homes, and after we got home inundated us with love, sustaining food and their most importantly, their time.
We are blessed!