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Friday, February 26, 2016

Love Every Day Until the End

We say that a sailing life promotes an attitude of reflection, but never more than when something truly tragic occurs.  What comes next in our lives?  Did we appreciate this day that we had— enough? At the end of our lives (and will we even know that day when we stand on the final precipice?) what will we be thinking about?  The people we’ve loved, no doubt.  The work that we’ve done.  The adventures, certainly.  Hopefully, we’ll be grateful for the good life we have shared. 
The Beach at Bluff House, Green Turtle Cay

We met a number of wonderful people after arriving in Green Turtle Cay…..several sailing twosomes, of course, but many more Bahamians who have been helping us in a variety of ways.  Many, many lovely people and when I say lovely, I do mean, inside and out.  Sometimes the Bahamian accent is a bit difficult to understand, but the smiles and warmth are not.  I wish that I had photographs of so many of the people—I do not.  They are people that we meet every day, in various capacities.  
Bluff House marina dock

There was the handsome and agile young man who helped us into the marina the first time.  Unbeknownst to me he leapt onto our boat to handle some lines while I was fussing with another line, and when I realized he was alongside me, I was astonished that he was able to jump on so easily AND that Jax had not challenged his right to be there!  “No problem, man.  No problem”  he smiled.
Jax, protectorate of NORTHERN STAR

There was the tiny lady, barely 5 feet tall, at the sparse grocery that she operates out of her home in the little town, New Plymouth.  I was immediately struck by her beautiful wide smile framed within her dark face.  The absence of a few teeth did not detract from her warmth.  I wanted to stay longer just to hear her speak, “I make da coconut cake—it very good.  In de oven now.  Everyone, dey like it very much.  You come back—one hour.”
Some little stores are within people's homes

Primary school-aged Bahamian children walking home, riding bikes, playing basketball, and running cheerfully along the narrow streets— they too have been friendly, and courteous as well brought up children tend to be.  “Thank you, ma’am.”  “No Sir.” 
After school fun

And the reason for this post at this time — a very special person, a large Bahamian man that we have seen several times since our arrival.  My husband’s first encounter was as the man finished cleaning the men’s bathroom.  Undeterred by that scenario, the man made a point of introducing himself,  “Hello, my name is Dominic.”   And this was accompanied by a firm handshake and a big smile. “Welcome, welcome.  How are you today?  It’s a beautiful day, yes? Enjoy, enjoy!”  
Photo of us taken by Dominic

I first met him a day later, when my friend came to visit us on Green Turtle Cay.  He came out to meet us as we were talking excitedly on the deck over the beach.  We asked him to take a picture of us and he added to the revelry of the moment.  “Oh, oh, Ardys, I got you to smile.”  Unbeknownst to me at that time, Dominic was the chef at Bluff House.  We had eaten delicious food prepared by him and had no idea that we had him to thank for it.  
Tranquil Turtle with Sea of Abaco beyond

A few days after our arrival, we were invited to share in Dominic’s birthday celebration on the beach alongside the beach bar, The Tranquil Turtle.   His 40th birthday.  He invited everyone, it seemed, old friends and new—everyone was welcome!  It was a patchwork of white and black faces, blending together—all obviously happy to be present.  It was a glorious evening to be sure.  Our small group of cruisers arrived at the beach unfashionably early— 6:00.  Hah!  We soon came to understand that the party would not be in full swing until 9:00.  Bahama time!  There would be 5 DJ’s playing music, a huge buffet table of foods and an open bar (small table) set up out on the sand to serve us whatever we might want,  “When dis food is all gone, aroun’ 3:00 or 4:00, den we make da souse* to sop up de rum.”  “Three or 4:00, in the morning?” I asked.  “Oh yes, we party all da night. De Bahama way.” 
The Tranquil Turtle, site of Dominic's 40th birthday party

Carl and I were entirely dazzled.  Only a few days in the Bahamas and we’d been invited to a real Bahama beach party by a man whom we had only known for a few days.  Under a beautiful full moon, we sang “Happy Birthday” twice to Dominic who true to his innate character, was graciously welcoming everyone.  “Eat, eat—all you want.  The bar is over there.  Enjoy!”  The music was loud and enervating. The birthday boy danced with some of the guests.  The bartender displayed his bar skills.  “Would you like to try a gullywash?”  “A gullywasher?” I asked.  “No gullywasher.  Gullywash.  Be careful.  It can be addictive,” he winked.  Indeed it was.  A combination of coconut milk, evaporated milk and rum.  Delightful.

Dominic circulated among all the guests shaking hands, kissing the women on the cheek and receiving congratulations from all.  Alongside him was a woman carrying a large pan of a very dense, rum-laden cake, the likes of which I had never enjoyed before!  Carl and I took a little stroll out onto the pier to better absorb the reality of this magical evening—the moon, the music, the food and drink, laughter.  I told my husband, “you know, this is going to be one of the most memorable evenings of being in the Bahamas.  It’s almost too perfect a night to believe.”  And, I added, “And, it’s kind of romantic.”  I giggled as if we’d been plopped down in paradise and I believe we had been.
From the deck of The Tranquil Turtle
 The remainder of the evening lurched horribly downward.  I was summoned because  
“you’re a medical something, aren’t you?   Dom fell down on the floor inside.”  Medical social worker, to be exact, but years ago I taught CPR and I was trained in seizure response, so, not knowing if there was anyone else in the crowd with any of those skills, I figured I could lend a hand.  As I threaded my way through the crowd, I was thinking—‘maybe he had a seizure.’  I’d seen Dominic on the dance floor only minutes earlier.

Dominic was flat on his back.  Limbs splayed.  No visible signs of convulsive seizure activity.  Eyes partially open.  Unresponsive.  I couldn’t find a pulse!  Nothing.  I felt for breath with the back of my hand and then with my cheek—nothing.  I thought surely it was my ineptitude.  There had to be a pulse.  Dominic was a big man, overweight; perhaps I just couldn’t find the pulse.  Another cruiser we met that evening arrived at his side at the same moment that I did.  He took charge of the situation after he stated that he was trained as a rescue medic.  Mountain climbing rescues, that sort of thing, I learned later.  Surely the medic would find a pulse—he did not.  

The medic directed someone to find an AED** but there were none to be found.  He told someone to call the EMTs and to ”tell them to bring an AED.”  He began chest compressions, saying, “No, we don’t give breaths anymore.”  Another man also knew CPR and the two of them traded off with the exhausting job of compressions.  They were delivering approximately 100 compressions at a depth of 1 1/2 to 2” on our generous guest of honor’s sternum. I found my niche immediately.  The vigorous compressions caused Dominic’s head to bounce on the wooden floor with each compression.  It wasn’t much, but at least I could place my hands between the floor and Dominic’s head.  His airway was obviously open.  I could hear the air being expelled as they worked on this barrel-chested man.  I thought of those who loved him standing around us watching in disbelief.  They at least, might find a tiny bit of comfort later, in recalling that one of the helpers tried to stop that cruel sound of his skull making contact with the floor.  A dentist in the crowd recognized that our patient was without oxygen, and said that he did need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation which she then initiated.  I could help to position Dominic’s head with chin elevated, forehead back to keep the airway open.

As the minutes passed, it sank in that Dominic was not going to recover, and yet we could not, would not stop until someone with authority told us to do so.  We worked together in that manner for approximately 20 minutes or more.  The EMT’s then arrived in an assortment of trucks and cars and with the precious AED in hand.  Shocks were delivered several times over the next 40 minutes. Dominic was gone, however—perhaps had been gone from the moment I first saw him and could not find a pulse nor breath.  

What thoughts and feelings were swirling around for me and the other cruisers who barely knew this lovely man?   There were the isolated sobs heard, the kind that get caught in the throat, amongst the guests, and then more silence.  As though even speaking in a whisper could be obstructive to the intense hope of the surrounding family and friends  We questioned our presence perhaps, at this most intimate moment of this man’s brief life.  And yet, we were invited to celebrate his life with him, and indeed we had..  Fabulously!  We’d enjoyed his hospitality and the pleasure of his company.  And now, the surreal quality of the moonlit night, now so still, but for the sound of the EMT’s and the talking AED.  What were the last moments like for this generous, gracious man?  Did he have time to think about his family, to let go of his life?  To be frightened?  To suffer pain?  Was there a peace in his last moments?  I hoped so.  Would he have had awareness that he would be missed by so many?  How quickly life happens.  It happens and then is over, like flicking off a light.  Without warning, without announcement.  The end just rudely shows up when it will.  

One of the resort guests caught this photo of Dominic dancing with one of her friends, only minutes before he died.  I hope that it somehow finds its’ way to his family.  I hope they take some comfort in that Dominic was enjoying his life right until the end of it.  I hope they will know that I for one, and my husband as well, felt honored to have been included in his celebration of life.  I hope that I remember to celebrate at least a little, every day of mine.

*Souse (pro. more like sauce) is a very flavorful, healthy broth made from boiling all the bones of whatever chicken or pork they ate.   Supposed to help with the effects of too much rum, recovery from a cold and stomach distress.

**AED (Automated External Defibrillator)


Chris - Mangoes Marley And Mermaids. said...

I gotta be honest. I was afraid to read this blog post based on how it started. I knew there was going to be bad news, but I didn't realize it was going to make me cry. We had met Dominic as well during our stay in Green Turtle Cay. Such a friendly, happy man! How quickly things can turn so tragic.

George said...

This was such an extraordinary and moving story that I've been thinking about it for days and days. I'd spent a week on Andros Island many years ago, and I know what you mean about the character and spirit of the Bahamian people - you quickly become part of the local culture. But to go through your experience, just wow. The way I think about this is that that would have happened whether or not you were there, and somehow the universe had lead you to be there at place and time. Is there something 'right' about this? Perhaps - your time comes when it comes I guess. It's helping me to remember - yes - celebrate each day of life. Glad to see you've moved on to your next story, and that Carl has a clean shirt :)