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Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Surprise and a Decision Point

Dolphins  at the bow
"I was not on the boat when she made landfall in the U.S. last Wednesday morning.  I missed out on what was apparently, a memorably fast sail across the Gulf Stream.  I missed the beautiful overnight on the ocean, and seeing the dolphins race under our bow. I missed meeting the little hitchhiker that landed onboard.  And I missed good times with Carl's two substitute crew." quote -  Facebook > May 5, 2017.

Carl replacing the port navigation light
At about the same time that our boat was nearing the completion of its extensive electrical repairs, another unfortunate event set us back on our heels yet again. This setback would come in the form of a crew malfunction.  The story goes like this.

March 22 Wednesday, Marsh Harbor. Yours truly spent the afternoon on her hands and knees scrubbing away dirt and mildew from the cockpit cushions and shade panels as they lay spread out over the docks.  Sometimes rather than kneeling, I did a sideways half-crouch, with left knee, foot and hand on the ground supporting my body weight, while my right leg was extended to the side and my right arm wielded the scrub brush. It was an awkward position and I knew it, but I'll admit to a degree of stubbornness that surfaces within me in situations like this; it was a vigorous, sweaty job that needed to be done and I was not about to let it go undone.
These shade panels were unzipped and spread across the dock for cleaning.

I noticed a bit of discomfort ("muscle strain" I called it) in the area inside my left buttock afterward. (It was a discomfort similar to what I experienced after doing "extreme" landscaping. When I lived on land, my gardening involved a lot of heavy labor--excavating hillsides, building stone walls, turning over large areas of sod, laying down river rock and so on. It was my passion and I did endure hip pain from time to time for it.)

Northern Star free of shore power at last!
March 28  Tuesday. "Pulled muscle pain" still noted with activity and occasionally a shooting pain down my left leg. Walking has become laborious but the worst thing is to sit. Taking 800 mg Ibuprofen every 6 hours.

April 2  Sunday.  We leave the marina for the first time in 59 days. Northern Star is mobile again!  Waking up with left hip pain in the night.

April 4 Tuesday. Sadly, I have to forego snorkeling with our guests due to increased left hip pain.  It would feel good to be weightless in the water, but I can't figure out a way to get into and out of the water.  I can't bend at the hip on my left.

The Green Emerald hummingbird
April 8  Saturday.  I couldn't pass up the chance to go on a birding tour with our guests.  Unfortunately, riding in the guide's truck to reach the birding sites was almost unbearable for me. 

 How painful the dinghy has become. 
April 10  Monday. Our guests have gone home and Carl convinces me it's time to see a doctor. I whimper getting into the dinghy to go to shore. I require Carl's help to get up and out of the dinghy. I lean on him to slowly walk the two blocks to the clinic where I stand in tremulous pain throughout the exam. Dr. Hull advises that if I am not improved by Thursday (the day before a four-day Easter weekend) I should be evacuated out to Nassau or to Florida in order to have an MRI of my lower back.  Marsh Harbor does not have an MRI machine. We were surprised to find that today's clinic visit cost only $129 and that included the muscle relaxant and narcotics sent home with me. Wow! Now THAT is a reasonable cost for medical care.

Back at the dock once again.

 Carl moves the boat back into a marina slip with the help of two cruising friends. Being at a dock allows me to get on and off the boat without using the dinghy which is torturous.

My comfy bed became impossible to use.

April 13  Thursday  I'm unable to sleep in our bed anymore because I can't get in and out without screaming in pain.  I fret about flying out for help because I would have to sit upright on the plane. I told Carl I was a little bit better and would hold out through the weekend.

No problem finding someone to take care of Jax
April 17  Monday  I was a fool to say I was improved. My left leg is on fire constantly with sharp pains shooting down the leg, my toes are tingling and intermittent numbness makes my leg weak and my gait feels off.  Pain meds provide little relief anymore.  I agree to fly out to Miami.  Carl began to work on evacuation arrangements with the help of DAN (Divers Alert Network) and Dr. Hull.  DAN will fly both of us out because I cannot travel alone. Our health insurance, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will take effect in the U.S. A new friend and fellow sailor offered to take care of Jax while we are gone.
                       <A Surprise>
Marsh Harbor anchorage
The VHF radio was on.  "Northern Star, Northern Star.  This is SeaScape."  Carl and I looked at each other in surprise. SeaScape was anchored in the harbor nearby; the very same SeaScape that had towed us for miles in Long Island Sound last October.  I listened to Carl talk on the radio with Gary and Jan on SeaScape.  They had been traveling around within the Abacos of the Bahamas over the winter and just now, they noticed Northern Star on AIS.
Unfortunately, I was in no condition to receive visitors and Carl explained our situation and his task at hand--to get me to Florida.  Gary said, "I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I am a cranio/sacral therapist.  I'd be glad to come over and see if I can provide some pain relief for Ardys. And Jan is an RN." 
Lily pads in fresh water, Lake Superior

'Unbelievable', I thought, What are the chances of someone sailing into the anchorage bringing just the sort of skill set that might be of help to me, right at this time? I was quite willing to have them come as therapists, rather than as visitors to our boat.

Therapy provided some pain relief--like a rainbow after the storm.   Lake Superior, Duluth, MN
  Gary and Jan together gave me an hour-long therapy session unlike anything I have been exposed to in my past as a medical social worker. I found the treatment to be very gentle and calming to my overactive nerves that were constantly firing in my left leg. They left me quietly at rest on the bed and chatted briefly with Carl before leaving the boat.   They returned again the next day for another hour-long therapy session. I could not have asked for anything better from anyone at that point. Just unbelievable! 

April 19  Wednesday morning. Marsh Harbor to Miami  0800 Taxi to the Marsh Harbor airport with me lying across the back seat, head in Carl's lap.  DAN has arranged for Carl and I to fly First-Class to Miami to allow me a partial recline and for a wheelchair to meet me at the gate.  On to the Aventura Hospital ER where X-rays rule out vertebral fractures and confirm there is no subluxation (dislocated bone). No MRI was done however. I was discharged from the ER by 1500 with pain meds and orders to see an Orthopedist on Friday.

                      <Major Decision Point> 

Northern Star heading west across the Gulf Stream
April 19 Wednesday afternoon. Miami hotel. We still don't know what is causing my chronic pain and we have no idea how long it will take to get a diagnosis. What kind of treatment will be needed and how long will that take? Do we stay in Florida indefinitely, in a hotel?  Do I stay here by myself while Carl returns to the Bahamas to bring Northern Star back to the U.S.? Bear in mind that our boat (our home) will no longer be insured if it is not above the Florida/Georgia border by June 1. We are already paying daily for the boat to remain in a marina at the same time as we now begin to pay for a hotel room in Miami, with no known end point in sight for either. I cannot return to live on the boat until I can bend and sit and safely move around. Carl needs someone to help move the boat back to the U.S. but it won't be me. What do we do?
We sold this Duluth home before moving aboard Northern Star
.When we sold our house in preparation for moving onto the boat, we had many "what if" discussions between us.  One of the "what ifs" was this very kind of scenario.  What if one of us is injured or very ill or needs surgery and time to recuperate on land? What do we do then, with no house/home to return to on land.  
Duluth Yacht Club Wednesday night races. 

We talked long and hard about that and made some important decisions and preparations that would now guide us in our decision-making. We both love Duluth, and we love all our friends there.  Duluth feels like home, regardless of whether we own property there or not.  

West Lighthouse of Canal entrance, Duluth, MN

Several of our friends have extended us generous invitations to stay with them, even for an extended period of time, if ever needed.  One of them has an extra little house out back where we could stay; two of them have a lower-level living area that they have offered; another has an entire second home on a lake where we could stay! We could not be more fortunate to have those loyal friends who are so open and generous with their lives and willing to share their personal space with us. So, we would go to Duluth, right?

Rock of Ages Light, Isle Royale, Lake Superior

 But the rest of our "what if" discussion went something like this.  Between us, we have only one living parent, Carl's mom who lives in Memphis.  We want to be able to spend as much time with her as possible even though we are living on the water.  If some life event required a period of recuperation for one of us and we spent that time in Duluth, we would be missing out on time that could have been spent near her.
Carl with him mom, Karen on Lake Superior.  2005

Because we know that we will always want to spend time in Memphis with Carl's mom and sisters, we made the decision to move our medical care from Duluth to Memphis.  In fact, just last October was when we accomplished the transition so that now we both have a primary care physician in Memphis, along with our specialists: a  dermatologist, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, internal medicine doctor and nephrologist.

 There were further discussions with Carl's sisters, too, for example, about maintaining a safe deposit box in Memphis with our most important documents to reside there.  Keeping these in Memphis as opposed to storing them with the rest of the things in our Duluth storage unit would make them available should any crises occur. 

Jax and Carl, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Documents such as our birth certificates, marriage certificate, long-term care policies, retirement funds and accounts need to be kept safely on land somewhere, not riding on the boat with us in case the boat, god forbid, catches fire or sinks. Carl's sisters have graciously accepted the role of primary contact in the event of a major disaster at sea.  They would be there to assist the surviving spouse in the event of a death.  So, that helped to shape our decision. I would go to Memphis for diagnosis and treatment. Once the boat is safely delivered to a place where it can be left, Carl can join me in Memphis or do whatever else we need to do at that point.

April 19  Wednesday late afternoon, Miami to Memphis
Carl's cousin, Dean
There was still a flight available for me to fly on to Memphis that same day. DAN's role in this whole ordeal was not yet over, in that they would be willing to pay for me to return to Marsh Harbor OR to my place of legal residence which is in Green Cove Springs, Florida. 
Carl and our friend Justin
As it turned out, it was less expensive to fly me to Memphis than to Green Cove Springs, so DAN arranged that.  I flew on to Memphis, First Class, wheelchair waiting for me at the gate. Carl flew back to Marsh Harbor, courtesy of DAN, where he quickly had two seasoned sailor friends fly out to join him for the sail back to the States.

Ardys. "I prefer the floor".
May 7 Sunday  Memphis. I am staying with one of Carl's sisters and her husband in Germantown. I have seen my primary doctor and a physical medicine doctor with whom I did not hit it off.  My MRI shows a herniated disc at L5/S1 and the two discs above that are bulging. That certainly explains the pain.  Tomorrow I see a neurologist.  And that brings us up-to-date for now.  Until later....


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

We had the pleasure of meeting Carl in Marsh Harbour after you had already headed back to the States. It was a shame we couldn't meet you as well. All the best for a speedy recovery and hopefully our paths will cross one day on the water.

Ardys said...

I hope our paths will cross as well. Looking forward to it.

Mark Bennett said...

Sorry to hear about all this, Ardys. I hope it all turns out well.