Sunday, January 27, 2013

OUCH!!! --- Plans Change

We were very much enjoying our stay in Mossel Bay and getting things ready to go to Cape Town and beyond and, in an instant, all of our plans changed. It was a typically windy night when we heard a loud crack - like a shotgun going off right next to us. We went on deck and could not figure out immediately what the loud noise had been, but we could see that we had a serious problem. We were tied to a large concrete, commercial pier that had large (earthmover?) tires along it. The problem was that the tide was particularly low and our fenders and fender board were below the bottom tire. The sound actually was the 2" x 4" fender board snapping as the surge in the harbour made Ainia move in and out and up and down. The movement had also damaged the teak rub rail, with its stainless steel edge, that extends out from the hull. Part of the metal band had been bent and was threatening to damage the hull. While June held a flashlight I saw that the boat seemed to be moving in and out. I reached for the metal to pull it out of danger and within an instant I was sitting on the cabin top with a lot of pain and a lot of blood. It all happened so fast that June did not even know that anything had happened. I did not know exactly what happened, just that it was bad. In fact, what happened was that Ainia had gone inward and forward, trapping my hand between the rub rail and tire for just an instant.

June got dressings to stop the bleeding and a coat because we realized that shock was likely. She then rushed off to call for an ambulance, I got a blanket and tried to stay calm and warm. The first problem was going to be getting onto the dock since we were 2+ m below the dock. I was able to stop shivering (shock) long enough to climb up two tires with the help of the two cops who arrived first with the ambulance close behind.  Pretty much as soon as I got up, the shivering returned but the EMTs hooked up an IV and wrapped me in blankets they took us to the Provincial Hospital which is free, but the ER doctor there suggested that we should go to the nearby private hospital which has better facilities and staff. The ambulance crew were still there and within a few minutes we were at the Bay View Private Hospital which is a very spiffy place indeed, but not cheap - $7000 was our bill for five days and the surgery.

Over the next few days we discovered the good news and bad news of the injury. We could tell it was serious from the facial reactions of the nurses who saw it. Before it was sewed back together, one sweet, young nurse let slip, "Its very flat isn't it." There was only one broken bone, at the base of the little finger, but no one was concerned about that, it was other damage that was the worry. Dr. Potgieter, the orthopedic surgeon who fortunately has a particular interest in hands, cleaned up the wounds to the front and back of the hand very carefully - infection was a particularly large concern. He said he lost track of the number of stitches at around 50. He, and us, were pleased to learn that there had been no nerve or ligament damage. In consultation with a plastic surgeon, he did think that skin grafts would be needed since the skin on both sides had been 'degloved' (horrible doctor speak, along with 'necrotic' skin). The doctor also had me start therapy the day after the accident to help my fingers recover full range of motion. They kept me in the hospital for five days in all.

We decided that best place for my recovery was at home and that the sooner I got there the better. The problem was that the commercial dock in Mossel Bay harbour was just not suitable for leaving Ainia long-term. The members of the local yacht club were great, moving their boats to free up a space for Ainia and making sure the engine was working properly. This meant that I would have to fly home by myself while June looked after Ainia. We found a cheap flight (after a costly short one to Jo'burg) on Qatar Airways via Doha and Washington, but it was still 26 hours in the air plus terminal time on three continents. BTW, this was my first flight on Qatar, which was chosen as the top airline in the world in 2011 and 2012, and I was impressed. Makes one realize how mediocre North American Airlines are. Oh, and the Qatar fare was $500 less than anyone else's, so a great combo of price and quality.

When I arrived in Toronto I decided to go directly to the hospital since I figured I would not feel any better the next day. I had asked family and friends who in the Toronto might be best at fixing hands. Hence my son had me at Toronto Western hospital at midnight. Western is the home of the University Health Centres Hand Program. By 4am, I had seen a plastic surgery resident and, more importantly, had an appointment with Dr. Graham, a plastic surgeon and the head of the Hand Program, for 9 am on Monday, less than 48 hours after I returned to Canada. Can't complain about that.

Dr. Graham's take was that I may not need skin grafts after all but that the recovery will be slow and that I would need therapy at the hospital and lots of exercise at home., which is the situation I am in now, doing my finger exercises ten times a day and visiting Western hospital. This gave us a serious schedule problem since I was looking at at least 4 to 6 weeks recovery. This meant that we could not leave Mossel Bay until early March, and perhaps much later. This would push us too much into the fall and that was not on in South African waters, at least for June and I, who tend to be sucky sailors - OK, I am the sucky sailor and June trusts my judgement which makes her an honorary sucky sailor. Ainia would have to stay in SA over the winter, with a possible departure in November.

The big problem, of course, was that if Mossel Bay was not secure in the summer, in the winter it might be terrible. The next harbours to the west were in the Cape Town area. The first of these was False Bay which is a large bay (not false at all) around the corner to the south of Cape Town. Oh, and getting to False Bay means that you have to go around Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa - one of sailing's great capes and second only to Cape Horn in fame. June, who is not a sucky sailor at all, was able to recruit Lew and Ann who had already taken Serannity to False Bay. They had a fine sail in very nice conditions (S to SE winds 15 to 25 around the Cape but problems  came when they approached the False Bay YC. This area is famous for the winds that get focussed between two heights of land. The harbour is not large and the docks are close together so it looked like they could not try to dock. They tried to pick up a mooring just outside the harbour without success, but were able to anchor - let's here if for the mighty Manson. June was in contact with both the yacht club and the local marine rescue unit and they (along with June, Lew, and Ann) were not happy with being anchored off a lee shore in strong winds. BTW, at the yacht club they recorded gusts to 56 knots. June said they were too busy on Ainia to see the wind speed. The marine unit came out with their powerful boat and helped get the anchor up and Ainia into the club's fuel dock. Since that time June has gotten Ainia ready to leave, including arranging for a boat custodian and has flown home.

Some important notes.
People in South Africa have been incredibly caring and helpful. They seem genuinely pleased that you are visiting their country and they want you to be safe and to enjoy their beautiful country.
I will continue doing blog posts in the months to come, although the sailing/travel stuff will not resume for some time.


Richard and Kay said...

reVery sorry to hear this news. As I prepare to move aboard, your experience has taught me that one must be not only aware that what we and how we travel has not only great rewards but risk. I am sure that given what you have done over the past year has brought close to risk many times. There is a factor that goes beyond knowledge and skill... luck.

I hope you are feeling well soon and that you find Ainia a safe berth for the season. Thoughts are with you.


Rhys said...

Bruce, I just read about this. Please let me know if I can help you in any way. I suppose the upside is that it sounds as if your injury isn't permanent, just "time served".