Surgery at sea

Niue etc114

After 3 weeks my coral cut has finally healed and with great relief Melanie has put away the surgical knife. She was sharpening it in anticipation of the through-ankle amputation.She is very relieved.

So far at least, Tainui has been relatively free of medical emergencies. Apart from getting in the way of a swinging boom during a gybe, the galley is one of the most dangerous places at sea. Pressure cookers are a great safety device in rough weather, as is a bum retaining strap. Boiling water is the usual causative agent. I got one nasty burn in the Southern Ocean and the narcotics cupboard was opened then, for the first and only time.

I recall a lovely old couple in a wishbone ketch called New Silver Gull. She was a nurse and he had prostate problems. She described her performance of an emergency suprapubic bladder puncture somewhere in the vastness of the South Pacific and since then my medical kit has had a urinary catheter on board. Remember that excessive seasick pills are a significant cause of urinary retention even in youthful blokes with normal prostates.

In Wanderer 3, Thiess broke his arm during a stormy Autumn crossing of the Southern Ocean. I am grateful that we have had no significant orthopedic injuries yet, although in that same bit of water I did break 2 ribs. I fell backwards through the toilet door in rough weather and connected with the sharp corner of a solid bit of furniture in the saloon. Laughing and coughing were a nightmare for 2 weeks after that, and winding a winch was impossible. I lived in terror getting seasick and having to vomit while those rib ends grated against one another. Now, we make it mandatory for blokes to pee sitting down in rough weather.

Come to think of it, years ago I did sustain another orthopedic injury. Beating north across the Bay of Biscay in Lutine our main halliard parted. At the time I was standing in the cockpit and the falling boom squashed my little finger as I held onto the solid spray dodger coaming. Young, calm and surgically fearless in those days, I went below, gave myself a ring block anaesthetic, picked out the bone fragments and dressed the wound. It was healed in 10 days. Very lucky.

Not much, in 50 years of sailing. Many are the stories of devastating injuries at sea – strokes, coronaries, miscarriages, head injuries, even normal confinements – and I suppose we have just been lucky. Touche bois.

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