I’m writing this adventure not just because the order of events that took place were truly a miracle that saved my life, but also to give credit to everyone involved that helped to make it possible.
It was Saint Patricks Day March-17th 2017 and the day that I hoped my good friends on the Sv Pazzo would arrive here at Chamela, on what was to be another beautiful sunny day on the Gold Coast of Mexico.
I always anchor in the NW corner of the bay near the tiny community of Perula. I have been coming here off and on since the year 2000. The palapa restaurants here are one of the most beautiful places you will ever find to sit, drink a beer and watch your boat bob at anchor on a most beautiful bay with small islands in the back ground. The anchorage is less than a hundred miles south of Puerta Vallarta.
I had become very fond of a family here that owned a Palapa by the name of Manuelita’s and Manuelita’s daughter Monica had married a “Polish” named Janusz and together they were now operating a palapa restaurant right next door to Manuelitas’ called Monicas’. This Palapa is somewhat different than most as it has wooden tables and bench seating where they serve some great “Polish dishes” that Janusz takes great pride in preparing such as “Pierogi and Gelabki” and I have to admit I’m a repeat offender of both these dishes.
Janusz is also a great wealth of information when it comes to dealing with a medical emergencies in the Chamela area, and it will become obvious as this adventure unfolds.
It was about 10:30 AM when I heard voices calling from outside my boat. I stopped the writings of my next book and went topside to see my good friends circling Sailors Run, letting me know they had just arrived. Willy, Cindy and their 3 children aboard the Sv Pazzo and they all looked great, the kids now young adults had grown up so much since our first meeting in the Loyalty islands off New Caledonia back in 2005. They had invited me over for coffee once the anchor was down, and I was all too happy to join them.
Once aboard Sv Pazzo we shared many stories about both our travels and soon had agreed upon cocktails at 5 pm aboard Sv Pazzo and planned later to head to the beach and the palapa restaurant for dinner at 6-PM.
Once back aboard Sailors Run I noticed that my left leg had become swollen and seemed to have some pain in the upper area by the hip. I figured I had somehow strained it dragging my dinghy up the beach, after all at almost 71-years of age that thing isn’t getting any lighter. I decided to elevate it and just rest until the cocktail hour so I would be fresh.
At 5-pm I was climbing aboard Sv Pazzo with rum in hand and some chips and salsa that I had brought along with me. Once again we set about the cockpit telling stories and having lots of laughs. We had but one drink my first of the day and soon it was 6-pm and time to head to shore.
I had commandeered their son to help me pull the dinghy up the beach, and was truly amazed by the confusion that had overcome me as I tried to board my dinghy and get through the tangle of lines off the stern of Sv Pazzo where two kayaks were tied. Once in the dinghy I started to try and put on my sandals and was dumb founded when I couldn’t do it?
The next thing I knew I looked up and we were in tow headed for the beach and Willy’s daughter whom is a medical student was in the dinghy asking me questions about what is going on. I said “I don’t know, but should go back to my boat”. She was having none of that and insisted that we need to go ashore to find you some help.
The last thing I remember is getting close to shore and then nothing ,when I passed out & I awoke on the beach surrounded by many onlookers and amazingly there was a doctor off the boat “Dream Catcher” named Bruce whom I had previously met in Ecuador two years ago and my friend Janusz saying to me “don’t leave me ,just don’t you leave me ”. I was doing all I could do to just take very shallow breaths and trying to remain conscious, as I knew I was in big trouble. I found out sometime later that I had been unconscious for 5-10 minutes and had turned a not so good looking blue-gray color. The doctor got someone to come up with aspirin and I chewed them up and tried the best I could to swallow them with a sip of water and it was all I could barely manage to do.
It was when they sat me up to drink the water that I became aware of the fact that my bowels had released when I was out or near death and Janusz later explained that “twice” my skin color had changed while I was out, having gone from white to purple then back again and I had regained conscious once, only to pass out again going through some kind of spastic movements.
The ambulance arrived in about 15-minutes and all I could hear was Janusz shouting at the driver where to take me for help, as he knew that if they took me to the local clinic I would die there, he explained I had to go to the Centro Medico De Manzanillo where they had the capacity to do MRI scans for proper diagnosis.
I was still struggling to breathe once in the ambulance and it seemed we only went a short distance and then stopped and they put me on oxygen and let me stabilize before heading down the rough roads to Manzanillo some 2+hours away, even with sirens screaming and gunning it all the way.
My friend Willy from the yacht Pazzo rode with me and I must admit it was a very smelly ride in the back of that ambulance and there were no straps to keep me on the gurney. I gradually regained strength and was now hanging on trying not to slide off the gurney.
Once at the hospital they gave me an EKG that seemed to be ok, but there just wasn’t enough oxygen in my blood and the blood clot that doctor Bruce had diagnosed on the beach seemed to becoming a serious reality.
I was amazed that they had me in my hospital bed, and although they had me monitored like crazy and did an EKG they seemed not to notice that I was a mess covered from head to toe with sand and had a load in my shorts. I finally asked if I could take a shower and get out of these soiled cloths where upon I got my not so private little hospital gown.
In the meantime Willy called debbie telling her to get to Mexico as fast as she could as I might not make it,but knew even if she came it would be a day or two before she got there -to see me alive or deal with our boat,she called my family to let them know of my situation,calling our son Daniel to get ready to sail our boat to Mazatlan just in case the out come was not good.
Willy had had the foresight to get back to his boat from the beach and get a credit card that would become essential in keeping things moving along smoothly. My Spanish is very poor and thank God Willy was there to keep me informed of what was going on. The doctors could speak pretty good English when they were around.
It was the beginning of a three day weekend and things possibly moved a little slower as it was Saturday morning the 18th before they took me in for the MRI and loaded my blood up with a dye to determine what the problem was. The MRI operator upon pulling me out from the machine said” there appears to be a very serious problem” and he believed we needed a cardiologist and wanted my permission to call one and I said “let’s do it”. Amazingly once again the angels were watching over me as the best Cardiologist in the area for what my problem was, arrived there in less than 10-minutes. He put me back in the machine and took a few more pictures then pulled me back out.
Dr. Erick Davila is a very tall Mexican at over 6-ft tall and when he explained that I had two blood clots, one in each lung and that death could come very quickly to me at any time, and that time was golden at this point, I asked him what he could do and how much would it cost as this was all out of pocket expense with no insurance coverage.
Dr. Davila explained ,that he would go in through my Femoral Artery , go up inside my lungs and remove both clots and place a screen in my artery to catch future clots should they occur.
The cost would be approximately $7,000 for the hospital and his services in yet another hospital in Colima which is called Centro Medico De Colima. This involved another hour long ambulance ride in a special ambulance with life support capability. I had to ask him what were the odds of success of this operation, and he said about 70%. Now 70% is pretty good odds, but let me tell you when it is your life you are talking about that 30% is frightening and somehow seems very large.
I was whisked away to the new hospital and Janusz had brought me my credit cards and reluctantly Willy who had stayed the night sleeping in my room was taken back to his family in Chamela Bay by Janusz.
The special ambulance was plush and of the highest quality, and I now found my self-strapped down and on a monitor and as always with oxygen an IV drip going.
Just 4-hrs after meeting the Cardiologist ,I was being wheeled into the operating room where I was met by a 6-man team and the procedure began. I was surprised that the only anesthesia was a shot of Novocaine in the pelvic area, where the Doctor was to enter the vain. The doctor explained that it is much safer if I’m conscious during the procedure.
Of course, now I’m alone at the hospital but I have my phone and was able to call Debbie that it was a success & I had made it,she cried and thanked God,I also called Willy,Janusz & my family
After just less than Two days in the hospital, my dear friend Janusz drove the three hours to the hospital and then took me back to his family for recuperation, where they nurtured me for seven days in their home while I became strong enough to get back aboard Sailors Run.
The miracle to this story is that as a solo sailor and one that just completed a solo non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe in May of 2016 of 203-days, on this day that I embarked on an incredible un-planned Medical Emergency I was surrounded by friends in the medical profession. Having had a doctor friend on the beach as I arrived unconscious, and Janusz who called the shots on where I needed to go for a quick and correct diagnosis, not to mention my great friend Willy and his family that offered great support all the way through this event. The great fortune to be able to have the best Cardiologist in Mexico at my side in 10-minutes of calling him, and the procedure necessary to remove the two clots conducted within four hours, and all of this In Mexico happening on a three day weekend.
Not only were the facilities and personal all first class but the price tag came in at under $10,000 US dollars. Remember, there were 3 hours of Ambulance rides, an EKG, 3-nights in the hospital one of which was under intensive care meaning a nurse for 24-hrs. There were 2 MRI’s, Three doctors, one whom was a cardiologist and a specialist in removing blood clots by going into your femoral artery and placing a screen to trap any future clotting that might occur from the procedure.
Oh! yea how did this all happen in the first place? Several months before the main event I was walking along the deck of Sailors Run and the boat rolled and I collided with a piece of teak wood that is part of my belaying pins and stabbing my femoral vein from my leg running to my heart up against my pelvis there by damaging the vein, unbeknownst to me, and the clots that would release over a period of time jeopardizing my ability to breath and nearly taking my life.
Thanks to all of these wonderful people,my family, the Jefe’ gets to continue on his grand adventure aboard Sailors Run.
You’re most fortunate Amigo, The Jefe’