The Knock Down, Part 2
The Knock Down, Part 1 ended here:
“Is everyone sure their okay? Sometimes you don’t notice at first that you’ve fallen or banged yourself, or been cut.”
She looks up at me. The left side of her face is distended by swelling.
“I think I’m having an allergic reaction,” she says.
Here’s what I didn’t know.
During our gentle scoon across the lake, my guests had been fooling with their phone. I had presumed they were texting friends about how lovely the evening was, or twittering, or taking or reviewing pictures or any of the millions of things these computers we carry in our pockets can do.
In fact, she had been experiencing a tingling sensation in her face and they had been googling for interactions with the neproxin she had taken an hour or two earlier and the wine they were enjoying while we sailed.
Now, here we were, anchor down with the wind still howling, and it’s clear something is going on.
“Are you sure you didn’t get hit or fall?” I already knew the answer.
“This is going to pass through in a few minutes, but right now I don’t know if I can motor safely back through the channel to the dock, and with the fetch I don’t know if I can safely get you back into my dinghy at the other end of the lake. I’m going to radio the Coast Guard and tell them we may need a medical evacuation.”
Now here’s the silly part. We are literally around the corner from the Montauk Coast Guard station on Star Island in Lake Montauk. In their RIB they could get to us in about 90 seconds.
But there’s no way to radio the Montauk Station. When I radio the Coast Guard I get the Sector Long Island Sound command in Connecticut. I explain the situation.
The Coast Guard radio operator takes me through a standard series of questions: what is your location, how many on board, is your situation stable right now, did she fall or get struck, what is her pulse, how is her breathing, is she conscious and lucid, is she calm. The answer to all of these question paints a picture of a person in perfect health, except for the fact that the left side of her mouth is swollen.
The Coast Guard advises that I should standby.
My guests are embarrassed at the trouble. I’m concerned. The light is fading. But the wind is also dropping. I rummage through the medical kit looking for Benadryl and find none.
“In another few minutes I think we’ll be able to safely get underway,” I tell them. “Our two options are to go to the harbor and ties off to the nearest dock. We can have a cab waiting that can take you to your car and then you can drive to the emergency room in South Hampton (35 miles away.)
“Alternately, and if the dinghy is still there, we can get you right back to your car. I’m going to go back on deck with the binoculars and see if they dinghy is still where we left it.”
When I come back into the cabin my guests our dinghy is still afloat and where we left it, they decide that going straight back to their car is the best option.
“Okay then, we’ll just give it a few more minutes and I think we’ll be able to up anchor and go.” I go back on deck to have another look around and think through the up anchor procedure.
When I come back down below she tells me, “It feels like my throat is starting to tighten up.”
Back on the radio.
“This is sailing vessel INTEMPERANCE with a status update on my passenger. My passenger reports that her throat feels like it’s beginning to tighten. I am requesting a medical evacuation.”
Again we go through a series of pro forma questions, which I answer, and then re-assert that I want a medical evacuation. The wheels start to feel like they’re begining to turn.
Then it happens.
What “it” is this time is a freighter outbound from New London has failed to clear out properly, and the captain’s radio conversation with the Coast Guard about what paperwork he has or hasn’t filed is overrunning my exchange about getting my ill passenger off ASAP. I can’t confirm they are sending help.
“This isn’t working,” I turn to him. “This is what we’re going to do.”
“In this wind I’m going to need your help getting the anchor up. You’ll need to take the tiller and drive the boat up on the anchor while I haul chain. I will guide you with hand signals.”
We go over the three signal, pantomime system.
“Once the anchor is up we’re going to head for the dinghy. I’m going to call my wife and tell her to look up the number for the local Coast Guard Station have have her explain to them that our radio exchange with their sector command got run over by other radio traffic and that we are up anchor and heading for South Lake beach. If they dispatch the RIB, it runs at 50 kts plus, so if they have run an extra half mile to get to us it won’t make a difference.
“I’m also going to have her call the local rescue squad and tell them to meet us at South Lake Beach with an ambulance.”
I turn to his wife.
“We’re about 10 minutes from having you on dry land. Are you okay? Is your throat getting worse?”
“I don’t think so. I think I’m okay.”
Her husband and I get the anchor up smartly, no errors or delays, and turn for the beach.
Half way across the lake it’s nearly dark, but the wind is dropping fast. I see flashing lights in the parking lot. The rescue squad is there.
We get to the dinghy, and his wife is still stable. We make a deliberately slow transfer and then motor in. It’s dark now. Members of the rescue squad have their lights out, signaling their position on the shore. When we get into knee deep water one of them wades out, and scoops my passenger out of the dinghy and carries her to shore. Another volunteer joins him and together they carry her to the ambulance.
I offer to drive their car to the hospital, but he explains it’s rental and he doesn’t know if I’d be covered if I drive it.
I see them start an IV, then he gets in with his wife, the door closes and the ambulance drives off.
I go over to a couple of policeman and ask them if I need to give my name.
“Did you do something wrong?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Then we don’t need your name. You did a good job tonight,” then they turn back to each other and continue chatting.
Then I dinghied back out to my boat, closed her up for the night, dinghied back to shore, and got in my car and drove home.
Before ambo took them away, I told the couple if there was anything else I could do to please ask. I also asked them to please call me and let me know that everything was okay.
About 11:30 that night I got a call from him. They had decided to keep her overnight to make sure she didn’t “rebound” when the anti-anaphalixis meds wore off. The next day he called to tell me she was fine, and how lucky they felt they had been with me. “If we had been with anyone else, who knows how it might have turned out…”
Writing this I get pretty choked up. While it was happening I was in motion, thinking, processing, there wasn’t time to feel. I just did.
But in the recollection I think about all the different ways the evening could have ended badly. Someone could have been hurt or killed.
I also get choked up when I think about the rescue squad in the dark on the beach, some of them even holding their cell-phones up as a beacon. Out here in Montauk the rescue squad is all volunteer, and there’s something incredibly touching about my friends and neighbors being there for me in my hour of need. That image of the blue glow of their phones, hovering like giant rectangular fire flies is burned in my mind.
The weather phenomena we experienced is called a “dry microburst.” In the next and final part of this story, I’ll tell you what I learned about weather, black swans, and slack.