Intensive care units, both in Mexico and the US were toughest. I could hardly discern any difference between the endless hours and days and nights. The days crept by like months and my internal clock ceased to determine any difference. Rarely, but occasionally I would get my right arm freed to write a message. I kept asking for less pain medication to reduce my hallucinations. Apparently their concerns were that reducing pain meds would make my already anxious, frightened and choking body crazier than I was. Finally, at some point, my hands were freed with an agreeing nod of my head that promised I would never put them close to my face and or tubing.
Being able to communicate with Iris and nursing staff on paper was a privilege and a freedom that mostly I had felt certain I would never again know. I will never forget how happy and empowered I felt to get that pen and paper and tell Iris that I loved her. Though not very legible, I was usually able to convey my message. Every hour or two around the clock, I was poked, prodded, needled, rolled to a new position or IV changed. And each time my pen and clipboard were moved beyond my reach. Usually the vampires left quickly and forgot to return my things until finally I would not release them until they promised not to forget to give them back. After too many accidently broken promises, I kept that pen and clipboard held to my chest with both arms wrapped around it night and day, no matter who or what was going on.
By now, I had not had food or water for over five days. My body had feasted on forty pounds of my lean muscle groups. The doctors would force me to do a frightening exercise every few hours by starving my lungs for air while cutting back the life support for one hour blocks of time. I hated this and always looked forward to getting back to full Life Support. After a few days of this, the doctors said that I was finally breathing on my own which for some reason, I disbelieved given the amount of labor I was doing. So they decided to pull the tubes out of my throat and lungs. With great difficulty, I was happy to whisper my first words since I went into the operating room in Mexico. I would often still hand signal for my clipboard, forgetting that I could speak a little. However, the nurses would remind me, "Mister Boone, you can talk now remember"?
The privilege of eating first required an exam by a Speech Therapist. A hospital warming tray was delivered to me of the most wonderful tasting food I had ever eaten. I slowly and cautiously ate several exhausting spoonfuls of food under the watchful stare of the therapist with two of her fingers on my throat. She determined that I would need to have all of my meals finely chopped up and so ended my hunger with complete disgust for food. Within a day I went from not being able to look at the tray, to not even being able to tolerate the smell of the hospital food in the same room. Though everyone was stern and insistent that I must eat, I would reply, "later, or the next meal I will do better." I still can't even think about ever eating any food under a warming lid without nausea and a gag. I would have starved for certain, had I not developed an interest to foods on TV commercials, and each day iris and family smuggled in my "choice of the day".
About this time the doctor cut the stitches fastening the heart catheter to my chest and after warning me what he was about to do, yanked the tube out of my heart and chest with one quick stroke. I will save you the disgusting details of what was to follow this procedure. It got me out of ICU however, and into a room with a sixth floor view of the mountains. After a couple days, I moved up to Oncology on the seventh floor with a better outside view. The patients on that floor made it a very depressing place to be though considering that most of that floor looked like they would never be leaving by wheelchair.
We are feeling rather at home in Carlsbad and nights and evenings are the toughest on me now. Breathing becomes more laborious and my cough worsens. Sleep is spotty and usually occupying far fewer hours that before I became sick. I believe it would help if I could get more exercise but that is out of the equation right now. I am plagued with unsettling thoughts of the uncertainty of the future and they all fire upon me nightly after about three and a half hours of sleep. I guess this shouldn't surprise me when every goal, passion, and plan for the future has changed, practically overnight. As yet, my overall priority remains continuing to breathe and retaining adequate levels of oxygen, especially in the evenings and night. Daytime is still much better than evenings.
I am more than thankful to be in the California sunshine each day. We especially like it here in Carlsbad. Iris takes me for small walks along the sidewalk above the beach every morning and evening. Even though it is March 2, 2013; the ocean is beautiful and often full of surfers. There are four permanently installed beach volleyball nets with teams of players and everyone is in swim suits, slender, smiling, laughing and healthy, enjoying the sun, sand and fresh air. I know I could not survive the cold northwest winter now and pray that things all work out for us to remain in the general area during throughout my treatments. As I understand it, I will do four to six months of the chemotherapy that I am on now. I will then go on a maintenance chemo for a year and be reevaluated. The up side of that conversation is that the doctor has not said "six, months Michael, get your will in order". I asked about a time line once and the doctor would only commit himself to say "I don't know, everyone is different".
After considering my last blog entry of 2012, I presume I must have known something was very wrong. And now, after two weeks in ICU and another week in the oncology ward, I have just completed my first round of chemo therapy. I am so lucky to still be above ground and were it not for Iris, I would not be found here.
Upon returning to Desert Vision from Oregon I was diagnosed with congestive cardiac failure and pneumonia in La Paz, Mexico and immediately ambulanced the two hour ride south to San Jose Del Cabo. The Mexican doctor riding shotgun with me proudly displayed a very large syringe to reassure me that he was ready and willing to pierce my heart and suck out the excessive fluids should I go into cardiac arrest along the ride down.
At the hospital in Cabo, they took me into surgery and with the assistance of an ultra-sound machine and localized pain killer, stuck the syringe into my chest and sucked out a high percentage of the fluids inside the Pericardium. I was conscious and able to communicate with the team of doctors speaking broken English. As I watched the large syringe sucking the black fluid out of me I recall them joking with me about it and commenting that it looked just like chocolate milk. This helped me breathe and pump my blood but after a few days in the intensive care unit, x-rays revealed that the fluid was building again.
The doctors agreed that I would not survive a metavac flight to the United States so we all agreed that I would go back to surgery for the installation of a Pericardium window into the lining of the heart with a drain through my chest wall in order to reduce the stress from the excessive volume of liquid squeezing against my heart. I went back to surgery and this was completed professionally and competently.
Meanwhile, Iris arranged to get me to Scripps Hospital in San Diego via an $18,600 Metavac ride aboard a Lear Jet. I remained intubated and on life support after surgery, and on a Saturday evening, post banking hours, Iris and Sharon managed to come up with $70,000 so that the Mexican hospital would release me to fly out of Mexico before my health insurance cleared. Unfortunately I have no memory of my only ride on a Lear.
Arriving at Scripps Memorial with tubes in my chest, lungs and stomach, my scariest moments were the days I spent unable to speak or write, my arms lashed to my sides with no possible way to convey to anyone that I was continually running out of air due to my severe cough. I now understand why they outlawed "Water boarding" as a form of torture. If I could have, I would have told anyone anything, truth or lie, for relief of the pain and fear.
Pain medications soon brought along days and nights of horrifying hallucinations that only Iris could comfort. Each time she came I knew I could live a little longer. Each time she left, I knew that would be the last time (in my life) that I ever saw her. The experience of those many endless, terrifying hours has begun to infiltrate my soul with a different perspective to many of my life's values.
Love is not only great and wonderful, but it is the only thing truly important in life. And family, friends and God are love beyond all possessions, transcending pride, pleasures and passions. I am not so much the "ask for help type personality" and retrospectively it seems I've been so directed to running my life by my rules and the realities that made sense to me that the Lord had probably become very impatient with me. So at sixty-one, with the clock running down, he decided to get my attention by knocking me Right Square to my ass for a long overdue cram session about life and related subjects. I am grateful for the lesson now and trying very hard to live long enough to thank him with more than just a prayer.
Family and friends both old and brand new have been amazingly kind and supportive to us. From the east coast to the west we have been overwhelmed with prayers, strength, generosity, and support for Iris to help her remain her pillar of strength that I so desperately need during this time. The list is astonishing and will require one additional lifetime to repay.
All my sisters have rallied for me down here and have blessed me with the reassurance of their love. I have such a wonderful family. My brother in law Glenn will be driving our truck back up to the states this week and some friends will bring Desert Vision up to here soon after. Having been now diagnosed with stage 3B cancer of my lungs and lymph nodes, I have undergone my first chemo treatment and we are staying at a very nice little beach front bungalow for a month until Desert Vision arrives. Hopefully I will be strong enough for Iris and I to live on board her near the hospital until the months of chemo therapy have been completed.
Now down to 155lbs I look a bit like the walking dead doing my "lobotomy shuffle" but people stay out of my way. I'm sure they are frightened of catching something from me. This is alright by me because I am more afraid of getting something from them with my immune system compromised by the chemo therapy. I am walking a couple of blocks two times a day and hoping to make three by the weekend. I wish I could boast of feeling better and stronger each day, but so for the graph has been pretty bouncy leaving me pretty uncertain of the future. Like I really need to know and control my life again instead of just putting it in God's hands. Some people are just slow learners I guess but believe me I am trying to learn. My greatest regret in life is not raising my children more god fearing than I did. Hopefully I am not too late to turn this around. My largest complaint is that I am completely exhausted all the time. Even sitting for an hour requires a nap to recover and you all know I am not much of a sit-around guy.
The message I hope to convey to you all is, live, LOVE, laugh and give thanks for each and every day for none of us can know if tomorrow will allow us another opportunity.
Now in La Paz, we have been anchored in the channel just outside the front of the town for a couple of days making preparations for Desert Vision's lonely month in moorage which is where we will move to tomorrow. But today we drove the dingy out to the bay to view the Whale Sharks. We saw many large mammals of which we took lots of film footage and began our long slow journey back to Desert Vision. Along the way back we spoke with a very interesting couple of Australians who were also out to view the whale sharks. They have sailed their sixty-five foot cutter rigged sloop all over the Pacific and they explained that what we had just seen were a unique species of Dolphin. So we bobbed in our dinghies and spoke and listened to some amazing stories for a while and then back again we went. This time we really did see a whale shark and got some pretty good video too. They are huge, spotted all over, sleek and beautiful. They are also apparently not mammals. I never saw the huge animal breathe any air though we followed and circled it for twenty minutes.
After that we went further up the coast to assist a fellow cruiser and family in distress. I was able to diagnose and repair their 25 horse outboard and send them speeding on their way. But we were too slow with our 4 horse and got caught in the afternoon winds and so we fought big seas and current all the way back to Desert Vision. Once aboard, we grabbed our garbage, (which had grown some disgusting maggots) and crossed the turbulent channel into town to deposit it in the cruisers garbage dumpster. After a long walkabout the town, we stopped for cocktails and pizza at a nice little restaurant on the beach.
Tonight I am reflecting back at the railroad car that we have riding the last few years to accomplish this dream. And I am reminded how fortunate I am to have had this experience. It is true I worked hard, paying my dues for nearly fifty years; and yes we have made many sacrifices to bring it to a reality. But so do many others who never live their dreams. Many never even got the opportunity to live a full life span. So I want to thank some sort of divine intervention for my life and blessings thus far.
And as this chapter of "Desert Vision's Vision" comes to a close, I will say that Iris and I have learned a great deal as Cruisers. Though I have tried, I will never learn all I would like to know about sailing. Our learning curve still remains steep. It has also become clear to me that there are many aspects of sailing that I never want to learn, such as lessons that mother earth may choose to force on a circumnavigator of a small ship in the southern ocean. I have learned that the sea is likely the most powerful force on this planet next to gravity and though beautiful and patient, it will work on a man's weakness until it makes manifest to him his limitations. I have been taught patience and many lessons of operating a small ship in large seas crewed by only two through stresses and exhaustion and I'm certain to learn many more. But I have also been blessed with beautiful sights, new friends and interesting acquaintances, peaceful sunrises and sunsets and time for reflection and introspection.
Desert Vision's journey has only just begun and yet I feel that even if I were to die tomorrow, I was not cheated in life. I was blessed with a wonderful family and children, abundant love and the opportunity to begin a dream that most will never know. All during my youth, I had never desired or expected to live so long anyway. But now that I have I have arrived, I am happy to recognize that I am blessed and there is much I can and still want to do!
So as long as our strength, agility and general health holds out we will be back on Desert Vision riding the tiny ship through seas to who knows where next.
Come back and see us again in January, 2013.
12/02/2012, Isla Partida
12 4 24 33 889n 110 24 165w
We set sail and tacked our way into sixteen knot winds and five to six foot seas to arrive here at Ensenada Grande on the little island of Isla Partida yesterday morning. The windows that Iris had just cleaned the day before were now a disaster from sea spray washing over Desert Vision. After splashing the kayaks we began exploring the clearest water we've yet seen just below the cliffs and boulders. It was easy to see every detail in five to eight fathoms of the calm blue stuff. I have named this speed snorkeling. We didn't even need masks, snorkels and fins.
We eventually landed on the white sand beach and spoke with a couple who were kayaking around the whole island. They had hired a panga to deliver them, their kayaks, camping supplies, food and all the water they would need for the next three weeks. And they carried it all including water proof movie cameras on their two kayaks. These were true adventurers.
Today we splashed the dingy and motor and headed north toward Los Islotes. This is a tiny island north of Partida which is the home of a large Sea lion colony. Apparently you can swim with these playful fellows who will even nip at your swim fins. After about forty minutes of pounding into building winds and waves, with the island but a mile away we decided it best to turn our tiny dingy around and go back. Along the way back we drove out to Rocas Tintorera, a smaller virsion of Los Islotes containing a small portion of the colony. After that we explored another beach, spoke with some folks on a sailboat who had moored next to us in San Diego, swam, snorkeled and made water to top off our tanks with the clean clear water here before we head south.
Tomorrow we will move on and try to anchor Desert Vision at Los Islotes for a couple of hours before rounding the head of these islands to begin our journey south along the east side of the chain to La Paz. There are many chores just ahead for it is time to begin readying Desert Vision for her very lonely month of marina life while Iris and I head home to the chilly and damp northwest for Christmas.
We have been having problems with the SSB radio and so I will wait to post these until we have wifi.
11/28/2012, Isla Espirtu Santo
24 31 975n 110 22 529w
Ok, the bobos (pesky non biting flies like knats) won the war at Playa Pichilingue. We slapped a continuous supply of their little bodies all over our skins until we were weary. So after our trip to La Paz yesterday, we prepared to leave the following morning.
Today we weighed anchor and sailed for Isla Espirtu Santo. This is a very rugged and rocky island displaying layers of colorful rock formations throughout its cliffs and hillsides. Although it doesn't all appear volcanic, it does contain what appears to be a much older and broken down lava rock with many badly wind eroded sand or clayish cliffs and cinder cones scattered about like giant mole hills.
We entered and/or passed over about ten different anchorages along the western face of the island and ended up anchoring in a cove on the northern end between Isla Espirtu and Isla Partida. I chose this anchorage because at high tide we can drive the dingy between the two islands and explore some caves on the eastern side. It was also reported to us that whale sharks were spotted near the caves. These huge creatures are very curious, slow and docile. Apparently you can swim with them if you like but we haven't seen one yet so I don't know any more than that.
It seems very nice here and the easy access to the eastern shore will enable us to see the harvest moon rise over the sea's horizon tonight. So we will probably stay here for a few days.
We did drive the dingy to the eastern coast of the island yesterday evening. The tide was low so we had to pull it through several shallow areas to get across but it was worth the view. Tall cliffs with water caves lined the shore and we could see down into the clear water four or more fathoms.
After sundowners on Desert Vision, we drove back again at sunset to stand in the shallow water off the sandy beach to capture some photos of the harvest moon rise. The lovely part of this was that the sun was setting over the sea on the west end of our anchorage while the moon was rising over the sea on the east side of the anchorage. We had only to turn ourselves around to experience both simultaneously. It was pretty cool.
The next day we explored by dingy, the cliffs in and around this anchorage and the next one north of here. We came back and swam around the boat to cool off. I cleaned some of the bottom and freed the water speed sensor which had quit working sometime back due to barnacles growing on it. Iris washed the salt spray that never ever dries off of the windows and I drove her to another boat for a "ladies iced tea and cookies" get together while I made 60 gallons of water and repaired my crummy little fuel siphon pump. The boat was a Fantasy 44 and one of prettiest sloops I've seen in a while.
11/25/2012, Puerto Balandra
We left Muertos, rounded Punta Arenas de la Ventana and into Canal Cerralvo. We couldn't have timed it much better. Although there was eleven knots of wind coming down the canal toward us, we were able to point just off the wind by heading to Cerralvo Island and maintain about eight knots over ground with the help of a significant north bound current. As we got further north the wind died down to five or six knots and the sea flattened into a gigantic pond, even glassy at times. This made it quite easy for us to navigate the San Lorenzo Canal (a sometimes tricky passage) and sail back down toward La Paz. We entered Puerto Balandra, a pretty little anchorage with about eight other boats anchored there, picked a nice spot just off a white sand beach and dropped the hook. This anchorage promised good holding and protection from the strong north winds and we were cozily tucked in under large cliffs to the north, just beyond our beach. So we splashed the kayaks and made a tour of the pretty bay. At the back of the bay was a public beach access with lots of locals enjoying the water but soon came their speed boats pulling skiers in and around the anchored sailboats. Miles of perfectly flat sea just beyond the anchorage to ski your brains out in and they have to zoom around the anchored boats. Simply amazing, the lack of marine consideration in this part of the world as compared to back home!
After sundown the skiers went home and everything quieted. I put the hammock on the foredeck and we enjoyed cocktails while swinging in a light breeze. About 11:30 pm I was awakened by the wooden hammock ends slamming about the foredeck. I went forward naked in gale force wind, took it all down and began securing everything about the cockpit. The sky was beautiful, full of stars, and the wind was warm but the boat had begun swinging and bobbing, like a toy in a swimming pool. We had well prepared for the usual northerlies but Desert Vision had swung 180 degrees was completely exposed to the seas and winds from the south, and was experiencing its first coromuel. Apparently this area is prone toward these evening storms that blow throughout the night when cooler Pacific winds blow down the Pacific Coast and cross over the low part of the peninsula into the warmer Sea of Cortez.
Well, at first light we raised the hook and fled to a different anchorage. None of the anchorages in the area hold any protection from the coromuels but where we are now at Playa Pichilinque there should be better protection from north winds and waves. We'll see!