We laid up in Providence RI over the winter for 2 reasons - full knee replacement for the Captain and preservation of the remaining resources left in the Caribbean after the one-two punch of Irma and then Maria.
We had friends that went South and many would say in part to support efforts of rebuilding by bringing revenue to the islands in and around the BVI or St Martin. Our take is that in good times the resources are limited and expensive and sometimes feels like only those of us that "can afford it" do. The things they needed we couldn't provide like lifting a 100 year old law called the "Jones Act"
that prevents shipping anything between American ports unless its on a ship American registered, built and sailed by its citizens, which as you may expect is a rare event. While we do have the largest shipyard in the world, it builds US Naval Vessels as a mainstay. Labor is the chief cost of building ships and some of the best are built overseas in Asia. Big Frisky is an Outbound 46
made in China and considered a premium vessel in its class. Made in America equivalents are 2 times the cost. Why am I rambling about our trade practices? Well when Irma devastated Puerto Rico, an American territory, the vessels most able to lend a hand from the US mainland where all the needed supplies were had to have the "Jones Act" temporarily suspended for 7 days to allow relief supplies to reach our citizens in Puerto Rico. John McCain tried to repeal this protectionist policy from the 1920s in 2015 and was soundly rebuked. The more things change the more they stay the same. We have heard from friends that went and/or have their boats in the Caribbean that it's getting better but places like St Martin's harbor may never be the same. We'll be back this winter, more on that later.
Let me tell you about the biggest reason we stayed in PVD - Mass General Hospital and its Arthroplasty Department. We had a rare opportunity to layup in RI, minutes from our boat on the hard (read boat projects) and 40 minutes on the train from the MGH train stop and my Dr. Andrew Freiberg
. This guy is a rockstar of his world, chief surgeon at the dept of knee/hip at MGH and associate professor at Harvard Medical School - as it turns out a bearcat from University of Cincinnati with residency at another great Midwest medical school University of Michigan, oh and a boater. Nordhaven I think he said, big Trawler with all the creature comforts of home. How long do you think it may take to see him I asked Pamela? 10 weeks it turns out. Well it was only September we thought.
So I've had a checkered sporting past that includes 4 marathons, a half dozen triathlons/biathlon, some half marathons, a couple of 10ks, some mountain biking races including the famed Birkebeiner in Hawayrd WI, a timed 50 miler, countless Hilly Hundreds and skateboarding giant concrete pools from the 1980's in Greenfield WI. That and about 15 years of refereeing soccer, from Professionals, D-1 College, D-2 college, D3, NAIA, High School, Club down to under 10 year olds. You name it, I reffed them. I think my biggest game as a referee was a NCAA D2 Men postseason game, semi final. NKU vs Lindsey Wilson, who was mostly brazilian at the time - helluva time. It was a year round profession for me including indoor soccer. We wore early GPS wrist watches that told me I was running 6-7 miles in a match 7 nights a week. It tooks its toll in the form of my knee cartilage and ligaments. I made a lifetime of friends and had so many thrilling games with all my referee buddies and even met my wife during that time, which has been my life's blessing.
Well that was at least 50 lbs ago. Weight is an insidious thing. It doesn't happen overnight but if ignored long enough you find yourself 50 lbs heavier than you ever thought possible. Moving aboard a sailboat didn't help my activity level but the damage was done far sooner than 2015 when we started cruising. I'd been seeing orthopedic doctors far more regularly in the last few years seeking relief from the arthritic pain I had in my knees, very specifically my right knee.The one and the same that had ACL reconstruction in the 90's due to my ignorance of how to play basketball (and in Indiana). Oh the indignity! Well as many know there are very few options once your cartilage goes and in my case I began to build a big shelf on the end of my tibia bowing my leg outward made especially heinous by my extra weight I was carrying. No doctor ever suggested it to me, including my GP but they all agreed when I suggested maybe I needed to lose a few pounds. You all know what I'm talking about, you start to walk past mirrors and wonder "who was that fat guy you saw out of the corner of your eye?".
One of my favorite stories of my growth was the first winter we were in the BVI with Big Frisky and our son Cliff
came down to see us. It was the first time we had seen him since his open heart surgery the previous September and snorkeling was on the agenda. We had an underwater camera we were trading around and unfortunately Cliff took a WHOPPER of a picture of me
in a blue sun shirt underwater. I truly appeared to be a blue whale! Ever since I've used that picture as the screensaver on my phone so I am reminded what I truly had become and not some past memory of my former self. I remember one time I used a picture of myself reffing a D1 Middle with my long hair flowing and running my ass off backwards. You get the picture.
So first things first in PVD - get ourselves a cool ass flat in the middle of it all, someplace close to public transportation since we lack a car. It also had to be close to where we could workout and maybe even include a usable gym. I had to be able to recover from surgery sometime after the first of the year, so one level flat on first floor or elevator. Rehab needs to be easy access as well as culture and shopping. Oh and also the short term lease we needed of 6 months and allow for three small dogs. The last thing it HAD to have was easy access to an area suitable for bobos that Pamela could single hand since I'd be on my back recovering. All this in the WINTER which we had not seen for 3 years. Big ask I thought.
Enter the G Reserve
at Dorrance and Westminster in downtown Providence. The newly renovated Union Trust building from 1902, on the National Historic Register. Pretty much in the heart of it all in PVD. One block from the bus hub, 3 blocks from train station, 4 blocks to the mall, a block from a gastropub and two 7/11s within 2 blocks. It had a rooftop bar that was around the corner, a Ivy League school, Brown across the canal from us with the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) on one side of us and the renowned Culinary school, Johnson and Wales on the other. $2 gets you a bus ride ANYWHERE in RI and if you can board on a return trip within 2 hours of your outbound bus you ride free. We've long talked about maybe, someday, living in a 'big city', well this was our opportunity. All the trappings of civilization all at our feet! Live music, live theater, art museums, movie theaters, hell we even had Verizon optical cable for internet access! It was like our old life only better! Not living in the wasteland of culture and conservative "values" like central Indiana BUT in the heart of the vibrant and historical Northeast US corridor with Boston 45 minutes north and New York City 2 hours to the south where everyone in RI is a registered Democrat and your state Senator is Mr. badass himself, Sheldon Whitehouse. The state slogan and seal features a fisherman's anchor and the slogan 'Hope'. 98% of its children in poverty have medical insurance, it supports its local businesses so much there are very few chains restaurants - you have to go to Mass for those, a few miles away. A good example is any clothing item sold in RI up to $250 is tax free in support of local manufacturing and there is no sales tax on any boat purchased in RI, doing the same for the boating industry. All this with just 1 million residents. The tallest building in RI is 26 floors and was right across the street from us. Great location - Check!
Next was the surgery itself, which I will say was the single most brutal and rugged thing I have been through. I never could have done it by myself and can only thank my beloved Pamela for all her support and caring prior to and during my recovery. In my mind the decision to replace my knee was a joint (hah!) one and could have only been as successful as it has been with family supported effort. Once I decided that the ongoing pain was greater than the risk of surgically resurfacing my femur, tibia and patella it was all hands on deck. I talked with everyone I could about the procedure and their personal experience for surgery and recovery. The only point of reference I could think of, that of mid fifties aging athlete was a guy I used to referee, Tommy McNabb in the mens over 40 or open league depending upon his disposition at the time. He was also an aging athlete and in my mind seemed driven by athleticism, the love of the game and his personal fitness goals. He had a hip replacement and maybe 6 month later I was reffing him again and he seemed no worse for the the wear. I thought he was nuts, thinking "hip replacement, he must have to use a walker from here on". Boy was I wrong. I did talk with as many people who told me it was the best thing they ever did as well as it was the worst thing they ever did. It did not engender a ton of confidence in the process
I did what I had seen Cliff our son do when he was researching his heart valve re-replacement. I searched out the highest rated facility and doctor that I could see that was within a friends and family support network location and found Andrew Freiberg. I tell the story that I spent about 30 minutes awake with him. 10 minutes during the initial consult that really assuage my fears about the process, he was so confident and reassuring. Luckily during that visit he had told us of a late 'add' on his schedule on the 2nd of January that we prompted took. I saw him next for about 10 minutes the day of surgery where I tried to chat nervously fearing the worst. I asked him what his music selection for for my surgery as I remember that last operating room I was in was cold and was playing music as I faded off to anesthesia. He seemed surprised at my question and chuckled and told me he leaves that to his anesthesiologist who was next in in the 'day of' visits. I requested Michael Jackson and was reassured as I drifted off to the greatest showman of my time lyrically lulling me to sleep. Next time I saw my Dr was at the 8 week check up for about 10 minutes and he pulled and prodded my knee and pronounced it one of his best. He asked me what questions I had and when I objected the the remaining pain I had on the inside of my knee knee he laughed and said "if I had seen the work he had to do to straighten my leg I would not wonder why my knee hurt so bad!" He went on to say "when I wanted the other leg straightened out, come on back and he'll take care if it'. A gifted surgeon and another one of my many blessings.
The recovery was an adventure as well including a nor'easter the day after I got home that dumped almost 2' of snow and completely shut down all of RI. They closed the interstate hwys to all traffic and after the snow stopped, cleaned up all the streets and got the buses running again. The 36 hours of closure had Pamela shoveling the sidewalks just outside of our apartment building entrance so the sweet bobos had a place to take care of business unaffected by snow taller than they were. We were 6th floor so I was able to watch the entire snowmageddon through the ceiling high windows we had in our south facing sunny flat. After the worst of the snow cleared so began my recovery with in home nursing, then in home therapists, then outpatient therapy both pool based and traditional 3 times a week. Once I was cleared for exercise we were able to join the Brown university recreation center with me in the pool swimming about a mile each visit and Pamela attending various fitness classes and yoga both in class and at home streaming videos. We used our in building's fitness center on the other days. We added a couple of fitbits for tracking and motivation with Pamela darting out of our flat every hour to be sure she's getting her 250 steps an hour in. A lot of little things begin to add up.
We had access to an amazing variety of foods in PVD, Korean, Thai, Cantonese, Portuguese and of course Italian! Pamela who is a wonderfully creative chef in the kitchen was forging into the vegetable and seafood based dishes inspired by the Korean, Portuguese and Italian influences of the area and has now largely moved us to a plant based diet. We also acquired and awesome little bread maker and now try to focus on whole grains in both bread and pasta.
By the time they kicked me out of PT the weather had warmed up enough to get back to work on the boat and the inherent more active lifestyle that is taking the bus as primary transportation walk/bus/walk, repeat. Turns out we both feel a whole lot better with 25 lbs plus gone from the midsection and had a much more pleasant annual trip to see our GP. I was being able to drop a few medications that I had been taking that was a result of diet and activity regimine. Don't get me wrong, losing weight is all about the calories and it doesn't happen without taking in less than you put out, one way or another. I had never tried to lose weight before and now I understand the mental and physical struggle.
So much more to our winter in PVD that I'll regale you with later including the friendships we made and deepened with those around us and how it has made our future brighter than ever.....oh and the second knee surgery? My beloved 11 year old canine Kona came up lame on our trip back to see friends and doctors in June. He is now just 4 weeks post-op from his surgical repair of his CCL, the equivalent to the ACL for a human like the one I had repaired on my right knee in the 90's. Dogs and the humans that own them beginning to look and act alike? You make the call!