Here in Honduras, as it was in Haiti, on any given day my crew are usually spread out at several locations, and when I find out later the details of what they have been doing, I am always astonished. Today we recognize the awesomeness of the work done by nurse and instructor Sirin Petch. By the time we had been here about a week, we learned that the single fire station on Roatan had not been given much formal training, and Sirin agreed to work with Maddie to provide training in emergency response. Nearly every day for almost two months, Sirin worked with the firecrews to provide training in airway management, scene assessment, lifting and immobilization, choking, and other techniques necessary for EMS response. Some of them had joined the department when they were 14, but few had been able to get formal training. The firemen are paid very little (they have to buy oxygen for the ambulance out of their own money), and they work hard.
Sirin first asked the Firemen what they would be most interested in learning, and looked at the resources that were available and would be the most useful instruction for work here in Roatan, and then provided training. Maddie was instrumental in helping communication, plus she is a naturally gifted teacher, and later they were joined by Zach, one of the pilots on the emergency helicopter, and Yolanda, a paramedic from Montana volunteering for a couple of months on the helicopter.
Sirin and her team trained the fire crews, went on night calls with them, and even after Yolanda and Maddie had gone home, Sirin continued with the firemen. Near the end of Sirin’s time with us (for now?), an incident occurred that says a lot about the relationship Sirin created with the Bomberos. I got a phone call to transport a patient on the helicopter to the mainland, so I made my way to the landing field, prepped the gear in the helicopter and waited for the Fire Department ambulance to bring a patient with suspected barbituate overdose. The ambulance arrived, the doors were kicked open, and out jumps Sirin and the firemen, who hand off the patient to me on the helicopter.
On the way back to the station, Sirin and the firemen got a call for a woman in full arrest. Sirens blazing, they arrived at a house surrounded by wailing family members. A larger woman in her 40s had a full arrest, in a house at the top of a 30-foot embankment. Using the techniques Sirin had taught, they put her on an immobilization board, inserted an airway, maneuvered her down the hill to the ambulance and raced to the hospital. They worked hard to resuscitate the woman, both in the ambulance and the hospital, but eventually had to call time of death. Sirin helped arrange the body and deal with the distraught family thronging the hospital corridor, then she and the Bomberos headed back to the Fire Station, only to be diverted to a brush fire. They gave Sirin a brush jacket and sped off to a banana plantation, arriving as it burned itself out. Scrambling up the smoking, scorched earth, they made sure the fire was completely extinguished, then returned to base.
Beyond the skills and training that she made available to the firemen, I believe that Sirin gave them something much more valuable. They looked at what Sirin knew, and her professionalism, and saw its value. She earned their respect (not always easy for female professionals in Latin America) and their friendship, and helped inspire them and motivate them to want more training and to seek it out. They have asked Sirin to send EMS instruction books and have increased their physical training (Noah has worked with them in the gym and done lifting and transferring instruction with them, and a few days ago I boxed with another).
I am very, very proud of the work at the Fire station, and very proud to have seen Sirin rise to such a challenge. Long after we are gone, I hope the knowledge and professional pride she left behind will continue to grow and help people.
Claudia and I headed down to Fort Lauderdale for the boat show—one of the biggest in the country. I have actually never been to a boat show, so this was kind of jumping into the deep end—the show was HUGE; you had to take a bus from one area to another. We went from booth to booth talking to people about our project and trying to find support—we still desperately need a watermaker; we have an atmospheric watermaker donated from Generative Planet that draws drinking water from the air, but although it makes just enough for drinking, we need a reverse osmosis watermaker to have the capacity for washing, cooking, cleaning clinical supplies and getting salt off equipment.
The variety of products and vendors was amazing—I saw a lot of gear we really needed, but I also saw a lot of gear I really WANTED. I know the difference, but just the boats alone that were on display gave me some pretty serious boat envy (“Now this magnificent vessel comes equipped with a docking minisub and helipad…”). Captain J was working at the show, representing a series of beautiful coastal cruisers, and one of my favorite companies, US Submarines (they make luxury yacht submarines…think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meets 21st Century technologies), had one of their original submarines on display. I can dream, ok?
One thing that was strange was that we only came across one single booth focused on medical issues at sea—there was a lot of safety equipment as part of other booths’ products, but only John Alibrandi and First Responder Educational Services were entirely devoted to dealing with medical emergencies offshore. FRES sells AWESOME offshore medical kits, and they donated one of their Res-Q-Kits to us, as well as extra IV fluids, a HeartSine automatic external defibrillator, adrenaline injectors and saline injections. John also put us in contact with On Call International, a remote medicine and rescue service—and they are going to let us call them to access physician advice from our clinics, bringing more expert medical advice to our remote locations, and are giving us a special deal on their remote rescue service. If any of us get badly hurt, they can coordinate our rescue and repatriation.
June 9, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida.
Well, once AGAIN in is nearly 2:00 AM and not a creature is stirring except me and our neighborhood herd of armadillo on their nightly ramble past the screened in-porch. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate—also stirring are about a billion insects and frogs, and either a deer out in the bushes behind our house or a swamp monster. It is strange how we are all gradually easing into the whole process of living on the boat together. Over the past 6 weeks, we have literally moved closer to each other and geographically closer to both the boat and nature.
First, Ryan and I got here on April 20 and joined Noah and his friend Bill who came down to help us at the beginning and is coming back—hooray!—next week to help us again; I can’t wait to show him everything we have done and I also can’t wait to have his help again, after two triple espressos in the AM the man works like a demon; he built his own boat from scratch. We all lived in the local Microtel in town for a couple weeks while working on the boat, then my sister arrived, then over the next weeks Nick and John arrived, and a few days later we moved into a house 10 houses down from the house where the boat is docked, and all six of us live here together in 3 bedrooms.
Today Sean Conlin joined us at the house and was initiated into our circle of toil and camaraderie by—among many other tasks on his first day with us—working in the 115-degree sauna20that is our medical storage room (in the bow compartment) to fit huge pieces of Styrofoam insulation into the ceiling and cool it down in there! He must have lost 10 pounds of water weight in there but managed it like a champion!
We have two more crew arriving this week to share this 3-bedroom house, and in 12 days the nine of us we will be moving into Dennis and Jeannette’s 4-bedroom house—right on the canal, with the boat docked RIGHT at the house (Dennis and Jeannette are moving across town and are letting us stay in their current home to work on the boat!!)
As I said, we are literally edging our way onto the boat—and as we get closer to the boat, we get closer to the large nature preserve that is across the canal from the boat. In the Microtel in town, nature was near but more hidden, here at our current house the swamp behind our house teems with life, while the street in front is like a street in Pleasantville…When we move into Dennis and Jeannette’s, the canal with all its constant splashing as predatory fish hurl themselves upon the luckless baitfish that abound in this estuary (and its manatees, dolphins, and who knows what else lurks in its dark waters…) will be literally at our backs.
Our next and last move for a long time will be onto the boat, and then away to points south. I will NOT leave until not only I and my crew, but also the Captains, Welders, Mechanics, Riggers, and other experts from whom we have sought advice and help are satisfied that she is seaworthy to carry us safely on such a long journey. The FIRST rule in all first aid and emergency response training is to ‘Survey the Scene’ to ensure the safety of the rescuers. If we sink we will be of no use to anyone.
I think a big part of getting what passes for wisdom as we get older is just being better able to predict consequences (remember how your decision-making was at, say, 17 compared to what it is now?)….Older people who are wise must look at us youngsters (sort of youngster? Give me that at least!) and just shake their heads.
Every day, the boat still continues to look different from the day before…watching it take shape is like watching a speeded-up film of a plant growing—something that should take a long time but is appearing to happen faster than it should. A lot of the experts we have called in had seen Southern Wind over the years and knew the boat; whenever they asked ‘How long have you all been working on the boat?’ they are shocked when we answer ‘6 weeks.’ They all assumed we had been at it for 6 months because we have accomplished so much work in such a short time!