The Ultimate Tribulation

By Chuck Baier

Today's blog post will be more of a personal nature rather than another boat related post. I hope you'll bear with me as I get my thoughts down to let everyone know what's going on, and for my own therapeutic value. The big story is near the end if you want to skip right to it. I will bring you up to date first on where we are and how Beach House and crew finally arrived after a long and difficult struggle to make our current destination. If you have been following our recent posts, you know that we had been in Carrabelle for a couple of months trying to cross the Florida Big Bend to get over to the west coast of Florida. Beach House finally made the crossing, albeit short one of her regular crewmembers.



Many things had held up our passage. Mechanical breakdowns began a stretch of bad luck, speaking engagements and other commitments kept the boat in Carrabelle and some health issues also played a role in our ongoing delays. For many years, I have paid the price for a lifetime in the sun and decades of enjoying all that the watery part of our planet has to offer. For many years, skin cancer has been a fact of life for me, but fortunately, the type of skin cancer has been basal cell, one that is easily treated and does not spread to other parts of the body. In the past, freezing it off or using a laser to burn off the areas solved the problem. But I knew that at some point it was going to get more serious. So what does that have to do with all of this, you ask?


Once our speaking engagements were finished, a trip to the dermatologist was on the schedule to have a small tumor removed from my neck. Everything went well and we returned to the boat planning to jump on the next weather window. But the surgery was a little more severe than expected and my concern was that if we took a 10 to 12 hour trip across the Gulf Stream and there was a problem, my condition could actually create a bigger risk factor for Susan and the boat. We talked about just waiting it out until everything healed and then make the crossing. But commitments at our next destination were approaching and we would have to make major adjustments if delayed much longer. One of our hard and fast rules is that we never make a decision to go or not go based on any kind of a schedule. We really did not want to violate that rule.


Weather windows had been few and far between and very short -- sometimes only a half day, and that is just not acceptable to us. We watched as one opened up and seemed to hold, while wondering whether we were really going to let this one pass. As the fates would have it, a new found friend that had been at the marina in Carrabelle for a while mentioned to Susan that they were considering moving from their sailboat to a trawler and would be happy to help move the boat if we needed an extra hand. Since the surgery had just happened, it was still questionable as to whether I was yet up to the passage. After some discussion, it was decided that Susan would take the boat across without me and that I would drive our car over, which we had picked up weeks before. Our friend agreed to go along and since Susan is quite capable of handling the boat, the day came and the weather was holding.


One of the big concerns was that the engine had not been fully stress tested after the major work that was done. Although we had run it for about 5 hours, it was still not a hard run to be sure all of the repairs were done and that there were no new problems. All I could do was to watch Susan pull the boat out of the slip at sunrise and hope that everything went well. This section of the Gulf would put her out of cell phone range and perhaps even VHF range for the Coast Guard, etc. There is the HF radio on board and as a last resort, our EPIRB. So communication to the outside world was possible and rescue, if needed, would come. But still you worry. I waited for a couple of hours while Susan was still in cell phone range to be sure there was no problems and that she did not have to turn back. Once it looked like all was well, I pointed the car toward Steinhatchee. The decision was made to do the crossing in two jumps rather than stress the boat for 20 hours doing a single crossing so soon after the repairs.


It only took a couple of hours to drive from Carrabelle to Steinhatchee, but the boat took about 9 hours to get there. Everything worked out fine and the boat and crew made the trip without any problems. Susan drove our crew back to Carrabelle with a big "Thank You!" and returned to the boat late. After spending the night in Steinhatchee, the weather was still looking okay and I was feeling better, so off we went the next morning heading for the Withlacoochee River. Of course, the forecast fell apart and the last couple of hours were pretty hairy, but the boat and crew finally safely made it to the marina in Yankeetown where we planned on staying for a while. Little did we suspect that things would take another turn and soon our lives would be turned on end.


On Sunday, March 1st, I was washing the car under a shade tree in the marina when suddenly I was just not feeling quite right. It only took me about one minute to realize what was happening to me. All of the classic symptoms presented themselves in a textbook fashion. I first felt like I had simply overdone it a bit and sat down in the car to rest. Very quickly things began to escalate. The pressure in the chest was increasing, the pain spreading to my left arm. I was having a lot of difficulty breathing and it was getting worse. I had this overwhelming feeling of dread and by now had broken out into a cold sweat. There was no doubt I was having a heart attack and it was serious. I was able to walk back to the boat and get Susan to tell her something was very wrong and we needed to go to the hospital and now. We considered calling 911, which should be the first thing you do, but decided that based on our location, by the time the ambulance arrived and diagnosed what we already knew, we could be at the hospital, which was not far away. It was a quick ride to Seven Rivers Hospital which fortunately has an excellent cardiac care unit.


On the ride to the hospital I considered that this might be my last day on the planet. I remember thinking that this would be very unfortunate since there were still a lot of things I wanted to do. I also remember thinking that if I didn't survive it would be very hard on Susan and my family and friends, and I didn't want to put everyone through that. We arrived quickly at the ambulance entrance and they wheeled me in and began working on me. All of the drugs, oxygen and hard work the doctors and nurses were doing seemed to be ineffective in stopping the pain and making my breathing easier. After about 20 minutes, the pain did ease up, but only a very little. An ambulance arrived and I was rolled off the table and into it so I could be transported to another nearby hospital that had the equipment and facilities needed to help me. It was short ride, but seemed much longer.


The doctors had determined that I had a 98% blockage in one artery, 95% in another and at least 40% in a third. That didn't leave much working plumbing. From the ambulance, I was moved immediately into the Cath Lab, placed on a table and the Doctor went to work right away. I was awake during the entire process and the next few minutes was an experience that I find difficult to put into words. The Doctor went in through a small incision in the groin area and ran a stent up to my heart. Once the first one was in place, all of the pressure, all of the pain and all of the symptoms just disappeared. I wasn't sure whether I was really feeling this or I had just finally succumbed. With the second stent in place, I truly felt that I could just get off the table, thank the Doctor and go home. It was absolutely incredible. But that didn't happen. I was kept in a cardiac care unit for three days to be sure my heart would be able to handle the increased blood flow that it probably hadn't had in quite some time. And also to make sure I had no reaction to the multitudes of medication I was now taking.


Now here's the reason for me telling you all of this. Up until the moment this event occurred, I have never had a single symptom or any warning, EVER, that I had a heart problem. Up until that day, my health seemed to be excellent and other than some elevated cholesterol levels, I expected to live to be 100. Because my health was so good, I never felt the need to have my Doctors do any kind of stress test, or test of any kind to check the condition of my heart and arteries. I quick smoking in 1973 and Susan and I have led a healthy, active lifestyle for decades. But all of that didn't matter when the day came. I can't tell you how happy I am to be sitting here writing this blog post today. This will slow down our cruising for a while. The future requires a lot of rest for at least the next couple of months, a substantial time for cardiac rehabilitation and many, many Doctors visits before we feel comfortable enough to untie the docklines and head out again. Many things were properly aligned on that day or the outcome would have been very different. For now, my plans are to concentrate on my new future, get better and do all those things that I thought about on that ride to the hospital. And get myself back in good condition. So that's my story. Take a little advise for what it's worth. Don't take your health for granted and don't assume just because you feel fine today, that you will be fine tomorrow. And don't worry, even though our cruising will be delayed, there will still be some great posts coming on the blog.

27 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you're doing well.
    David
    1986 Monk 36

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    1. Thank you David. So far so good. It's just going to take a while to get back to 100%. Chuck

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  2. Chuck and Susan,
    What a great blessing to have caught your symptoms in time!! Well done and glad you are still with us above ground (or water)! Be vigilant and meticulous with your doctor on post-event symptoms.
    Best Wishes.

    Ben

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  3. Glad you are ok. Sounds scary but your advise to not take our health for granted is well taken on my end. We are adding you and Susan to our prayer list. Take the two months or so for rest and recovery. Let me know if we can do anything.

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  4. Praying for your continued recovery and return to the lifestyle you two so enjoy. Your guardian angel definitely was with you that day! Take care and look forward to the day our wakes should cross.

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  5. We want to thank you all for your best wishes and your prayers. It means a lot to both of us. Chuck and Susan

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  6. I'm so happy the last paragraph ended the way it did.
    Thanks Chuck for all you've done for me. Hope there are many more blog entries to come.
    Scott

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    1. Thanks Scott. I'm far from finished. Chuck

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  7. Had a small heart attack years ago. No problems since then at all. I know many people who had similar experiences to you and most, if not all have been fine since. The advances in cardio care over the past decade or two are unbelievable. It's scary for sure. The hardest adjustment for me was getting used to beta blockers -- if they prescribe them for you be prepared to be tired a lot until your system gets used to them. I finally had my dosage cut back significantly.

    Good luck! Glad you're recovering.

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    1. Thanks. While this was no small event, I am encouraged by comments like yours from folks that have been through the same procedure. I'm also encouraged by how good I actually feel, given all that has happened. At this point, I still get tired easy. I don't know if it's from what happened or the drugs. I'm actually looking forward the rehab process to build up my endurance. Chuck

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  8. Man O Man glad you made it Chuck the Lord was with you that day for sure!
    Nuclear stress test saved me, suggest a portable defibrillator “Philips HeartStart, docs rate them OK” expensive "word of caution AEDs’ do fail" but worth every cent if it gets you to tomorrow, kind of like a life-raft dam glad you have it if needed and pray it works.
    Good recovery to you Chuck,
    JC

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  9. Speedy full recovery!

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  10. Chuck...... Peace and calm to you as you move on to full recovery.

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  11. We wish you a totally relaxing and quick complete recovery!

    Our best to you... George and Donna Routt

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  12. Jan and I grew up together in a small town. 50 years later we incredibly and mysteriously re-met and with 4 years together now (and the rest of our lives ahead of us), we look to do the loop in 2016. I had a major heart attack in 2007, brought on by an adrenaline rush, 4 stents. I also thought I was in great shape - runner, climbed mountains, etc. Then the elephant paid a visit - and you know the rest. I feel healthy (almost) as a horse again - providing the horse doesn't think he's beyond reproach.... My heart did some self-healing, just as the doc said it would, and I do feel strong and capable again, at 69. Mostly thanks to today's great medicine and healthcare.
    We will begin looking for a trawler in about 6 months. I've been researching the past 6, but haven't been in contact with anyone yet. We're not new to water. Jan lived aboard and sailed for 3 years. I've driven a 70 ton single screw excursion boat for summers years ago and grew up on the water.
    Take care and good cruising to you both.

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    1. It's always good to hear these encouraging stories. Thanks for posting. I'm looking forward to getting back to 100% and putting our cruising life back on track. We wish you both luck with your search and future plans. Let us know if we can help n any way.

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  13. I've been following your blog and Facebook page for a year or so and have greatly enjoyed your comments, etc. My wife's cousin owns Osprey Marina near Myrtle Beach and I picked up a copy of your anchorage book last time we visited. I retire in a year and we're seriously looking at trawler cruising - as long as I can make it up to the flying bridge!

    I own a bicycle shop (40 plus years) and stay pretty active - 5 years ago I had a TIA (basically like a small heart attack) the morning I was to leave for the annual bicycle industry trade show. Instead, I got the ambulance trip to the local hospital - left side of body went numb, trouble speaking, lost part of my vision, etc. Thankfully, I was already coming out of it by the time I got to the hospital and have made a full recovery.

    I took it as a wake up call and have tried all that much harder to live a leaner, healthier life. It sounds like you just had the same "hello" that I did. Never had any forewarning & then it just happened. I'm very thankful for a "second chance"! Good luck!!

    Fred Boykin, Decatur, Georgia

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story Fred. I have received so many like yours since this all happened. And thanks for buying our book. I understand all too well what your saying. Since my "event", every day has been a little more special. Good luck in the boat search and let us know if we can help in any way.

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  14. Colin and Dawn WarringtonMarch 13, 2015 at 4:15 AM

    So glad to hear of your recovery, having been thru similar, home after 7 week cruise, a long way from any help, North Queensland, felt very tired, long storey short, saw Doc, into Hospital 5 bypasses done, surgeon quote, you missed a bullet by this much. If your body gives a hint of a problem, get it checked, If I hadn't my Doc assured me I would not have survived a heart attack. We are in process of buying a boat to do the loop this year so will make a point of touching bases, Regards and keep well

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  15. Wow, what an amazing story. We hadn't seen any posts for awhile, we just figured you were loving life in Carabelle. Thanks for sharing. Both Susan and I wish you a speedy recover and a resumption of the voyages of "Beach House".

    Foster and Susan

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    1. Thanks guys. Recovery is coming along nicely. A few road trips are in our future, but it will be a while before we are underway on Beach House again. The blog posts will resume very soon. I just need to catch up on a few things including doctors appointments, before I have the time to jump back in. Take care and hope your having fun.

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  16. Beverly and I are so happy you made it, Chuck. Take care of yourself and Susan. I hope we'll catch up with you soon.

    RTB
    (Ralph Brogdon)

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    1. Thanks Ralph. I'm feeling stronger every day and expect to be back to normal, whatever that is, soon. Chuck

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  17. Chuck, thrilled that the stents worked so well for you. We do take health for granted and need to stop doing that. Hope that you are doing well now. I have a Litton 36 which has a similar configuration to yours and I would like to put a stay sail together to keep our nose in the wind. I notice that you have a nice one and wondered if you had put together a tutorial on your construction of that. It looks really nice. What material did you use. Also would be interested in how you attached it to the mast and boom.

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    1. Thank you. Beach House was set up when she was built to carry a sail on the mast. So everything was already there. We did have a sailmaker build the sail for us and they can do the same for you. Since attachment can be done in many ways, depending on how the mast and boom are set up, my suggestion would be to contact a local sailmaker, have them give you suggestions on how best to rig it and get a quote to have one made. How the sail will be rigged on the mast will determine how he will need to build it. Hope this helps. Chuck

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  18. Dear Chuck and Susan,
    My hubby and I are new followers of your wonderful blog, and cannot wait to get into all your working solutions to problems on Beach House, as our France based C-Kip 34 "Goodbye George" is presenting the same issues.
    And our crew has also present similar 'issues', as I have survived two surgeries for removal of brain tumours, possible only with the support and love of my other half; my most sincere thanks for sharing your experience in this post.I hope your health continues to improve and we are sending best wishes for your ongoing travels and posts.
    You are a true inspiration sir x

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    1. We can't thank you enough for the kind words. And we're so sorry to hear about your health issues. Chuck just underwent another heart procedure, but all is well. We wish you the best both with your well being and the boat. Keep a chin up.

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