Â I’ve been tagged by Mary Across the PondÂ to write about my life before France. It was pretty normal with a marriage and three children but it all ended after 26 years of marriage. I thought my life was over, basically, until I met and married Maurice thinking no one would want a used up old woman. In any case, rather than tell you some boring details, I thought I would post the first chapter in my “memoirs” that I never got published. I didn’t know it but my marriageÂ was overÂ when all of this happened. The names are all changed to protect my children.
I didnâ€™t realize that anything was wrong as I made my way up through the water. It had been a wonderful dive off the coast of Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands. The dive master had taken us fairly deep at 50 feet or so where we saw a large variety of tropical fish and even a sea turtle, usually too shy to get close enough to view. A sting ray had gone past us looking like it was flying in the water with the bird like movements of its fins. My husband had surfaced before me, as had my son, who was on his first diveÂ and had been having a little problem with his regulator.
Â The water was clear and quiet underneath but I knew that it was choppy up above with fairly large waves that made it nice to get below the surface into the peaceful depths where only the sound of my breathing on the regulater could be heard. For some reason there was a bumper crop of pink jelly fish floating everywhere in that area that I was dreading making my way through when it was my turn to surface. The evening before I had been trying to wind surf in a quiet bay and every time I fell in the water, which was often, I would land in a group of them and get an itching, burning sensation where they touched my skin.
Â We were on a family vacation and had brought our two sons, Kevin and Mark, while Ally, our 6 year old daughter, stayed behind with grandparents. Kevin was fourteen and was looking forward to doing his first dive. Mark was nine and still too young to earn his dive certificate. We had rented a sail boat that slept six, along with a captain to sail it, our first experience doing this sort of thing. Neither of us sailed but we wanted to try going from island to island, exploring as we went and doing a couple of dives. By then, my husband, Sherman, and I had been diving for 5 years and had done a dozen or so dives, mostly in Mexico. We were on the third day of our trip and doing our first dive. Mark has stayed behind on the sail boat with the captain.
Â I reached the surface of the water and the waves were really rough making it hard to even grasp the back platform of the boat. I pushed my mask to the top of my head and was unbuckling the straps to my oxygen tank for the dive master to pull up on the boat when I heard him say to his assistant, â€œGrab him!â€ I looked over and there was Sherman floating face down in the water. They quickly pulled him on board and then me.
Â Sherman was unconscious. We had no idea what was wrong. The dive master thought he might have hit his head on the boat in the rough water, although I couldnâ€™t see any sign of blood or injuries on his head. Breathing compressed air while doing scuba diving can be dangerous and lead to an air embolism when air gets into the blood stream, behaving like a blood clot that causes a stroke or heart attack and this was a possibility. The dive master quickly got the boat underway heading for the nearest hospital for x-rays to be sure there wasnâ€™t some sort of injury to Shermanâ€™s head. He told me to elevate Shermanâ€™s legs.
Â At one point I couldnâ€™t find Shermanâ€™s pulse and even did some chest compression and then he moaned a little. The dive master came out to check on him and elevated his legs a lot more than I had. At that point, Sherman became more active, tossing some, moaning and talking to himself, asking about Jeff, a neighbor back in Texas. My son was there on the boat watching all of this activity, as was another couple that had joined us that day.
Â An x-ray at a very small hospital showed no head injury. I even, in my state, had the doctor show me the x-ray to be sure he hadnâ€™t missed something, not being a modern state of the art institution. Iâ€™m a nurse, but not trained in reading x-rays. I just felt like I had to see it in case they missed something. I was told that my husband needed to be flown to the nearest naval base in San Juan where there was a decompression chamber used to treat victims of air embolism. We had to hire a private air ambulance to fly us there. The sail boat captain came and picked up Kevin and assured me that he would get both of our sons back to the island where we had first landed where they could pack all of our belongings and then he would get them on a flight to San Juan to meet me there. The kindness of strangers is always amazing.
Â In very fast order, I was sitting in the front seat of the air ambulance next to the pilot with Sherman on a stretcher in the back. We flew at a low altitude in order not to cause any more damage to Shermanâ€™s brain due to air pressure. Before we landed the pilot asked me how I was going to pay for the flight. I guess he had learned to ask before everyone gets off of the plane. I gave him my Visa card number.
Â I was put in the front of an ambulance and Sherman was in the back. We raced toward the hospital and the decompression chamber while in the back they were trying to start an IV on Sherman. He screamed and screamed. For some reason he was incredibly sensitive to pain in his extremities.
Â And so he began his 48 hours in the chamber. I was given a sweat suit, as I was still wearing a wet bathing suit covered in a now wet T-shirt. The coremen set the air pressure inside the chamber to be similar to being at 60 feet breathing compressed air. As soon as they did this, Sherman stopped screaming and thrashing around. He pulled out the IV several times until the coreman inside the chamber with him cursed at him and told him that he would do Sherman serious bodily harm if he touched it again. For some reason, it worked. All diving operations by the entire US Naval fleet in the Caribbean were shut down during this time. The chamber had to be available before the SEALS could do any dives.
Â During the few times I looked in at Sherman through a window he was saying, â€œTell Jeff. Tell Jeff.â€Â I spent the night with the wife of the doctor in charge of the decompression unit. Before I left to go, the doctor told me that he didnâ€™t know if Sherman would survive the night or not, and that if he did, if he would have any mental capacities left. He called early the next morning to tell me that Sherman was going to make it and seemed pretty much back to normal although he had to spend another day in the chamber.
Â The first thing Sherman said to me when I went up to the chamber was, not â€œHi, Honey. I love you. How are the boys? How are you holding up?â€ No, the first thing he said was, â€œHow much did the air ambulance cost?â€ It wasnâ€™t inexpensive but I didnâ€™t think it was that important in the scope of things. He also had me call Jeff to tell him what had happened. Jeff told me that he would pick us up at the airport when we finally returned to Texas.
Â My sons had arrived by then and I took them to see Sherman and say hello through the chamberâ€™s round window, then got them on a plane back toÂ Dallas to stay with relatives. Sherman had to stay another day after that in a regular hospital bed. The doctors wanted us to fly back to Texas using another air ambulance because of the danger of flying in a regular air craft, but Sherman refused. He would rather risk another air embolism than pay for a private plane. It was a nerve racking flight for me, to say the least.
Â Before we left, the doctor said that it appeared that Sherman had totally recovered without any brain damage but that he might find â€œholesâ€ in his memory or things he knew before. He might not be able to work anymore or play the piano. We would just have to wait and see. It turned out that he lost nothing. The only injury he came away with was a weakness in one knee and numbness in the bottom of his feet. A few months later the doctor wrote us to tell us that another person had been brought in with the same injury, an air embolism, and that she had left in a wheel chair, never to walk again.
Â So we returned to Texas. I was to look back on the trip with a lot of questions and, horrible as it sounds, I was to wish that Sherman had died in the diving accident, leaving me a widow. It would have been easier than what I was to go through.