Seven years ago today I died 2 times on a surgeons table. I had a Heart Attack while sailing my boat back to our club in Old Hickory Tennessee Harbor Island Yacht Club.
Little did I know it would be the start of the end of my sailing. I spent the next 6 weeks getting over the attack and bypass work by reading sailing books. I even designed and ordered a new full batten main sail for my centerboard Compac 16. I thought I would have to stay out of the sun most of the next season, so I had the rear of the sail cut high so it would not hit the bimini. Then I also ordered lots of other stuff to make my sailing cooler.
I remember the day I put the main on the first time; it was about 5 weeks after the big cut. The sail fit just right. As I was attaching the bimini, I saw a new member coming down the ramp. We were the only 2 sailors out on that day; I think the temp was around 29? When he approached, I remember he was smiling. Then he said,
"You’re Capt Ron."
I replied, “Arrrr. That would be correct.
Then he replied, "Don't you think you should go home?"
That kind of pissed me off. He followed up (after seeing the question on my face) with,
"I am Dr…......, head of Heart Surgery at Saint Thomas Hospital, and I know you had some tough heart work done by my friend, Dr. .... a few weeks ago, and when the sun goes down behind the hill it is going to get COLD, and you, my friend, should be home where it is warm!”
He was correct, and it was great having someone be so interested in my well being, as I found most of the club was.
Long story made short, I got over the "Big One" as well as a 49 year old can get over the big one and went back to my work running a small printing company. Then I found I needed a change, so I quit and jumped even farther into the high stress work of selling printing and found myself with more money, so I got another boat then another boat then another boat then another boat--you know the story.
I got a great deal on an Oday 25 with an inboard from a doctor who was moving to Florida and found someone had stolen his trailer. I had arrived.
I spent the next year getting it ready for a long river trip to the Gulf, which was when I found myself having some additional problems getting on and off. I never had these problems before but it was getting bad. I had also had the big idea of getting a Jeep 5 speed Wrangler so I could drive from work to the boat with the wind blowing through my hair—OK, blowing over my bald head.
I found something was wrong with the clutch. It would cause me to scrape gears most of the time and after putting the Jeep in the shop, I was told nothing was wrong with my Clutch. About the same time, I found I was dropping things off my boat. Simple things--cups of coffee, a glass of rum and Coke, keys, etc., and the question just kind of hit me--What is going on?
I went for a check up and was given a suggestion to go see a Dr. who was better at looking into nerve related hand problems. By this time I was having some heart racing and trouble breathing and was sent to another Dr. who was a lung guy. He asked the common questions, Have you ever had--well you know the list--then he came to Polio, and as he said no, I said YES. What did you say? I Said Yes, when I was 22 months old. I think I was the last case in Nashville.
WOW! I think we have come up with some Answers. Then came the big one. OK, the second Big one after I think you’re having a heart attack. Have you ever heard of Post Polio Syndrome? It’s the 2nd part of Polio, It hits about 40 years after the first attack and starts to play hell with your motor neurons.
I replied that yeah I was told I had it about 12 year ago, but thought they were nuts. I could sail a boat for hours in the summer and never get hot or cold. Drove me nuts. I could work for 16 hours a day and had a hard time waiting for the next day, I was the just - get out of my way its easer to do it than explain it - type of boss.
Again long story made short. I was sent to Dr. John Dexter, the leading expert on PPS in the Tennessee area and after a long exam and question session (about 4 hours), I was told to focus with me as he looked me in the eyes. You have an advanced case of PPS, and if you continue with your current pace, I can assure you you will Die within one year. You should quit your job, change your life style (which was not very bad just hard work and hard play), and if you do, we can stretch this thing out for about 2 to 3 years. Talk about Really taking the wind out of your sails???!!!!
I replied, "Let me think about it." Then he suggested I should come back with my wife of 35 years next time! I did, and I also quit my big shot job, gave up the big bucks, sold the house, got a Condo on the lake, traded the Jeep for a truck with auto trans and started fighting the Big Brother for my disability. That is another story even though there is a law that has been put in place for PPS Victims.
But what about the boat? Cant get on it, and if I do, I can’t get the sails up and if I do, I cannot get them down and by the time I get to the slip, I am so tired I cant do anything but spray a little water on the bird poop and then go back to the truck.
So I sold it... I can get over it, it’s just a boat. Then the club put a ramp in so I could hobble in without using the stairs. I thought I could get a smaller boat, so I got a West Wight Potter, then found by the time I put it in the water I was so tired I could not sail it. Then the club gave me a slip closer to the ramp and a parking place. It still did not work. So I sold the Potter. Not giving up, I started looking for something bigger but with a cockpit lower to the water. I found an Oday Javelin. Wrong again, I sold it.
I thought what about a Bauer 12 with all the trimmings, and I did. It was a great boat. Tanbark sails, lots of teak. Chris Bauer even delivered it. Nope, still too much, sold it.
What I need is a Fatty Knees. I have been looking at them for over 15 years since I had had a Catalina 22 in the 70's, then a brand new Oday 25 in the 80's, then a Compac 16 used, then another Oday 25, then a Drascomb long boat, then a Cape Dory 22, then traded it for another brand new Catalina 22 with wing keel, Sold it to get another Compac 16 with centerboard. I had also had a Boston Whaler Squall, a Canoe Rowing Dinghy I built and a kayak. After thinking about all these, I forgot I had a second Drascomb and also a Seapearl. What about a Rowing Sailing Dinghy?
Yep, Got it and just sold it, and now I have 2 kayaks. Yep, have them for sale.
All in all, life is going well. I can’t sail, can’t work, can’t walk, can’t run, but I can remember all the great times I had on boats and still love looking at sites about building them, so what's wrong with me? I kept the same wife for 35 years, and keep changing boats. I think I’m just a little dingy.
I always wondered what would happen when you have to give up the thing you love in life the most outside of family. I know the answer--Magic! Its a great gift, the same gift you get when the second kid comes and you wonder how in the world you could ever have enough love for a second child and how could you ever love them as much as first? Then the kid is here, and the Magic happens and you have more than enough love to go around..
I have had to change my life style in terms of money, my mobility, my inability to sail or drive, and now am just trying to figure how to get a sail I have left over to fit my wheel chair. I think I have it figured out, but still working on putting the tiller and rudder on also. I am looking for a wooden chair with that nice wicker kind of like the old town canoe seats. I will keep you posted.
Thanks and Fair Winds with just enough puffs to keep you on your toes!
Capt Ron Thweatt, Husband, Father, and Grandfather