Monday, April 11, 2016

Departure Delay

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was looking for weather windows to depart New Zealand and start my sail back to Seattle.  Everything was going according to my plan, I was ready, Luckness was ready and I was enjoying my last few days in the country as I was planning on leaving sometime in the middle of the last week of March - the weather seemed to be coming around into a pattern I liked.

Then, after a brief moment of inattention, I made a stupid mistake and my departure is now being delayed for a while.

So...  I was anchored off of Paihia, one of the small towns here in the Bay of Islands.  I had just finished an early dinner on shore and had returned to my dinghy.  As I was untying the dinghy painter I briefly put my hand down beside me on what I thought was the dock - I saw it just out of the corner of my eye as I focused on the task at hand - and I felt a painful sensation.  I pulled my right hand toward me and looked down and saw that two of my finger tips had just been crushed.  I had put them into a small gap between one of the pilings holding the dock in place and the wharf, just as the dock had moved and the gap had closed.  Crap.  I recommend you not try this.  Its quite painful.

After a few moments of disbelief at my stupidity, I was able to retie my dinghy and then walked up the dock looking for some help.  The fingers looked pretty bad.  Anyone looking at them would realize that this needed much more than a bandage and aspirin.  An ambulance arrived less than two hours later and drove me to a local clinic.  This happened on the Saturday evening of Easter weekend.  The doctor who was at the clinic took a look at the fingers and realized that I should be in a larger facility, as I needed x-rays and someone with more specialized knowledge.  I called a taxi, as that was faster, and caught a ride to Whangarei Emergency Department, arriving at around midnight.  They treated me (I won't describe those details, a little grisly) and released me at 2:30am with both fingers wrapped heavily, one finger in a splint and my arm in a sling in order to keep the fingers elevated.  I found a room, caught a few hours of sleep, got a taxi back to Paihia the next morning and returned to Luckness.  This was the first night I've spent off Luckness since leaving Seattle in 2013.

The doctor has recommended that the broken middle finger on my right hand be kept immobilized for four weeks.  After having the dressing on the finger changed on the Tuesday following easter weekend, the nurse I saw recommended I give the fingers at least six weeks before I even consider sailing off.

If you're interested in a little more detail of the injury read on, otherwise skip the rest of this paragraph.  I crushed two finger tips badly, this according to both doctors.  The flesh was crushed and torn, I have 10 stitches holding it all together, the last bone in my middle finger was broken into several pieces and I lost both finger nails.  However both fingers are healing well.

So far, this story started well (I'm ready!), plunged (oh crap!) but now it starts picking up again.  Today its been 17 days since the accident and the fingers have been feeling better and better for the whole time.  The dressings on the wounds have been changed a number of times, and each time the fingers themselves as well as the dressings that come off are looking better and better.  I wouldn't want to go sailing today, but if I have the opportunity to heal through April and early May, I will be able to sail away.  Yay!

The public dock at Paihia is quite small.  When I came into the dock both sides of it were covered with boats already tied up, so I pulled around the back and tied my dinghy to the walkway.  The tide was lower when I was there than in the picture above, so the walkway was a reach above me, and forward.

This is the piling and surrounding wharf.  Each time I look at it now I can't believe how stupid I was to put my finger anywhere near that area - its an obvious danger area.  I've been cruising now for a few years, I know better.  Children would know better.  Somehow I felt comfortable while I was there, I relaxed a little, focused on the one task and made a mistake.  Oops.

I have to say, if you ever find yourself having some type of accident, there are few other places in the world that are as good to do it as New Zealand.  They have a healthcare plan here called ACC, which is an accident coverage plan that covers everybody in the country, including visitors like me.  I have paid a few small copay fees, but aside from those very reasonable charges everything else has been paid for by the tax payers of New Zealand.  Thank you everybody!  New Zealand is awesome, everybody should visit here.  I could go off on a rant now about the state of health care in the USA, but won't.

I mentioned in my last blog post that my immigration visa would be expiring in the middle of April.  I called the immigration office after seeing the nurse to have my dressing changed, on the Tuesday following Easter weekend, to speak with them.  The process I need to go through to be able to stay in the country longer is to apply for a new visitors visa, which I have done.  I have yet to hear from them on whether or not they will allow me to stay in the country to heal and then sail away.  I'm hopeful they will allow this.  If not, my plans are going to need to suddenly change...I'll deal with that if it comes up.  I've been doing some reading on how I can help with the healing process and one of the ways is to avoid stress.  When I think about being denied a visa extension to allow me to heal, I get stressed, so I'm trying to not think about it...

It turns out that I have had several misconceptions on how to best heal your flesh after an injury.  I had always thought that disinfecting the wound was the right thing - pouring hydrogen peroxide or iodine on the wound to clean it out.  It turns out that that is now discouraged, there have been studies that determined that doing that slows the healing process.  By disinfecting the wound with hydrogen peroxide or iodine you end up killing some of the flesh, and this slows healing.  Also, as the wound starts to heal, those chemicals will attack the newly growing flesh.  The doctor and nurses here are using either saline solution or simple tap water to keep the wound clean.  I hadn't realized this, lesson learned.

I have also had a misconception about how to treat the wound after the initial blood has stopped.  I always thought that having a scab form was a good thing, that you should expose the wound to the air as fast as possible to allow scab formation, that this was good.  This turns out to be wrong as well.  Moist, or humid healing is much better than dry.  When a scab forms the wound will heal from the bottom up.  If you keep the wound covered and humid then the wound can heal from the sides as well as the bottom.  Humid healing is now the best practice.  Another lesson learned.

This episode has been full of learning experiences.  Another thing I learned is how to talk to the first responders that you speak to when requesting an ambulance.  The people I spoke to wanted a bunch of information, which I was happy to provide.  They ask about the injury, which I described.  Then they ask about your pain level, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being nothing and 10 being high.  This scale is very subjective.  For someone who had never been injured, my finger tip pain would have been a 10.  However, I had a back injury many many years ago and that whole episode was very painful.  So when asked, I told them my pain was around a four, painful but I've had worse.  This, as my blood was slowly dripping down onto the pavement where I was standing.  They also asked about the amount of blood and I replied "not very much" thinking a few steady drops is nothing compared to an artery squirting blood all over, like you see on T.V.  I realized later that on hearing this they lowered the priority of my call.  The ambulance heading toward me was redirected to a different accident, and after collecting their patient I was on their way back to the hospital and so they stopped to inform me that the ambulance that would take me away would be along soon.  They looked at my fingers, brought me aboard and off we went.  After arriving at the hospital they took me off first and processed me at the hospital before going back to the other guy.  Next time, when asked, I'll say my pain is an eight or nine and there is "quite a lot of blood", as blood is meant to stay on the inside, not leak to the outside.  Of course there will never be a next time, as finally, I've learned my lesson and there will be no more accidents.  Ever.  Hopefully.

I'm hoping now to be ready to sail away sometime in early May.  I've lost at least 6 weeks out of my sailing season.  I was originally planning on stopping in French Polynesia for three or four weeks, I will need now to scale that back and maybe skip FP altogether.  It would be unfortunate to miss French Polynesia, but I want to be able to leave Hawaii in July, as the longer you wait for that final passage the greater the risk of encountering stronger weather.

One of my friends left NZ last week on this same passage, he'll be able to enjoy some time in French Polynesia.  Some other friends are planning on leaving soon, perhaps next week, they are also planning on seeing a few sights along the way.  I was originally going to be ahead of both of these boats - now I'm going to be trailing far behind.

I'll leave this note here.  I'm doing well, the fingers are making progress, and I expect to be starting my journey back to Seattle, after a delay, in early May.

Signing off, for now,
   The single handed single hander.