Arguing With The Coast Guard

(continued from prior post)

As I was hauled onto the swim step of the Diver Down, I gasped for air croaking "Can't breathe!! Can't .... breathe!" Behind me, Noah was emerging from the water safe but shocked as the crew raced to prepare oxygen and move me onto the deck. My skin was pale, my lips and finger nails blued by cyanosis. With each failed breath it started to dawn on me that this was where I was going to die; cold and wet on the back of dive boat. Not at all what I had expected.

But, just then, luck intervened.

On the first dive, several divers, including Matt, Roy and Sharky, had elected to do a single, long rebreather dive to more fully explore the wreck. Usually, they'd be just starting up the line from their second dive when I emerged from the water but this day they were dry and on deck. This meant that Sharky, an EMT with dive medicine training, was on scene when I arrived. He took my vitals and placed the oxygen mask over my face. Listening to my lungs he could hear the crackle of liquid as a struggled for air. He relayed the grim news that we needed an air evac ASAP to Bobby in the wheelhouse.

Now stripped of my insulating wetsuit, I began to get cold. I remember having increasing difficulty staying awake. I was starting to detach and accept death. That is, until I looked up and saw Noah at my head. I couldn't possibly die there, in front of him. I renewed my struggle for air. Sharky was in my face, staring right into my eyes, imploring me to breathe. Roy wrapped his body around mine to keep me warm whispering "You're safe now. We've got you brother. Stay with me." into my ear. Dave Gulley, now on deck, joined Sharky in debating possible issues - had I inhaled water? (no). Had I come up to fast? (computer said no). Did I have the chokes ( no)

In the wheelhouse a different war was being waged. The captain was declaring our emergency. He asked for a medical evac from the Coast Guard. The USS Enterprise carrier group, just 14 miles away, picked up the call and offered to send a chopper. Incredibly, the Coast Guard waved them off and declined to send a helicopter of their own. I'll let Matt and the others fill in the details but it apparently got pretty heated between our guys and the Guard. The argument would continue until well after we landed in Morehead City. Meanwhile, I was barely holding my own on a back deck now awash with dive equipment and worried divers.

With all the divers safely back on board, the decision was made to race in. One of the great things about the DiverDown is its speed. With two new diesels it can do 21 knots at a push. This makes it perfect for reaching wrecks far offshore and rarely dived. This day, it was to be my ambulance. To get us ready to roll the crew moved me, my medical team and my oxygen bottles up the deck. Roy, resumed his position warming me keeping up a patter of entirely inappropriate jokes about splitting up my dive gear, taking my money and so on. It was hard to breathe but it was also hard not to laugh. As we got underway, Roy was replaced by my son, Noah. Throughout the one and a half hour trip, he kneeled behind me, supporting my back. Swell from the bow sprayed over us as Bobby hammered through the waves. Each time Noah would hunch over me protectively. Dave Gulley and Sharky took turns taking vitals and keeping me awake and breathing. Every couple of minutes they's ask if I could take a sip or two of water. I'd remove the mask take a few sips and then go back on the oxygen as the world started to gray from breathing normal air. All in all they pumped 5 bottles of water and 6 bottles of O2 into me. By the time we reached shore I was in much better shape but had to make a fast visit to the toilet to get rid of at least 4 of those water bottles!

Ten minutes after landing, we were in Carteret General Hospital emergency and, later that evening, in the Critical Care Unit as they worked to keep my oxygen levels up. 24 hours and a lot of oxygen later, I walked out under my own steam to the applause of the nurses in the Critical Care Unit (apparently that doesn't happen in that ward often). Thanks to the quick action of the crew, my son and my friends, I had survived. It was a really good day!

My heroes from left to right, Sharky, Roy & Dave.

Next Time: A Thousand Ways To Die

- Phil
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TheGlassIsTwiceAsBig said...
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