Having spent five weeks in Marmaris, Turkey, refitting Danica for offshore sailing earlier in the spring, we were confident we could be ready for launching soon after returning. We arrived in Marmaris on July 28, 2017 and spent the first couple of days trying to complete a few last-minute projects. The launch was scheduled for August 1.
The Accident, July 31, 2017
On Monday, July 31, I was on the boat with a couple of men who were installing the fittings for the wind scoops on the bows. I was providing direction on the final locations when I stepped onto the trampoline to indicate where I wanted a particular fitting. As I stepped forward, the rope around the trampoline edge broke and unraveled. I found myself clawing at the fabric, trying to stop the fall. It happened very quickly. I hit the hard-packed gravel yard first with my heels, then my buttocks, my hand, and the back of my head.
In the seconds after the fall, several thoughts flashed through my brain. I knew immediately that I was hurt badly. I could feel a hot burning pain in my middle back and my left arm near my wrist was throbbing. My head was clear and there was no blood. I wondered what Mary was going to think and whether our sailing plans were over before they could start.
The men on the boat rushed down to me and one immediately tried to pull me up off the ground. I told him to leave me and I asked him to get the tarp that was lying nearby and put it under my head. The other guy had his phone out and I thought he was taking pictures as I lay there; he was calling an ambulance.
Soon after I arrived at the Marmaris State Hospital, there were friends around me. One went to the hotel to give Mary the news and bring her to the hospital. She was in shock, not knowing how serious it might be. She had thoughts of me in a wheelchair for life, or worse. By the time she arrived, I had been scheduled for x-rays and an MRI. She took comfort in seeing that I was conscious and clear-headed and able to move all of my extremities.
The x-rays revealed one vertebra crushed and another fractured. The radius bone at the wrist was shattered.
The neurologist arranged the operation on my back for three days after my arrival to hospital. My Turkish friends confirmed, through channels, that the neurologist was an excellent surgeon. He installed two rods with four screws in each rod to span across and stabilize the damaged vertebra. I was able to walk the next day. I learned later that at the time of the MRI, my spinal cord had been compromised by 25%. I was very fortunate.
My friends were in and out constantly, checking on my progress and bringing drinks, food, and other comforts to help out. Mary stayed by my side, sleeping on a small cot beside the bed in a hot and crowded hospital room. The outside temperature hovered close to 40C degrees and the hospital air conditioning was set to 30C.
My friends told us that the best orthopedic surgeon in the State of Marmaris was at a private hospital. An appointment was made with the administrator and Mary had an interesting ride across town, without a helmet, weaving through traffic on the back of a friend’s little scooter to make the arrangements. Six days after the accident, I very carefully climbed into the front seat of a taxi. After the driver got thorough instructions from Mary about driving carefully and being careful at speed bumps, we were off to meet the new doctor.
Ten days after the accident, we moved into a hotel room with a kitchenette where we stayed for 21 days. Together, we started walking early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the heat of the day. We walked fifteen kilometres a day to help me regain my strength and balance.
After each walk, Mary would help me take off my back brace, cover my arm with a plastic bag, and in the shower, hose off the perspiration. I would lie on the bed for half an hour and do some stretches to relieve the cramping muscles. The walking got easier and I was soon well on my way to recovery.
I decided that we could use the time productively by getting a number of projects completed on Danica that were planned for the following year. A few days after leaving the hospital, I organized welders, electricians, mechanics, and carpenters. I took a taxi to the boatyard and spent the day overseeing the work, but needed to lie down in the berth for a few minutes every couple of hours. Thirty days after the accident we were ready to launch and move aboard.
It was very exciting to finally have Danica on the water and be living on board. We anchored in various spots around the bay and got comfortable with our new home. Between doctor visits, we went on a couple of three-day trips along the coast. We’d motor into light winds in the mornings and anchor for the nights. On day three, we would raise sail and make the downwind run back into Marmaris Harbour.
On October 26 we cleared out of Turkey and headed to Rhodes Island in Greece.
We had purchased medical insurance from Tugo before leaving Canada and we had medical coverage from our work plan. We also had our provincial medical.
Very soon after arriving at the hospital, I was asked about medical insurance and we were able to provide the staff with the medical card from my work plan. The following day we called the insurance company and reported the accident and they sent forms to the hospital for me to complete and return to start the claim officially.
The hospital had interpreters on staff 24 hours a day to facilitate medical personnel and hospital administration. I recall one of these interpreters rushing down to the operating room and thrusting forms in front of me for signature, agreeing that I was responsible for all costs. The insurance company had given assurances to the hospital but would not guarantee payment.
In the days following the operation, there were more insurance forms and more questions. The insurance company initially wanted to transport me back to Canada for treatment but were assured by the doctor that my condition was very tenuous. A couple days after the back operation, and prior to the wrist operation, they again asked me to travel to Canada but were given the same response. Shortly after the wrist operation, they asked me for the third time to travel back to Canada on a commercial flight for the follow-up treatments, but a note from the neurologist confirmed that I would not be able to endure such a trip.
The reason the insurance company wanted me to return to Canada is that as soon as I arrive in BC, my provincial medical coverage takes over and there is no further cost to the insurance company.
One particular point of interest is the notion that I’ve often heard from cruisers, “How will the provincial medical service know if I’ve been out of province longer than the six months permitted before coverage ends?” Well, one of the first requirements from the insurance company was a copy of my passport to prove my departure from Canada. If I had not qualified for provincial medical coverage, my additional insurance would also have been disqualified because they depend on the provincial medical to be the first coverage as a condition of insurance. I would have been uninsured.
Eight months after the accident, the insurance companies have finally paid the bills. The total €60,000 was shared by BC Medical, my work medical plan, and Tugo Insurance.
As a captain, I have an expectation of myself to be responsible for everything that happens in and around the boat. It is my responsibility to make good choices and to manage the outcomes. Ultimately, I am responsible for whatever happens.
The day I left Marmaris in April, I stopped by the canvas shop to look at some of the covers and to further discuss the some of the elements that were proposed for building the trampoline. During the meeting, I was presented with the rope that was recommended by the supplier and manufacturer for the perimeter of the trampoline. I was shown a brochure, and I said okay. I normally research things well, and deliberate for a day or two before making a decision about a new product, but I was feeling rushed and made the decision on the fly. This is never a good idea!
I can hold the manufacturer, the supplier, or the tradesman responsible, because they recommended and installed an inferior product, but to what end? I accept the responsibility for the decision, and as a result, I have to accept the outcome.
On this occasion I was lucky. I had a very serious accident, but I have healed, and I am able to continue to pursue my dreams.