Sunday, August 16, 2015

Eight is Enough, Nine is..

Just going to step outside for a sec

It’s summertime here in the Gulf (and everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere). So in addition to it being hot as Hades, it also means that school is out. And not just for the little youngsters in grade school. The Maritime Academies, the pipeline for fresh, young talent trying to muscle their way into the Maritime industry, are also out for the summer. That means that it’s “Cadet Season”. That time of year where the Academies send their best and brightest talent (and some real dipshits, too) out into the United States Merchant Marine fleet to get some real life maritime experience and rack up some of the required “Sea Days” that they need in order to test for their U.S. Coast Guard licenses.
Now normally our boat runs with a crew of 7. Proportionally, we have 7 staterooms. It’s a nice feature that everyone on the crew has their own room. Until the cadet shows up. Eight people in seven staterooms makes for at least one unhappy crew member.

But wait, there’s more!
My relief is currently out having surgery. That means unless someone new shows up to replace me, I’m stuck on the boat. Thankfully, someone new has shown up. However, in order to get familiarized with the inner workings of this fine vessel he has to show up a couple of days before we get off the boat so that we can show him all of the nuances of the boat before he gets turned loose all by himself. Our crew of eight, just grew to nine. We still only have seven rooms.

So now we have two unhappy crew members who were used to living in the lap of luxury in their private staterooms with roommates. It also adds two crew members to an already cramped boat. Mealtimes have to be done in shifts. Hallways are cramped. Somehow the grub manages to disappear at an exponential rate. Plus, having only two heads (bathrooms, for the non-nautical) makes for having to plan showers, shaves, and answering the call of nature into a well-timed experience. Especially when one head happens to be giving the Engineer fits and is not working properly.
Thankfully, “New Guy” (the cadet) and “New-New Guy” (my new relief) both seem to be stand up guys. It also means I get to go home with my regular crew at the regular time. So being a bit cramped isn’t really that bad. Plus, I’m one of the people that doesn’t have to share my room. Which is nice.
“New Guy” seems to be going for some sort of record on how long he can stay on the boat before he loses his mind. I fear he may be getting perilously close. The schools and the U.S. Coast Guard require 120 days of Sea Time in order to sit for your license. I’m not sure if he is trying to do it all at once or not. Truth be told, I’m ready to go home after a mere 14 days. 120 days on a tugboat is pure torture. He was going to break it up in 60 on/14 off/60 on. But we are well past the 60 days at this point. Good thing he is young. Us older guys would be sent to the funny farm weeks ago.
They always seem to leave this little activity out of the Maritime School brochures
*Note to the schools- 60 days on a tug is a long time (On a ship it’s a piece of cake. Size matters. So I’ve heard). If you want to turn off young people from joining the Merchant Marine, this is definitely the way to do it. I guess being young and not knowing any better has its perks.

My relief, the spot being taken by “New-New Guy”, happens to be his first steering job. He has risen through the ranks and gotten cleared by numerous Captains in order to get where he is now. Based on what I saw during our brief time on the boat together, he should do just fine.

I wish him the best of luck. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Break Because I Was Broken

If you noticed the lack of blog posts recently, #1. Thanks for reading #2. You’re right.

It wasn’t by choice. It was by orders of my doctor. Okay, my doctor didn’t specifically say, “You can’t write blog posts.” But since I was bedridden for 6 weeks and just the act of moving was a painful experience, I decided that banging on a keyboard wasn’t in my best interest.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but in case I haven’t, I’m a moron.
I have a particular set of skills. Skills that get me into trouble. Skills that generally lead me to the hospital waiting room. Or surgery. Or both. At a minimum, skills that get my insurance company in a tizzy and me shelling out a co-pay.

My specialty is sprained ankles. Four times that diagnosis has been made for me (Officially. I won’t count the numerous times that crutches weren’t required.) Thankfully, I like to keep it even. Twice on each leg. I’m an equal opportunity injurer (Is that a word?).
However, my back seems to think that it needs to catch up with my ankles on the “take me to the hospital” scale. Which is what led to me being incapacitated for the better part of two months.

Way back (get it?) in the day, in 2001, I hurt my back. Badly. I believe I did it trying to move Jet-ski’s around. But it was one of those times that you pull a muscle in your back, it hurts, it’s sore, but eventually it goes away. This time it didn’t go away. It got worse. Much worse. Probably going back to work after the injury didn’t help. By the time I got home from my hitch on the boat, I was in excruciating pain.
In an effort to relieve the pain, I went to a Chiropractor. Some of my friends swear by them.
I swear at them. Witch doctors!
I’m not saying that all Chiropractors are bad. I just had a REALLY bad experience with my first one. After the fact, I learned that it would have never made a difference what the Chiropractor did; he was never going to be able to fix me. I found that out after going to a second Chiropractor. One MUCH better than the first. One that actually made me not hate them as a group as much. However, I still call them Witch Doctors. The second one at least took some x-rays, ran some tests, and poked and prodded me before trying any sort of adjustment. It was also when I learned that my medical history was somewhat incomplete.
“When did you break you ribs?” Chiropractor #2 asked.
“Uuhhmm. Never.”  I replied, somewhat confused.
“Ahahaha. Yeah. No. You broke your ribs.”
I’m a danger to myself even when I don’t know it. I think I remember when I did that on a boat. I just didn’t know it at the time. Hurt like hell to breathe for a couple days. Apparently, that is what broken ribs feel like.

Only a matter of time.
Broken ribs notwithstanding, turns out I crushed the disc between L4 and L5 in my lower back. I knew something was really wrong when the doctor kept asking me to stand up straight as she tried to take an x-ray. My reply was, “I am standing up straight.”
Whereas, I got another, “Yeah. No.”
 “Well this is the best you’re gonna get. Take the picture so I can sit down before I pass out.”

I spent Christmas that year lying on the floor at a friend’s house as they, and my wife, ate Christmas dinner in the other room. The highlight of my day being when I threw up in their driveway just as we pulled in.
A few weeks later, I had surgery to remove the cartilage that was pressing on the nerve and causing the excruciating pain down my left leg.

Fast forward 13 years and I did it again.
Same problem. Same pain. Same issues. However, no throwing up in the driveway this time.
I skipped the Chiropractor this time and went straight to the back expert. When you’re an old pro at this sort of thing you can skip the middle man.

It was like déjà vu all over again.
“Stand up straight when we take the x-ray.”
“I am. Trust me, this is all you’re gonna get. Can I sit down now?”
Just standing at the counter to get signed in at the doctor’s office was torture. Initially, I said the pain this time wasn’t as bad as the first time. I was wrong. Way wrong.
Can you spot the problem?
X-rays, MRIs, minor outpatient surgery to try pain relieving shots, and a multitude of doctors’ appointments later, I was back (did it again) in surgery.

Two and half weeks after surgery, I was back (I can’t help it) at work. Which is a REALLY short amount of recovery time. Too short. But that is another blog post. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

So my back is back.
I’m back to work.
The recovery is going slow but smooth. I still have trouble knowing where my limits are.  But my newly repaired back is more than willing to let me know when I cross those limits. 

Fingers crossed I can make it another 13 years before I do something stupid again. At least as far as my back is concerned.
Although I wouldn’t put any money down on it.

This is where I profess my undying love for my wife and all the support she has given me over the years. At one point during this back injury adventure she was forced to sleep on a bench upstairs (I say bench, but it is really a twin sized 12-inch memory foam mattress reading bench that I built to fit under the upstairs window). Every time I found a comfortable spot where the pain was somewhat tolerable, one of us would move, and the ‘happy spot of little pain’ would be gone. Since I was in no shape to go upstairs (I did it once. Stayed there for 2 days) she volunteered to abandon our comfy bed for the (equally comfy) bench seat/bed. After surgery, she dragged a mattress downstairs and put it in the corner to sleep back in our room. The first night it took me 45 minutes to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Turns out, even though I love our memory foam mattress because it cradles and conforms to your body, after back surgery, sleeping on a memory foam mattress is like sleeping in quicksand. Because it cradles and conforms to your body, when your back muscles have been ripped apart and twisting and moving are impossibility, you yearn for a bed made out of a sheet of plywood. She figured at least she could be closer so that when nature calls, at least she could be within earshot so that she could be my leaning post as I shuffled around. 

My family puts up with enough just based on my work schedule alone. They really were my rock during this whole ordeal.