June 25, 2001:
Andi has an Accident
On Monday the 25th, we had a wonderful final Cuban
meal in a restaurant housed in an old hunting lodge in a park, then
returned to Akka at 7:30 pm to meet the officials so that they could
check us out of Cuba. That went very smoothly, so off we took as the
sun set, around 8 pm.
We cleared the
marina breakwater with Rob at the helm. The seas were bigger thn
we'd seen since we were in Cuba - 5-6 feet, and the wid had come
around to the north, so it was going to be a close reach to Key
West. Dennis and Andi raised the mainsail while Jodie handled the
sheets and vang. Rob noticed that the outhaul was loose and asked
Andi to tighten it. She put it onto a winch, cranked it in, then
tried to re-set the cam cleat under the front of the boom, which
holds it tight. She found the cam device by feeling for it in the
dark, pushed on the front of it while releasing the outhaul line.
When the cam engaged the line, it pulled her right index finger
right up into the cleat. Andi immediately realized that the reason
was that the tip of her finger had been severed, yelled this fact
and headed below where we had a large amount of ice in the freezer.
(This was the first ice we'd had in over 3 weeks.) Jodie, who is
a school health specialist, went with her. They got Andi's finger
into a bowl of ice and she sat down and held it above her head.
Then Jodie and Dennis helped Rob to get the sails down and the boat
turned around. Andi called the marina on the VHF and told them we
were returning because she was injured and would need medical care.
Within 15 minutes, we were back at the dock we had just left. The
officials and some marina staff were waiting for us. Jodie and Andi
were hustled off down the dock into a waiting car which took them
to the local hospital, about 10 minutes away. Rob and Dennis were
At the hospital
emergency room, Andi was seen fairly quickly by a doctor. Though
he spoke no English, another man did. This was Michel, a hotel lifeguard
who had brought in his neighbor with a cut foot. There were at least
two other women in the area (in addition to the stray dog), and
though these women appeared to be employees, they did not assist
the doctor in his surgery. Michel stayed with Jodie and Andi as
she was given first aid, doing all the translation. Her finger had
been cut off about halfway up the last joint (the tip). Because
it had been pinched, it wasn't a clean cut, but wasn't too ragged.
The ice had just about melted when the doctor was ready to give
her the Novocain, and the emergency room had no ice, so the timing
was perfect. The doctor said the nail couldn't be saved, so he removed
the remnants. He then stitched her up with silk thread, which he
found after some searching. All the surgical instruments were sealed
in steril envelopes, but there was not much else in the way of equipment.
There was no x-ray machine, so Andi didn't know what shape the bone
was in. The doctor asked her about tetanus shots and recommended
oral antibiotics, but had none to give her. Fortunately, aboard
Akka we had both antibiotics and a codeine/ibuprofen pain reliever.
The stitching he did left her with a fingertip that was squared
off and looked much like a zip-lock bag -- not something Andi really
wanted as a permanent solution. The doctor's treatment of me was
efficient and caring. He followed good sterile procedures, but it
was clear that supplies were not plentiful.
Rob and Dennis
never did get to the hospital. The Cuban officials -- Guarda Frontera,
Customs and Immigration -- told them that since Akka had cleared
out of Cuba, Dennis and Rob couldn't leave the boat, unless they
wanted to go through the entire paperwork drill again. We wanted
to leave as soon as Andi's hand was stitched up, so Rob and Dennis
stayed aboard. Neither Jodie nor Andi had any identification or
money, but that turned out not to be a problem; In socialistic Cuba,
health care is free. Still, they had to get back to the marina and
boat. Michel came through again, taking Jodie on the back of his
motorcycle (she's still talking about the ride!), then bringing
Rob back for Andi. (Apparently, the officials were willing to have
half of the crew off the boat, if half stayed on.) We gave the doctor
$20 for himself and/or the clinic. He seemed pleased. Michel refused
any compensation. We then took a taxi back, boarded Akka, and left
again around midnight. Andi stayed below to try to get to sleep
before the Novocain wore off. Rob, Jodie and Dennis worked out a
watch system and sailed the 90 miles to Key West. We had wonderful
15 knot wind on a close reach which opened to a beam reach in the
Gulf Stream. With main and staysail, we made over 6 knots, and in
the early morning we set the genoa and flew along at over 8 knots.
Andi was uncomfortable crossing the Gulf Stream in the usual lumpy
seas, but not in anything like agony.
We reached Key
West between 1 and 2 pm. Rob called the Coast Guard to explain we
had a medical emergency and needed to get Andi to a hospital ASAP,
before we cleared customs. The Coast Guard told us to come to their
pier. We anchored Akka and took the dinghy in. They called an ambulance
and whisked Andi off to the hospital. (We were vague about how much
care Andi'd been given so that they would ease our way to entering
and dealing with Customs and Immigration.) While Andi was at the
hospital, Rob, Jodie and Dennis went to Customs and Immigration
and cleared in. Customs asked for our "fully hosted letters," and
we produced the letters we had from a Canadian boat which we met
in our first port of call in Cuba and from the Varadero marina (our
final port). Each of these letters stated that the writer had fully
hosted our stay and paid all of our fees. This showed that we had
spent no money in Cuba and had therefore not broken the Trading
With The Enemy Act. Each of us also filled out a form stating the
Key West Medical Center, Andi spent the time in the emergency room
answering questions about insurance and billing procedures, a very
American phenomenon in contrast to Cuba, where all questions dealt
with her health. She was given a tetanus shot and a shot of antibiotics
(since she hadn't taken any and over 12 hours had gone by), and
was x-rayed. Fortunately, the orthopedic surgeon on call happened
to be at the hospital, just finishing a surgery. He came to see
her hand and was very disparaging of the Cuban repair. "I can and
will do much better for you," he said. And he did. He discovered
that her nail hadn't been totally removed, so completed that. He
trimmed the bone to smooth it and get enough skin to make a better
closure, and he stitched it with at least twice as many stitches.
Best of all, he used enough Novocain to keep it numb for over 12
So, Andi now
has a somewhat shorter index finger on her right hand. She's been
to two other doctors about it, and, after some plastic surgery to
reconstruct the pad at the end of the tip of her finger, she should
The best gallows
humor from friends: "Be sure you get a 10% discount on manicures."
"You may not have spent money in Cuba, but at least you left a tip."