Are you prepared for a medical emergency in a remote anchorage?

*Posted here from Boat Watch Facebook Group. Deb Hare is the author and it was originally posted on Bahamas Land and Sea Facebook Group March 14, 2024

LESSONS LEARNED from medical emergency.

It has been almost two weeks since I posted a call for help, as my husband was in respiratory distress, and we were anchored in a very ‘off the beaten path’ area. Again, the support from this group made a huge difference.

He is currently in Atlanta receiving medical care, and his actual diagnosis was angioedema (inflammation of the upper respiratory system). The reason I am sharing this here is because it was caused by the ace inhibitor he has been taking for his heart (for the past five years). Otherwise, he has been an incredibly healthy individual. So, if you experience a cough for more than four weeks…and you take ace inhibitors, please notify your doctor.

As for lessons learned:

1) In the future, I will always carry oxygen onboard – that night the first contact I made was with the USCG (by phone) in Miami. They confirmed that they were unable to help us, but were able to put a flight doctor on the phone to help me. His first question…”Do you have oxygen.” I was a bit embarrassed to answer no, but honestly I never considered it an option. He said, “It surprises me that more cruising vessels don’t carry oxygen, given that it is cheap, easy to get, and usually the first thing we grab to stabilize a patient.” However, I did have a strong antibiotic onboard, and he instructed me to give him one immediately.

2) Have a communication plan- I was in a place where nobody answered my VHF call, and yes, I had it on 25 watts. We do have Starlink, which has been amazing…but, once I made phone contact with the nurse on the island, and I agreed to try to get him to the dock, I realized that once I left my boat I would have no way to contact her. This was especially troublesome because I had no idea where I was going, it was pitch dark, and we used different names for the location where we were agreeing to meet. The locals don’t call things the name we see on a chart! Additionally, she was not aware of anyone on the island who had a vhf. Luckily, she showed up at the place I landed the boat!

3). Don’t leave civilization until you are 100% certain any health issues have been resolved – we thought we were being prudent, but it wasn’t enough. My husband had been sick for a month, with a cough and stuffy nose. When we arrived in Georgetown our three day reprovision plan turned into a 10 day stay, because we wanted to make sure he was better before going any farther south. He saw a doctor there, and received a 10 day prescription for a sinus infection. After the seventh day, he was feeling better so we took a weather window to move on…thinking the antibiotic did the trick. Three days after he finished the course, everything came back with a vengeance.

4) Everyone onboard should learn to handle the boat. This is something I knew well before this incident, and I am very capable of single-handing my vessel. This event made me realize how much worse this experience would have been if I didn’t have, at least, an operational level understanding of the systems on my boat, and the confidence to handle my vessel alone.

It is our hope that sharing this experience might help people in the future.