Many blessings

By Eva Murray | Nov 24, 2011

Given the details of my summer I believe I am entitled to get a bit mushy over the subject of gratitude. OK, Eric and Ben, we don’t have to call them “blessings.” That’s fine. Actually, the blessings are people — skilled, strong, caring people. I have a lot to be grateful for, things for which I can take no credit, in which my own strength or actions played no part. Yes, I am talking about the plane crash of July 17, just one more time, because as we sit around the gravy and cranberries and consider the abstraction of little-t thanksgiving, I have a rather large stake in the idea.

Let’s begin with a big one: We were all standing around in the Bangor Civic Center last week, after the Red Cross Real Heroes Breakfast honoring (among others) the Matinicus civilian responders and the pilot who kept his head when the airplane failed. I said something to pilot Rob Hoffman about how if I had stayed unconscious a minute longer I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the plane.

Rob said, “No, I was going to get you out of there, somehow I was going to get you out of there….” His words have been in my ears again and again since then, words comforting and reassuring. I am one who often makes the mistake of thinking I have to deal with everything myself. No. We’re all here to rescue each other.

I want to thank Josh, Charlie, Edwin, Nick, and anybody else who started for their boat that day. The two boat captains who took us aboard have had their names all over the papers, but we know that quite a few other Matinicus lobstermen, basically everybody who heard about it in time and could get to their boat, responded. “Thank you” doesn’t touch it, but I’d like to offer that here in the newspaper anyway.

I am thankful for not knowing what I looked like as we hung on to the wreckage in the water, and for not feeling my injuries. I was evidently covered with blood, from three large lacerations on my face, but I didn’t know it so it didn’t scare me. I grateful for adrenalin, epinephrine, and all the things it does in the body: It makes you strong, stops the pain, distorts time, and it lets the smart side of your brain overrule the fear.

By the way, about that wreckage: If Tom hadn’t rebuilt the plane’s freight pod for the air service using foam, we wouldn’t have had any floating wreckage. That is no small thing; a very special Thanksgiving nod there.

After we were rescued I was not “with it” enough to be afraid to get back on an airplane. I never thought I would be thankful for being helpless, but about that one situation I am. Others in the same accident, without a solid knock on the head, wanted no part of another plane ride. One of the many islanders who responded said, “It was maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, to convince a friend to get on that plane when she was begging me not to make her do it.” If I had any reservations at all about that plane trip I do not remember them. I don’t think I was clear-headed enough to have a conversation like that. It was for the best.

The plastic surgeons at Maine Medical did such an extremely good job putting my face back together. My ridiculous hairstyle (four months growth on the front, going in all sorts of directions) is a source of some good humor. I have really weird bangs, about which I couldn’t be happier. While I was in the hospital we made all sorts of jokes about the “Jet Li look” with the front of my head shaved and the long braid in the back. I’d never even heard of Jet Li. According to the Internet, the martial arts movie star supports international disaster relief. Sounds good. Anyway, my face looks fine now and it never hurt. I don’t know who worked on me, in the middle of the night, so I will address this to the whole department: You are truly artists. To a certain extent I am writing this column so that somebody can rip it out and mail it to the plastic surgery team at Maine Medical.

Thank you so much, Paul and Jill T., for the milk shakes. There is no finer cuisine when you’re in the hospital and have a sore throat because they just took the endotrachial tube out. Good stuff.

I wish to thank the massage therapist in the hospital, and therapists Ily and Tracy locally, because I want human contact when I don’t feel good. In our culture, a lot of people recoil from and avoid touching somebody sick or injured. I am grateful for skilled therapists who didn’t hesitate to touch my badly banged-up face with their bare hands. It felt good, and it helped bring the swelling down. I also needed new glasses after the accident, and Dr. Poole in Rockland didn’t flinch or make me feel strange at all as he put Frankenstein here through an eye exam. His calm, professional demeanor was a big comfort as I knew I looked like the wreck of the Hesperus.

Thank you to all who have been telling me bits of the story as the opportunities arise, and helping me put the puzzle pieces together. Among them are people from South Thomaston Ambulance, Lacey and Samantha and Lori from the island, and especially our daughter, Emily, who was at Pen Bay Medical Center before my husband got there, and who urged the LifeFlight medics to wait just another few seconds so that Paul could get through the door and see me before we took off for Portland. Evidently things weren’t looking great about then. I am so grateful for my kids, that they weren’t children who needed to be protected, that instead they worked to protect me. Later in the summer, Emily spent an hour with a toothbrush and a Q-tip cleaning the dried blood out of my port-and -starboard tourmaline earrings.

To Maury and John and the two Toms, everybody who took a turn in the powerhouse, so that Paul could spend that week on the mainland with me without worrying about the electricity: I cannot thank you enough.

I want to thank LifeFlight helicopter pilot Dave Burr three times. First, for his big grin, right up close in my face, before I got loaded aboard the helicopter at Pen Bay — not his helicopter, the other one — but an image to remember in a blur of concussion and exhaustion and heavy-duty medications. For Dave, who lived on Matinicus for a while as a kid, who had a long conversation with me on the phone a month or so after the wreck, and told me all sorts of things I needed to hear. I am also deeply grateful for Dave and LifeFlight paramedic Kalem, who, 10 weeks later when the other plane crashed, worked hard to get the message to me about Don’s death so I’d hear the sad news in a safe place, and not while alone, and not from the radio news while driving the dark curvy roads of western Waldo County, which is where I was that terrible evening of Oct. 5. Thank you, Dave, three times over.

This barely scratches the surface. I figure there were hundreds of things that “went right” that July day after exactly one thing went wrong. People I might never hear about did things I don’t know about. If you know any of these folks, yes, please, rip this out and stick it on their refrigerator, too.

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