This is also part of living on an island

By Eva Murray | Aug 13, 2011

My experience on July 17 of this year being equivalent to the 900-pound gorilla in the living room, as it were, any attempt on my part to discuss the necessity of maintaining seemingly-marginal island post offices, or to ruminate on this year’s garlic harvest, or to describe the complexities involved in getting rid of old cans of paint in isolated plantations must take a back seat.

For some reason people just look at me curiously and then ask about the airplane wreck. Fair enough. I took a small swim in water well over my head this summer after the airplane I was in sustained some sort of mechanical failure and the pilot was forced to carefully ditch it in the water. What I didn’t know when I was first interviewed about this is that evidently I was knocked out briefly, as I remember no time at all between the crash and being entirely submerged. Anyway, as soon as I came to the surface of the water, from my perspective anyway, things began to go extremely well.

We of Matinicus live in a community where just about everybody considers himself or herself a first responder of a sort.  Some of the news accounts and commentaries out there made a big deal of the availability of trained EMTs on the island. Well, yes, technically there are three, sometimes; but one of them was rather busy as the captain of the lobster boat which rescued Abbie and K.C., and another was, uh, me. That leaves one. Thankfully though we also have a former EMT, and somebody who’d taken the EMT class but hadn’t been licensed yet, and several nurses, and members of the National Ski Patrol (very much like EMTs,) and numerous other people with health care or emergency response experience of some kind with or without any official imprimatur. It isn’t about being “on the duty roster." Everybody helps. Such is island life. People off-island have been bouncing the word “miracle” around rather freely since this accident. It wasn’t a miracle that there were caregivers around; that is how we live.

After the four of us were quickly and happily rescued I was given a series of rides -- in rapid succession and in this order -- aboard a lobster boat, a large freight basket on a mast and boom arrangement, the back of a pickup truck, another little Cessna airplane, a City of Rockland ambulance and a LifeFlight Helicopter. I remember climbing aboard Robert’s lobster boat north of Matinicus Island (at which time they grabbed hold of me, of course) and then completely flopping, feeling, as I’ve said a few times before, like “OK, that’s all the strength I’ve got.” At that point the neighborhood took over. That’s how it works around here. It wasn’t a miracle that fast boats came after us; that is how we live.

One of the fishermen had the foresight to respond in an outboard skiff. Not knowing exactly where we were to be found, it might have been in shallow waters where only such a craft could manage to collect us. Little enough was known about what had happened when the guys left the harbor at speed. As it happened, I ended up aboard a boat which had recently taken the prize in one of the local races. Not a bad happenstance, all in all.

I have heard that four or five towns responded with ambulances to the Knox County Airport. A couple of friends from South Thomaston Ambulance wondered why they didn’t see me among the responders until they saw me among the patients. A deckhand on the Maine State Ferry last week turned out to be an EMT who runs with Thomaston and who had been there; it was great to meet him aboard the ferry. Somewhere out there is the Rockland paramedic who took care of me: Hi there, and thank you for doing what you do.

I must confess to being seriously bummed out about having absolutely no memory of my LifeFlight helicopter ride. Imagine that; a way cool helo trip and I didn’t get to see anything. Oh well; for the best, undoubtedly. I will resist the temptation to add anything like “perhaps another time.”

On the subject of aircraft rides, a note to those folks who have asked, “You’re not getting on one of those airplanes so soon, are you?” Of course I am. I mean, did. We all did.  Each of the four of us who’d been in the water was very quickly loaded aboard a plane almost exactly like the one that went down in order to get to mainland medical care. I flew while too cold and exhausted to know the difference, with my face cut to pieces and with a neighbor wrapped around me making every effort to keep me warm.  A week later I flew home to Matinicus, sitting in the co-pilot seat, the same seat I occupied when N910TA went down.  I can’t live on Matinicus Island and be afraid to fly. Rick, the pilot, calmly talked to me the whole time, and my husband, Paul, squeezed my hand. I will admit to listening just a bit too intently to the sound of the engine; hopefully that will pass with time. Since then, I have had to make a flight with another injured person to whom I responded (in an unrelated incident).  My own feelings, my readiness to fly, had to be irrelevant then. I won’t make believe it doesn’t feel weird, but this is also part of living on an island.

Anyway, between taking an excessive draught of salt water (mostly into a left sinus somehow) and the realities of intubation (as somewhere along the line the paramedics decided it was the better part of wisdom to put a tube down my throat) I had a fairly sore throat for a couple of weeks. In the middle of my three days spent savoring the culinary delights offered by the fine chefs at Maine Medical Center (love that cream of chicken soup) friends Paul, Jill and Fiona brought in a round of chocolate milkshakes for all. Best medicine ever! — which brings me to the subject of the proper restorative diet for one who has sustained a few abrasions about the esophagus.

Chowder, and lots of it. Also, chocolate pudding. If for whatever reason you’ve got some recuperating to do, Matinicus turns out to be a great place to do it. The food is unbelievable. Since we got home, I’ve been spoiled rotten by the good cooks of this island. In the next essay, coming soon: “Gourmet Rehab.”

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