An accident waiting to happen
July 19, 2014
On January 22, 2014 I fell heavily on a wet marina ramp, in Nelson NZ. At the time I did not suspect this mishap would cast a shadow over my own life and the safety of my vessel. I subsequently visited the Nelson Public Hospital, with back and neck pain, and continuing headaches. I was told the injury to my neck would heal slowly - being a whiplash type of injury. No imaging was undertaken. I was seen by a physiotherapist rather than a doctor.
What had actually happened was that a small blood vessel on the periphery of my brain had ruptured, and continued to bleed slowly over the following weeks and months. This is called a subdural haematoma (Wikipedia). There was a time-bomb ticking, but I knew nothing about it.
When the fuse ran out, I would collapse and if not treated die. I planned to set sail for Tonga with two crew, both capable but unfamiliar with the finer details of the boat's systems. My crew would have a frightening experience - a dead skipper and a short-handed sail to waters they had not seen before.
Luckily the fuse ran out early. It seems likely that the first bleed healed itself, as the headaches eased away after 2 weeks - but then the bleeding started again. Coincidentally Sophie finished her table tennis competition in Auckland and took a bus to Opua. When she arrived on Sunday May 18 2014 I had a note in my diary showing a continuous headache over the preceding 9 days. We visited a local doctor on May 19 who asked us to drive to Whangarei Hospital for a CT Scan. I lost consciousness shortly after arriving at the hospital, and some hours later we were air-lifted to Auckland City Hospital. I underwent surgery that night. Sophie finally got the helicopter ride I had promised her years ago....
I regained consciousness on May 20, noticing some problems with language, memory, speed of comprehension, and arithmetic. I was told these would diminish or disappear within a few months. I was discharged on May 21. By that evening Sophie and I were back on Ocean Child in the marina at Opua. The next week I was admitted to the small regional hospital at Kawakawa with minor complications. The big city hospital was very impersonal - I felt like a number rather than a person; the small regional hospital was completely different, much more friendly.
My crew left for other adventures, and I commenced a period of recuperation, returning to Australia for further medical attention. Within two months all symptoms had disappeared except for a very minor problem with short term memory.
So... it was a close call, but for the moment it seems that luck is running my way...
Postscript: Blood coagulation takes place through a process mediated by calcium and Vitamin K. Normal diets contain adequate quantities of these substances. Vitamin K is found, for example, in green leafy vegetables. Certain substances inhibit coagulation. These include warfarin and other anti-platelet drugs, aspirin, and Ginkgo biloba. Large doses of ginger, fish-oil and garlic should also be avoided if coagulation needs assistance.
One of the problems I had after the operation was hiccups. Apparently anti-histamines are sometimes used to treat hiccups. The hospital gave me Chlorpromazine HCL 25mg tablets, which were partially effective. The only 'folk remedy' which seemed to have any effect was pulling down on one ear-lobe while drinking water. Sounds crazy, but I recommend you try it!