Dealing with Health Issues on A Sailboat

Curaçao Medical Center

I consider myself more a “seize the day” than a “one day at a time” type person. Lately, seizing the day hasn’t been an option. Having health issues on a sailboat means you take each day as it comes and that’s how it’s been these days on Sava.

Brian’s been dealing with health issues and I’ve been trying to keep everything going while he heals.

The Health Issues

It goes back to November, when Brian went to a doctor for a checkup. The doctor thought he had a hydrocele, which requires a simple procedure to drain liquid from the scrotum. With Covid lockdowns and hospital staff in quarantines, getting an appointment for surgery took over a month. Finally, Brian got scheduled for surgery in mid-December, a simple “day procedure” they said.

Hospital Curacao Sign
Social Distancing Enforced throughout the Hospital

It’s now late January so how are we still dealing with Brian’s health issues on a sailboat when he had his surgery in mid-December? We should be in Colombia now! We thought so too. It’s another chapter in our “don’t make plans on a sailboat” catalog.

In mid-December, when the doctors started Brian’s simple procedure, they found his intestines had slipped out and he needed a hernia operation!

Brian’s hernia operation was only the beginning. Unfortunately for Brian, his body didn’t heal. Blood kept pooling in the area, making it difficult for him to walk or even move. The doctors told him to lie down and elevate the area, so he basically moved from a shady spot in the cockpit to the salon couch to the bed day after day after day. I told him he looked like Weekend at Bernie’s on a good day. He tried to smile through the pain.

Health issues on a sailboat sleeping patient
Brian sleeping in the cockpit
The Hospital Visits

About two weeks after the hernia surgery, we returned to the hospital for a check-up and Brian wasn’t doing well. The doctor and surgeon drained the excess blood that pooled by the incision. They drained about 7 or 8 syringes worth of old dried up blood totaling about 2 pints of it, and sent us home to the boat. Brian felt great for a few days, and slept really well, but then he was swollen and in pain again.

Because the swelling came back so fast, we emailed the doctor, who told us to come back the next morning. Either he forgot or there was another emergency, because the doctor was in surgery during the time he told us to return to the hospital. Instead, his intern saw Brian, did an ultrasound and sent us back home. The next day, the doctor emailed and told us to come to the hospital first thing Monday morning for another surgery: this time to remove the blood clots.

Brian in Pain

Those who know, know: it is miserable to see a person you love in pain, and not be able to help or stop it or take it away. There were a few nights when Brian was crying in pain, needing something stronger than the paracetamol he’d been prescribed. We now have gotten a more powerful prescription, so he can sleep if he needs it. That was the worst part, I think. Not that he needed to rest, and couldn’t move, or do anything, but that he hurt and I couldn’t do anything for him besides feed him and clean up around him. Those were the worst days: the days we both became “one day at a time” people, just trying to make it to another day.

Medicine Health issues on a sailboat
We need lots of meds and medical supplies
Caregiving is Tough

Until the hernia, Brian and I had it easy. Back on land, we each maybe got sick once a year, and simple sickness, like colds, flus and maybe a bronchitis or asthma episode here and there. We are not tough people who know how to fight through sickness because we never had to be those people. Since moving on Sava, I’ve sprained my ankle a few times, we’ve had some bumps and cuts and broken toenails, but nothing serious until last summer in Bonaire.

With Brian out of commission for the last month plus, I’ve had to do double duty, taking care of him, Domino, Sava and myself. In between cooking, cleaning, provisioning, maintaining and caregiving, I let some things go. Sava’s batteries are dying and will need replacing, our anchor light has been out for a month, and we probably need to change some filters.

Positives, I guess?

On the plus side, my skills and knowledge of the boat are much better from having to take on more responsibilities. I am very good at driving the dinghy, and parking it, by myself. I know how to run the watermaker, charge the batteries, fill all the tanks (gas, diesel and water), run the barbecue and look after a sick person. To be honest, I hope I don’t have to do it alone again for a long time, or ever! But I can.

I have a lot of respect for single-handed sailors, and all the people who have to look after chronically ill people day after day. I am weeping typing this right now and I’ve only had to do it for a little over a month. It’s hard. Respect.

We are aware, even when Brian is in lots of pain and I am tired from doing everything, that things could be worse. Awareness doesn’t make it less hard, but we remind ourselves that we are still luckier than most.

We are also very grateful that the staff at the hospital in Curaçao is as kind as they are, and that we have wonderful fellow cruisers who fed us on Christmas and bought us groceries – and more paracetamol – when we needed it, and Don from Asseance, who drove us to the hospital and back more than once. If you ever have health issues on a sailboat, hopefully you will have good samaritans to help you too.

Current Status on Sava

Brian got the blood clots removed on Monday afternoon and spent another night in the hospital. He’s back on board Sava now, smiling and even doing some – very minor – boat chores. I won’t let him do much more because we don’t need a fourth relapse! Dealing with health issues on a sailboat for 5 weeks has done us all in. We are ready for a break. We are still taking it one day at a time, and hoping to eventually transition back to seizing the day. For now, I am happy he’s getting healthier, and Domino is happy we are both here. The batteries and anchor light can wait.

We are taking things slowly. Brian will start swimming every day, maybe just floating at first, working his way up. Next Tuesday, we go back to the hospital for a checkup. After that, we’ll go on some short walks. Eventually we’ll be climbing mountains and scuba diving and seizing the day again. No rush. No definite plans. Eventually.

Share your positive thoughts in the comments. We’ll take all the good vibes we can get!

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

22 thoughts on “Dealing with Health Issues on A Sailboat”

  1. I am so sorry to hear of Brian’s health challenges but relieved to read that things seem to be improving. I am happy to hear as well that you have had good care and supportive, wonderful friends. Sending you healing hugs and lots of love. Kathy xx

    1. Thank you! I worry that I am hovering too much and asking how he is too often but we don’t want any setbacks. Keeping our fingers and toes crossed!????

  2. Love reading your updates and staying close to your travels, but ache for you both reading this post. Brian, sending you get well fast wishes (or, stay well long, as it were). And Mel – put your own O2 mask on first is a real thing. Take special care of you. Xo to you both.

    1. Thanks Heather. I have been trying to take mental health breaks, visiting other boats, exercising etc. but won’t be myself until he is 100%!

  3. Hey Mel. I am so glad to hear that brian is feeling souch better! I have been living vicariously through your brave, seize the day experiences! I think of you every time I shop at. Mani Market. Sending you both oxoxo and can’t wait to read about south america. I have only seen about 20 blocks of the upper west side for the past 9 months.

    1. Thanks, Leslie! We have moved a lot less this year than last year, but more than 20 blocks! Crazy 2020 hope 2021 is a lot better!

  4. Well Melinda I’m weeping now too! That all makes my heart break a little/lot. I can’t bear to think of Brian in such pain. My love to you both. I DO like the part about you becoming more proficient and confident in your own skills. I was in a similar situation many years ago in Egypt. I very very quickly learned Arabic and learned how to navigate my way through a very foreign land for all that was needed to survive. I was grateful for that one aspect of what was otherwise a severe health predicament.

  5. So Sorry for Brian but glad he is recovering.The cruising community is always been great to help eachother.You have be doing great Mel.Wish we where there to help you out.Take care and stay save????

  6. So sorry to hear of Brian’s issues and the delays to your extended cruising. We also had some medical issues pop up during our travels that caused significant alterations to our cruising plans. The good news is that humans heal and you will continue on in your travels with more interesting adventures before long. Some day this will just be another one of those interesting stories you tell. Best of luck to you both.

  7. Well done to you and all who helped in getting through this ordeal, wish Brian a speedy recovery to full health and continued happiness to you both on your exciting journey.

  8. Hi Melinda, I just read your post. I am so sorry to hear about Brian’s health issues this past month. I understand how hard it must have been for you too, but you did it. You are stronger than you know. I am thinking of you both and sending good vibes for a quick recovery.

    Much love,

  9. Hi Mel and Brian – the last month sounds quite challenging and a bit scary. My heart goes out to you two adventurous luv birds. I am so glad Brian has been able to get good medical care. Rest. Best wishes for a full recovery. Big Hugs Neil.

  10. My heart hurts reading this. Chronic pain is awful and it is very hard for many people to understand. I am so very glad that you are there for Brian, but life is very tough on the caregiver. Be gentle with yourself too. Sending you virtual hugs to you and virtual treats and pets to Domino. Many healing thoughts for Brian.

  11. Hello Melinda, glad to hear Brian’s health is on the mend now and good job stepping up to all of the challenges. Scary stuff. We will look forward to reading of your future travels.
    Stay safe.
    Ray and Janice

    1. Thank you Ray and Janice. It’s a huge relief to have Brian on the mend. We will start traveling again only when he’s ready but we can enjoy every day now!

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