Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

21 February 2007

Many Happy Returns (Okay, Two)

I have done a lot of "medical flights" since the helicopter and I arrived here in August, 2006. Most if not all were true "life or death" situations in which the person's (or their unborn child's) life would have been in grave danger if they had not gotten off Guanaja pronto. As such, they are stressful events for all involved, including me. I hate seeing people in pain.

But of all of the people I've taken down to the mainland, I usually don't see them again. They get better, or not (sadly) but in any event we don't transport them back up to Guanaja by helicopter - except in the one case of the woman from here who had a heart attack in La Ceiba and who wanted to die in her own bed - we made an exception there.

Our foreman Devant has an older brother (about my age) who was in a bad car wreck in Miami a while back that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Once his injuries healed, he was shuffled off to a long-term care facility (read: nursing home) that was by all reports just a terrible place. He was not receiving the kind of care he needed. Devant's family decided to bring him to Guanaja. They fixed up a room in a house down on the Cay, and arranged transportation from Miami to the island of Roatan (since there is no direct service to Guanaja from anywhere but La Ceiba). Once he was in Roatan, we flew down in the helicopter yesterday to fetch him.

We weren't sure whether he would need a stretcher or if he could sit in one of the seats. Luckily, he was able to sit up. We loaded him in the ship, strapped him in and were gone from Roatan in record time. I took the long way home, flying low along the island, over all the little towns that dot the south shore. Devant's family was from Roatan, and in their youth, he and Lanier had spent a lot of time diving and boating the many coves, inlets and bays of the island. They shared a lot of memories on that flight. I really couldn't bring myself to rush it.

Up at Guanaja, we circled around the whole island - the big tour. I don't know how many more chances Lanier will have to get out and around; the facilities for handicapped people such as he are simply nonexistent. So I wanted to give him a good look - something to hold in his mind. I have a feeling that the only thing he's going to be seeing from now on are the four walls of his new room.
It was a truly great flight.

And then today I got another boost! I got to bring back up to Guanaja someone who was so seriously injured that many of us thought he was a goner: Marcos Ortega, the Belco (power company) employee who got electrocuted when the power pole he was climbing turned out to be, in fact, live. It happened back in early November. You may remember the story I wrote about Marcos when it happened.

Marcos' injuries were very, very bad. Electrical burns are awful; they cook you from the inside out. He ended up losing his entire left arm (the whole thing, gone), his entire right leg (same thing) and most of his left foot. If there were any other appendages damaged, I do not want to know about them. For more than a week afterward, it was still touch-and-go whether he would live. But live, he did! Gradually, his strength grew and the doctors released him to go home. Understandably, Marcos went through a period of depression. He did not want to return to Guanaja immediately. He did not want his family and friends seeing him in such a state. But the human spirit is a wonderful thing, and it healed faster than his physical wounds.

So this morning, Roger Wood (the head of Belco) and I flew down to La Ceiba. We had told Marcos to be ready for a nine a.m. departure; he was there way early. We met him, his wife Georgina and a whole entourage of people at the airport. Marcos seemed in surprisingly good spirits, smiling and eager to be on his way.

We gave him the front seat for the ride back. Again, I took the scenic route, a slight diversion over the Cayos Cuchinos (Hog Islands), a startlingly beautiful group of little cays surrounding two big islands. Nobody seems to know much about the Cayos. There are apparently places to stay there - rustic-looking "resorts." But huge, above-ground water tanks point to a lack of natural fresh water (why no ground-level cisterns?) and I'm not sure what the electrical power situation is. Still, they look like a wonderful, undiscovered vacation spot - if you happen to speak Spanish, which I'm sure is pretty much all they speak there.

Me, Georgina, and Marcos on the way home

Then we did the "tour around Guanaja." As we flew over the town of Savannah Bight I noticed a big crowd in a soccer field on the west side of town. Roger told us that they were all waiting for Marcos' arrival. I was, like, "Wh-wha-whaaaaat? I thought we were landing at the airport?" I guess it was one little detail they forgot to mention. Oh well, it was a big soccer field. My fear was that the helicopter would be swamped with people before I could get the rotors stopped. The tail rotor can be especially dangerous, because it is nearly invisible when it is spinning. And it will slice you up like a salami if you're not careful.

The crowd was excited...jubilant, even but very well-behaved. With their balloons and signs, they politely waited until we were completely shut down before mobbing us. Two ministers from the local Adventist church came and presided over a group prayer that not only welcomed Marcos home, but thanked God that he was even alive to come home! I don't know if you believe in miracles or not, but Marcos is a living, breathing testament to their existence. It was, I have to admit, a pretty emotional homecoming. Man, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. (We pilots wear dark sunglasses and baseball caps with the brim pulled down low so that we may maintain our "impassionate, coolly-detached" demeanor.)

Welcome Back!

Hey, Can't A Guy Get Some Room To Breath?

There are times when I am so very, very proud to be a pilot. Helicopters are a wonderful device, a terrific invention with many, varied uses. I've done a lot of things with helicopters over the years, from reporting on rush-hour traffic in New York City to flying roughnecks out in the Gulf of Mexico. I flew one for DHL Express that was painted up like one of their cargo vans and carried small packages and thing that had to be there faster than a van could do it. And I've slung all sorts of things underneath the helicopter when the cargo was so big it wouldn't fit inside. I've taken tourists to get an up-close-and-personal photograph of the face of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. And of course, I've flown people to the hospital when called upon. It's all been good. And when this marvelous, crazy contraption gets used in such a way as ours was over the last two days, it just makes me get all choked up.

Helicopters are just so damn cool!


andis said...
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Anonymous said...

A very touching story about a fine young man that I got to know when we set power poles to Mangrove Bight. Marcos was very fortunate to have you at both ends of his trip, meaning his trip to the hospital and then the trip home. On behalf of the many fine folks from Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church that call Guanaja their home away from home, we say thanks to you Bob for all you do for the lovely people of Guanaja.

Pete Southerland

island girl said...

What a wonderful story - it brought a few tears to my eye. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Bob, that was a great story and am so glad to hear that Marcos made it ok. Living on the island is great but when an emergency hits like this it is wonderful to know that the people have help. Heads up to you, Bill and Martha Pullum who are providing this much needed service. Thanks for the story and the update and best of wishes to this young man.
Sharon & Mike Jones