When Mark and I sailed in the Caribbean for over four years, we were both – generally speaking – in pretty good health. There were doctors and hospitals on every island, in case something was wrong, and once, Mark saw a chiropractor in Guadeloupe, because of a bad back that was not improving. We also made a lot of friends over there, many with an interesting and useful background, like veterinarians, doctors, acupuncturists, hypnotherapists, yoga instructors, photographers, and even a chiropractor. All good people to know and some of them have helped us out on different occasions, like when Mark fell in the boatyard and – most likely – broke his thumb, now already a year ago.
Since we have been in the Pacific, we have entered remoteness. On top of that, we are getting older, and – living a pretty demanding boat life – are feeling it. We keep being in awe of cruisers in their sixties and even seventies, managing to sail the world, and enjoying it! How do they do it, if we – being around forty – are in pain and feel exhausted often? Chapeau! as we would say in Belgium, and maybe in France as well. We have noticed, however, that most of those older cruisers have stayed in the Caribbean and – especially this time of the year – the people around us are much younger than the usual retirement age. Despite the ailments and reoccurring pain from old injuries the last year, we have been doing all right, avoiding long and out of the way trips to visit health facilities.
Then, about four months ago, Mark´s right elbow started to hurt. We had no idea what caused it, so we gave it time. After two weeks of the pain only getting worse, we visited the hospital on Hiva Oa. The friendly French doctor diagnosed it to be tendinitis, better known as “tennis elbow”. He and his assistant excitingly used the new X-ray machine just to be sure nothing “worse” was going on. The cure: rest – and stopping the actions which caused the pain. Now, this was a frustrating affair, since Mark had no idea what caused the injury and, when you live on a boat, there is no way you can rest an elbow, an arm, a thumb, or any body part for that matter. We need to drag the dinghy up the beach to go ashore, we need to haul the same dinghy out of the water every evening, we need to cook, do dishes, carry water jugs, scrape Irie’s bottom, turn screws, fix issues, and so on, all things that are hard for one person to do for months on end or to do at all. Resources made us realize that Marks’ condition could last from several months to two years. Just lifting a glass, using the computer or brushing his teeth hurt like hell.
After two months of living like this, with the moods and atmosphere that come with someone being in constant pain, we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the only other island in the Marquesas with a “real” hospital. We waited for hours, and saw another French doctor, who agreed with his colleague about the diagnosis, but was not willing to prescribe cortisone yet (the only next thing to try while being in this area; flying to Tahiti costs $700 – just for the plane), as it had only been two months. Another month passed without any improvements and the day before we wanted to leave Taiohae for Anaho, we went back to the hospital. The same doctor received us and – finally – prescribed a cortisone shot, with the instructions to get it at the pharmacy (over a mile away, up a hill) and return between 2pm and 3pm to get the injection. We were making progress!
At the pharmacy – the only one in the northern Marquesas – they did not have the cortisone. Since we wanted to use the rare weather window to sail north, we didn’t have many options. We could order the drug by plane and get it the following day at 3pm and leave the day after. This would still be OK for us to sail, but it would be too late to go to the hospital and get the injection. If we stayed for the necessary two days, we would be stuck in Taiohae until further notice. Or, we could order the medicine by boat and pick it up after it arrived on the Aranui a week later. We chose that option, still hoping Mark’s pain would ease up naturally.
Another two weeks passed while we sat in comfortable Anaho. Mark’s elbow was feeling better (lifted spirits!) and then worse again (oh, darn!) – independent from whether he was using it more frequently or letting it rest more often. It turned really bad again and we decided to go back to Taiohae. By boat this would take about six hours with no chance to easily return to Anaho, so we went overland. This involved a sweaty 1.5 hour walk over the steep hill to Hatiheu, from where we managed to hitch a paid ride to the capital. By foot and car, we reached the pharmacy, and picked up the cortisone. Then, at the other end of town, we entered the hospital, where the same doctor was summoned to give Mark the shot, a painful proposition. Afterwards, we treated ourselves with a bowl of tasty poisson cru at our favorite snack bar, before doing the journey in reverse: walk out of town, ride to Taipivai first, then a fun ride in the back of a pick-up truck to Hatiheu and the exhausting last trek back to Anaho.
We had left Irie at 5:30am and returned at 4pm; just to go see the doctor and for Mark to finally find a “cure” for his long lasting pain. Now, all we have to do is hope that it helps! For that, we can just sit, relax and enjoy the tropical view… J