I am not a big fan of carnival; I've gotten a bit older and seek out more serene ways to spend my free time. That's why I quietly slip over to Barbuda on long holiday weekends in my boat, accompanied by one or two other boats with close friends: P.K., a surgeon, Richard and Maurice, both pilots for many years, and Shawn Mac, a businessman with a Go-Fast boat.
For last year's carnival, we went over for the usual six days, first to the furthest, most northern beach near the lagoon entrance, and then back to Spanish Point on the southeastern tip of the island for the last two days … peace and quiet with lots of fishing and diving.
Not far away from our chosen anchorage, a group of Barbudans, some 15 to 20 adults and children, were camping. It was a calm and protected beach, shallow with clear water. One afternoon, while lazing in the water near the boat, we noticed one of the men running up the beach toward us. They know us and our boats quite well over there; I worked there for several years, part time. As he approached, he shouted that a child had drowned, was dead; could we come? I immediately jumped into our small whaler and took off to the camp, shouting to the others to get P.K. to meet me down there.
Within two to three minutes I arrived at the campsite to find a young woman performing CPR on an apparently lifeless child some three to four years old. He appeared limp, cyanotic and unmoving, naked and covered with sand. P.K. arrived with Shawn Mac. We took over from the caregiver; amazingly we could feel a thready, faint pulse and before long a spontaneous, gasping, frothy respiration began; it was a positive sign. He was able to maintain his shallow breathing on his own; still no physical response whatsoever, still blue and unresponsive. An ear to his chest revealed heavy congestion, signs of fluid-filled lungs.
We quickly lifted him to Shawn Mac's Go-Fast boat and got the father to come with us. As we raced along at 50 mph through the winding, shallow lagoon's entrance and then toward the village some seven miles away, I looked at Shawn at the helm, determined and confident that his prec-ious cargo would get to the wharf and waiting ambulance, with its badly needed oxygen, quickly and safely.
Once in the ambulance and on the oxygen, the child's colour once again became pink and the pulse a little stronger, but still no movement at all, just the shallow, gasping breathing. On the way to the Hannah Thomas Hospital, I privately expressed my concern to P.K. that if the child survived, he would probably have suffered some brain damage and be handicapped, a dreaded scenario too often seen in near-drowning cases. P.K. was optimistic; youthful resilience was on his side.
The resident Cuban doctor met us on arrival at the hospital; as it turned out, he worked as P.K.'s registrar in surgery at Holberton two years before. He and his nurses were efficient; we all were. Everything that needed to be done, was done. Once stabilized, arrangements were made by the council to air-ambulance the boy over to MSJMC at once.
Approximately an hour later, our young patient made a few groans; he was still limp and not moving, but his pupils were brisk and responsive, a good sign. His father shook our hands and thanked us as we got into the Police pickup, still clad only in swimsuits, with sandy feet. Shawn was waiting at the wharf and we made our way back to the boats. The sun was setting and hardly a word was spoken during the trip.
We stopped at the Barbudans' camp to pick up the small boat I had left there; the young lady who had given CPR to the child came up to meet us and asked, in a most insecure manner, if I thought her attempts at resuscitating the child had made a difference.
My first thought was, how she could ask such a silly question; how could she not realize what she had done! I looked at her and said quietly, "You – and you alone – saved his life; you got his heart and breathing going again; you remember that for the rest of your life." I never got her name.
I called the Intensive Care Unit at MSJMC early the next morning … he had improved significantly overnight and looked as though he would make a full recovery. Although he was still short of breath, he could now sit up and was talking, apparently fully oriented, and had no residual effects. It was a happy ending to a frightening story.
Perhaps the Big Man above made this happen as a warning to us all: "Pay more attention to the little ones; if not, next time I may just keep him."