Earlier this year, my husband Barry went to Venezuela to have a titanium hip replacement at a highly recommended private clinic. Things did not go as expected and he arrived back in Curaçao with a displaced prosthesis and a cracked femur. Manipulation and an operation followed, the fracture was wired closed; we bought a walker and rented a place ashore for recuperation.
Instructions from the surgeon were to keep the full weight off the hip for six to eight weeks but get exercise and see a physiotherapist. After a month of doing all three we decided to go home. We were both homesick and a uneasy about our three year old cat Sirius being alone at night, he wasn’t happy and running two homes was getting old. So, one sunny, windless day we headed for the boat.
Here’s how it went.
First, prepare for the return. A quiet day is preferable, a big, stable, dinghy is good as it’s nearer to the deck and so less climbing for a shaky patient. A gateway, which you can drop, is helpful, if not, you have to drop the safety lines. And don’t just let them sag, tie them out of the way so there’s no possibility of foot entanglement. Tripping is not good. It’s very important that the stanchions or whatever you use to haul yourself aboard are solid and don’t move. Running fairly high lines bow to stern to hold onto isn’t a bad idea and tighten them around a winch before cleating off if you can.
I hobbled it out from the point of arrival on deck to the saloon seat, trying different step lengths and handholds along the way, figuring out which was the easiest and safest. I followed up with a few handmade mobile steps to use should there be a change of plan: a beer crate, books tied together to make changeable heights if necessary, etc. Big drops are not good. Too jarring. If yours is a seaworthy boat it should have handholds just about everywhere, which helps. I had bought a quad cane, knowing that a walker was too wide for the boat, but somehow the handholds worked better. A quad may help on a big catamaran but not on a monohull, it snagged on things and didn’t do steps. People suggested a bosun’s chair or a harness but we decided it was overkill. After all, my husband’s got three other good appendages. Besides, yachties are used to moving in weird ways.
Once we’d got him home and successfully deposited into the saloon, beers all round. I’d had a sleepless night ‘what iffing’, so Barry being inside the boat in one piece was good.
We mutually agreed to disrupt our normal sleeping habit and temporarily sleep in separate cabins. I sleep on the inside by the hull and neither of us wanted me leaning on Barry’s leg at night by mistake as I sleepily climbed over him in need of the bathroom.
Day to day discipline of strengthening the muscles, ligaments and tendons began. Walking isn’t what it is ashore for obvious reasons. Less space, cambered deck, wind, rocking boat.
Bed exercises next. Raise the leg above the heart with cushions (a bookshelf is also good) for the ankle and foot exercises. Flexing the foot and toes and rotating the ankle is good for sending the fluid back up to the heart. Blood thinners are also important if you’re going to be in bed a lot.
Swimming, of course, is a huge help and there is no shortage of water around a boat. Be sure the ladder goes down into the water by a few rungs, so stepping up is easy. We didn’t get it right the first time and ended up with a rope under hubby’s arms and me cranking. We hose-clamped noodle strips over our stainless steel rungs to make a thicker and softer step. Also, with a noodle you can feed a line through a long piece (they’re hollowed out) and tie off on the boat, then you can Hip Hop away in safety.
Finally, we had the go ahead from the physio that the hip was good and it was OK for Barry to use the dinghy for walks ashore. This could be followed by a cooling swim and perhaps a little snorkeling. And then there’s helping me clean the bottom of the boat … Patience was a virtue.
Candy Colley and her husband live aboard their Endurance 40. They are residents of Curaçao.