Friday, October 9, 2009

Finger Lickin' Good Fish Report 5/31/2008

Finger Lickin’ Fishing Report for May 31, 2008

You will find that this fishing report has very little information pertaining to the actual catching of fish. Rather, this report should serve as a reminder of how things can sometimes go awry when you are on the verge of having a good time.

Many of you have probably had occasion to stick your hand into the garbage disposal in an attempt to extract something that is causing a clog or making a funny noise. Generally, while one's hand is close to the point of operation, there is a natural tendency to keep a keen eye on the switch that activates the blades of the disposal. This is true even when no one else is in the room, so that somehow you are sufficiently paranoid to guard against the possibility that someone may burst into the kitchen and throw the switch while your hand is in that vulnerable place.

On May 31, I awoke at 5 a.m. with the intention of doing good deeds in order to generate karma for a fishing trip I had planned with my buddy Larry aboard his 25 foot Parker later on that evening.

I spent about three hours on work related projects at my computer to get a practical head start on the day. After my family joined me downstairs for breakfast that morning I went upstairs to curry favor with my wife by coloring her hair.

She was so pleased with my efforts upon my completion of this task that she requested that I head downstairs, clear off all of the furniture and toys from the family room and shampoo the carpet, which had gone several years under relatively constant bombardment from our dog and five children.

This proved to be a much more grueling activity. I finished at 3 p.m., which gave me just enough time to shower up and load my bitchen fishing equipment into my car so as to keep my rendezvous with Larry at his boat slip in San Pedro by 5:30 p.m.

The piscatorial news from Catalina Island that week was laced with details of an epic white sea bass bite, mostly on the backside of the island. The bite had slacked off over the past couple of days, but the fish were still there.

Our plan was to get to the backside of the Island by 7:30 p.m. with live squid and fish in the area of the “Vees”, or the squid grounds where huge white sea bass in the 40 to 60 pound range had been caught. We figured to set up on the backside in an area likely to hold white sea bass and then fish the magic twilight bite on a tide that would start flowing downhill at 6 p.m. and bottom out in a minus tide by 3 a.m. We would then have a steeply rising tide to fish in the gray light of the morning until about 8:30 a.m. It was a good plan.

Among my usual arsenal of gear I had put together a kelp-cutter rig with a 9 foot Calstar jig stick; a Shimano Torsa 20 reel spooled with 80 pound spectra and a top shot of 40 pound fluorocarbon. The power of this particular rig was so undeniable that there was no way a fish would actually bite it.

Traditionally, when I go fishing with Larry, we feed almost exclusively on original recipe Kentucky fried chicken, along with a variety of chips. This trip was to be no exception, although I was intrigued by the recent addition of chipotle flavored extra crispy chicken. This new flavor is currently the subject of KFC commercials featuring attractive spokes-models in fake spontaneous banter-‘round-the-bucket .

I stopped at the Rusty Hook on Gaffe Street to pick up a bucket of shark chum, which I have found to be extremely effective in drawing game fish of all types while on the anchor or on the drift.

When I hit the Kentucky Fried Chicken stand further down the road I once again had to confront the traditional dilemma of whether to order enough chicken, or be smart and order way too much. I knew I had to order chicken-only. We have learned that it is pointless to try and eat potato salad, coleslaw or mashed potatoes when it is much more manly to simply reach into a bottomless bucket of meat on a bone.

This decision was further compounded by the availability of the new chipotle flavor. KFC had a special on the 14 piece bucket, which I initially split between original recipe and the new flavor. Once I got to the window, I began envisioning scenarios where I might end up a bone or two short of a gluttonous stupor.

“What if neither of us liked chipotle?” I tried to regroup while the girl at the window patiently waited.

“Better give me two 14 piece buckets”. That would give us a completely ridiculous amount of chicken. I wouldn't have to worry about Larry invading my portion.

Larry was waiting for me when I arrived and we made it to the San Pedro live bait barge right on schedule. We picked up a generous supply of lively squid from the friendly baitmasters. After we cleaned the squid ink off the deck, Larry pointed the nose of the boat for the island and into a stumpy cross-swell with whitecaps and 15 knot winds.

Conditions in the channel kept our speed under 18 knots as we stayed warm and dry in the wheelhouse while we punched through the spray. The weather on the backside of the Island was no better, as we headed straight into the setting sun and began to look for good signs on the meter after we passed Church Rock.

There were few boats on the backside of the Island, although we did see some anchored light boats west of Silver Canyon. As we got to Silver Canyon we began getting excellent meter marks between 10 and 12 fathoms and then went over the top of a mass of squid in 67 feet of water.
It looked like a great spot and we decided to lower the hook then and there. I slid up the rail on the port side of the house to put down the anchor. Larry told me to pull the pin locking the chain at the bow pulpit. I pulled the pin and grabbed the chain to pull it free. I was feeling rapturous about how in five minutes I would be sitting down, with a line out, taking down fistfuls of chicken like a wood chipper.

Just as I grabbed the chain, I heard a whirring screech. I felt my hand lock down into the point where the chain meets the sprocket. Just as quickly, it spat my hand back out again.

“Sorry. Are you okay?”

My back was to Larry as I brought my hand up to take a look. I paused to take in the view for a couple of seconds. I might have said “Ouch" or something to that effect. Two pulsing thoughts immediately engulfed my mind.

Number one: This was not my hand.
Number two: We are not going to get to fish this spot.

I turned around to show Larry the bad news. It looked like the end of a hot dog when you break it off, with the end-piece hanging there by the skin and the two open ends side-by-side, with gleaming bones in the center of each piece.

“We have to go in.”

A look of extreme concern shot across Larry's face as he looked through the glass. I cradled my finger and pressed against the house as I slid back to the cockpit. Larry was already coming out of the cabin door with a first aid kit.

He started to open up the kit and we both looked at the finger with the same thought. There was no taping this thing back together.

Larry handed me a towel. “Wrap it up and hold it together while I get us to Avalon. I sat down in the passenger seat as we spun back toward the east end. Larry hammered the throttles and we commenced some hard bouncing. I began feeling shocky and told Larry. He throttled back and asked me if I wanted some water. That seemed like a good idea and he got one for me. After a few quick swallows my head began to clear and the feeling passed.

Larry got on channel 16 and contacted the Coast Guard. Some of the transmissions were surprisingly garbled and we began an Abbot and Costello-like attempt to exchange data. We apparently got the point across because we were shifted to channel 22, where we made contact with Baywatch. We got into the flat water near the quarry as the Baywatch skipper advised us he was moving into the front of the Avalon channel. I kept thinking about how great that spot had seemed and conjuring up some transcendent mechanism by which we could be back there fishing, instead of what we were doing.
Larry kept asking me how I was doing and I kept assuring him that I was doing fine. I felt as though I had a heightened sense of awareness and genuinely felt that I was doing fine under the circumstances.

The Baywatch skipper pulled abreast of us and instructed us to follow him in. We were greeted by the sight of an ambulance just up the ramp from the dock and what appeared to be an entire platoon of paramedics. They are generally a cheerful and encouraging group of guys. They seemed happy to see us and made a distraction of asking about fishing conditions while they examined my situation and evaluated my stability. They asked how it happened and we told them. They assured us that people have winch accidents like this all the time at the island and we’d get fixed up in a jiffy with a quick helicopter ride to an operating room on the mainland. We had a few laughs as a squad of them broke off from the rest of the group to escort us to the ambulance.

The officer from the Harbormaster's office kindly said to Larry “Don't worry about your boat. We will take care of it. You go with your buddy to the hospital.” It seemed like we were in good hands and I was more optimistic than scared.

I chatted it up with a few of the paramedics in the van. They took turns looking at it and asking me what I could feel as they were apparently prodding the pieces around. I was still feeling okay and decided not to ruin the mood by looking at it anymore. At that point I couldn't feel much of anything. They took my blood pressure and it was pretty normal.

During the short ride to Avalon hospital, they kept me entertained with more talk about how white sea bass were biting all over the island. We said our goodbyes as we entered what appeared to be a virtually deserted medical facility.

We were met by a long-haired woman who was apparently the on-duty nurse. She was dressed in civilian clothes. She unwrapped my finger as I watched her face. She apparently did not like what she saw and advised us that she would call the doctor. She came back to take my blood pressure. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, she began carping about my shirt interfering with her mission. She seized a pair of shears and cut off my left sleeve to get an update. It actually dropped a few points to 117 over 77. We went back through the story of how it happened. I answered questions about what I could and could not feel as she pecked at the piece that looked like a jettisoned space capsule. I provided the all-important insurance card to keep the party favors flowing.

I felt that I was fielding all of her questions fairly well, until I was asked to remember the date of my last tetanus shot. The fact that I could not remember, she said, called out for me to receive one. She told me she would give it to me in the arm with the cut-off sleeve, which seemed to make her tailoring efforts a natural fit for the occasion. She also told me that it was going to hurt, which struck me as quite funny at the moment of her deadpan delivery.

During this phase of the process, our first attending physician entered the fray.
She was a tall woman, dressed in a white doctor coat to mark the occasion.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Leary.”

A million jokes shot through my brain like a warp-speed flashback.

“Any relation?”

“None. We both knew she had been part of this routine before and let it drop.

She asked me the same set of questions that the paramedics and the nurses did, adding a few of her own at the end, like in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

While we were chatting, she took a look at the finger as I watched that familiar expression invade her face.

“I am going to get Dr. Ulibarry over here right away. It looks to me like we are going to copter you over to a hospital where they can get that finger re-attached. How are you tolerating the pain? Would you like some morphine?”

The second question obviated the need for me to seriously evaluate the first.

“Why yes, I would love some. Thank you for offering.”

Dr. Leary instructed the nurse to hook me up to an IV.

My situation and outlook had just taken a huge turn for the better. I was minutes away from a warm injection of a big-boy narcotic, accompanied by a helicopter ride with some fun paramedic/pilot guys. They could crack some jokes and tell me distracting stories of ‘Nam, while we thumped over the nighttime wave tops toward a crack team of waiting surgeons. I was stoked.

“Do you have a preference as to hospitals?”

This was just getting better. I pictured an approach to Hoag Hospital over the Saturday night lighting of Newport Beach, followed by the descent to the helipad where the waiting gurney would be framed by the flapping white coats of the upward-gazing attendants. I had never landed on a helipad…at night…. on morphine.

“I like Hoag.”

I asked for some water. I was told that I was no doubt going to be in surgery shortly and might severely compromise my situation by aspirating and getting pneumonia.
The long-haired nurse prepped my left arm, from which the pesky sleeve had previously been evicted. She warned me about the sharp sensation I was about to experience, which seemed trivial compared to having a finger crunched off by an anchor chain.

She found a vein and plunged forward. I felt the pinch and watched her frown as the site blew out. She found another spot and stabbed again. Same result. She allowed herself to criticize the hydration of my thirsty veins. I offered to do a few curls to get a better target pumped up. She continued her unsuccessful harpooning efforts as my arm became discolored.

Dr. Leary came back into the room and I asked if we could just get by without the IV. She observed the nurse’s furious needlework and ordered a cease-fire.

“You can just give it to him IM.”

The nurse seemed happy to desist and fix a new bayonet. “This may hurt,” she
said, as she stuck the first of the two shots into my perfectly sleeveless arm. All I knew was that one of those shots was morphine, and I wanted to be on it when they put me into that chopper and slapped the plexi-glass for us to zoom to Nirvana. “Bring it on” was what I was thinking, as she stuck me again and rubbed the injection site.

At some point, the chief Avalon doctor arrived – a cheerful, short woman of
Spanish-Basque extraction. She was introduced to me as Dr. Ulibarry.

She extracted the same information about how the accident occurred; how old I was; how much I weighed, etc. We also talked, as we had done with the others, about how she came to work on this happy island. She unwrapped my hand and had a look. There was not much of a give-away on her countenance as she asked me what I could feel. She seemed to be trying to manipulate it and fit it back together at various angles, while asking what I was feeling, which was mostly nothing. I was not really pulling back or doing much wincing during the process. She let me know that the reattachment was something that would have to be done by others, after my exciting ride in the copter.

The doctors began discussing hospital options with Larry and I while they began to make calls to see what would be best. Larry suggested Long Beach Memorial, among the several fine facilities that were mentioned. The doctors advised us that they were trying to get a hospital with a hand-surgeon either on duty, or on call, since I apparently needed some form of a “re-plantation” team to ideally address my situation.

Larry was making calls on his cell phone, while I heard the doctors talking with various hospital representatives who were apparently dishing them off to others who required the doctors to start over in their descriptions of the situation.

One of our doctors came out to give me an update and ask how the morphine was doing. I told her that I really hadn’t noticed much of anything and she told me that IM administered meds often had a delayed effect. She advised of really good news: Long Beach Memorial had a crack hand surgeon on the floor at that very moment; they had a helipad; and our doctors were just awaiting confirmation that Long Beach would accept the transfer from the emergency room at Avalon.

The situation seemed totally under control, so I gave my wife a call to let her know what had happened and what seemed likely at that point. She was less optimistic than I was. She said she would call one of our doctor friends in Orange County to see what he could do to help. Larry was also on the phone, trying to secure a back-up plan.
Everybody seemed a bit uptight. I was still waiting for that morphine rush that I figured would be accompanied by the sound of jazz music.

I started thinking about my finger to the tune of the white noise of the doctors and Larry calling for help. The long-haired nurse came in to tell me that I would need to get another shot – an antibiotic. This time she was going to give it to me in the hip, so the utility of her sleeve alteration was not in play.

I began thinking about how I used that finger and how it would be without that end part of it. I thought maybe I could now be one of those guys in the old safety movies that you had to watch in metal shop and wood shop. I could be the middle-aged guy with
the missing finger - going into a black and white flashback, as I recounted to some pimple-faced first-day-on-the-job kid how I sawed off a body part while I was inattentively operating a table saw; drill-press; blowtorch; or drafting compass.

I became aware that Dr. Ulibarry seemed to be arguing my case for care to whomever she was speaking on the phone.

She emerged from around the corner with a portable phone, letting me know she had a doctor from Long Beach Memorial on the phone as she handed it to me. I put it to my left ear and heard:

“Hi. This is Dr. Macer. I am the hand surgeon.”

{Let us pause here. If this specialist had said “Hi. This is George Macer. I am a rodeo clown,” I could have avoided a lot of hassle.}

“Great to meet you, Dr. Macer. You are exactly what I need right now.”

He asked me some questions about what had happened, how much sensation I had, and whether I had “vascularization,” at which point I looked to Dr. Ulibarry and regurgitated her affirmative response.

He suggested to me that I might want to consider just staying at the island over night and just coming over to the hospital in the morning. This caught me a bit off guard, since I was under the distinct impression that I needed immediate medical care. The two doctors who were there had already advised me the treatment I needed was beyond their capabilities, but within minutes of exactly the kind of care he was in perfect position to provide. I expressed this to him in as humble, but optimistic fashion as I could, since I could tell from the expression on Dr. Ulibarry’s face that she had already made an effort to get me transferred from her care to his. I was trying to make it happen too.

He listened for a bit and then stated that it was his view that either I was going to lose the finger or I wasn’t.

I thought I heard crickets chirping. My mind spun as I tried to gain illuminating traction from this conclusion.

He asked me what the doctors had done so far as I kept looking at Dr. Ulibarry cheering me on with her expressions. He seemed to think that they had not done enough to try to “re-plant” or somehow realign the pieces.

I repeated Dr. Ulibarry’s assertion that she had tried and he responded by asking if I had been anesthetized, since that was the only way she could really give it the old college try. I advised him of her response that she had done her best and there was no pain resistance to her efforts to tug it about.

I was thinking about what other options might be available and the logistics of checking into a hotel at 9 p.m. I could kill some time before coming ashore with Larry the next morning after the good doctor was off duty and it could be someone else’s non-emergency. I could ask the concierge for one of those room-amenity sewing kits that the better hotels give out.
Dr. Macer then told me that even if I lost it, it was “just the fleshy tip, anyway.”
That pissed me off a bit and I told him that, respectfully, I had personally seen broken bones in each piece, as well as speaking with two other doctors who had tried to treat it and told me I needed to get it put back on sooner, rather than later.

“I am sorry I can’t do more for you” was the next thing I heard as he awkwardly attempted to end the conversation and get back to the important business of hand surgery.
I was sorry too, as I tried to regroup from this shirking kiss-off and wondered just what good he thought he had done up to the point that he let me know he could do no more.

I handed the phone back as Larry blew a gasket over what he had just heard.
He got back on the phone to see what he could do to pull some strings at Long Beach Memorial or somewhere else. Our doctors got on the phone and my doctor friend on the mainland called me to check in. I told him what had just happened and he told me that I was probably better off somewhere else anyway. He asked me some questions about my situation so he could see what he could do. He advised Orange County would have a hand surgeon on call and could take a helicopter delivery at Western Med or UCI, depending on which facility had the team on call that night. He took down the number for Avalon ER, and told me that a Dr. Schultz would be calling. He told me that this should not be a problem and to hang in there.

Wendy called and I filled her in while I was standing with Larry, who was growing increasingly concerned with the passage of time. He suggested that maybe we should just take our chances and get back into the boat for a nighttime crossing to an emergency room where they could not turn us away. Wendy thought this idea seemed too desperate when we were working on so many modern medical options. She told us not to act like cowboys and she sounded right. Besides, I still wanted that copter ride.

The long–haired nurse came in to tell me it was time for my butt shot, which I was apparently to receive while standing up and leaning toward the sink. She experienced a huge amount of difficulty loosening my belt as she yanked it east and west at the buckle. She was even more loudly critical of my wardrobe malfunction in this area than she had been of the long sleeve or the crappy veins that had thwarted her prior efforts at administering efficient care.

When she got done with the shot, Larry broke it up and helped refasten my pants to preserve her good mood.

We continued our phone efforts. Our doctors told us that they needed to talk with a doctor who would agree to accept responsibility for treatment before a transfer could take place. We were trying to locate the right guys at Cedars; UCLA advised that their ER was “closed”; Dr. Schultz advised that he was still trying to contact the OC hand surgeon, etc.

We waited hopefully for the return calls, but I was beginning to feel less cheerful about the whole scene.

I think it was sometime after 10 pm –more than 2 ½ hours since the event, when Dr. Ulibarry came in to tell us that Dr. Schultz had contacted the on-call hand surgeon, who might have had the same name as Kaiser Sose’s intermediary in “The Usual Suspects”.

As we turned our eyes toward her for the plan, she announced:

“Dr. Kobyashi declined.”

“DECLINED? What do you mean, he declined? This wasn’t an invitation to my nephew’s bar mitzvah. Don’t these guys have to take a Hypocritic Oath, or something along those lines?

Dr. Ulibarry took us aside and advised that she wanted to do what was best. She said that we were losing too much time and that what she thought were our best medical options seemed to be off the table. She suggested that the best odds for getting the finger replanted now seemed to be getting ourselves to an emergency room in person. She said that she would make a call to Torrance Memorial and advise the ER doctor we were coming. She told me that she would give me another 2 mg shot of morphine and that I should just grit my teeth and get across the channel as fast as nighttime conditions in the channel would allow.

We cogitated on this while she made the call. I realized that it was not a life-threatening injury, but if I was just going to feed my finger-tip to the dog, I might as well have stayed on that spot and tried to get a white sea bass.
The doctor came back with the name of the doctor at Torrance we were supposed to see and told us she would call a cab for the short ride back to the waterfront.

I was on the phone to Wendy with the new plan when there was a knock on the hospital door, which Larry answered. It was the cab – The town of Avalon is about the size of a miniature golf course, so he was there instantly.

“Where are you going?”

Larry answered him. “We need to get down to the Marina, where my boat is moored.”
The cabbie responded “What marina? Marina Del Rey?” I guess he thought that it was the right moment for that grade of comedy.

“ My friend’s finger is cut off and we need to get down to where the boats are moored in Avalon so we can get to a hospital on the mainland.”

I was still on the phone to Wendy and walking toward the cab as Dr Ulibarry came toward me with the syringe and said, “Wait for your shot.”

The cabbie said, “I’m not waiting for that. Get yourself another cab.”

I said it would only take a minute, maybe less, as I thought of all the big fares this punk was passing up while the morphine flowed. Larry asked him to stay and turn his meter on while he waited, so the driver agreed to stay for the additional time it took him to work in a couple of butt scratches while I shot up. “No tip for that cocker spaniel” was similar to what I said to Larry as the needle came out and I covered the ten feet to the cab. I think Wendy heard me and the driver probably did, too, but I was getting grumpy.

We made the left turn and traveled the several hundred yards of road without incident. The driver stopped. “That will be fourteen fifty,” he said to us as we got out the other side. Larry went around to the driver’s side and handed him a twenty.
“How much do you want back?” he inquired, annoyingly.

“Five dollars and fifty cents.”

I then realized how late it was as we walked past people spilling out of bars and drunken couples making out on benches. We walked out to the green pier to look for the boat. I stayed at the ramp while Larry got one of the same officers who were there to greet us at 7:30. He seemed astonished that we were still there, and at our current predicament. We joked that we did not have enough fuel to get us to a quality hospital in Mexico, so we were settling for Torrance. He took us over to where he had moored Larry’s boat, helped me aboard, and wished us good luck on our trip across the channel.

Larry pointed us toward San Pedro and hit the throttles for as much speed as the seas would permit.

I am not a big fan of nighttime ocean travel, especially if speed is important. You cannot see obstacles in the water, nor anticipate where the next bounce might come from.
Further out from the lee of the island, we started to get slapped around a bit. After we skipped sideways from a bump on the corner I mentioned to Larry that if we ended up in the water, I would probably draw sharks. He said he had just had the same thought and he brought it down a notch.

We made port in about an hour and twenty minutes and contacted Wendy, who was almost to the hospital with our friend Carol, who got dragged along because she happened to be with Wendy when she got the call. We tied up the boat and drove to the ER in Larry’s pickup truck.

I checked in at the desk, got some forms to keep me busy and took my place in the waiting room. There was a pair of amusing young drunks. One guy, who had no shirt or shoes, had clearly had the shit kicked out of him in a fight. He was demanding that the police be called, which I thought might prove to be a mixed blessing for him.

I was taken to x-ray, which resulted in at least one of my caretakers advising that it looked like my right-thumb had been broken pretty badly. I told him that I was more concerned about my severed finger, which he noticed right about the same time that I remembered that I had broken my right thumb in a fight when I was eighteen. I was once again told that I could not have water.

I then met the duty ER doctor, who was very positive and reassuring. He had called an orthopedist who he thought could get there by three a.m.

The cops who interviewed young-drunk-guy left laughing. Apparently, his more quietly-intoxicated ride home had passed out in the waiting room and could not be revived. The cops had to call the guy’s mom, with whom he lived, so she could come down to the ER at 3 am to take them both home after they sewed up her son’s face.

The orthopedist, Dr. Hunt, showed up and advised that he was a shoulder and knee guy. He said he could get my finger sewed back on well enough to keep it alive for a hand surgeon he knew well enough to personally call at 3 a.m. to more permanently re-attach later. Dr. Hunt then set up an appointment with a Dr. Dao in Westminster for Monday at 9 a.m.

Dr. Hunt, who seemed like a great guy, got the finger sewed on a little after 4 a.m., and I got my drink of water. Carol, who had driven Wendy to Torrance, had gone with Larry to bring back my car and had since gone home. Wendy was able to drive me directly home. We said our goodbyes to Larry, who stayed with us until the doctor was done with me. We arrived back at our house at 5:30 a.m., just as the gray light was about to give way to dawn, and 15 minutes before our twin three year-old boys came to wake us up and start Sunday morning.

On Monday, we met with Dr. Dao, who was very confident he could fix it up just fine. I spent the remainder of the day arguing with insurance representatives over whether surgery for the reattachment of a finger constituted an emergency under their interpretation of the policy. I just offered up to her that if it was her finger, she would more likely think it was an emergency.

I had the surgery Tuesday. They put in a couple of pins and some bone graft material from my wrist. Now I am stuck in a bulky dressing that will completely immobilize my right hand for six weeks, assuming that the glue sticks. I typed up this whole stupid story with my left hand, so thanks for reading it.

I think that the finger will stay on, so it will end up as more of an inconvenience than a tragedy. I guess it shows that sometimes you’d better be ready to saddle up and ride if you want to save non-essential body parts that others deem expendable.

I intend to resume my attack on creatures of the sea soon enough, but I hope that the tuna don’t show up until I am back in action.

These are the days,

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