New Year's Letter 2003


I apologize for the form letter (this is my first) but with so many friends and relatives, and such an eventful year, I find no alternative short of sending you all substance-less Christmas cards.  So please forgive me.

2003 was not one of Larry and my best years and one that we?ll be happy enough to leave behind.  The year started off with a bad bout of pneumonia for Larry, resulting in over a week of missed work and a forced hiatus to his regular work-out and practice schedule.  It took many weeks before he began feeling close to normal and able to get back in shape.

For me, this spring saw the first ramp-up to opening my business, which I remember more as non-stop work and stress than excitement.  To prepare for the summer?s construction and my future life as a captain, I signed up for two night classes at the University of Alaska: basic construction techniques and diesel engine repair.  With classes or big band rehearsal three nights a week and every other free moment spent preparing business documents, designing and building outhouses, and researching, I was exhausted by the time summer arrived.  By May I?d secured a lease to the property I desired in Port Snettisham and shortly thereafter ordered four cabin kits from British Columbia.  Much of the winter was spent wrangling with the City about building code requirements, (Snettisham has the misfortune to fall within the expansive Borough of Juneau), and hiring engineers to alter and/or sign off on blue prints.

On June 30, a local landing craft delivered the four cabin kits, two outhouses, and building materials for a lodge to the homestead. The beach turned out to be softer than expected and the forklift became helplessly mired in the muck when retreating from the very last load. Thankfully, the boat came equipped with a winch which, with the help of the engines, managed to suck the forklift out after 20 harrowing minutes, just as the tide began to turn.

Last fall I?d spend only an hour and a half on the property, so it was a great thrill to camp there this summer and discover just what a lovely
and interesting place it is.  The first weekend there saw a -4.1 tide, so the inlet in front of the homestead was a plain of sandbars.  The only running water was against the shore on the other side of the river so I could walk out across the sand and for miles up the river without getting my feet wet.  Flowers bloomed along the shore including daisies, marsh marigolds, irises, shooting stars and cinqufoil.  The local wildlife thrilled me: anomalously curious harbor seals are ever present; humpback whales, (as many as five at a time), fed for weeks just at the edge of the sandbars a quarter mile from the homestead, (I heard them breathing all night); a friendly mink came out on every trip; and even a pod of orcas passed by in sight.  Unusual migratory birds stopped by in the spring and there was bear and otter sign, though I saw neither.

I spent about 12 days down there and managed to accomplish a few things, with the help of my parents.  One full cabin is up, another set of foundations is nearly dug, the first outhouse hole is started, and a number of trails wind through the property.  Work was inhibited by the difficulty in transporting myself down there and my illness, (more on that later).  All the digging revealed a number of artifacts from the saltery that used to stand there: two perfectly intact bottles, a cross-cut saw, glass, barrel hoops, basins and pieces of iron.  I?m anxious to get back there next spring.

Some of you may remember our dive trip to the Bahamas in March of 2002 aboard the Sea Fever.  We were so impressed by the boat and the diving
that we chartered it for August of 2003.  Trying to sell seats was an experience we?ll never repeat, but miraculously we did sell out just a week before we left.  On board were my mother and aunt, the owners of our dive shop here in Juneau, several other friends and locals, and a few folks from down south.
The first four days of diving were amazing: we dove with turtles, several octopi, reef squid, (which I've always wanted to see), lots of sharks, friendly amberjacks, barracuda, sharksuckers, peacock flounders, a goliath grouper, mating creole wrasse, and tons of other critters. We even snorkeled with bottlenose dolphins very breifly.

Unfortunately, on the third and fourth days I suffered from what I thought was a reverse squeeze, (when the ears can't equalize while ascending from a dive).  By day five my head was apparently in great pain, though I remember very little.  By afternoon I descended to my cabin to lie down and eventually passed out.  Larry and some of the others were tending to me as well as they could (I was somewhat lucid for a while), but when my temperature hit 104 they decided to get me to a doctor.  Our captain headed for Bimini and crossed the dangerous sand bar at night (which he?d never done before). I was taken to the local clinic where I spent several hours screaming and thrashing about.  The clinic could do nothing for me and Larry managed to get the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard who sent a helicopter from Miami.  At about 1:30 am we met them in the little league field for the 17 minute flight to Miami.  They were the only ones willing to fly at night (they used night vision goggles), and because Larry had been diving that day and shouldn't be in the air they stayed below 500 feet the whole way across.  We landed at the base and Larry and I drove in an ambulance to a hospital, Parkway Regional Medical Center, and into the emergency room. Dr. Scott diagnosed me immediately with meningitis, a potentially serious illness that kills nearly 25% of patients outright and only leaves 25% of patients intact when treated in a timely manner.  I?d had it for some time, and no one at the hospital was hopeful I?d wake up at all.

After a day in the emergency room, I was moved to the ICU where I stayed for the next four days, the most critical patient in the hospital.  I had a breathing tube, feeding tube, an ice blanket below and above me, mits on my hands so I couldn't pull anything out, a catheter, about six sticky heart monitors on my chest and three "ports" near my left shoulder to hook up the IVs.  I got morphine, diprovan (amnesiac/sedative), dexodran (steroid), pepsin, dextrose, four kinds of antibiotics, a 96 hour wonder drug for the bad case of blood poisoning that followed the meningitis, and others I don?t recall (sorry if I missed on the spelling).  To make a long story short, I was unconscious for five days; when I woke up, I had no memories of the past two weeks, including all of the dive trip. It was heartbreaking to read about swimming with dolphins, squid and the goliath grouper (all dreams of mine), in my log book without being able to remember. I spent a total of 13 days in the hospital and another three weeks at home before I was able to come back to work.  My coworkers, friends and family were beyond helpful and supportive and if I?ve come away with anything from this experience, it is gratitude for them.  I am only recently feeling more or less back to normal, but as far as anyone can tell, I?ve made a 100% recovery.  I?m hoping that my recent hair loss, (about 3/4 of it fell out last month), is the last side effect.  Oh, and all my underwater memories and about half of the top side memories have returned.

Larry and I managed to dive around Juneau from our skiff (the Ronquil) a bit this summer.  We located a spectacular wall off a nearby island that drops precipitously from 20 to 230 feet and is covered in huge fish and invertebrates (by Juneau standards).  We also met our first wolf eel on another of our favorite walls.  We spent one sunny afternoon watching a pod of humpback whales bubble net lunge feeding as close as 30 feet from our boat.  The water around us boiled with bubbles as they swam by afterwards.  Though we haven?t taken the Ronquil out this fall, we have dived several times since I started feeling better; on one occasion we played with five friendly sea lions while listening throughout the dive to humpback whales vocalizing.  Afterwards, we watched them breach and tail lob from the shore.  Larry completed not only his PADI divemaster certification last spring but recently earned five technical diving cards!  I havt to admit it, but he?s gone deeper than me now.

Larry and I had planned another dive vacation in October to correspond with a concert near his parent?s house in Orange, California.  Since we?d met, Larry and I had talked about flying south to catch a James Tayler concert.  When we saw that he was playing in Irvine on his October Road tour, we couldn?t resist.  Although we had to cancel the rest  of the vacation, (I was out of annual leave), we took a long weekend and stayed with Larry?s parents to see JT.  Wow.  I expected to enjoy it, but seeing him on stage (no more than 30 or 40 feet away), was truly one of the most thrilling times of my life.

Thus, our year in brief.  I hope everyone is well!

Happy New Year!

Debbie's Biography