One experience I will never forget is what happened on the boat ride from Isla Santa Cruz to Isla Isabela. Seasickness is a serious thing especially when all boat taxis are fairly small fighting against huge wakes on the rough seas nonstop for the duration of two hours. It is called Hyperventilation syndrome. At a certain point when the body exhales too much CO2 at any given time, muscles will naturally contract as a response to depleted CO2 levels. Almost similar to a fight or flight response. The body responds to this change of body chemistry by protecting a person with immobilizing the body so it does not lose any more CO2. Because increased movement means more heavy breathing means creating a greater imbalance of CO2 compared to oxygen levels. At first thought we may all agree too much CO2 is bad for us… but so is too little. There is a fine balance.
Apparently I subconsciously was hyperventilating to compensate for the motion sickness on the boat resulting in a sensation of full body paralysis. All the muscles in my body contracted and froze up without my control, which made me look like a live stick figure drawing. First red flag was that my hands started to tighten up and my forearms had an intense tingling and numbing feeling. I was not alarmed until I noticed the tingling started to spread to my face and my mouth clenched shut. This was the time I (kinda.. eh.. sorta) began freaking out because something was definitely wrong, however, thanks to my Wilderness First Responder Course, I knew the best thing I could do was not to panic. In this situation, we were an hour into the boat ride, which meant it would be an hour to get to any sort of hospital or help, so despite this dilemma I was not going anywhere accept this boat. Being aware of my surroundings and not loosing consciousness was a good sign. I motioned to a man sitting at the back of the boat, a fellow passenger, that I could not feel my hands. He immediately came to me and helped me walk to the back of the boat. Second red flag was that when I stood up to walk, my legs also seized tight and my feet were fully flexed, again out of my control. Now this dilemma involved my entire body. Let me stay calm now…
The man started giving me comforting words like “It’s ok, you’re fine. This happens all the time. Your body is just trying to fight the motion of the boat”. I knew what he was saying could be true, although I had my doubts that this was normal. Also I sensed he was saying these things to keep me calm. Despite this acknowledgement, I was thankful that he was constantly reassuring me. One key to survival I learned in my WFR course is that the success of a patient’s outcome is especially dependent on the REASSURANCE they receive to keep their will to live and motivation to survive. It is so important to know you are not alone. Although I knew what he was doing in his tactic of supportive encouragement, his kind words did not fail and it definitely was working. He too was concerned about how my body was practically stiff as a board. He could not even pry open my palms or get me to verbally respond since my face muscles were so contracted.
All of a sudden like a fire drill, three more men came into the picture. The response of this man and his three friends, who were not doctors by the way, was amazing and caring. Each man took immediate duty to massage each limb, one man per arm and leg. Then another wrapped me in his arms to lean on him while he went to work kneading my neck and shoulders. It is strange not having control over what is happening, but having only the ability to observe and sit tight (no pun intended). Regardless, again I am so grateful that these men were taking good care of me. I told God right then, “Thank you for sending these men as angels to protect and look after me.”
The first responder propped up my legs to start massaging my cramping feet, gave me his water to hydrate, and his hoodie to shield me from the constant spray of seawater from the rough wakes. It was not until I had a sudden powerful numbness surge into my head that I realized I had to vomit over the back of the boat. My convulsions were so strong because I had nothing in my stomach, but one man held me so I wouldn’t go overboard from the bumpy ride. Another gentleman willingly held back my hair and cleaned my face. Once I was done vomiting bile, it was like the constricting binds holding my body was released instantaneously! I could feel my face and feet again. My hands were unclenched, but still had residual tightness. My goodness, I had nearly remained in a full body cramp for over an hour. The men resumed their massaging posts at each of my limbs again. I was exhausted. I had been concentrating on not panicking, remaining calm, and staying awake that, mentally, it took a toll on me. My hands had yet to completely recover but I was gaining back the presence of physical control. For the most part, I remained speechless since the predicament began. So as I relaxed into seated position, I still had no desire to speak because it seemed just too much effort. Eventually without asking, I drifted into sleep in the arms of a man whom I didn’t even know his name. All I knew was that he was kind enough to continue providing care massaging my neck and allowing me to dose off on his shoulder. My last thought was how fortunate I am to be taken care of by kind human beings… And whether I would ever get off this boat.
Awakened by my initial caregiver, we made it to Isla Isabela! We would be landing on solid ground soon. What amazing news this was. I felt like I had just slept for what seemed like hours, the whole time being held by a stranger. I was fully recovered now and as we got off the boat I had to give my four guardians hugs and kisses for their amazing attentiveness to the entire situation. Even two elder ladies conveyed to me how responsive they were and that I was in good hands from what they witnessed. The women found out while I was sleeping that they were just four friends traveling from Chile and were neither part of the boat crew nor in the medical field. Funny thing is when I ran into them a few days later in town, swimming at Concha La Perla, it was like seeing family. They checked in on how I was doing and I thanked them again. There is nothing like feeling a sense of gratitude and love. Human kindness, no matter where you are in the world or where a person is from, is universal. I am not a religious person by means of being an avid churchgoer, but I do believe in God and the grace of his work. I do not think it was sheer luck that I happened to be on a boat with complete strangers willing to jump to my aid. I believe the experience to be part of a bigger picture… God’s message to me that he will always be there to save and protect me especially in dire times. As I trek this world on my own, I have always prayed for his safety and protection.
Life may take you by surprise around unpredicted turns, but friendly souls may also be there to help you along your path. Don’t underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a listening ear, a kind word, or the smallest act of caring. “So be kind to others. Your unassuming act of kindness might become someone’s memory of a lifetime.”
And so it is…