A couple of months ago I found myself adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The skiff I was in capsized and tossed me into a rough ocean with no life preserver. The skiff refused to sink, so I climbed onto its hull and held on for dear life.
I was forty miles from the mainland. We had disembarked on a company-sponsored, 3-day fishing trip on an 85-foot boat out of Bilouxi, Mississipi. Once the main vessel dropped anchor, we were provided smaller skiffs to fish out of. On the morning of October 23rd, I wound up on a skiff by myself and got caught out in weather. High waves and rain fouled the skiff’s engine and then started to fill the craft with water. I tried bailing but was unsuccessful. I tried to get the motor to fire back up, but it wouldn’t engage. Next thing I knew, I was flailing in the Gulf.
It was windy and cold. The sky was gray and rainy. I clung to the hull of the skiff as best I could. The white-capping 3-5 foot swells battered me constantly, and every time I attempted to set myself in an upright position to survey my surroundings, I was swept away by waves and had to swim back to the hull.
After five hours adrift, my situation worsened considerably. I had resigned myself to a long haul, maybe clinging to the precarious hull overnight or a couple of days at most. But accidental seawater ingestion began to take its toll. I experienced diarrhea and vomiting. I started to dehydrate. The cold wind and water got worse and I became hypothermic. I kept thinking I’d see land or drift into a shipping lane, but there was nothing but waves.
I had two moments of profound discovery.
The first was my realization of the ocean’s indifference. There I was, off the grid, nary a technological umbilical for miles. For the first time in many years, I was definitively expelled from the seemingly constant comfort zone that most of rely on to exist. I was alone and practically helpless, and the ocean didn’t care. I was mundane flotsam, pointless and probably temporary. Nature was oblivious.
I was too cold and desperate to get very philosophical but, suffice it to say, I subsequently realized that I’d forgotten a few things about life while I was toiling and compromising to make a living.
The second profound moment I had was a Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman) revelation. As I lay sprawled across the hull, clinging as best I could, it occurred to me that I was worth more dead than alive. If I let go and just drifted off, abandoned my breath, and embraced the cold Gulf, my family stood to collect more insurance money than I could possibly earn or save even if I worked for the rest of my life. And this was before our economic recession or hints of a depression.
One high seas nap and my children’s college education would be covered. Our cars and house could be paid off. By leaving myself behind, my wife and kids could get ahead.
For better or worse, dumb brute instinct kicked in and I survived. About eight hours into the ordeal, an HH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter from the Coast Guard in New Orleans fished me out of the drink. The Coasties swaddled me in blankets and told me that in another hour or so and I might have drifted into the Louisiana marshes where I could have walked out of the Gulf—if I could avoid the alligators.
At the hospital, between intravenous hydration and warming cloaks, a doctor told me that if my core temperature had dropped another degree or two, my whole body would have seized up.
Now that I’m back home, everybody reminds me how lucky I was and I guess they’re right. But as I go over the resultant $7,000.00 hospital bill and $1,200.00 ambulance invoice and prepare to do battle with my insurance company, Willy’s idea still doesn’t seem so bad. The grass is always greener, even in a graveyard.
There was a time in this country when, if you worked hard, you could probably get ahead and afford things, and be secure. Healthcare wasn’t a bankruptcy, and dying wasn’t a viable option.
It seems a shame and a disgrace that if you have health insurance, it probably doesn’t cover much. And if you can afford life insurance, the best way to come out ahead on the investment is to die prematurely.
It’s almost funny. While you’re alive the insurance companies want you treated as little as possible until you’re dying. Then they want you to live long enough to no longer afford your life insurance.
It’s been two months since I was brought back ashore and I still second-guess my survival. I’m still adrift and swimming. We all are. And there doesn’t seem to be any land in sight.