By R. L. Keller
Thank heavens the Skipper will never find out Jamie muttered to himself as he waited for the sedative he’d been given to take effect. I’d never hear the end of it. What is it he tells me all the time? "It was an accident. It wasn’t my fault." As the drugs pulled him under, his last conscious thought was Jamie, how in heaven’s name did you get yourself into this mess.
* * * *
Everything had started innocently enough. He was in Miami for a short series of lectures and ran into an old friend who now lived in Key West. Jamie still had almost two weeks left of his vacation and Brad invited him down. Just kick back, hang out, and do nothing for a change. Sounded great! After the last lecture they checked out of the hotel, jumped in Brad’s car, and drove leisurely down Highway 1, allowing Jamie time to enjoy the sights. They stopped at Brad’s house long enough to toss out Jamie’s bags, then headed out to dinner. While finishing off the excellent meal talk turned to business, as doctors are want to do. Brad worked in Sports medicine, and they compared notes as to how often they saw the same kinds of injuries: muscle pain, sprains, strains, broken bones, blown out knees, the bends. Jamie chuckled, almost to himself, stopped only by the quizzical expression on his friend’s face.
"Sorry, private joke. It’s just that in my case, I see most of those injuries on the same patient."
"Resident klutz?" and Brad smiled.
"Actually, no. Excellent athlete, keeps himself in great shape, just…how should I put it…extremely active."
"He must be a great patient, with all that experience," Brad said, and Jamie shuddered.
"NO! Absolutely the worst. I can rarely keep the man in Sick Bay, no matter how evident that’s where he needs to be. Won’t take so much as aspirin without an argument. Will not stay on light duty long enough to let himself heal properly. Just says he’s fine, and off he goes. The man threatens to make me tear out what little hair I have left," and he chuckled despite the complaints.
"Can’t you just order him to comply? I mean, you do work under a form of military discipline."
"Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. Sorry, that’s the best answer I can give without violating doctor/patient confidentiality."
"Translation – he’s one of the senior officers and you’re basically screwed."
"I do get occasional help from a couple of the other officers, but you’ve pretty well got it pegged."
"Well, for the next 10 days or so all you have to worry about is how you’re going to spend the day. There’s lots to see and do – just relax and enjoy."
"Sounds great." They continued to visit amiably until both were finished, quietly hassled over who was going to pay the bill – Jamie won – and started to leave. Just as they left the restaurant and headed for the parking lot Jamie heard Brad say his name sharply and stopped walking. Brad pointed down and Jamie looked at his feet. There was a sharp drop from the walkway down to the parking lot and without noticing, Jamie had almost walked right off.
"Hasn’t anyone ever pointed out to the owners how dangerous that is?" Jamie muttered, and stepped down carefully.
"Repeatedly," Brad acknowledged. "Really dumb, but they do have great food." Both laughed and they headed home. While Jamie’s body was still on West Coast time for Brad it was getting late, so they said goodnight. Jamie stayed up a bit longer, then crashed himself.
He was rousted from a sound sleep the next morning by Brad. "Wha…" he was barely able to get out.
"Sorry. It’s almost 6 am. I have rounds at the hospital before going to my office. Forgot to mention it last night."
"Brad, well and good for you, but my body’s telling me it’s 3 am and I’m on vacation…" He didn’t finish as Brad started laughing.
"Sort of forgot about that. Go back to sleep. With any luck I’ll see you about 5:30."
Jamie was fairly sure he mumbled something relatively coherent, but whatever it was he couldn’t remember when he re-awakened slightly over 3 hours later. Yawning widely he headed for the shower.
Jamie spent that day and the next enjoying some of the local sights. He’d managed the second day, Friday, to get up early enough to drive Brad to work so he’d have the car for the day instead of taking a taxi. Jamie was really starting to unwind and enjoy the relaxed pace. A fair cook when he set his mind to it, Jamie had dinner ready both nights, and even the evenings were relaxed.
At least the first one was. Jamie had a major problem Friday night when Brad announced he had called a friend and arranged to spend Saturday diving. The keys were dotted with wonderful diving and snorkeling spots and he just knew Jamie would be thrilled to spend the day checking a few of them out. And if they were really lucky, maybe they’d end the day with a nice fresh lobster dinner. Jamie casually mentioned something about Brad knowing the best places to eat, and Brad just laughed. "Actually, I was talking about here. The first line on my recipe reads ‘first, go catch yourself a lobster’." To do him credit, Jamie managed to sound enthusiastic, but inwardly it was all he could do not to groan. He absolutely HATED diving. Almost the only diving he did was once a year just to keep up the lowest level of certification. The three senior officers aboard Seaview often teased him about it, especially Chip Morton. He knew he had it coming and took the ribbing good-naturedly, but the truth of the matter was, it just plain bothered him to be underwater without a submarine around him.
* * * *
Jamie’s first surprise Saturday morning turned out to be Brad’s friend. Because Brad had said only that Taylor owned a boat and ran diving excursions, Jamie had just assumed Taylor to be a ‘he’. Instead, ‘he’ turned out to be a 5’2" ash blond ‘she’.
The second surprise turned out to be the dive itself. By 10:30 the next morning Jamie was starting to realize he was actually enjoying himself. The water was warm and clear, they weren’t diving all that deep, and the sights were spectacular. After meeting Taylor at Marathon they’d taken off and dropped anchor between two popular diving areas called ‘Pillar Patch’ and ‘Lobster Ledge’. Once in the water Jamie quickly got lost in the sights. He was chagrinned at his inability to identify more than just a few of the multitude of fish species. Good grief. All this time on board Seaview and you have trouble with anything more complicated than an Angelfish! He was finally able to shake off the feeling and just enjoy the collage of colors. And fish didn’t supply the only beauty in the sea. While Pillar Patch took its name from the fact that it boasted the largest colony of pillar corals, looking a bit like desert cactus, in the entire area, there were many other species as well. Keeping an eye on his companions, as they were on him, he swam leisurely, thoroughly at peace.
Jamie had been offered a long ‘tickle stick’ once they got to Lobster Ledge, a small colorful reef known for being a favorite gathering spot for Spiny lobsters. The object was to use the stick to carefully nudge the nocturnal, day-sleeping lobsters out of their crevices and keep their attention forward while you slipped a net in behind. That way, when they shot backward as they were want to do, they went right into the net. To snickers from his companions, Jamie declined. He was enjoying just poking around. Brad promised no lobster dinner if Jamie didn’t catch it himself, but Jamie just laughed.
Obviously an old hand at this, Taylor had within minutes coaxed a medium-sized Spiny lobster out of its hole and deftly netted it. Motioning Jamie over to help, she carefully grabbed the lobster out of the net, checked to make sure it was a male, measured it with a small device attached to the tickle stick to make sure it was legal, and dropped it into a bag tied to her belt. Jamie was momentarily surprised that it didn’t look totally like he expected a lobster to look. Spiny lobsters, he noted, didn’t have claws. Instead they had long antennae with which to detect trouble, instead of fend it off. Waving a hand at Brad, Taylor indicated that this one was Jamie’s, and went back to hunting. Out of curiosity more than anything else, Jamie followed. Swimming under a large overhang in the coral and rock, Taylor offered the stick to Jamie, pointing toward several crevices. Reluctantly Jamie stuck the stick into the first one, but came up empty. Taking a bit more interest in the process he approached the second one, further back under the shelf.
Jamie was never entirely sure of what happened next, it all went so fast. What he was sure of was that what came out of the hole he poked the stick into wasn’t a lobster – it was a Green Moray eel. A very ticked off Green Moray eel!!! By sheer reflex Jamie raised the stick between himself and the eel and at the same time threw himself backward. The eel never got close enough to bite, thankfully, but in Jamie’s mad scramble he managed to entangle both legs in the coral, scratching them badly. The pain was so intense that he momentarily forgot all his scuba training and could barely breath correctly. When he finally got his act together he realized he was being carefully held between his two diving companions, headed for the surface. The two quickly got him back aboard the boat, and Brad grabbed the first aid kit as well as a couple other items while Taylor helped Jamie off with his gear.
"Damn," Jamie sputtered.
"Sorry, Will." Taylor apologized. "I’ve heard there’s a couple morays at Lobster Ledge, but that’s the first time I’ve actually seen one. How bad?" This last was directed at Brad as he returned and started an examination of Jamie’s legs.
Brad didn’t answer immediately, giving both legs a quick check. "Nothing too deep, thankfully. Mostly just scratches. But it’s going to hurt like hell cleaning it up," and he smiled up at Jamie.
"Quit smirking and just do it," Jamie grumbled. Brad chuckled as he took a small brush and a container of antibacterial hand soap and set to work to debris the scratches. Taylor wanted to head for shore but Jamie stopped her. He knew he couldn’t go back in the water, but refused to spoil the day for the other two. Taylor had glanced at Brad, who just shrugged.
"There doesn’t really appear to be much imbedded coral. Once I scrub them down, slather some antibiotic ointment on and get them wrapped, Will’s legs should be just fine. And if that really is his lobster, that means you and I still have some work to do – ah, hopefully without a re-appearance of our green friend down there," and the other two cringed.
Brad was as good as his word, and he and Taylor left shortly on another drive. Jamie’s legs still stung sharply from the scrubbing, but were beginning to settle down. He stretched out on the back bench of the boat, enjoying the beautiful weather, until the other two got back about 30 minutes later. Each had a lobster in their catch bags, which quickly joined the first one in a tank on the boat filled with seawater, and the trio headed back to shore. Taylor returned with the other two to Brad’s and all three set about fixing dinner. There was much joking and joshing as a large pot of water was set on the stove to boil. Jamie mentioned the line from the movie ‘That’s Life’, where Jack Lemmon’s character complains about lobster fixed the traditional way by dropping them into boiling water being tough from the shock. Far better, he explains, to start with a pot full of white wine, drop in the lobsters and slowly turn up the heat. That way the lobsters get drunk to begin with, and stay all nice and relaxed. However, at least this night, the three decided to put the wine into their own selves instead of the pot, and no one complained about tough lobster meat. Actually, by the time the lobster, baked potatoes, and spinach salad had been consumed, nobody had the energy to complain about anything except Taylor, who still had to move enough to drive herself home.
* * * *
Neither Jamie nor Brad got up very early Sunday morning. Jamie’s legs stung as he showered, but not unreasonably so. He put a bit of antibiotic ointment on them but didn’t rebandage them before dressing. He and Brad were mildly arguing over whether or not Jamie needed to go in and have the injuries checked closer to make sure Brad had gotten all the coral out when the phone rang and Brad was called away to deal with an emergency, and Jamie went with him out of professional curiosity. It turned into one of those days that doctors hate – no sooner did they get one patient taken care of than there were two more. At one point Brad muttered something about it not being much of a vacation for Jamie, but Jamie just laughed. "Nothing new there," he smiled, and held his hands toward the waiting nurse for fresh gloves. By the time they finally got home they were both exhausted, and crashed early.
Monday was a quiet day for Jamie. After the last two days, he chose to sleep in and spend the day working on some reports he’d brought with him. As it turned out Brad had another endless day. He called to tell Jamie not to worry about fixing any dinner for him, he’d grab something. He ended up not getting home until 9:30, and almost immediately crashed. Jamie wasn’t far behind. For not having done much all day he was extremely tired.
Tuesday dawned stormy and rainy, so Jamie chose to spend the day finishing the reports. He thought perhaps he was catching a cold, he felt just that little bit off, and said as much when Brad mentioned that evening Jamie didn’t look good. Brad looked at him a bit, but nothing more was said on the subject. They’d decided to go out to dinner, and chose the restaurant they’d gone to the first night. Jamie wasn’t particularly hungry, and left to himself probably wouldn’t have bothered eating. He dawdled over the last of his meal while Brad had dessert.
"You sure you’re Ok?" Brad questioned again. "You really don’t look good." Jamie just shook his head.
"I’m fine. It’s just the beginnings of a cold," he reiterated. "No big deal."
"That might explain it. You look flushed, like you’ve got a fever."
"Don’t think so. Did I ever tell you I ran into Pat Fisher last year…" and Jamie changed the subject into a discussion of mutual friends. This night Brad won the inevitable argument over who was paying the bill, and as he stopped at the cashier Jamie continued outside. It really had been warm in the restaurant and he needed some fresh air. Ambling slowly toward the car, not paying much attention, he was a bit too late this time to catch Brad’s warning. The next thing he knew he was on his hands and knees, and Brad was helping him to stand. "Damn. Missed the step," he muttered, then groaned loudly as he tried to put weight on his right ankle. Brad instantly sat him back down and did a quick exam.
"Doesn’t seem to be broken but we’ll have to x-ray to be sure. You just sit right here while I get the car."
"I feel like such a damn fool," Jamie muttered. Brad laughed and hurried off. He was back in moments, but not before a couple had walked by Jamie going in to the restaurant. He just knew they must have thought him some drunk, sitting there, especially since all he managed to do was smile at them as they walked by. Luckily Brad arrived and helped Jamie into the passenger seat, but not before brushing his hand over Jamie’s forehead.
"Definitely a fever, Will. Let’s get you over to the hospital and checked out."
Jamie was puzzled that he couldn’t seem to concentrate. He vaguely remembered getting to the hospital, and a lot of people coming and going. He thought he answered what questions he was asked reasonably well, but wasn’t really sure. The next thing he was totally sure of was waking up in a hospital room, feeling like he’d been run over by a truck. It didn’t help that Brad was standing next to the bed grinning down at him, and Jamie said something decidedly impolite. Brad burst out laughing.
"Good. Now I know you’re Ok."
"What the blazes happened?" and Jamie tried to get up.
"Whoa, there. Don’t even think about it. At least, not for awhile yet. Maybe in the morning. You’ve been out of the loop for a bit."
Jamie was beginning to have an uneasy feeling about this whole affair. "What do you mean, a bit?" and he glared at Brad.
"You remember the fall you took?"
"At the restaurant? Of course. So?"
"That was Tuesday evening. It’s now Thursday evening." Jamie’s glare turned into a frown, and Brad continued. "I was really concerned by your fever and disorientation, so while waiting for the x-rays to come back on your ankle I did a general exam. I knew I should have taken a better look at your legs when we got back from the dive Saturday."
Jamie, rarely slow on the uptake, heaved a big sigh. "Coral poisoning," and saw Brad nod.
"On the back of both legs. Couple of pieces each. Small, but I’d have thought you would have felt them."
"Stung in the shower, but I just thought it was from the scratches. Put ointment on and didn’t give it another thought. Can’t believe I was that stupid," and Brad grinned.
"Hey, we all know us doctors think we’re invincible. Don’t worry about it. I got the coral out and started you on antibiotics. The fever finally broke a couple hours ago. Oh, and I was right, the ankle’s not fractured, just badly sprained. I’ve got it taped, and you’ll need to stay off it for awhile."
"Some houseguest I turned out to be," Jamie muttered.
"No big deal. Now, you just rest. And since I know that besides being invincible we doctors are also lousy patients, I’ve ordered a sedative. No arguments," he added as he was about to get one. A nurse walked in just then, and Jamie reluctantly endured having his backside jabbed with the hypodermic she’d brought. "Like I said, just relax," Brad continued. "You know as well as I do that rest is the best thing for you right now." He tucked the blankets in around Jamie, patted him on the shoulder, and left. Which, of course, led Jamie to his observations just before the sedative took effect.
* * * *
They hit him rather abruptly again as he stirred the next morning. He knew it was morning because strong sunlight was hitting him squarely in the face from the window to his left, stopping him from opening his eyes. He rolled over on his right side so it wouldn’t continue to blind him, groaning as he did, and tried again. Still a bit muzzy, it took a second to realize that in front of the chair against the wall was a pair of brilliantly polished black shoes, one of them suspended in mid-air. Coming down to meet them was a pair of khaki slacks with creases so sharp you could cut yourself on them. Jamie didn’t like where this was headed, but couldn’t stop his gaze from continuing upward. What he saw made him want to pull the covers over his head and never come out – Capt. Lee Crane, sitting totally relaxed in the chair, legs crossed, a notebook on his lap and an absolutely dazzling smile on his face.
"Good morning, Jamie."
"How?" was all the CMO could utter.
"The Admiral was notified as soon as the hospital here called to verify your insurance coverage. He’s been in constant contact with your friend Brad ever since. He thought it only appropriate, since you’ve had to come after me so often, that I should be sent in FS1 to bring you home as soon as we knew you were Ok." All Jamie could do was groan again, causing the smile on Lee’s face to brighten further, if that was possible. "Chip volunteered to come with me. He’s down in the cafeteria at the moment. He’ll be along shortly. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that he’s spent the last two days planning a series of special re-certification dives just for you." Jamie’s groan got louder. "And since we figured you’d still need medical care we brought Frank along as well. He’s going over your records with Brad and, for the trip home, has put together a folder for you to read, with all the current info on coral poisoning."
Jamie couldn’t take it any longer. To the sounds of his Skipper’s laughter, he rolled back toward the window and pulled the blankets over his head, wondering how many years it was going to take to live this one down.