Issue: May 2008
MENEELEY UNDER WAY: Sail Therapy, or Not

Maybe it was the effects of anesthesia, but the first sail after surgery wasn't quite what she expected.

by Jane Meneely       

I had to have brain surgery last summer to remove a benign tumor that had settled behind my left ear like a wadof old chewing gum. Needless to say, the operation punched a hole in Petrel's sailing season before the surgeon ever got close to my skull. I wasn't particularly happy in the weeks leading up to it all.It's not that I feared death ("It's always a possibility," the surgeon said. "You could have a deadly accident on the way to the hospital.") I was more concerned that death would leave all the details of my life to be unpacked by strangers--or worse, by children who really don't want to know all the details. So instead of spending time on my boat, I spent time cleaning out my attic, putting my affairs in order and taking out the trash--literally and figuratively. I had very little time for Petrel.

My surgery was in late July. I donned a hospital gown. An orderly shaved the hair from behind my ear and ran me through with IVs. Paul kissed my hand. "You'll be fine," he said. "The nurses here are real knock-outs." And with that comforting thought, I began counting backwards. Then the surgeon split my skull open, scraped out the chewing gum and epoxied everything back together. "Right as rain," I think he said as I came to. When I could brush my teeth standing up and climb stairs on my own two feet, he sent me home. A few weeks later a gray stubble began to pepper my scalp around the incision. "Gray? Are you sure?" I made Paul get me a mirror. Unbelievable! Bad enough to be half deaf. Downright demoralizing to have gray hair growing in next to all that very expensive brown.

"You're going to have to take me sailing," I said to Paul. "I'm sure I'll feel better then."

"But I don't know how to sail," Paul answered. "That's okay," I said. "I'll sit in the cockpit and tell you what to do." Paul wasn't so sure, but he recruited two of our buddies (for muscle and moral support, he said) and off we went. I settled into the cockpit like a queen and directed traffic. Myron and Craig peeled off the mainsail cover and hanked on the jib. Paul freed the dock lines. Bubba, the cranky and unreliable Atomic Four, actually started on the first try, and we motored into Herring Bay.

It's good to be captain, I thought as these strong hunky guys began pulling up the sails. Then things started going fuzzy. A weird uncomfortable feeling gathered in the pit of my stomach. I forgot to tell Myron to untie the sail stop from around the mainsail before he hauled on the halyard. "Should I untie this?" he said when the mainsail snagged half-way up the mast. "Yes," I said, curling myself into a little ball. I forgot to remind Paul to tie stopper knots in the jib sheets, and suddenly the port sheet ripped loose and was flailing in the breeze along with the flailing sail. Craig--or was it Myron? I couldn't be sure--had to snare it with the boat hook.

The wooziness had to be from all that sunshine and fresh air, though the breeze felt good ruffling the gray bits coming in from behind my ear. I marveled at the sensation of the wind rushing past my deaf ear. And I wished the yucky feeling would go away. We were sailing well now, on a glorious reach toward the mark off--oh, I don't know where; I couldn't really focus on the chart. And though I knew that this was indeed a glorious sail, I wasn't feeling particularly glorious.

Craig, Myron and Paul, on the other side of the cockpit, were having a wonderful time, laughing, joking, telling each other horrible sailor stories and making bad puns. "What's the matter, Hon?" Paul asked. "Maybe we should head back," I said, focusing on the horizon. It should have been good to be captain, but it wasn't.

"You okay?" Paul asked.

"I'm fine," I lied. "I'm just thinking, though. If Bubba misbehaves, it'll be a long row home. We'll want to get in before the wind dies."

"Ready about!" Paul hollered. Petrel came around, and we began reaching back toward Deale. Well outside the breakwater we started the engine, but as soon as we had the sails down Bubba sputtered and died. Oh, that rascally Bubba. Up went the sails again. We had a lingering, leisurely sail into the protection of Rockhold Creek. Slowly, gingerly, we drifted into the dock. (Paul knows that drill pretty well--grab a piling, any piling. . . .) The sun was just starting to dim.

"Well done," I said as my guys helped me down the dock and into a chair that beckoned from beneath a shady tree. An apple tree, perhaps? I looked at the leafy canopy and felt comforted by its green density. The healing touch of the wind brushed my poor sore head. The setting sun offered solace to my spirit. I was feeling decidedly better. Much better.
"Ready to call it a day?" Paul asked. And I was. "You're amazing," he said, helping me out of the chair. "The doctor said you'd probably get seasick your first time out. I told him fat chance." I patted the bark of the tree in a reverent good-bye. Some things are better left unsaid.