I was on a 6-day cruise with Pope, three friends, and a hired boat captain. By Day 3, I was in agony from a shoulder injury. I don't know how I got hurt. Maybe hauling luggage, carrying heavy bags of boat provisions, or peering beyond my snorkel mask to avoid swimming into a prickly coral.
We were snorkeling at Glover's Reef, a coral-laced atoll 50 miles east of the mainland. By Day 5, my stoicism had collapsed. I asked our captain to help me arrange a medical evacuation by speedboat, to someplace where I could get a plane or bus to the hospital in Belize City.
The nearest doctor (perhaps the only one outside of Belize City...) was in Placencia, where we had boarded the boat. This was a 6-hour round trip at the top speed of our boat (about 6 knots). This cost us less than $100 in extra diesel fuel -- much cheaper than using a medical evacuation company. But it eliminated a full day of swimming and snorkeling for everyone else.
Our captain raced us to Placencia in our big boat, anchored, and sped me to shore in the dinghy. The doctor's office was outside of town in a primitive-looking, rustic shack with a tin roof that appeared abandoned, in the middle of a bleak field of dirt and weeds. No other buildings, homes, or even cars around. I wish I had a photo.
To be honest, I was filled with dread, thinking: this can't be a real doctor. Surely I'm in the wrong place! A shot of cortisone in a place like this could be deadly!
However, inside, the office was clean and decent. The doctor is a Cuban who serves the expat community. Lots of Americans, Canadians, and Brits apparently live there or have winter homes. He did some manipulations, diagnosed a pinched nerve. His fee was $45, cash only. He called a taxi and sent me down the road to the pharmacist.
While I taxied to the pharmacy, the captain returned to the boat and motored to Placencia's city harbor.
I returned to the boat there, with $135 worth of painkillers and other medical products, and a case of beer for the captain and passengers. No poisons, though, despite the pharmacist's offerings.
This was all accomplished without any cell phone service! People along the way were happy to help me figure things out.
We spent the night on the boat in Placencia harbor, then motored back to the reef and another tiny isle.
I spent the remaining days laying around, moaning gently. The pills took the edge off but the discomfort continued.
After three flights, we got home by midnight Tuesday. I visited my chiropractor Wednesday and again Thursday, and on Friday got an ultrasound and more accurate diagnosis: torn tendon inside the rotator cuff.
I look at the photos of other people's "normal" trips -- a souk in Morocco, the Eiffel Tower, a tour guide with a striped umbrella -- with envy. My trips are rarely "normal." They're soaked in adrenaline!