Somewhere on a chain of islands off Martha’s Vineyard:
You may recall the headline of last March 6: “Angry Island Mob Attacks Bird Watcher; Injuries Result.” Angry? Probably not. Mad? Absolutely. Elvin Jane, the birdwatcher in question, visited the island again last week and we pretty much got things straightened out.
It all started in January; there isn’t much to do in January. The lobster pots are in and the striped bass have gone south along with the summer folks. The pond is frozen, the mail boat is down to once a week, maybe, and a general vegetative state has set in. During this time we are open to just about anything. Sure, we’ve made certain promises to do certain work on certain houses by a certain date, but we don’t have to worry about that until April at the earliest and we can send bills anyway. So Guppy Olmstead got the idea that we all needed to know CPR. Actually it was a pretty good idea since this island has no medical facilities at all except Dotty, the postmistress, who says she thinks she was a nurse in New Bedford sometime in the early 1950s. That was before the big funk set in and she moved to the island. “I haven’t lost one yet,” she says. If she has performed surgery I am not aware of it and if it was brain surgery it would explain a lot. Anyway, the whole town — except for Coot who has had a death wish for the last 15 years and saw no reason, since he was sure to be the first victim — decided to learn CPR. (Coot Hall, it’s right there on his birth certificate. He says that his mother wanted to be a little different. I don’t know about her but he certainly is.)
It was pretty interesting to watch everybody do those strange things to the blow-up doll that Charlie Mellon got out of the Fredrick’s catalogue and after a fashion we all passed the course with flying colors. Coot offered to be the doll for the sake of realism, but there were no takers.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” seemed to be the consensus.
And that’s when trouble came. Everybody was bursting with knowledge and had nowhere to use it. People started watching other people for signs of a heart attack, which made other people think that they were having one. Coot, who had never in his life eaten a meal at another person’s house, was out every night.
Something had to give. Feb. 6 was a nice day, in fact too nice. The whole town was down at the ferry dock milling around and chewing the fat. The mail boat landed as usual and one lone, strange soul stepped off, not usual. It was Elvin Jane, city folks, a birdwatcher. Hard telling just what happened to get the ball rolling, but Mary Sargento is sure she saw him grab his chest. Coot says he just burped. All I know for sure is that in a flash Mary had him by the ankles, Hard Hat Potter had him about waist level and Alpheus Roche tipped him over. Legs and arms were flying in all directions — he was being saved. It didn’t take long for a few of us to figure out that if Mr. Jane was having a heart attack, three simultaneous doses of CPR was not going to cure him. So one by one we grabbed them by the feet and hauled them off. And there he was, out cold and looking pretty sick to me. We threw him, binoculars and all, into the back of Angel Cooper’s pickup, she’s the storekeeper, and headed for the nearest house. That was not the end of it — oh, no. That was just mistake number two or 10, depending on when you started counting.
Bung Ward is a fisherman and has been since his feet first hit the floor. He works when there is light and sleeps when there isn’t, a basic approach. As a result, Bung has never seen the need for an elaborate electrical system, hence the one and only electrical outlet in his house.
The customary procedure for medivacing an injured person off the island is roughly as follows:
The injured person is brought to the nearest house and made comfortable. While this is going on, the rest of the town has arrived, plugged in their hand-held VHF radios and begun en masse to scream the Coast Guard rescue helicopter out of the sky. To know that no one has ever died as a result of that circus does at least suggest the existence of God.
We got Mr. Jane to Bung’s all right, but a fight broke out over the outlet, prompting Captain Ray to run back down to the mail boat to call the Coast Guard in. The fight lasted right up until the Coast Guard got there.
Casualties mounted. Mary, dear heart, had thrown all 80 pounds of her 85-year-old body over the three hundred pounds of Mr. Jane to protect him. They think that’s how his jaw got cracked. Bible, bone and gristle and a little bit of mule, that’s Mary There’s another less delicate description of her running around here which has to do with a little passed gas in a hot skillet, but I digress.
The Coast Guard loved it, the simplest and cleanest rescue they’d ever made off the island. I think it made the fact that they had to come back two more times a little easier to take. When the smoke cleared we had six injured badly enough to be taken off the island, including Mr. Jane. (Remember him?)
Seven others were treated at the post office and released. There was no mail that day. Dottie was in heaven; she hadn’t treated so many since Hurricane Carol in 1954 (she thinks). In addition to the cracked jaw, Mr. Jane suffered three cracked ribs, a black eye which could only be attributed to a case of mistaken identity and a five-year setback in some trust issues he’d been dealing with.
No heart attack, though. Mary says if you live they can’t tell. The rest of the evacuated injured included the three selectmen and Jack and Gladys Ashworth who are in their late 80s and were given the VHF radios at the town Christmas party in case they got lost and had only come to try them out. The injuries, though quite varied, were not permanent. Just another day at the office for the islanders. Not so sure about Mr. Jane.
The running of the town had to be taken over by the harbor committee, but that’s another story. Jack and Gladys gave the radios back, said they appreciated the gesture but getting lost was the safer option.
So there it is, the real story. At first we were a little upset about the “attacked” part in the headline in the paper but after thinking about it we realized that it’s probably a good form of preventive medicine. Who in their right mind would dare have a heart attack on this island?
Meanwhile, we’re taking a different approach this year. Upon completion of this year’s carefully chosen course, a new sign will be hung at the mail dock:
“Warning . . . This Island Is Armed With The Heimlich Maneuver!”
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.