Emma, Sal’s wife, came to the hospital to pick us up and take us back to the hotel after Richard’s second hyperbaric chamber treatment. She offered to take me shopping after dropping Richard off at the hotel. We needed clothes. I only brought one change of clothes for each of us because we left Matangi in such a hurry and I had no idea how long we would be gone. I did laundry in the sink but we still needed more clothes. It felt good to get out and do something normal like shopping. Emma took me to a mall in the business district and I shopped. It was great.
Friday was day three in Suva which meant two more hours in the chamber. Richard and I took our first taxi ride to the hospital. Dr. Luke was supposed to meet us and check on Richard’s progress but he was extremely busy due to his wife having their first baby so he did not make it to see Richard. This time while Richard was in the chamber I talked to Kuini about God, churches in Fiji and America and scripture. She wrote her favorite scripture, Jeremiah 29:11 in Fijian for me. Then she wrote my life verse, 2 Corinthians 5:17, in Fijian as well as Richard favorite verse 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. I keep the paper she wrote the verses on in my journal from Fiji.
After two hours Richard emerged from the chamber without assistance and Kuini removed the catheter tubing. She told Richard if he was unable to urinate he needed to come back to the hospital and get the catheter reinserted. We walked out, got a taxi and headed back to the hotel.
Richard was still weak and was starting to feel constipated. He asked if I could get him a laxative. I was pretty sure I could find the shopping district where Emma had taken me the day before using my phone and it was within walking distance of the hotel. I was not comfortable leaving Richard alone until he urinated.
Once Richard finally used the bathroom I started walking to downtown Suva to find a pharmacy. The pharmacy was a couple of miles from the hotel. I purchased the stool softener and started walking back to the hotel. I decided to take a short detour down to the waterfront then to get a pizza for dinner. After ordering the pizza I sat at a table by the window adjacent to the street to wait for my order. As I sat staring out the window I pondered our situation and thought here I am walking around the capital of a foreign country in the South Pacific by myself and doing just fine. I felt pretty proud of myself. God had put amazing people in my path to help guide and support me during a very difficult time. I felt blessed to be able to see parts of Fiji most Americans would never see and to be pushed to do things I would never have thought I would do on my own. God is good.
Once the pizza was brought to me I continued my journey back to the hotel to continue watching the Discovery Channel. The television in our room only got one American channel, the Discovery Channel, and it showed the same episodes of seven different shows repeatedly throughout the day the whole time we were in Suva.
Day four brought more healing for Richard. Before going into the chamber Dr. Luke examined Richard once again and had him perform a balance test where he had to put he feet heal to toe, cross his arms and hold them out in front of himself with his eyes closed. Richard could only hold the position for a few seconds. Dr. Luke told us he would examine him again tomorrow and he could try it again. He also told us if Richard could hold the position for one minute tomorrow (Sunday) he would release him to fly back to Taveuni on a low altitude flight as long as he called him upon our arrival in Taveuni and we agreed to fly a standard commercial flight back to Nadi, which is on the same island as Suva, on Tuesday. Dr. Luke felt this would be a good test to see how Richard would eventually do on the flight back to Los Angeles on Friday and if there were any issues he would already be on the island he needed to be on in order to receive further hyperbaric chamber treatments. We readily agreed to Dr. Luke’s terms and I immediately started looking for a private charter flight for us on Sunday after Richard’s last treatment.
The travel insurance company would not help me without a doctor to doctor conference call and that was not going to happen on a Saturday afternoon. The airline companies I called either did not offer any flights on Sunday or had no planes available. I finally called my local contact for the travel agency and she set us up on private charter flight leaving Sunday afternoon but we had to pay for it upfront and submit the receipt to the insurance company with the hope of getting reimbursed. I was really hesitant on paying so much money for an hour flight, but Richard said we should do it and trust God to take care of us like He had so far. If we did not leave on Sunday with the low altitude flight I’m not sure when we could have left and made it back to Matangi to get our belongings and then return again by Tuesday.
We booked the flight and the next morning Richard and I walked together to the travel agency to pay for it. As we were walking back from the travel agency to our hotel to get ready to check-out and head to the hospital for what would hopefully be Richard’s last treatment, I walked behind Richard and simply admired the fact he was able to walk. Just five days earlier he was paralyzed from the neck down and now he was walking in Suva with me and we were planning how to spend the rest of our time in Fiji. God is so good.
We arrived at the hospital 30 minutes early. Needless to say we were anxious to get started. Unfortunately, Kuini was an hour late. She lives an hour from the hospital and on Sundays almost all of the businesses shut down so it was difficult for her to arrange transportation to the hospital. Plus “Fiji time” is a real concept generally meaning “late everywhere.”
Once Kuini arrived Richard hopped into the chamber to start the last two hour treatment. After the treatment we had to wait for Dr. Luke to arrive for the final okay to leave. Our ride to the airport arrived on time but there was no sign of Dr. Luke. The driver became very anxious and told us we needed to get to the airport at least 45 minutes before our flight. Once we told him it was a private charter and we were the only passengers he calmed down and told us it was fine and they would not leave without us.
Dr. Luke finally arrived and did his final exam. He asked Richard to perform the balance test again and this time Richard held the position for a minute. After we left Richard told me he cheated and opened his eyes just enough to see Dr. Luke’s feet so he had something to focus on to help him keep his balance. Richard still felt dizzy and numbness in his hands, feet and abdomen but it was subsiding.
We received the final okay to leave and we made the mad dash to the airport. The ride to the airport was not as fast as the one initially to the hospital and we saw the countryside. Once we arrived at the airport Yvette from New Zealand introduced herself as our pilot, loaded us up on her plane and we were once again in the air on our way back to Taveuni.
We arrived on Taveuni without incident. Richard got off of the plane feeling great and our ride to the boat to take us back to Matangi was waiting for us.
When we arrived back at Matangi we were once again greeted with fresh coconut water and singing. Christine met us at the boat and walked us back to our room where there was a beautiful flower arrangement at our front door along with a card welcoming us home.
We picked up our anniversary trip where we had left off five days prior minus the scuba diving. Richard was still extremely weak so we were not able to do all our planned activities but we did what we could and had a fabulous time. The whole staff of Matangi Island Resort took amazing care of us. Noel, the owner of Matangi Resort, called me every day, sometimes twice a day while we were in Suva to check on Richard’s progress and see if we needed anything. Noel checked the minutes on the phone regularly and when the minutes got low he added more without me asking. Upon our return to Matangi Noel spent a lot of time with us asking questions trying to understand what went wrong and why the accident happened. He has owned the resort for 30 years and nothing like this had ever happened before and he sure did not want it to happen again. The owners and staff of the resort as well as the owner’s family and staff in Suva went above and beyond to help Richard and I during this difficult experience and we will be forever grateful.
Through the whole experience Richard was never worried. I’m still amazed how calm he was when he was paralyzed and through all the events following the accident. The peace of God overwhelmed Richard which in turn kept me calm and focused in our most desperate hours.
As of August 1, 2016 it has been 84 days since the diving accident. Richard is still not 100%. He has numbness in his feet and hands and gets fatigued easily. Every day his symptoms get a little better. The doctor we followed up with in Fort Myers, Florida told us it will probably take six months for his body to completely heal because nerves are extremely slow to heal. The travel insurance company paid for half of our private charted flight back to Taveuni, none of the hotel in Suva, and more than expected for our time missed on Matagani. I keep in contact with Christine from Matangi via email.
After further research on decompression sickness and looking back on our trip I believe Richard got the bends due to a combination of events and circumstances consisting of, but not limited to four flights within a 24 hour period, his age, and his weight. Richard and I hope to return to Matangi one day, whether we dive or not is still up for debate. Richard is all for going diving again but I’m still apprehensive about it. If we do go and we do dive, we will wait 48 hours instead of the standard 24 hours after flying before diving. Only God knows what the future holds. We are only along for the ride and try to stay open to His will.