Fond Memories of Medical Care on St. John

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Letter: Nurse Shonna, The Hugginiest Nurse in the Virgin Islands

Flash back to 1997, when I was working in Mongoose Deli. I’m slicing meat in the meat slicer. Andrew says something, so I look over to see what he is saying, because it is usually hilarious, whatever he says. As I look up, I put the tips of the ring and middle finger of my left hand into the slicer, just barely. I hardly feel — just a weird off-feeling. I look down, see some blood. So Jimmy the pastry chef comes over and looks at it, and he says (I think his name was Jimmy) “oh, it’s bad, it’s bad.” I say, “did I lose a finger nail?” He says “I don’t know, maybe.” So Andrew drives me up to Myrah Keating Clinic, we leave work.

In the emergency room, the Philipina woman doctor treats me. A big West Indian woman named Shonna is at my side, her bosom a soft cushion for my head. She hugs me while the doctor sews back on the one tip that was still attached. The other tip was gone — maybe in somebody’s salami sandwich by then! The tip that hung on was just hanging by a tiny strip of skin, so they took it off completely to clean it before sewing it back on. Guess what she stitched it back on the wrong finger!!

As we were sitting there, the West Indian nurse embracing me, Andrew was watching real close because his mom is a doctor and he likes that kind of thing, and it was Andrew who noticed they sewed it back on the wrong finger. When he said something, that doctor started to laugh and cackle, and the Nurse Shonna tried to purse her lips not to laugh — oh man, they thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile, next to me on the other side of a curtain, in the next bed, is Irvince, aka “Hollywood” — a local character. He had hurt his back because he was lying in a tree, fell asleep, and fell down onto the ground. So Irvince is next to me, yelling ahhh!my back!! the whole time.

By the way I did not lose a finger nail. I just shaved off (sliced ham thickness) the very ends of both fingers.

Now it is 2006, and Gus and I were just on vacation on St. John, at Maho Bay. One day, Gus and I spent all morning down at the beach — Little Maho. He made a friend, Hunter. Hunter and Gus were playing in the shallow water, letting the waves wash them up, and back, and up, and back — letting their bodies drag in the sand all the while. Well, turns out that is not a good thing to do for a boy. When we came up the stairs and went to rinse off our bodies, Gus went to pull out his swim trunks to rinse his privates. He couldn’t do it because his privates were stuck to the mesh lining! We came back to the tent and I looked to see and there were three little spots where his skin had come through the holes in the mesh, and then swelled, so it was stuck there. I did not know what to do, but I was hoping somebody from Maho had seen this before and would know a trick. I ran up the walk and up to the nice West Indian lady that does the laundry, Marjorie. Ok I told her the situation and she said “don’t mess with that, sweetie, just take him to the doctor right away.” So, I ran back to our tent. I tried pouring cold water on it to get the swelling to go down, and ice, but nothing was really changing down there.

So, I found two Maho guys to carry Gus in his chair up the walk to the store where I could come down with the car and get him. I told both the Maho guys about it because I was hoping one of them would know what to do. Well, one of them said that had never happened exactly, but that a similar thing had happened to him with a zipper… “sand is not a man’s friend,” he told Gus. The other guy said that very same thing, with the swimming in the ocean and the swelling and the mesh, had happened to him when he was little. So I asked him what he did about it and he said he had blacked it out so he can’t remember.

So I drove Gus up to Myrah Keating Clinic, and soon there we were, in the very same emergency room and the very same Nurse Shonna there to hug Gus through it all! Nurse Alice came and just put some liquid Lidocaine on it and they pulled the mesh right off, no problems, no blood, no pain. Gus was so brave! He didn’t cry at all in the emergency room, and he was so proud of himself. I was so proud of him too! And man was I relieved. I thought they would have to get out some tiny scissors and cut each hole in the mesh…I thought it was going to hurt sooo bad.

All the way up to the clinic, Gus kept asking me if it was going to hurt, and I kept saying No…with complete fake confidence. I was trying to keep him calm, but you know what I really thought it was going to be excruciating. God I was so relieved when they just pulled it off. I wasn’t even in there with him at that moment because I had to fill out all the paperwork up front. But he was so brave, and with Shonna there to hug him in her big lovely bosom…perfect!

A Peek at Health Care In Virgin Islalnds
• Playing in the sand and water and sun in the Caribbean all morning with your new friend Hunter: heavenly
• Looking down to find your privates stuck in mesh lining of swim trunks: horrifying
• A chair ride up to the car, courtesy of two Maho guys: kinda fun
• View on the drive up to the clinic: gorgeous
• Thought of what the doctor is going to have to do to fix things: terrifying
• Having liquid lidocaine and a West Indian woman’s bosom as anesthesia: included
• Knowing you were brave and didn’t cry: empowering
• Finally having your privates and your swimming trunks separated: priceless
• Cost of cutting mesh lining out of swim trunks for the rest of your life: $0

Update: Gus is fine, intact, with no permanent damage. He was fine by the next day. 🙂

– Jackie Coyne