Wabash to the Rescueby Richard Rose '54
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It begins with a vodka martini at Jaco Beach.
It was February, 1981. I was vacationing in Costa Rica with my (now ex-) wife, Gisela, and two young daughters, Christine and Cathy, ages eleven and nine. We had been to Costa Rica before, not only to enjoy the warm climate, lovely scenery and hospitable inhabitants, but to visit my good friend Jim Adams ’54, a fellow Phi Delt.
Jim settled in Costa Rica after three years in the U.S. Army, most of which was spent as a Counter Intelligence Corps agent in Panama. Jim spoke fluent Spanish, which served him well in his clandestine activities for Uncle Sam. After his discharge, Jim decided that Costa Rica offered more opportunities for a flamboyant entrepreneur than Columbia City, his hometown in Indiana. With the help of savvy investors, Jim set up factories manufacturing metal roofs and textiles. He branched out into real estate that included an apartment building, the penthouse of which he occupied with his two young daughters and wife, Carmen, a dark-haired beauty who could have given Sophia Loren a run for her money.
My family and I had planned to travel to the Jaco Beach Resort on the Central Pacific Coast to put in a little suntan time. It was not a resort of lavish proportions, to say the least, consisting of a dozen one-story motel-like rooms, an open dining area, and a beach bar sheltered from an occasional tropical shower by thatched roofs. It was also remote. By land it was a four-hour trip through mountainous terrain from San Jose to the beach and even required fording a river to get there.
This ordeal was spared us by Jim. An experienced pilot, he flew us there in his single-engine Cessna, which only took about three quarters of an hour. It was a scenic trip, the lush green mountain landscape broken only by an occasional river or coffee plantation. We had to fly in the morning to accommodate the tide; there was no landing strip other than the beach, which provided a perfect runway when the tide was out.
As the plane circled in a landing approach, I could see stingrays gliding beneath the cobalt blue water of the Pacific like gigantic bats. Jim brought the plane down smoothly and taxied up to the beach bar, where a bartender greeted “Don Jimmy” with a cold bottle of Corona. Jim joined us for a scrumptious lunch before flying back to San Jose with a promise to pick us up in three days.
The next evening Gisela and I were having cocktails—mine being the aforementioned vodka martini—at the beach bar, while the kids played nearby in the sand. That’s when Christine first complained about a pain in her lower stomach. We thought it was nothing serious. But the pain intensified during the night, and by morning Christine was burning up with fever, so much so that we had her put in the cold shower to reduce her temperature. We were able to determine that the pain was now located on the right side of Christine’s abdomen. It was further aggravated when she coughed or moved. The resort manager informed us that there were no doctors in the vicinity to examine Christine. But it didn’t take a degree in medicine to diagnose her symptoms: appendicitis, possibly acute.
Christine needed medical attention as soon as possible. The best medical facilities were in San Jose, but there was no time to make the long, arduous trip by land. It was urgent to get Christine to San Jose quickly, and the only way to do this was by plane. Jim was our first and best option to fly her there.
There was no telephone service to Jaco. Communication with the outside world was only by short wave radio. The manager used it to notify the police in San Jose about Christine with instructions to contact Jim. They did, and Jim acted swiftly. He lined up a doctor to examine Christine and a surgeon in case an appendectomy was necessary. Then he notified the airport to have his plane fueled and ready for takeoff. It was crucial that he leave as soon as possible so he could land at Jaco while the tide was out.
Jim was in the air an hour later. By mid-morning he was touching down on the beach.
Christine and I boarded the plane with one overnight bag between us and buckled up. Jim wasted no time getting the Cessna into the air. The flight back to San Jose wasn’t pleasant. The wind currents were stronger than usual. At times the plane would get in the grip of a down draft and plunge like an elevator with a broken cable. There was also a “heart-in-your-throat” moment when the engine sputtered. Jim assured us there was no problem. Something to do with the fuel being too rich, he said. In any event, he made some adjustment on the mixture control, and the engine behaved itself for the rest of the fight.
Chris bore the flight like a trooper. She was in terrible pain—aggravated by the turbulence—and frightened. However, she wasn’t as frightened as I was. I knew that if she had a case of acute appendicitis, and the appendix burst, her life could be in peril.
Of course, I didn’t tell her this. I held her hand and tried to assure her that everything would be all right—an assurance accompanied by a silent prayer.
The flight seemed to take forever before the welcome sight of the San Jose airport finally came into view. Jim radioed for landing clearance, emphasizing it was an emergency. Other planes were delayed until we landed. Minutes later we were speeding to the hospital in Jim’s car. The doctor Jim had arranged to examine Christine was waiting. It didn’t take him long for him to confirm our fears: acute appendicitis, and there was no time to lose. An immediate operation was imperative.
The surgeon was, according to Jim, the best in Costa Rica. For the first time Christine shed a few tears, but the physician’s soothing words gave her comfort. The truth is I was in worse mental shape than she was.
The operation was the work of a virtuoso with a scalpel. The incision was only three-quarters of an inch. After the operation, he came to the private room where Christine was sleeping peacefully to inform me that she would be just fine and could leave the hospital the next day. He also gave permission to the hospital to allow me to spend the night in the room on a couch. As we talked, I learned that he had taken some of his early training at The Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, which as irony would have it, was only a mile or so from where we lived.
Before he left, I thanked him for saving my daughter’s life. The doctor told me to thank Jim. Had it not been for his rapid response, Christine’s appendix would have ruptured, causing peritonitis. “Which is?” I asked. The contents of the appendix spills into the abdominal cavity, causing serious inflammation, he explained. Without prompt medical attention…he shook his head. Translated: Christine wouldn’t have made it.
I absorbed this reality with moist eyes as I sat at Christine’s bedside. Although the crisis was over, I was still a nervous wreck from the experience. Too bad I hadn’t thought of getting a tranquilizer from the doctor, preferably one that was 80 proof. Jim to the rescue again! That evening he paid us a visit with flowers for the patient. And for Jim and me, a large shaker of martinis. Sipping its welcome contents from paper cups, we celebrated the rescue mission and drank to a speedy recovery for Christine.
Never before or since has a martini tasted so good.
Richard Rose’s novel The Lazarus Experiment is being published later this year by Savant Books: www.savantbooksandpublications.com