The summer of 2004 was in full swing. It was early August, scorching hot, and time for a vacation. The watermelons were ripe and ready, and so was my wife Katrina. We were expecting our third daughter, Holly, which would bring the number of children in our brood to seven. We felt pretty certain, based on previous pregnancies, that Holly would not arrive until our scheduled due date in the third week of August. So we went out on a limb and made plans to head to the lake.
Several years earlier we had purchased a time share in Branson, Missouri, which enabled our family to stay in a nice condominium for a week. This was our year to use the week, so we made reservations at the Branson Yacht club for the first week of August. We didn’t really see too many yachts there, but part of the reservation at the resort on Table Rock Lake included the use of a pontoon boat for two days during our stay.
Our large family was growing larger, by leaps and bounds. Well, maybe not by either of those things, but at least by one kid at a time anyway. After the arrival of Bradley in 2001, and Hannah in 2003, we had received a clear mandate from God that we were going to totally trust Him with our family size, which meant no birth control. Most of our friends and family didn’t think that we had received anything clear from God at all, but that a fog had settled around our brains. Comments about rabbits seemed to be in frequent conversations.
After going through a couple of pregnancies with Katrina and now well into our third, she had taught me that she was as tough as nails and unstoppable. A woman after my own heart. When we began having children together, we were determined not to let the kids or our family size completely shut down our activities, and Katrina took on the role as the leader of that cause. Had it not been for her persistence I’m sure that I would NOT have struck out on this adventure.
One thing we added to our family that summer was a “new” red bus. We had prayed that God would find us an adequate van to haul us around, and not long before our vacation we bought one, an eight passenger red Chevy Express van, with the capability of adding a third row seat in the back. We were set. So we loaded up our six children and everything we could cram into our small bus and more, and headed to the Yacht Club.
We arrived on Sunday night in Branson, and quickly settled into our home-away-from-home for a week. We had scheduled our two days on the boat for Tuesday and Wednesday so that we could have Monday to relax and take it easy. So we did just that, getting acquainted with the resort, doing some swimming in the lake, swimming in the two pools, and exploring a nearby hiking trail.
After our first day of leisure activity was behind us, Tuesday arrived with great fanfare, a day on the lake. The kids had been anticipating an entire day of tubing behind the boat for quite some time. We threw our gear together and headed out. Woo hoo!
We arrived down at the boat dock to a welcoming party of two guys I’ll refer to as “Gilligan” and “The Skipper.” They were ready, willing, and required to give us a three hour tour of the boat and all of its safety rules. After convincing them that we knew what we were doing with “their” boat, and going over the details of returning it that evening, we loaded our small yacht and headed out to sea.
As we ventured out into the lake a bit, our plan was to cruise for a while and then begin dragging the kids endlessly around the lake on the tube. We weren’t sure how Hannah would do out there on the boat, but we were going to try it nonetheless. Hannah was fifteen months old, and she didn’t have much use for the life jacket that engulfed her tiny body. Her role as the mini-Michelin man would prove to be a downside to our day, knowing that she would be squirming, crying, and screaming to get out of that enclosure. She stayed in it, but boy did we pay for that. I think they put people in the nuthouse for lesser offenses than taking a fifteen month old toddler out on a boat for the day.
The older kids, Andrew, Coady, Zachary, and Reagan, had a real blast being slung all around the lake all morning. They just couldn’t seem to get enough of that. After a good bit of tubing, we decided we would take a break and stop the boat for a swim in the lake. Bradley, 3, was pretty cautious about getting in the deep water, but he had a good time as well. We capped off the morning and decided to go ahead and have the picnic lunch we had packed.
After we had completed our scrumptious lunch of sandwiches and chips, we decided that it was high time for Katrina, Bradley, and Hannah to go back to the condo for their afternoon nap. A nap didn’t sound like a bad idea to me either, but I was the captain of the boat. So we delivered them to the boat dock, sent them on their way to the condo, and headed back out to finish our adventure for the day, to uncharted waters.
The rest of the kids and I resumed our tubing for the next couple of hours, and we also explored some new areas of the lake we hadn’t seen yet. As the water beat us down, we were beginning to feel the effects of fatigue setting in, so we tooled the boat into a small cove and decided to take a break from the action and have a leisurely swim from the deck of the boat.
As the kids swam while I lounged under the shade of the canopy, the boat drifted slowly toward the shoreline, which was nothing more than a bed of rocks. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the boat getting too close to the rocks and being damaged, since we were drifting very slowly. After I had enjoyed my break and the kids their swim, I decided it was time to move on, so I summoned the kids back into the boat.
As the boat rested against the rocks, I knew that it would likely be a bad place to start the boat, fearing that the prop might be damaged if it were to hit the rocks. Since I had not been in the water for a while, I thought I would just hop in for a moment, cool off, drag the boat out a little ways from the rocks, and then get back in and start the boat. All of that plan worked with one exception.
Being the tenderfoot that I am, I had feared that my feet would hit the rocks below when I jumped in. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I just didn’t jump out a little ways and swim back in, but hindsight’s 20/20, right? So I jumped in beside the boat, and to catch my fall so my feet wouldn’t hit the rocks hard, I grabbed the side of the deck. This worked out great for my feet, but I felt a tug on my hand when I grabbed the deck and an instant stinging sensation.
Now I haven’t always been blessed with the greatest discernment ever, but when I looked down at my left hand right after my body hit the water, I knew that when I left the boat that I had not been holding a piece of hamburger meat. Now I was. It was my hand.
When I made that intelligent decision to grab the edge of the deck, I had not intended on hanging the entire weight of my body on my wedding ring, but I did just that. Now, in that blink-of-an-eye moment, my ring had buried up into my ring finger, out of sight, covered by the now hamburger-meat looking inner flesh of my finger.
There are some moments in life, hopefully not too many, when you get cut or scraped, that you somehow know pretty quickly that a band-aid and a little bit of clean water will fix you right up. This was not one of those moments. I then made intelligent decision number two, and dipped my hand in the lake to wash the blood off. Since I was not standing at the bathroom sink at home with a plentiful supply of clean tap water, I had probably allowed the entry of every living micro-organism in Table Rock Lake to enter my bloodstream. Now I needed to think fast.
I was in quite a predicament. Here I was, far from home, far from the condo, and close to four kids, a boat, and the middle of the lake. The ice chest was still in the boat from our lunch and drinks, so I had one of the kids pack ice in a food-laden Ziploc back we found. I had the boys drag in the ski-rope and tube, and I started the boat and headed to safety. As I careened the boat through the water with my remaining good hand, the heat, fear, and a feeling of nausea were beginning to set in. The thought hit me that I was going to pass out in the middle of the lake with these four kids, and my very pregnant wife and two toddlers at the condo would not even know about it, much less be able to do anything.
I pulled it together, though, and began making phone calls while I kept my left hand in ice while one of the kids steered the boat. First, I called Gilligan and The Skipper and gave them the heads up as to what was going on. When we returned the boat for the day, we were supposed to call them anyway to meet us at the dock, so that worked out pretty good. I then called Katrina, brought her up to speed, and gave her instructions to start locating every clinic in Branson, and to contact our health insurance provider.
While we were cruising through the lake at what seemed like the nautical speed of a snail, the pontoon boat’s top speed, my finger began getting pretty numb, and the bleeding seemed to subside. I think this was a direct result of my golden symbol of wedded bliss becoming an instant tourniquet. Visions were going through my head of my hand with one less finger. I could just see it as I waved with the nub that was left. Or maybe I could play tricks on the kids, like the ones old men with half a finger play. I’ve seen them stick their nub up to their nostril and pretend to have their finger buried up to their knuckle. Kids scream and unapproving mothers look at them with disgust. Maybe I shouldn’t try that if given the opportunity.
As I shook myself out of my daydream, we arrived at the boat dock, and I quickly realized that one of the requirements of returning the boat was to have it gassed up at the end of the day. So I pulled the boat into the dock’s filling station, and a teenage boy working there for the summer came over, tied the boat up, and proceeded to fill up the tank. He could see that I was struggling with my wallet, and then the sight of my flesh hanging out caught his eye, so I felt obligated to show him my hand. That spurred an exclamatory response from him, and as he waited for the gas to pump, he called one of his fellow gas buddies over to ooh and ahh over my carnage.
We completed the gas transaction, started up the boat, and pulled over to the area of the dock where we needed to leave the boat and unload it. Thankfully, as we docked the boat, Gilligan and the Skipper were on hand to help us in any way possible. I asked them and the kids to begin unloading the boat while I walked up to the parking lot to retrieve the big red bus. I pulled the van up as close as I could to the dock, and we all threw everything in the back of the van lickety-split. Gilligan and the Skipper were genuinely concerned about my injury and anything they could do to get me to a doctor, but I assured them that I would be fine as we hastily sped away.
We were moments from the condo and I knew that I had no time to waste. It was around 4:30, and most clinics would be locked up tight in about thirty minutes. We soon zoomed up to the door of our home away from home, and Katrina came out ready to leave. I had already made up my mind that there was no way I was going to drag my very pregnant wife and six children, ages one through fifteen, along for the rest of this extravaganza. It was nearing rush hour, and knowing the speed in which doctor’s offices operate, I couldn’t imagine sitting in a waiting room with all of them, especially knowing that they were all worn out and hungry. I quickly sped away as Katrina and the kids stood on the doorstep with worried looks on their faces.
…To Be Continued Next Week