If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that I’ve been ignored by NFO Scadden regarding a warranty repair to my Outlaw Escape. After conducting a little research I contacted Richard Stuber at Big Sky Inflatables to discuss their Water Master Grizzly, and how it compared to what I saw as deficiencies in the NFO Escape. I first became aware of the Water Master in 2005 or 2006 while watching the Trout Bum Diaries vol.1 that featured these fishing rafts. Richard said the Water Master would not only provide me with a more reliable boat that will last the next 20-plus years, but that it would hold and row much better in the wind than the Outlaw Escape. The larger tubes and their 360 degree contact with the water cause the boat to sit much higher on the water while maintaining a large footprint. Big Sky offered a “real” lifetime warranty on the raft. I couldn’t resist; I always wanted to be a Trout Bum anyway.
My last fishing trip was in late April 2015 when my good friend Bill Bergan met me in Elko, NV to fish its surrounding waters. A busy and stressful summer at work and home prevented me from fishing all summer, and I was really anxious to get on the water again. My October PERS Board meeting was scheduled to finish early on Thursday afternoon, so I packed the Trout Truck Wednesday night and departed directly from the meeting after swapping jeans for my suit that I enthusiastically retired into a garment bag. I was off on a solo fishing trip to the Wayne Kirch Wildlife Management Area (WMA). My target was Dacey reservoir, and I was looking forward to launching my new Water Master Grizzly on its maiden voyage. Kirch WMA sits between the Nevada towns of Alamo and Preston (Lund is Preston’s sister town). Admittedly, I was in much need of R&R for a couple days.
Just after passing through the White River Narrows north of Hiko, NV, I noticed the temperature gauge on the Trout Truck was running hot, halfway between normal and overheated. I parked off the highway, and with my little flashlight I inspected the engine compartment. There was coolant splashed onto the right side of the compartment, but I could not see any evidence of its source; all the hoses were dry, as were the water pump and engine seals. I also noticed the radiator was warm, not hot (the ambient air temperature was still under 60 degrees). Using layers of shop cloths I kept in the truck, I opened the radiator cap and found it only warm and slightly low. Not being much of a mechanic, I decided to drive the 45 miles back to Alamo to see if they could fix whatever was wrong (which I assumed to be a stuck thermostat). On the drive back I alternated between driving with the heater on/off, but it didn’t seem to make a difference; the engine didn’t overheat regardless. Unable to find an available mechanic in Alamo, I called Todd at Jim Marsh Service and we jointly concluded that I likely helped unstick the thermostat by removing the radiator cap (sometimes air pockets get stuck in there while under pressure, and relieving the pressure unsticks the valve). So, I headed back out to Kirch WMA. This annoying sidetrack cost me two hours of fishing, which I hoped was not a bad premonition of things to come. I called my wife to warn her that I might be having truck difficulties, but not to worry because the highway was well traveled and had some, albeit spotty, cell service. I also asked her to pray for a happy outcome.
The Heart Attack
Although the trip began with high hopes to arrive at Dacey by 3:00 PM, I did not roll into the primitive boat launch area until 5:00 PM. Since sunset was to occur at 5:50 PM, I rushed to inflate my new watercraft, don my waders, and string up my fly rod. Although the forecast was for very light breezes, by the time I got on the water strong winds from the north were kicking up some whitecaps. I rowed out a hundred yards or so and tried to maintain a position from which I could cast, but it was pretty futile as the unanticipated whitecaps were rocking my little watercraft, and the constant oaring occupied my hands such that I could not get in very many casts. Two float-tubers had just preceded me on the water, but since they were only able to fin, or kick-paddle, they left the reservoir just after I started to fish. For the record, I actually did land a 12-inch bass on my first cast, but after five more casts I decided to give it up in favor of an early Friday morning assault.
I was only on the water for about 15 or 20 minutes, not long enough to get exhausted, but I did feel unusually tired so I let the wind push me back into the boat launch area. The other anglers had departed by the time I reached the launch, and that was when I realized I was more exhausted than I thought. I folded back my seat, lay back in the raft for a few minutes, hoping to regain my strength. More and more it settled in that what I was feeling wasn’t physical exhaustion… it was something else I had never experienced before. I recognized the symptoms as a classic heart attack. Dull aching pain (nothing sharp or acute) emanated bilaterally from my shoulders through my arms. I also felt a dull ache in my ribcage, and between my shoulder blades. Ironically, I did not feel any pain in my heart; although I was expecting to feel something there, I did not. Perhaps the other aching was masking that pain, I don’t really know.
Since I was alone and the nearest hospital was about 70 miles north in Ely, NV (William Bee Ririe Hospital and Rural Health Clinic), I decided I had to drive myself to Preston to get help. Preston just about splits the distance between Kirch WMA and Ely, so I drove for 35 miles while suffering through my heart attack. Along the way I picked up cell service and called Denise to tell her what was happening, and to ask her for prayers. When I arrived in Preston I stopped at the Lane’s Ranch Motel. When the motel attendant asked if I wanted a room I told her I thought I was having a heart attack. She immediately called the Preston volunteer fire and ambulance service, and they arrived within 5 minutes. They gave me a nitro tablet and patched me into a 3-point EKG. The nitro tablet had no effect, and the attendant in the ambulance said my heart rhythm seemed normal. I began to hope I had some strange flu bug.
Upon arriving at the William Bee Ririe Emergency Room (ER) they patched me into a 12-point EKG and confirmed I was indeed experiencing an acute myocardial infarction (MI). I’m not sure, but this would have been between 7:30 and 8:00 PM Thursday night. The quick thinking of Dr. Denis Astarita ordered the resident Pharmacist, Daren Kunz, to administer the clot busting drug tPA. Later my wife told me that my son, Doug, had called ahead to the Ely ER to warn them of my impending arrival, and I assume that explained why Pharmacist Kunz was still at the ER. One-third through that drug and my shoulder, arm, and chest pain subsided. They administered two more nitro tablets but they appeared to have no effect on me, not even the customary headache.
I began to feel pretty good. In fact, I was feeling good enough to have thoughts about how I would get back to Preston to retrieve the Trout Truck and drive home to Vegas. When I overheard Dr. Astarita order a medical flight to Las Vegas I knew it was worse than I thought. I’m guessing that was around 10:00 PM. An American Medflight air ambulance arrived about midnight and transported me from Ely to McCarran Airport in Vegas in about one hour. I was then picked up at McCarran by Medic West who transported me and the Medflight attendants to Summerlin Hospital at about 1:30 AM Friday. The Medflight attendants traveled with me from the Ely ER to the Summerlin ER in Las Vegas, which was probably as required since I was being transferred from one ER to the other. Family and close friends were waiting for my arrival, and I was in my Cardiac ICU bed by 3:00 AM.
Although I was somewhat stabilized, my heart remained in arrhythmia as I tried to sleep. All the sensors must have been ratcheted down because it seemed like I was setting off the EKG alarm every twenty minutes or so. My nurse came in at 6:15 AM to inform me that Dr. Sanjay Vohra would be conducting a catheterization, likely with stents, at 7:00 AM (sooner than I was originally advised). A few minutes later Dr. Vohra called to tell me about the procedure, hopefully a radial catheterization. Then he said something I thought was remarkable, “Afterwards we’ll discuss how you can prevent this from ever happening again.” Before the Cath Lab attendants arrived my nurse noticed my Bible, which my wife had brought to me in the Summerlin ER (my YouVersion Bible was in my iPhone, but my old Bible has all my notes written in it). She offered to pray with me before the procedure, which brought the other assisting nurse to tears.
I met Dr. Vohra in the Cath Lab for the first time. I was nervous as all get out, shaking uncontrollably. The notion that the catheterization could fail and open heart surgery could be the immediate result attempted to occupy my thoughts. Once Dr. Vohra got underway I was able to calm down (it was likely the IV meds that did the trick). Entering through my right wrist, Dr. Vohra placed two medicated stents in my left anterior artery that he said was about 90 percent blocked (just imagine how blocked it might have been in William Bee Ririe before they administered the tPA clot buster). Amazingly, the procedure was simple and relatively painless due to the local anesthetic at the wrist entry point. I was back in my room by 8:00 AM Friday.
Saturday afternoon I was back in the Cath Lab for Dr. Vohra to place one more stent in my right anterior artery. This one was blocked about 70 percent. Good as new (ok, not really), I walked out of the Hospital Sunday afternoon, October 25, 2015.
It turns out, Dr. Vohra’s coronary heart disease solution is a vegan diet. He told me about the book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, MD. Ironically, it was the same book that Renee, my IV nurse at the Nevada Clinic, had strongly recommended last July when I first gave up bread, which in itself lowered my total cholesterol from 209 to 159. Esselstyn’s approach is to lower cholesterol (which is undeniably linked to coronary disease) through diet and nutrition rather than by pharmaceuticals. Studies by doctors like Campbell (The China Study) and Esselstyn (use of plant-based nutrition to reduce cholesterol levels to below 150) seem to make sense to me, and I had already cut out red meat and pork, and most processed foods; how much more of a leap to be vegan? I’ll leave it for you who are interested to research on your own; I’m a baby on this nutrition walk myself.
What’s Faith Got to Do with It?
So, at this point you’re thinking what a lucky guy I am. For some reason I did not die while fishing on the reservoir, driving my truck to Preston, being transported in the three separate ambulances, in the Ely ER, Summerlin ER, or the Summerlin Cath Lab. Yes, I’m leading a charmed life. But I know better. Let me share with you some of my most personal thoughts as I endured those 48 hours.
When I suspected a heart attack at the reservoir, I sat on my little cot chair before taking off my waders and prayed to Christ Jesus, “I know that you are always in control, Lord. That every breath I take, every new day I experience, is a gift from You. If You say it is time for me to come home, so be it. But Lord, if this is a wake-up call for me to align better with your plan for my life, as opposed to my plan, so be it as well. Either way Lord, I only ask that you lay a protection over my wife and children.” With that prayer I felt the Holy Spirit in me, calming my confusion, and giving me the clarity and strength to pursue the quickest care possible. The God of the universe created us for His purpose, which is good and holy, yet we fight against His desires for us because our free will is intoxicating. The Bible says, ‘“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
The other unworldly-thought that ran through my mind was how blessed I was that The Lord of the universe had already saved me through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Jesus’s grace at the cross already saved my soul, and there was nothing I could do, and nothing I needed to do to earn His forgiveness. It was comforting to know that concerning my salvation, nothing was left undone. If I died, my soul was saved for all eternity and I would see my loved ones in heaven. Don’t misunderstand me, I wanted to survive, I was not ready to leave my wife, family, and friends. But I would be leaving them with a Christian foundation that would save their eternal souls in the same way. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
I was scared, but oddly calm, knowing that The Lord was leading me through this crazy journey. Not wanting to speed while experiencing what turned out to be an acute MI, the drive to Preston took a full thirty minutes or more. A lot can pass through your mind in thirty minutes. As soon as I had cell service I called my wife and told her that I thought I was having a heart attack, that I was driving to Preston to get help for my remaining travel to Ely, and that I needed prayers. I did not have to tell her; I knew that her first course of action would be notifying all our Christian friends that my health was in peril and that petition prayers were needed to get me through this health crisis. I knew the guys in my Men’s Group, men I’ve known twenty years or longer, would know what to do. We’ve always been there for each other when crisis hits. Thinking about all the sets of medical professional hands I passed through during the night before my first angioplasty (19 by my count), I know the Holy Spirit traveled right along with me and The Lord delivered me swiftly through their care. There is no doubt in my mind that the petitions of my prayer warriors were answered by God. In 1 John 5:14 the Bible says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” I know my prayer warriors are in the will of God.
The Water Master Grizzly
Ok, for you die-hard fly fishermen (no pun intended) reading this solely to learn about the Water Master’s performance let me first say that it was only on the water for about 15 or 20 minutes. That said I have several early observations.
First, I like the foot strap (adjustable to two locations). The NFO Escape has a fixed-position bar for a footrest. Being shorter than most, I always found it too far away. Ironically, when I placed the sole of my boots on the Escape footrest (as opposed to my Achilles heel) my knees were up such that my hands would hit them when I rowed. The Water Master strap works much better in my opinion, at least for shorter anglers.
The other thing I noticed, and which I appreciated while throwing my Water Master into the Trout Truck bed while suffering the heart attack, was that it was easier for me to portage out of the water. The Water Master is balanced, whereas the Escape is heavier at the stern than the bow (or vice, versa), and that imbalance makes it more difficult to lift over my head than the Water Master, despite both weighing about the same.
I also noticed that the standard Water Master oars appeared longer than the Escape, but admittedly I did not measure them. The weeds were very thick at the boat launch, and I thought the Water Master skimmed over them very nicely, and with my knees in a lower position it was much easier to row the watercraft.
So, hopefully I will be released by my family to fish in the late winter, after the first thaw, and then I can make a more complete report on the Water Master Grizzly. After all, its maiden voyage was divinely interrupted by an acute myocardial infarction.