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Rescue in Venice
 
This is an extract from the book "A Bad Boy".
 

Chapter 21: In the Footsteps of Casanova

The next day they went for a ride on a gondola.  Philip had arranged for enough gondolas for the group.  When they got out there were people of the group getting out onto each side of the little jetty.  When Andy was getting out, Bernadette, a very overweight lady, got out at the same time as Andy, but on the opposite side of the jetty, lurched towards Andy and they collided.  Andy was knocked over into the water.

Philip moved to help Andy, but he was not in any difficulties.  He quickly swam to the edge of the jetty and pulled himself up easily.  By the time Philip got there Andy was standing up and obviously none the worse for his unexpected immersion.  Bernadette did not even realise she had made him fall, and sympathised with him. 

In the hottest part of the afternoon, Philip had organized a boat trip to Burano, one of the outlying islands of the Venetian lagoon.

Philip said:

“At one time in his long career, Jacques Casanova lived on Burano.  He used to take a gondola to Venice and come back with a young lady.  After a night of passion he would take the lady back to Venice and get another lady or two for the next night.”

Philip pointed out the house where the famous lover was supposed to have lived on the island.  He added:

“Like Charlemagne, and our own Andy, Casanova’s birthday was on the second of April.”

In the evening the group was returning from the island.  They were all on the one boat but there were other people on as well so they did not have it all to themselves.  The boat was only about half full.  The boat had excellent lights as well as radar so they were well able to avoid other boats as well as obstacles in the water.  They were following the marked channel back to Venice.

Sometime before a log of wood had drifted in from the Adriatic Sea; it had become waterlogged and had sunk.  Some combination of decomposition caused it to partially float up in the water.  As the boat came along it was in the channel and was completely under water, but near the surface.

The captain was keeping a good look out but failed to see it.  The first they knew of the log was when the boat hit it. There was a sound they would prefer to forget, and the boat was partially checked in its motion.  The people sitting down were all right.  The captain was holding onto the wheel and this stopped him falling.  The only one hurt by the actual collision was Bruce.  He fell over and hit his head.  Philip helped him up and looked at the cut.  His assessment was that it probably was not serious, but they would need to get it checked by a doctor later.

Andy, Sarah and the boys were below decks sitting at the front of the rear section.  In front of them was one of the lockers containing life jackets.  It was labelled in several languages.  Andy immediately opened it and started getting out the life jackets.  Sarah thought ‘it is just like a man to panic, someone will have to put all these away later’.  She quickly dismissed this thought.  This was Andy doing this.  He did not panic about nothing and he knew a lot about boats.  For the last five months he had been diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and had been using the magnificent diving boat given to him for Christmas by his friend Sam.

Andy had not liked the noise the boat had just made.  To him it sounded too much like the bottom being torn out of the boat.  If he was wrong, then he would be laughed at.  He was quite prepared for this, but if there was a danger of the boat sinking he wanted Sarah and the boys to have their life jackets on.  The fact that they were all good swimmers was no reason for complacency.  He quickly found three child sized ones, for himself and each of the boys and one adult lifejacket for Sarah.  They were used to life jackets from their trips with him in his boat, so they got them on quickly.

At first no one else in their section was at all worried.  They were just sitting down, but Andy could hear the captain talking loudly in Italian into the microphone of his radio.  To Andy, although he could not understand Italian, it sounded like a distress call.

Then he saw Philip hold a flare pistol and fire a distress flare into the air. When water started coming rapidly over the floorboards at the back, the others quickly took up Andy’s offer of life jackets.  Andy handed them out while Sarah took the children onto the deck.  Andy was the last out of their section.  He made sure no one was left behind.

When he went onto the deck many of the others were already on deck and the boat was sinking quickly.  The captain was still on board and was pushing people off the small deck into the water.  People were still coming out of the front compartment, not all of them with life jackets on.  Andy would have liked to have made sure they put them on, but the captain pushed him into the water.

The boat was going down fast.  When it went the captain was the last off the deck.  In the water it was dark.  There was some confusion, but Andy was able to find his family.  Philip was also in the small group with them and assured them that in a busy waterway like the one leading into Venice it would only be minutes before they were rescued. 

There was a woman shouting in German.  She had several children with her but seemed to be calling for someone called Karl.  Philip understood German well and explained:

“Karl is apparently her son, and she can’t find him.” 

By asking others from the front section, they found that no one remembered him coming out.

The boat had sunk.  He could be trapped in the front section underwater.  Andy quickly divested himself of the lifejacket.  He did not waste time hyperventilating.  Some people believe they can saturate their blood with oxygen.  In normal breathing the oxygen in the blood is close to one hundred percent.  You can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in your body by hyperventilating but this is dangerous.  You can fool your body into believing you can safely stay under water longer than you can.  People have drowned because of this.

Andy knew he could safely hold his breath for just over three minutes. He breathed out once as much as he could, took a deep breath and went down.  He was still wearing shoes so his swimming was slowed down, but fortunately he was wearing shorts as usual.  He was swimming using breast stroke of the old fashioned type.  This is an efficient underwater stroke.

He found the boat straight away and entered the front section.  Andy did not have claustrophobia and he had no fear of either the dark or of water, but as he went into the space below the deck in complete darkness he felt sudden panic!

Often when people feel panic it is recommended that they take a few slow deep breaths.  This is quite effective, but Andy was underwater so he did not have this option. He forced himself to ignore his panic feeling and moved hand over hand further into the boat.  The deck above him was sloping upwards.   Andy broke through the surface into air.  Some air had been trapped in the boat when it went down. He called:

“Karl?”

Andy listened.  He heard a voice.  He could not understand what the voice said but he tried to move towards the sound. He collided with someone.  He heard a loud gurgling sound.   The air trapped in the boat was rapidly escaping.  Andy forced himself to think.  They could not stay there.  Andy could easily have swum to the surface but taking the boy would be more difficult.  The boat was not very deep and the boy had not been down long enough to need decompressing, so the bends was not a danger.  The two dangers to the boy were: firstly drowning.  He might simply not make it to the surface. 

Andy did not think this was likely.  Humans have a ‘diving reflex’; among other things it means that people automatically stop breathing when their face goes into the water.  The other and much bigger danger was that the boy would hold his breath all the way up and the expanding air with the lower pressure would burst his lungs.  They had been breathing air under pressure because of the depth the boat had sunk to.

Andy considered simply grabbing the boy and swimming to the surface with him, relying on his strong breast stroke kick to get them up.  This was not as easy as it sounds.  Karl was clearly bigger than him, and with his arms full Andy would be moving slowly.

Andy tried explaining to Karl what they needed to do:

“We are going to go to the surface.  You must hold onto me and I will swim us up.  As we go up you must breathe out.”

Another gurgling sound and about half their trapped air escaped.  Karl had not answered.  Andy did not even know if Karl understood any English.  In almost total darkness Andy could not even use signs to supplement his words.  He repeated what he had said.  Despite the urgency he forced himself to speak slowly and distinctly.  At the end he said:

“Do you understand?”

There was a pause then he heard:

“Ja.”

Andy knew this was German for yes.  Andy turned round and said:

“Hold me round the waist and remember to breathe out as we go up. Karl grabbed Andy.  Unfortunately it was round the neck, but time was running out so Andy immediately went with Karl still holding him.  Andy was rapidly pulling himself hand over hand through the boat.  He felt a sharp pain in his leg but ignored it.

They could hear the sound of propellers.

When they reached the open Andy swam as fast as he could for the surface. They broke the surface into clear air and he felt Bruce’s strong hands gently removing the tight grip Karl had round his neck.  There were lights now from boats on both sides of them.  One was similar to the one that had sunk.  The other was a police boat.  Willing hands on the larger boat were plucking people out of the water while the police boat provided illumination with its spotlight.  On the larger boat there were encouraging voices in several languages.

Bruce was supporting Karl in the water and was taking him towards the rescuing boat.  Andy succeeded in finding his own family.  He felt weak.  He thought he must have lost condition on the holiday.  He would have to take his daily exercise seriously when he got back.

As Andy pushed Peter and Michael towards the boat Sarah noticed to her horror that Andy was trailing blood behind him.  In the spotlight this was clearly visible.  She screamed:

“Andy’s bleeding, help him into the boat.”

Bruce and Philip were at the boat.  They were holding onto the side of the boat with one hand and with their free hands were grabbing people from the water and lifting them up the side of the boat where others were pulling them the rest of the way.  When they heard Sarah they both reached out and grabbed Andy and lifted him into the boat.  Sarah and the boys followed quickly.

On the boat Sarah wasted no time and examined Andy’s wound.  It was a deep cut on the outside of his thigh.  He had lost some blood but the cut was not life threatening.  The bleeding was already slowing.  Blood can clot even under water.  The adrenalin in Andy’s body would have aided the clotting.  The captain of the rescuing boat already had his first aid kit open.  Sarah selected a suitable pad and applied pressure to the cut.  The sooner the bleeding was stopped the better.

Soon Philip and Bruce joined her.  Philip was trained in first aid and took over holding the pad while Sarah examined Bruce’s cut.  He said it was nothing, but Sarah told him he would need stitches and checking by a doctor to ensure he did not have concussion.  She then examined Karl.  He was not obviously hurt, but Sarah said he should also be taken to the hospital.

When everyone was on board the boat went off, travelling slowly at first because the thing the first boat had hit had not been located.  The police boat stayed there.  The police would continue checking to make sure there were no other people in the water.  They would also act as a warning to prevent any other boats hitting either the log or the sunken boat.  In the morning the boat would be salvaged.  It could not be left submerged in the main channel.

The rescuing boat went to the mainland first and rendezvoused with an ambulance which took Andy, Bruce and Karl to the hospital.  It was very late when Philip got the rest of the group back to the hotel.  They still had wet clothes and were a somewhat sorry sight when Pierre met them.

Pierre had had a much easier day than usual.  He had gone to the bus, cleaned out the inside, checked it mechanically, and then gone back to the hotel for lunch.  In the afternoon he had had a pleasant walk round Venice, phoned his wife and had a leisurely dinner at the hotel.  He could have gone to bed early, but decided to wait for his group to return.  He had been getting increasingly anxious as it became obvious they were very late.

Philip encouraged everyone to go to bed and try to get some sleep.  He suspected there was not going to be any sleep for him and Pierre that night.  Sarah put the boys to bed then asked Jennifer if she could check them in the morning.  She was going to the hospital.

In the lobby she found Mandy with Philip and Pierre.  They were discussing the practicality of getting to the hospital. Philip was the only one who spoke good Italian, and anyway it was his responsibility as tour director to go with them.  He left instructions with the hotel cancelling the wake up calls.  Anyone who could should be allowed to sleep late in the morning.

The early start he had planned for the trip to Florence was not going to happen; he changed the notice he had left to inform the group of the change of plan.  He had not worked out what they would do if they had to spend another night in Venice. The hotel did not even have rooms for them for another night.

Philip said:

“We will take the bus to the hospital.”

 Before they left, Peter and Michael came down.  They could not sleep and had discovered that their mother was not in her room.  They were worried about Daddy and wanted to go and see him in the hospital.  Sarah said the boys could come as well, and left a note for Jennifer explaining where the boys were.

By the time they arrived at the hospital it was half past three in the morning, but they were let in.  Bruce was in bed.  He had had his cut stitched and was under observation for concussion.  Karl was in a children’s ward and his mother and siblings were with him.  There was nothing wrong with him but the doctors wanted him kept in overnight for observation.

Andy was still in surgery.  The cut on his leg had sliced into, but not through, the muscle.  He needed microsurgery to properly join the muscle. It would be a while before Andy could be as active as usual.

In the waiting room the boys went to sleep while they waited.  Philip and Pierre were doing something else so for a while Sarah and Mandy were the only ones in the room awake.  Sarah told Mandy about how worried she had been when Andy went down to the sunken boat, and then took a long time to come up.  The two women had been through a lot together. Sarah talked more openly to her than she normally would have done.

Sarah told Mandy how she felt guilty for loving Andy so much.  She felt this was disloyal to Horace.  She even told Mandy that Andy was such a good lover she had had the thought Horace must have been a mediocre one.  Mandy gently asked for details of the two men and what they did.

Women sometimes talk about their men in this way, but this was the first time Sarah had ever done it so openly.  At the end, Mandy said that Horace certainly was not a mediocre lover. She said that despite what many men believe, most men are rather poor lovers.

Before she had been married she had had a good number of partners.  She was not promiscuous and had only ever had one partner at a time, but she still had had plenty of experience.  She also said

 “It is probably true as Philip joked that Italian men think they are great lovers, but there is little difference between men of different races or nationalities.  Horace was obviously a good lover.  You should remember how good he was.”

Sarah asked:

“If Horace was a good lover, what is Andy?”

“One in a million, perhaps.  I have never heard of anyone like him.  Think yourself lucky.  You have had a good lover, then a great one.  Think what it would be like if it was the other way round.  You would be constantly comparing Andy to the great times you had with Horace.  Another thing about Andy; from what you have said he has only had ever sex with the two women he was married to.  He probably has no idea he is great in bed.”

This conversation did not immediately stop Sarah feeling guilty, but she gradually reconciled herself to her present happiness.

Soon afterwards Philip and Pierre came back.  Philip could see that Sarah was very anxious and decided talk would distract her from the worry.  He said:

 “There is something I have been wondering about.  When Andy chased the bag snatcher I had just turned the corner when I saw the thief try to hit Andy.  Andy somehow evaded the punch and threw the tall boy over his shoulder.”

She answered:

“Andy was an Australian national judo champion.”

Philip now understood the answer to a minor mystery from earlier in the tour. The reason Sarah was quite happy to talk about how well her late husband could protect the family was simply that, in his own way; Andy was at least as good, and despite his obvious modesty, Andy knew this.

During the tour, Philip had gradually changed his opinion of Andy.  He no longer thought of him as ‘timid’. Where necessary, Andy could be extremely brave.  Philip knew that he himself would have been unable to rescue Karl.

At the beginning, Andy had told them about making a film and book of the Great Barrier Reef.  Of course he could swim and dive well.  Philip now realised the ‘shyness’ he had observed at first was partly that the family was self-contained; although perhaps Andy was a little shy at times.  Certainly the ‘ineffective’ he had thought of at first was not right.

When the surgeon came in and told her Andy was recovering well and she could see him soon, Philip was able to translate.  The surgeon wanted to keep Andy in for another day, but when he heard that Sarah was a nurse he agreed for Andy to be discharged at noon.  Philip was greatly relieved by this.  They would get a late start and he would have to curtail the sight-seeing in Florence but they would be able to get back on schedule.

At a bit before twelve the bus pulled up at the hospital.  Andy and Bruce were discharged and got on the bus. Andy was using crutches.  Philip was glad Andy did not need a wheelchair. They could just about have accommodated it on the bus but a wheelchair would have been a constant nuisance.

Philip watched Andy as he moved out of the hospital.  He seemed to be handling the crutches well, but his movements were tentative.  Philip did not understand why.  Sarah told Andy about the steps in front of the hospital main entrance although they were clearly visible, and then Andy started to go towards the wrong bus!

Peter quickly guided him in the right direction.  Philip had never seen Andy do anything like this before, but his family did not seem surprised.  There was another minor mystery about this that Philip thought it was his duty to solve. He would talk to them when they had got underway.

As soon as they were on the highway, Philip, after addressing the group briefly, went to talk to the family.  He asked Andy how he was feeling, and was assured he felt well. Andy then said

“It’s a relief to be able to see properly again.  While I was underwater, my contact lenses came out.”

 Philip had forgotten Andy’s dependence on his contact lenses.

“But you have spares?”

“Oh yes, I always carry a spare set, and on this holiday I brought three spare sets.  I lost one spare set in the bag which we lost in the boat, but I had another in the bag we bring with us on the bus.  I have put them in now.  The last spare set is in my suitcase.”

The doctor had given Sarah detailed instructions on looking after the two patients.  Andy was to have a course of antibiotics to prevent any infection in his partially cut muscle.  As Andy had carefully gone out on his crutches he had been met by Karl and his family.  This was almost the first time he had seen or heard Karl.  In the sunken boat the only word Andy had understood from Karl had been: ‘Ja’.  Andy had not been able to see Karl at all in the darkness of the sunken boat and had only seen very blurred glimpses of him in the water and on the rescuing boat.

Andy had imagined that Karl was about fifteen, but it turned out he was only eleven, but big for his age.  Also now they were meeting under better circumstances Karl could speak good English. Andy thought Karl’s knowledge of English may have saved his life.  Karl and his mother thanked Andy profusely and they exchanged names and email addresses. Karl promised to stay in touch.

Andy heard for the first time how Karl had been left behind.  After the exertions of the day, Karl had curled up in one of the seats near the front and fallen asleep.  When the collision occurred he had not woken up.  His mother was making sure the younger children were with her and simply called to Karl to follow.  Karl had not woken up until the water had already half covered him.  In the darkness he had tried to get out but ended up at the front of the boat where there was air trapped.  When Andy had called his name, he had tried to answer but by then he was close to complete panic.

When Andy had given him instructions on how to get out and to the surface he had understood the English, but could not think of any English words himself, so he had answered yes in German.  Luckily ‘Ja’ was one of the words Philip had taught the tour group.