One doesn’t expect problems; at least not problems beyond remedy.
I am writing eight km east of Tasmania’s rugged wild east coast.
East of east!
Wind is whistling through the nooks and crannies of the ship’s steel superstructure. I am on the deck outside our stateroom under a ragged grey sky that perfectly suits the wild, rocky coast, the thickly timbered hills and lines of blue green mountains hiding way to the west.
But I’m tied down. On a short leash.
While my Favourite Wife has traversed all decks, familiarised herself with the ship’s (to me) incomprehensible deck plan, and explored in detail all the shops and several of the dining and entertainment areas onboard, I have been right here, shackled to a powerpoint; reading and writing “far from the madding crowd”. While I like this sort of day very much in theory, especially staying away from shops, being physically tethered to a powerpoint is tedious indeed. And it is intimidating. I am amazed how such a change can dampen my resolve, growing tendrils of doubt around my robust hope for today, and tomorrow, tomorrow’s morrow (did Shakespeare say that?….) when we plan to go on shore in beautiful Hobart.
Long before paying for our tickets to Tasmania on the Golden Princess I had researched the possible hazards of voyaging with a wheelchair and ventilator; consulting with our GP, the travel agent, the Princess Line, and reading accounts of other travellers. We booked, we waited months, then weeks, then days, then hours …. and came onboard yesterday. All seemed well, overwhelmingly well, superb even! The ship left Melbourne in the late afternoon and we were setting up our room before heading out to explore a couple of the ship’s 15 decks when I discovered that none of the three chargers for my ventilator batteries would respond to the ship’s voltage. This was a fright like no other I have ever had. People talk of experiencing a vehicle collision in slow motion, and it was something like that: in a blink of time I calmly saw the degree of the problem, the possible consequences, the immediate implications for our holiday, a range of possible paths through the dilemma, and resolved that none looked too promising.
When the new wheelchair arrived four months ago the imperative task was to design and build a new housing for the breathing ventilator, power supplies and batteries. This box now sits compactly under the seat rather than hanging behind as it did previously, greatly enhancing the chair’s centre of gravity. Inside are three batteries, three battery chargers of two different types, and capacity to run 12, 18 and 240 volt supplies. The essential first and last job of every single day is checking batteries. I endeavoured to make this set up foolproof and able to cope with any emergency. There is even a second complete ventilator under the seat, along with various spare parts and a tool kit with a small gas soldering iron. But none of my careful designing addresses running for six days without a battery charge. Fortunately the ventilator itself is perfectly happy with the ship’s power, but how can I make four batteries, 17.5 Amp Hours of stored power, enough for one and half days at home, last six days? And still have enough battery power to travel home from Melbourne by train?
The only answer is to find a 240V powerpoint on day three at the dock in Hobart, and spend most of the voyage right here, fettered to the powerpoint in our stateroom. Fettered, that’s a good convict word, especially as we head for Port Arthur. This isn’t how we had imagined our maiden voyage, and we both find it more than difficult to accept.
Yesterday evening I decided to use some of the remaining ration of battery power to look for a solution. I visited the customer service desk, sought out our room steward, and asked other crew we met. Early this morning I went 6 floors below to the medical centre. No one, understandably enough, could see through this technical issue. I asked if I could meet a technical officer, and instead was directed to the “executive housekeeper” for our deck. I learned from her that the ship has eight electricians, (eight, imagine!). The electrician responsible for stateroom issues is not available until later today, but an appointment has been made.
Happily my powerpoint manacle, made with two extension leads, is just long enough to reach our private balcony, which is a delightful spot. It’s about mid afternoon now, and we have just sailed slowly past this:
Four stark, granite mountains plunging sheer into the deep channel that approaches Wine Glass Bay. Known as The Hazards, they were a danger to be skirted by sailors who used the bay as a whaling station a century ago. The Hazards are a stark witness to my tethered soul searching, as my adventurous spirit gives way to fear, and I wonder if I am simply foolish. I can’t shake of the possibility that the ventilator, as well as the battery chargers, might have failed to work on the ship’s current. How irresponsible have I been; and have I exposed my family to absurd risk by heading to sea? It’s odd, the way our thoughts and emotions can swing, tethered in their own way to the momentary experience of life. What is the appropriate balance of adventure, hope, responsibility and caution? Am I reckless beyond belief to be running the ventilator – vital medical life support – on cordless drill batteries and a bundle of switches purchased on eBay? As the Hazards drift slowly out of view these anxieties, hazards of the soul, seem to me as critical as the problem itself.
Later that afternoon the electrician arrived, looked over all my gear, and showed me that most of my equipment, the ventilator itself and the SmartDrive transformer, was happily running on the ship’s 110V system. But the Ryobi battery chargers were all rated at a minimum 220V. He said the ship had a second, 220 volt system; and there would be an outlet here in our room, although it took even him some little time to locate the point hidden behind a bed. He returned a while later with an adaptor marked MUST BE RETURNED TO ELECTRICAL WORKSHOP, and all was well. The batteries began to charge, winking their reassuring green lights in place of alarming red. Almost twenty four hours after discovering the problem, with 40% of the battery storage already spent, the relief was extreme. Life returned in a heady rush of exhilaration.
The Hazards of the Soul, though each needing to be addressed, were no match for the call to explore the ship and begin our long anticipated adventure together.
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