An Angel on the Beach

Written By: Sarah Hogenauer

I awoke with a fever of 103 degrees. I should have guessed that the day was not going to go well. I was both right and wrong.

We had house guests staying with us to attend the wedding of a relative of theirs. Our nine year old grandchild was also visiting from Chicago and was itching to go to the beach. It was the Sand Castle Contest day but there was no way I was going anywhere!

So two of our guests, our granddaughter and my husband left for the beach leaving myself and our two other guests at home. My husband and granddaughter were having a great time taking turns boogie boarding the waves at the Atlantic Avenue beach in Amagansett. On his turn, the board got away from him and he did not surface after the run. A moment later our granddaughter yelled for someone to “please help my grampah”, and a stranger ran to pull him out of the water. Our angel, Karen Haab, an off duty AMT from Springs Fire Department, ran down to the water’s edge, stabilized his neck and started CPR. Ed Reid, a lifeguard, ran to get the AED, the batteries of which had been changed just the week before.

Maybe an hour or so after they had left the house we got THE PHONE CALL that no one ever expects to get: “They are trying to revive him – the ambulance has been called!”
I quickly grabbed his wallet with all his info, ran to the car and drove like a madwoman, fever and all, to Southampton Hospital to meet the ambulance. My husband was already being CAT scanned, and after what seemed like an interminable wait to fill out all the paperwork, I was allowed in to see him. I was told he had broken his neck and his heart and breathing had stopped on the beach. It was not until Watermill with Karen continuing CPR all that way that he had regained a spontaneous heart rhythm and consciousness. He looked awful. A big black eye was forming where the boogie board had hit and the swelling was closing in on his left eye. I couldn’t tell if he really knew that I was there. Was there any brain left? It was determined that he needed to be transferred to Stony Brook.

What are the chances? My sister’s husband had broken his neck three years prior and was left totally paralyzed. My mind was racing with what might lie ahead; the scenarios were endless. What I had learned from his experience was that keeping the body and especially the neck as cold as possible might keep the swelling at bay. I grabbed some rubber gloves and filled them with ice from the ice machine and packed them around his neck for the trip to Stony Brook.

My mind was racing. I was racing. The world was a blur outside my window as I tried to keep up with the ambulance transferring my husband. It had arrived well before I did and I ran into the ER to find him cold and seemingly lifeless in an ER cubicle alone hooked up to a heart monitor. My heart sank. Tears started rolling down my face as I tried to hold back convulsive sobs. He was so cold, so cold.

But alive. I went out to the Nurses station to ask if he needed a warming blanket or something. A number of long minutes later, three very pretty students nurses came into the cubicle and said, “Sir, sir, we’re going to have to insert a rectal probe to measure your core temperature.” To my utter surprise and delight, he opened his good eye, looked at the nurses and said with a grin, “You’re going to have to kiss me first!”

From that moment on I knew he was back and going to make it. Today, five years later, he is as good as new, except for a fine white line down the back of his neck concealing the titanium rods and bolts. He will forever be my superman thanks to our angel Karen!