A circumnavigator who falls ill during a stop in India tries a novel approach to get the medicine he needs
Bed-ridden with the flu for nearly a week, my head swirled with the myriad details of planning a voyage from southwest India to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea aboard my vintage Cal 30 Saltaire.
There was nothing left to eat, so I slumped into the dinghy and feebly rowed ashore to the Bolghatty Palace dock on the Periyar River. My trembling feet dodged stones and mud holes on the narrow, palm-fringed dirt road between the palace grounds and the water to the ferry landing for a short ride across the river to Ernakulam.
My friend Dr. Jerin Francis, a veterinarian, was leaning against his Enfield Bullet 350 motorcycle at the landing. “Bill, where have you been?” He raised the kickstand, relaxed, smiling, and as always, in harmony with the cosmos.
“Hey, Doc,” I rasped, “I’ve been really sick, and I still have a slight fever and a sinus infection.”
The ferry arrived and dropped its gate, which screeched across the concrete dock. Jerin kick-started the gutsy motor with a loud pop-pop and rode carefully over the ramp while I walked alongside. He stopped between two parked motor rickshaws, killed the motor and set the kickstand.
“Why are you off your boat crossing over to Ernakulam if you are sick?”
“’Cause, Doc, I’m sick of being stuck on the boat.”
“Here, let me write you a prescription.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a sec. You’re a veterinarian. How can you write me a prescription?”
“Horse, pig, monkey, human…Bill, all of us mammals are more or less the same. We all use the same antibiotics.” He jotted down something on his prescription tablet and handed it to me. “Follow the instructions on the label, and don’t drink any alcohol until you have finished the antibiotics.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” I folded the slip of paper and tucked it into my shirt pocket.
“I am a medical doctor, Bill. I studied the same things as an M.D. The difference is that I learned how to diagnose and treat many types of animals, while an M.D. learns how to work on only one.”
I stared at him in utter disbelief, “No booze?”
“Is that all you are worried about? Look, when we get off the ferry, I’ll give you a lift to the chemist so you can fill the prescription.”
Within minutes we were again on dry land. We rode his bike a few blocks and I jumped off in front of a chemist’s shop.
“What do I owe you, Jerin?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Bill. Just get well!” The Enfield roared down Mahatma Gandhi Road toward the animal hospital.
I walked into the chemist’s and set my prescription on the counter. Dusty, old-fashioned apothecary bottles stood on dark mahogany shelves lining the walls up to the high ceiling. A short, thin man with a wide, black handlebar moustache and thick horn-rimmed glasses approached the counter and read the prescription without making any effort to pick it up. He looked at me, adjusted his glasses, and again studied the prescription. Then he stared back into my eyes.
In a sullen clinical voice, he uttered the exact following words: “Are you a dog?”
An ancient, slowly rotating ceiling fan droned overhead, strings of cobwebs fluttering from the trailing edges of the blades. I crossed my arms and leaned toward him, mirroring his clinical demeanor. “Yes, but I’m a good dog.”
The chemist straightened his back and rocked his head rapidly from side to side. A wide, toothy smile flashed under his broad moustache, “A good dog! Ha! Oh, you are a very funny man, sri. I shall fill your prescription at once.”
The antibiotic and antihistamine did not cause me to sprout long, furry ears. However, they did induce me to chase taxis, but I attributed this behavior to improved health rather than to an insidious, mysteriously acquired canine trait.
Under the glow of a cabin lamp that night on Saltaire, I attempted to formulate another prescription: the safest route to Port Aden. How could I have foreseen that all my meticulous planning would be dashed by a roving band of Somali pirates appearing on the horizon at the worst possible moment?
Circumnavigator-author Bill Morris, a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator, is writing a book about his vessel’s boarding by Somali pirates in March 2004. Bill and his wife Marilu crossed the Pacific on their 1966 Cal 30 Saltaire, and he completed the world tour via the Suez and Panama canals singlehanded. Bill is the author of The Windvane Self-Steering Handbook, published by International Marine in 2004.