Hook, Line and Shrimper

By Larry Welker


Jack, after reading some of the sea stories on your website, I thought I might try my hand at it. It seems that most of the stories are about adventures on the East or West coasts. The Gulf of Mexico may not have monster waves like the Pacific or water as cold as the Atlantic, but it is just as wet as any. I had about four years of sea duty in the Gulf on the CGC Dione and the Salvia. The Dione was my first assignment following boot camp. It was stationed at the city docks in Freeport, Texas. The Dioneís mission consisted of SAR standby, Campeche patrols, and oil rig inspection every quarter. But, really, we felt more like a towing service for shrimpers.

During one Campeche patrol we got a call for assistance from a shrimper who reported that one of his crew had been hooked in the hand with a 3-inch steel hook. He needed somebody to get the hook out. We quickly headed in his direction, we hoped. This was back in 62 when directions given by a shrimper were vague, at best. He said he sailed south from Freeport for three days and turned left. Good enough! The Captain of the Dione was LCDR Hechler, I believe, and he was good one because he found that shrimper within a few hours. The hooked man was brought aboard and taken to sickbay, which was nothing more than a chair beside a locked cabinet in a very small compartment. The medical officer on the Dione was a 2nd Class HM named Estrella. I had indicated to him that I would like to be a Corpsman and so he got the Chief BM to let me work as a ďstrikerĒ for him when I wasnít needed to chip paint.

After examination of the patient, Estrella observed that, indeed, there was a 3-inch steel hook in the manís hand, that it hurt like hell, and to ease the pain, the man must have drank a fifth of rum. He explained to the man what he was going to do which was to shoot some xylocaine into his hand, push the hook on through the top of his hand, cut the barb off, and extract the shank from the palm. The shrimper was pretty much okay with everything Estrella told him. I assisted by holding the manís hand steady while Estrella injected the anesthetic. The patient didnít flinch when Estrella pushed the barbed end of the hook through the top surface of his hand. Neither did he pay much attention when the Corpsman started trying to cut the end off the hook. Estrella was using 8-inch sidecutters and making no more than a scratch in the steel hook. He told me to try my luck and I couldnít make a dent. Estrella called to a 2nd Class Boatswains Mate standing in the passageway watching to try, also. Finally, the BM said, ďthis ainít no good, Iíll get something thatíll cut it.Ē  He was back in a minute with a 3-foot bolt cutter. Well, the shrimper was mostly oblivious to what was going on because he wasnít feeling any pain in more ways than one. But when the BM walked in carrying that bolt cutter which was half as long as the compartment, the shrimper let out a blood-curdling scream and pleaded for us not to cut his hand off. We tried to calm him down, but he would have none of it. So, while four of us held him down, the BM cut off the end of the hook and Estrella pulled the shank out of his palm. When the shrimper saw what happened he breathed a sigh of relief, thanked us all, and then puked what was left of his painkiller all over the chair, the cabinet, the deck and us. Estrella quickly bandaged his hand, gave him a tetanus shot and told him to see his doctor when he got back to Freeport.  

We got him out of sickbay as quickly as possible and back aboard his boat. Estrella thanked me for being so much help and told me I was now going to get some experience sanitizing the medical spaces. I gained some valuable experience, but a month later I became an official striker for Quartermaster.


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