watching the wheels

Mysteries of the Caribbean predawn


So we’re riding before dawn through the hills of Tobago, the Caribbean island which is part of the country Trinidad and Tobago. Our driver is Mr. Adolphus James, and I am very glad that a person who knows these roads is at the wheel because 1) It is dark, 2) I am not really awake yet, and 3) Trinidad and Tobago uses the British, or “wrong” system of driving on the left hand side of the road.
We are riding along before dawn because we need to be at the airport, or as I quickly begin to think of it, “airport,” on Tobago, in order to catch our flight home. Our travel agent has booked us on the airline (by which I mean “airline”) British West Indies Air, or BWIA. This acronym is pronounced, even on the airline’s voice mail menu message, as “bee-wee.” We later heard from a friend who is an experienced Caribbean traveler that the initials BWIA are known to stand for “But Will it Arrive?”
So. After our predawn sally through about 90 minutes of winding Tobago roadways, we arrived at the “airport.” We were two hours ahead of our flight time, just as the BWIA information had urged us to be.
One problem: the actual BWIA staff—who theoretically work for the same company that sent us the flight check-in information—didn’t show up until 45 minutes before flight time. So we spent an increasingly testy hour and 15 minutes standing in a check-in line in front of a closed desk.
We were really in a Caribbean-vacation mood about then, let me tell you! All-in-all it would have been far simpler to just tell us to show up 45 minutes ahead of time, and we could have slept another hour or so and maybe gotten to see the sunrise one more time over the blue-green waters of Batteux Bay.
For a while it wasn’t clear that the plane was going to take off on time or anything close to it. We were deeply desirous that it do so because we had a day’s worth of travel ahead of us, including an airline connection in Trinidad and later in Miami. We wanted to get home, and this first flight was the lynchpin of the whole day’s travel scheme.
The BWIA desk person finally decided to open the desk, and the line of people who had been surging around began to slowly check in. Afterward, we were directed to the gate area where we sat for a while and were treated to a television show called something like Good Morning, Trinidad and Tobago! It featured three people talking about agricultural policy. Really, that’s what they talked about. For about a half hour. With a comically static camera set-up.
Let me tell you, when you are packed into an airport gate waiting area sitting on hard plastic seats and wondering if that connection that is going to get you home is going to work out, nothing hits the spot, TV-wise, like a droning half hour on agricultural policy.
I probably should mention that the flight from Miami to Trinidad at the beginning of the trip, also on BWIA, was six hours late leaving. Which meant that instead of arriving at the place we were staying at, say, about dinner time, we arrived at 3 a.m.
So, really, the winding predawn drive we had at the end of the trip was a bookend to the winding predawn drive we had at the beginning of the trip, both times courtesy of “bee-wee.”
You know what? It all worked out, and it was worth the trouble. This was a trip for Sharon and me to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and we stayed at the Asa Wright Nature Center, which is a bird sanctuary in the Arima Valley of Trinidad, and then hopped over to Tobago (BWIA did fine on this) for a few days at the beach. We hiked. We swam in both a rain forest pool and the ocean. We drank a celebratory bottle of wine.
When we got back home, Sharon felt lousy. Then she felt lousier. I
came to the conclusion that this didn’t even have anything to do with the fact that she had been married to me for 25 years.
Soon she had a fever. She called our doctor and he worked her in. Her temperature when she was in the doctor’s office was almost 104. Our doctor called her “amazingly febrile,” which would sound really nice if you didn’t know what it meant.
In the course of trying to figure out what was wrong with Sharon, he asked what had been going on lately. When she told him we had been to Trinidad and Tobago, he did some checking and arrived at the diagnosis: dengue fever, a tropical disease carried by mosquitoes.
At some point on our trip—the most likely suspect is the bird watching trip to a swamp—a mosquito bit her, and a few days later she felt like she had the worst case of the flu ever.
Between bee-wee and dengue, I’m not sure we’re going to head to the Caribbean again soon.
And then I remember this: during that winding drive toward the Tobago airport that early morning, we passed a house with a hand lettered sign outside. Average house, nothing to make it stand out from its neighbors. The house was on a curve, so as we approached I could read the letters in the headlight beam. The sign said: “Laser Parts for Sale.”
This is the most mysterious sign I have ever seen in my life.
This world is far stranger than it seems.

(Wood is editor of House Organ, Director of Publications for VUMC, and author of Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righetous Indignation, and Semi-Enlighted Opinion, which is a collection of past columns.)


November 2005


Ankle Art

Linda Horton has celebrated her survival from breast cancer with changes to her body that she selected: tattoos.

Living for today

Sierra Sekulich’s family has participated in research that has led to greater understanding of her genetic disease. As she awaits a life-saving transplant, she is queen of PCCU.

Remembering Wade

Wade Dickens began volunteering at VUMC in the early 1980s, and brightened the stays of thousands of patients. He died in September at the age of 91.



VUMC nurse
helps Katrina pets find homes

By Craig Boerner

Nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast area, some members of the Vanderbilt community remain focused on placing literally thousands of animal survivors in new homes across the United States.
Dogs, cats, pot-bellied pigs, ferrets, even snakes—Vanderbilt Pediatric Emergency Department nurse Russellynn Lamb is committed to locating pet requests and arranging to have the animal transported here from Seattle if that’s what it takes for a successful match.
“The whole emphasis of all of the animal organizations after Katrina was, first and foremost, to rescue and save the animals,” said Lamb, who is a member of the Nashville Humane Association and the Lawrence County Animal Welfare League.
“Second was to reunite pets and their owners and now the third thing is trying to find homes for pets that have been abandoned, and that’s where we are right now.”
Animals not claimed during the 30-day waiting period since their rescues are just recently available for adoption, Lamb said. Other animals can’t be adopted yet because of injuries and medical issues.
“There are still thousands of animals that have not been claimed by owners,” she said. “Because of Katrina there are a lot of what are called special needs animals, and those are animals that have medical problems, which are great for nurses and doctors and health care professionals because they are able to provide medical care.”
Autism Consultant Erin Gulish of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Development said she recently adopted Trooper, a black lab puppy that survived Hurricane Katrina but had his tail amputated due to infection, from the Nashville Humane Association.
Gulish said Trooper and her 4-year-old chocolate lab, Scout, have become best friends, evidenced by the fact that “Trooper follows Scout’s every move.”
“I wanted to have a family come live in my house but I simply couldn’t afford to do that,” Gulish said.
“I had the ability to help one of those poor dogs because I have a big back yard, it is fenced in, and I already have another dog so this was one little thing I could do.”
While Gulish found her Katrina puppy in Nashville, Lamb said there is a nationwide network dedicated to placing, and transporting, pets to a good home.
“If you saw a picture of a golden retriever and fell in love with it, then the transport coordinator would put out a transport call and people sign up to drive one to two hour legs and that’s how you get the dog from one place to another without having to fly it,” Lamb said.
She has nine dogs of her own, which includes a Katrina foster dog she is trying to place in a good home.
“Anybody who ever wants a pet, I will find them a pet” , she said.
She emphasized the importance of placing the right pet with the right person. “I am not going to give a basset hound to a long distance runner. That’s not going to happen,” Lamb said.
“The focus right now is getting the Katrina pets situated, as well as the other pets. If someone adopts a dog from a shelter then that frees up a sick dog to go into a shelter where it can get well.”
There is a “no questions asked” return policy if the adoption doesn’t work out.
For more information, Lamb can be contacted at

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