Night Call

In reflecting on my time as a caretaker, I’m finding that occasionally non sequential and otherwise irrelevant events from my past pop into mind, and at the risk of breaking my stride and that of my tale, I’d like to bring you along on one of these mental excursions that has been banging around in my head as of late.  Please join me as I take you back with me to a house, on a dark street, on a dark night in Denver.

The following should be considered a work of fiction, though it is a tale based on a call I ran some 20 years ago or so.  There are obviously details I could not know, and others I’ve changed so as to respect the privacy of all involved.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

 ambulance at night
Sirens wailing, the ambulance took the corners too fast, tires protested against the damp asphalt. Windshield wipers brushed the mist of the November night from the glass. Denver, Colorado, where earlier a young mother had apparently had her fill of either toxins, adolescent insubordination or a combination of both. She walked into her upper west side living room to find her 13 year old daughter resting peacefully, having fallen asleep in front of the television, carefree, her lips slightly parted, deep into an innocent slumber. The young mother switched off the TV and crouched next to her daughter, brushing the hair from her face she shook her shoulder gently. “Honey wake up” crawling from her dreams the girl awoke into her nightmare.
“Sweetheart”, her mother said, “God is calling.”
Her mother rose slightly bringing the carving knife up and then down again in a forceful arc, tip first into the center of her daughters chest, angling up slightly, anchoring it deeply into her breast bone. The young girls breath escaped from her lips in a agonized sigh. Her mother stood and walked out of the room.The girl lay on the couch for what seemed like forever, maybe lasting only 30 minutes before her mother returned to her side.
“Are you still here?” the young mother asked, pulling the knife from her daughters young chest with a series of tugs and then returning it once again with a thrust even more powerful than the last, burying the blade to the base of the handle, leaving six inches of steel between the girls lungs, its tip just resting against her aorta, nicking it slightly, causing it to leak the life sustaining, sanguine fluid. The young mother again rose to her feet and walked slowly, wordlessly, from the room.Once again the girl lay on the couch, breathing slowly in, then out, with each breath feeling the blade inside her chest, foreign, uncomfortable, but surprisingly not painful. Forty five minutes had passed, and her mother had not returned.  Having drifted in semi consciousness, she felt her strength and clarity returning slightly. She rose slowly from the couch.
‘This is not right, not fair‘ she thought to herself.
As she rose the pain hit. Causing her to cry out slightly and twitch, moving the knife and causing more pain still. She stood by the couch in her dark home, a clock ticked on the mantle. Outside a car went by. It was after midnight, but not by much. She made her way slowly to the front door steadying herself, first on the couch, then the table, using the lamp as she passed by, and finally bracing her weight on the doorknob as she turned it. She heard the familiar click of the latch, the same click she had heard most of her short life. The door swung inward slowly and the cool fall air followed, bathing her. She felt suddenly very cold. She stood in the doorway for a minute contemplating her next move. She heard applause and muflled voices from the house next door. Lights through the neighbors window flickered softly, illuminating a room not unlike the one she had just left for the last time. She made her way down her front steps and across the yard, looking up at the impossibly tall stairway she now had to climb, four steps, then a step further to the door. Each movement, each breath caused shooting pain. She wanted to scream but could not draw the breath for it. She slowly made her way up the steps. One, two, rest.. breath,.. three, four and forward, her outstretched hand falling softly against the aged wood, leaning…Inside, a woman sat in a lounger, feet up and cigarette in her hand, watching her TV but lost in thought. ‘What was that?!‘ she thought, coming alert, a slight fear pricking at the back of her mind. Was that a sound outside her front door, against the door, a tap, or a weight, causing the door to shift? She sat unmoving, not breathing. Her mind automatically running through a checklist of events as she had entered earlier that evening returning with her groceries. Pulling the keys from her pocket, turning the lock, and pushing the door open in front of her, kicking it shut as she had walked through. Had she locked it then? She couldn’t remember. She rose from her chair, heart pounding. Her slippered feet made no noise on the wood floor but the house creaked beneath her, sounding much too loud to conceal her movements. She pulled aside the curtain slowly and peeked out into the dark fall night to see the young girl from next door leaning against the door. She breathed a sigh of relief and flipped on the porch light. Unlocked the door, smiling that she’d remembered after all, and pulled the door open, “You gave me a star…” she began and the blood drained from her face as she saw the young girl in front of her, eyes wet, pleading.
“Six, go ahead.”
“Code 10 on a stabbing, 2132 Viejo, wait for a code 4”
“2132 Viejo, copy code 10″I turned to my partner, and smiled nervously. “Cool!” Mixed emotions flooding my senses, excited and scared. I was new to Denver General ambulance and stabbings were high profile calls, I was attending and this was to be my challenge. We stowed the books we had been reading and took off.My partner pulled us skillfully up to the curb with a_forceful but smooth deceleration. Looking out the window I realized it was time to go to work as approaching were four firefighters carrying a 13 year old girl on a wooden backboard. I could see the anxiety in their eyes and soon realized why. I climbed from the ambulance and greeted them with my usual, “watta-ya—got?” none of them spoke, nor did they need to, for as I approached I could see the handle of the carving knife protruding at a downward angle from the gauze the rescuers had placed around the hilt.  I trotted to keep up with them as they headed towards the back of the ambulance, jumped in and received the head end of the backboard sliding it up onto the pram, undoing belts with one hand as I pulled her in. My partner climbed in and spiked two IVs hanging them as I placed a non-rebreather mask on the girl, and started and IV,  she was now my patient. I placed the straps across her as a police officer climbed aboard.
“Mind if I ride in?” he asked as I continued to work.
“Not at all.” I replied. Turning to the girl I could see she was alert and seemingly very calm. I explained I would be starting IVs and hooking her up to some equipment and asked how she felt.
“Fine” she said
I have recognized and at times have fought the apathetic communications we all seem to be victim to. Though I can sometimes see their advantage, more often I see their fault. Question, ‘How are you?‘ Answer, ‘Fine.’ An excepted version of ‘Howdy’. Not truly a question and answer, but a greeting.
I tried again, “What I’m looking for is how bad your pain is, and do you hurt anywhere else?”
“Not too bad”, she replied in a small voice, denying other injury.
I went to work assessing and preparing for a ‘crash’. The officer took advantage of the silence to begin his investigation.
“Can I talk to her?” He requested.
“Sure.” I said.
He asked what had happened and I marveled at the sobriety with which the girl breathlessly told her tale.
Our ambulance raced gently through the night with our charge, delivering her to the arms of the ever capable and eagerly awaiting ER staff at Denver General.  If she had any chance, they were her best.  I turned over care of my patient to them with an efficient report, marveling at the scene I had just borne witness to.  I received a small reprimand for providing the emergency department with too little warning of my pending arrival, and my partner and I returned to our ambulance to await another call.
Of course you’ll want to know how it all turned out; Thanks to the superb efforts of the ever exceptional emergency room staff, the girl survived, and thanks to the ever vigilant and capable Denver Police, her mother was arrested a short time later.

A Look Back At a Few Onboard Events.

St Johns River Jacksonville Florida

On the St Johns River, Jacksonville, Florida

Aside from the occasional emergency or incident, life on-board was generally pretty routine.   Though the labor at times was exhausting, while anchored or at port with no guests aboard we generally would keep normal work hours, had routine and scheduled duties, regular delicious well balanced meals, and reasonable time off.  A work day was kept to eight hours with 30 minutes off for lunch. Laundry facilities were readily available and consisted of three washer dryer sets in the far bow for crew use. Owners had additional laundry facilities in another part of the ship.  The crew was provided uniform clothing, all-you-can-eat meals, and very nice quarters, especially for a ship.  Aside from the occasional tasty rumor or spat between shipmates, and the odd scandal or cabin jumping by a few of the more liberated stewardesses, the main focus was easily made on one’s own duties, which were plentiful and diverse.

marine med kit

We carried kits similar to this one by Adventure Medical Kits

Medical care at sea is a different matter than it is in the States.  Extensive medical kits were kept on board which contained many prescription and non-prescription medications, equipment and supplies.  Doctors were accessible by radio and satellite phone through a Marine medical program.  My experience as a paramedic was no secret, and  I enjoyed the default position of ‘ships doctor’ such that it was and enjoyed plying my skills.  As a ship must be self-sufficient, when routine was broken, response was required.


One day while bucking our way through the Caribbean Sea, a visiting engineer was ascending a stairway from the engine control room to the deck.  The ship was bouncing slightly as it powered through the mild waves on this sunny day and he lost his footing, going down hard on the expanded metal stairs which had been sharpened so as to provide improved traction.  The unfortunate man landed on his elbow and was impaled by the sharp traction plate.  When he pulled his arm free, he had a very impressive and deep diamond shaped wound on his elbow.  He would need medical care above that which we could provide , and I was called for my opinion on his injury and was grateful to be tasked with dressing his wound.  An MD was located on a nearby island and we headed that way.  Though his injury was not immediately life threatening, it was a significant wound and the injured man was in quite a bit of discomfort and was not handling it very well, shaking and sweating from the pain.  We rerouted slightly and within a few hours we were near the medical doctor’s island and the patient was transported across the broken sea via tender, returning a few hours later with a nicely stitched elbow and some antibiotics and pain killers to retire to his cabin for some recuperation time.


knee board

Knee Boarding

On a rare occasion we were given the pleasure of enjoying the ship’s water toys, in this instance, a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) that we could ski and knee-board behind.
This fine day we were out enjoying the Sargasso Sea, taking turns on the knee-board. We watched as one of our crew-mates launched off his knee-board in an impressive tumble and splash resulting in an anterior dislocation of his shoulder.  He disappeared beneath the surface of the blue water. As his head bobbed above the salty water’s surface he yelled in a comical falsetto, “Medic!”, which was of course my cue to respond. He was very brave, and handled the event very well, professing to “have been through this before”.   As crew-mates we were a team, and we rallied as such. We assisted him into the RIB gently and returned to the yacht with our patient.  His shoulder was obviously dislocated, and he was in a bit of pain, but was stoic in his presentation.  I had seen a few reductions performed in the ER as a casual observer, reducing such an injury was well outside of my classical training and experience.  As I had mentioned, medicine was practiced differently at sea, and with the captain’s encouragement and with the knowledge that there was no other practical alternative, I attended to his injury.
We laid him on the galley table on his back, his injured shoulder facing me. I placed a hand on his chest, and grasped his wrist with my other hand as I had seen doctors do.  I applied traction, pulling as hard as I could as though I desired to separate him from his arm while gently rotating his arm slowly.  Once I had finished this procedure and noting no significant change in his presentation, I released his arm, laying his hand on his belly believing I had failed to reduce his injury. I was making plans to restrain him with a blanket and have others assist me with the reduction when he exclaimed, “Hey! That’s a lot better!” He demonstrated his returned range of motion.  As it turns out, my efforts had been successful. I immobilized his arm, he was given some pain medications, and was released to his quarters. I wrote up my report habitually and submitted it to the captain. I never let my doubts as to my own effectiveness be known as I held my head high and ‘brushed the dust from my hands’ in the true form of a street medic.  “Not Always Right, But Always Sure”.


A significant concern aboard was always fire. The quantitative use of fiberglass and plastics assured that any fire of significant size could quickly overwhelm and destroy a yacht. One afternoon the smoke alarms went off, a robotic voice began to call in a monotonous voice “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!”.  A display panel in the hallway indicated the location of the alarm and we scrambled to respond.  It was evening and I was enjoying a little downtime in my cabin, sharing watch with the Chief Electrical Engineer when the alarm occurred.  Most of the crew had gone shoreside to let off a little steam, all that remained were those of us on watch.

Watch was a scheduled ‘on duty’ period shared by members of the crew in their particular departments. When Docked or moored, liberty was granted alternately to crew members while others were required to stay aboard to manage ships systems and to respond to any crisis’ that might occur. Watch was also a commodity, to be traded and exchanged.

The chief electrical engineer banged on my cabin door and every other cabin door along the hallway as his long and lanky stride carried him towards the indicated incident.  The chief electrical (second in command out of 5 engineers aboard) was a difficult man, and was extremely hard of hearing. He was an older gentleman and was very insecure in his position.  This made him a poor resource and in general he had a combative attitude.  “Is anyone on scene yet?” I asked, wondering if we were to be first.  “Just come on!” he yelled, tugging on my shirt.  I glanced longingly at a fire extinguisher calling to me from its cabinet as I was dragged past.  By now about three other crewmembers were rushing towards the owner’s galley behind us.  Unlike on some smaller yachts, we had our own galley and chef. As we wove through the corridor I began to smell smoke.

I had had a short number of years of training and experience as a volunteer fire fighter and had seen my share of house fires both as a paramedic and firefighter.  I knew how to approach an incident, especially an unknown incident behind a tightly closed door.  The chief electrical did not.  “Wait!” I yelled, wishing him to take care in opening the door, recalling the potential explosive hazard of flooding a fuel laden fire scene with fresh oxygen. He ignored my plea, no surprise.  I held back as he threw open the door and a billow of thick grey smoke poured into the hall and rolled across the ceiling towards us.

A stack of clean towels had been piled too high beneath a cabinet which had halogen lights installed beneath it. These lights, once turned on, quickly heated and ignited the towels they contacted resulting in a small fire and lots of smoke.  Fortunately that was all.  The chief electrical WAS first on scene, there was not a fire extinguisher to be found nearby.  I did a quick about face, pushed past the crew members behind me, all craning for a look, and raced down the hall to liberate the extinguisher that had previously caught my eye.  Seconds later I handed the extinguisher off to the chief electrical and he extinguished the small flames with a short puff.  The damage to the ship was isolated and minimal. The stark white cabinet had an angry black smear up its face and a towel was browned and blackened as well.  The alarm system had reacted perfectly, and the crew adequately.

During my seven months aboard this particular ship, there was no shortage or variety of events.  These punctuations of activity added a spice to an already flavorful existence, and I can’t wait to tell you more…







White Horses, Ginger Beer, and a Reunion

White Horses

I awoke to the sound of the engines rumbling through the hull, water swirling violently in the single portal that supplied my room with sunlight. The ship was rising and falling on great bobbing disorderly 20 foot waves, the wind whipping them up so they looked like giant green and black horse heads.  Great magical, white maned, frothing horse heads. The portal whipped and whirled with white foaming seawater.  It was like looking into the mouth of a manic front loading washing machine.  A glimpse of sky, a surge of swirling seawater, a glimpse of the green sea from beneath, repeated over and over.  My four hours of downtime had ended.  Another 32 hours to go and we would be in Bermuda.

AMC Yacht Bay

I had joined the yacht in Antigua where she was moored at the end of a long pier.  Antigua/Barbuda is a nice quiet little island with some very skinny cows and a fairly poor resident population scattered sparsely about it.  The ship was at the end of a long pier, many other yachts (all smaller) were lined up along similar piers, with many more, both sail and motor, anchored around the protected bay.  Just inland was a small community containing a staples and sundries store and a couple small restaurant/bars.  Having spent the past 5 months traveling the Caribbean chain from Tobago to the British Virgin Islands, all the while cleaning and repairing a mega yacht, I was feeling quite at home.

AMC Carrie D. Stewardess

Meanwhile, Carrie had found employment as a stewardess aboard a yacht shortly after I’d been hired, traveling the eastern coast of the United States.  She had attended to a ship briefly In Palm Beach, and while the yacht was in Boston the entire crew had walked off one midnight due to the owners being difficult to work for.  They paged Carrie and hired her to finish the trip, flying her from West Palm Beach to Boston.  She had a unique view of the east coast as they traveled the intercoastal waterway southward.  Communications were sparse between us during this time, nearly non-existant in fact.  It was a time when email was new, and isolation was still readily accepted as a part of seagoing life.  To combat this we’d agreed to write to one another in a journal, to be exchanged when we could.  I admit, my efforts in this were sadly anemic.  Our other form of communique was a pager which Carrie maintained.  On the rare occasion I was in port and available by phone I would page her with my phone number and she would call me if she was able.

Back on the yacht, as my alarm clock sounded, I arose from my bunk and showered in an all marble bathroom where the acoustics were only matched by its sound insulating qualities.  I sounded like a star in that little room!  Sadly, nobody outside that space could hear me.  Rest assured the lack of an audience did not hinder my vocal meanderings.  The quarters and head were small by land-side standards, but quite luxurious for a ship.  As second electrical engineer I was given the privilege of my own quarters and did not have to share a privy.  I grabbed a quick bite to eat from the walk-in refrigerator where there was always plenty of leftovers.  The crew had their own chef, and everything was rich with cheese and cream.  I have never weighed so much as I did when I left that boat.  I then headed down for my 4 hour shift in the engine control room choosing to walk outside the boat along the covered teak decks so as to experience the great and thrilling ride of a 300 plus foot watercraft surging through 20 foot waves.  It was exhilarating!  Although we were traveling at less than 20 knots (23mph) The ride was an impressive exhibition of power.  The ship would heave skyward and then plunge earthward, great blue/green salty waves crashed over the bow and splashed down the length of the ship.  The waves erupted off the sharpened bow in a great gout of water that would rise higher than the highest point on the ship, five decks up, and then would come crashing back down on the aft deck seconds later.  I had to time my outdoor passage between these great showers so as to avoid a salt water bath.  I didn’t always make it, but that was also part of the rush and the joy of it.  The engine control room and engine room, and the entire yacht for that matter, was consistently immaculate.  Crew members constantly scurried about cleaning.  Servants entrances were to be used when the owners were on board (which was only for 2 weeks during my 7 months aboard), these were cleverly designed passageways behind bookcases or in corners where existed short nondescript walls, and finely polished wood panels that would open at a press so as to allow a crew member to enter an area and tidy up after an owner had passed through.  The level of care was extreme!  If an owner walked through a room, a stewardess was to surreptitiously follow, erasing all footprints in the carpet and polishing away fingerprints on banisters and handrails.  If somebody used the head, it would immediately be refreshed.  The toilet paper being refolded into an intricate fan, as were the towels.  The yacht was to be maintained in an always ready, always perfect condition.  The engine room was to be “hospital clean” at all times.

A large part of my job was changing light bulbs.  I was tasked with keeping an inventory of light bulbs up to date, maintaining a binder many pages thick that listed the bulbs and their storage locations and their intended use on the ship.  Storage on the yacht was at a premium and was wherever it could be found.  Cubby holes and panels with latched covers we’re stuffed full with supplies.  Great gleaming metal totes full of spare parts and consumables of all kinds were well inventoried and well documented.  Light bulbs were a big part of my day.  I liked to point out that I would change more light bulbs by 9 a.m. Than most people changed all day!  I started most days walking about the boat looking at the lights, which were almost always on.

I entered the engine control room carrying a cup of coffee, received a status report from the retiring engineers who promised to return in 4 hours.  Shifts were kept to 4 hours as the motion of the boat had a significant soporific effect.  Duties while underway were minimal.  Mainly, keep yourself fed, monitor systems, be alert and ready but plan to do very little.  Reminiscent of many of my recent days as a paramedic.  The motion of the boat made it difficult to perform intricate tasks, and was very fatiguing.  Seasickness was common, staved off through constant snacking.  A full stomach was a happy stomach, sort of.  When the rise and fall of the boat was too great, the engine room was the best place to be as it became the fulcrum point for motion.  More than once, during my off duty time, I’d rolled out a blanket on the floor between banks of electrical panels standing 7 feet high around me, so that I could rest as my quarters were in the front of the boat, a point about as far from the fulcrum as you could get.  While resting in my quarters, as the bow would drop off of a 20 foot wave, I would temporarily leave the mattress as it fell away beneath me, following the ship earthward as it plunged into the next trough, then sinking deeply into the mattress as the ship rose, again and again.  This made it fairly difficult to sleep.

At the end of this 36 hour journey we arrived in Bermuda.  This was to be our home for the next month.  With a crew of 21, it seems there was always someone willing to go have a good time.  Drinking was the go to activity in the evening.  We docked at the cruise ship terminal on St George’s island, the only dock large enough on the island to hold a ship of this size.  I was allowed liberty immediately as we hit shore, and initially spent my time video taping the docking procedure.  The tossing of the lines, the tying of the great ropes that held the ship in place, the washing down of the shiny blue yacht with hoses and brushes to remove the salt water.  The boat glistened in the Bermudan sunlight.  Later on a small bar became our haunt for a time.  Local musical talent welcomed us up on stage after we’d lubricated our courage with a few Dark and Stormys, (a highball cocktail consisting of ginger beer and dark rum that we all enjoyed excessively). Drunken sailors, all of us, singing arm in arm on a stage night after night in front of strangers, aware only of our own pleasures.  It was one of the most carefree times I have yet experienced.

Exploring the island was also a lesson in history.  Forts, old buildings, and pastel-colored houses were sprinkled about. Narrow cobblestone paths and roads, old rusty cannons, and trails across rubbeled hilltops gave a sense of long ago.  Bermuda was a playground that I will not soon forget.

AMC Jump Ship

After Bermuda the ship headed to Jacksonville, Florida where we were gently and precariously it seemed placed in a pre World War 2 vintage floating dry-dock on the St Johns River for some significant engine work.  A hole was cut in the side of the ship and a great engine, the size of a compact car, was removed to be replaced.  The effort of such a surgery was mammoth and was to take three months.  After a month in dry-dock, Carrie and I had had enough time apart.  She was now in Georgia, having returned from New York.  After spending the past 7 months of our first year of marriage apart, she joined me in Jacksonville and we headed back to south Florida via St Augustine where we celebrated our first anniversary and enjoyed being in each others company while exploring that oldest historic American town.

Ambulances and yachts. My first gig.

My life as a caretaker, by Mike P Frey
February 6, 2015
Two decades ago I was riding shotgun in an ambulance, working as a paramedic for the City of Denver, when I came to realize that, though exciting, a career in paramedicine must be necessarily short for most of us who pass through such service. The rough and tumble of rescue work and the city life was no place longterm for this country boy.

ambulance at night

Born and raised in Montana I received an engineering degree at Montana State University in 1989. I was standing on a street corner one sunny afternoon with the entirety of my remaining life ahead of me. Options were available and I had no idea what I wanted to do.
As I stood waiting for traffic to clear so I could cross the street, a late 70’s hardtop sedan, faded green in color, approached from my left and turned hard left, heading away from me. Directly in front of a motorcyclist approaching from my right.
The motorcyclist hit his brakes, tires squealed on the bike as the nose of it dove, compressing the shocks, the rider leaning hard on the handlebars, but it was not enough.

The distance was too short between them. And the motorcycle plowed heavily into the passenger door of the sedan with a horrendous crunch.

Everything happened in slow motion at this point. The driver, gripping his handlebars, rose slowly off the seat of the bike lofting skyward. As he lost his grip on the handlebars he tumbled head over tail, vaulting over the top of the sedan and landing firmly on his backside on the street. The sedan continued to travel forward, clearing the intersection and coming to a halt on the other side.

I was exhilarated, I ran out to the motorcyclist, who told me “I’m OK”

I put my hand on his shoulder, having witnessed his flight, and said “No, you’re not, stay put.”

Another witness arrived, and knelt beside the injured man. I continue to cross the street and entered a small paint shop on the other side. They had heard the commotion and had crowded around the front window. I walked in and picked up the receiver of the telephone and dialed 911. It was busy. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that bright idea. I turned and walked out of the paint shop, and was greeted by flashing lights.  Fire and police were already on scene, their station being just around the corner.

I was hooked.  I wanted more!

A bit of serendipity presented me with an opportunity to attend a emergency medical conference in a nearby town. This was new territory! I leapt at the opportunity. This single event change the course of my future.

Nearly 10 years later I was a burned out paramedic working for the city of Denver. An effort at continuing paramedicine resulted in a couple years in a northern Montana town, but I had truly had enough. It was time for a change.

mega yacht side and aft open

At this time, my sister had been employed by private yachts as a stewardess and had continued to work on private jets under the same capacity. She recommended yachting, and so do I.  By this time I was married and finding the income of a Montana paramedic to be inadequate for my future plans as a husband and eventually a father (saving lives didn’t pay).  I took her advice and sold my pickup, loaded up Carrie’s car, and we drove to Florida and immediately began knocking on the hulls of some very nice yachts.

After a couple long weeks of walking up and down the sunny piers of a South Florida coast I finally had my first gig. I was hired as second electrical engineer aboard a 315′ motor yacht stationed at that time in the Carribean. Carrie would have to wait a little longer for a boat. As newlyweds, married only a short number of months, we were to be living apart for a time.

I am a Montana Caretaker

My intent with this blog is to share the unique existence of the life of a live on site, high end property caretaker, with all that it entails.
Welcome. I hope you enjoy your visit.

(To avoid ruffling any feathers, all the stories here should be considered works of fiction, and any similarities to actual people, places, or things should be considered coincidental.)

Please write, I’d love to hear from you.

[email protected]