It Helps to Know Someone

When their new friends from Lamotrek need medical help, Alvah and Diana Simon make the connections to move a mountain. "The Roger Henry File" for February 29, 2008.

October 30, 2008

RH Diana lamontrek 368

With the women of Lamotrek, Diana Simon embraced such customs as the application of turmeric rouge, but she was less inclined to follow their habits of dress. Alvah Simon

I couldn’t pronounce the names of the five boathouses, so from the island’s northern tip down I dubbed them North Pole, Cancer, Equator, Capricorn, and Antarctica. With Francis as my host, I naturally fell in with his House Of Cancer. Fitting, because downing those copious cups of tuba began to feel like swallowing chemo cocktails.

Among my group was Ambrose, a large, frightful looking man with his topknot, loincloth, and machete in hand, but with a gentle nature and a heart of gold. Half his face has been eaten away with an undiagnosed infection. I was told that two of his children now had the beginning of it. Our Merck Manual of medicine led us off in too many directions. If you can’t zero in on your target, use a shotgun. I rowed in with antifungal, antibiotic, antiseptic, and papaya creams. By week’s end we had at least reduced his terrible itching if not forced the tissue damage into retreat.

But when our medical kit ran empty I told Esther, the island’s medical officer, that I was concerned that if communicable, this could be serious for the entire island. I intended to take photographs of Ambrose’s face to a doctor in Guam for a diagnosis, and somehow ship back the specific medicines in as large a quantity as I could afford. Our budget aside, it was the shipping that posed the real problem, as the brand new supply ship gifted by the Chinese government to Yap was already broken down. Airdrop, boat charter–what mountains would we have to move to somehow facilitate delivery? Nevertheless, I looked Ambrose in the eye and said, “Don’t worry, your medicine will come.”


Esther gave me the name of a doctor who had sponsored her through her medical training in Guam years before. She said he was in politics now.

Then we hoisted the main and turned the Roger Henry down the lagoon. People lined up on the beach waving us goodbye and blowing their conch horns.

Our sail north was boisterous, yet again. The fortified trade winds veered just enough to the east for us to lay Guam on one tack. We hove to for the night in front of the very busy and security-conscious military port. We became security-conscious ourselves when an enormous tanker bore down on us, showing red and green running lights equally. The non-nautical interpretation of this signal is “move it or lose it.” We tacked the boat quickly, unfurled the headsail, fired up the engine, and dashed as close to shore as we dared. At dawn I bent on the largest American flag we own and entered Guam, the frenetically modern, full-fledged Territory of the USA. Customs and Immigration met us onshore at the Marianas Yacht Club, and cleared us with friendly efficiency.


My atavistic response to The Call Of The Mild–that is, all the food, drink, baths, warmth and comfort a sailor can stand–was postponed by an important errand.

Dr. Michael Cruz’s secretary ushered us into his opulent office. “Governor, this is Alvah and Diana Simon. They just arrived from Lamotrek with word from Esther.” Dr. Cruz called in a medical collegue and viewed the photos. He picked up the phone. I could feel the mountain rumble.

That evening at the quiet Marianas Yacht Club, a casually dressed, laconic gentleman from South Dakota introduced himself as “Don.”


“I have read your book (North to the Night, A Year in the Arctic Ice, McGraw Hill) and I came down here to see for myself just how crazy you really are.”

In spite of the pleasant conversation with Don and his gracious wife, Jan, I just could not get poor Ambrose off my mind. We were only three days sailing, yet a world away from Lamotrek. They need a little more protein and basic medicines; meanwhile, we’d spent the day drifting down divided highways, past fast-food chains, pharmacies, and hospitals. I am not complaining; I was drinking something very cold and very not tuba.

I wondered aloud if that mountain was still rumbling, or if I had been politely placated. Don said, “Leave it to me,” and left it at that.


A man too young for such wisdom once told me, “Anyone who believes in coincidence is not paying attention.”

Major General Don Goldhorn, Adjutant General of the Guam National Guard, answers directly to the Governor. And yet when not being Lt. Governor, or as on this day Governor, Dr. Michael Cruz is a National Guard medical officer directly under General Goldhorn’s command. This arrangement worked for me whichever way you flipped or flopped it. Ambrose, my friend, I hope I can slip some fishhooks into that package.

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