It was almost 15 years ago and my daughter was just about 6 months old when the phone rang. It was early, 6ish as I recall. The voice on the other end of the phone, a voice I knew well did not sound right, it was a voice that was clearly stressed.
“Vince, it’s Carl, I can’t breathe, I think I’m dying” I am on my way, I said, I’ll be there in a few minutes.
I first met Carl while working the slave labor shit shift at Desert Divers in Tucson back in the day. It was some time around 1988 I suspect. He came in to pick up a few regulators I had serviced and was out the door. I had no idea then that Carl, like myself, would end up being one of the pioneer punk gringos of San Carlos at the time. Carl moved to San Carlos full-time in 1991, I had arrived a year earlier, and we started the Sonoran Sport Center together with three other partners. The Sonoran Sport Center was the first real water sports company to do more than just offer diving and fishing trips in San Carlos. Actually when we opened up we did not have a dive/fishing boat, the legendary super panga that we purchased and then later found out had been stolen would come a few years later, that of course is another story. We rented kayaks, mountain bikes, hobie cats, and a few hobie 12 monohulls along with windsurfers. We had a nice little beach set up over at La Posada back when La Posada was the major beach hang out in San Carlos. Club Med was open at the time and in full swing but the exclusivity B.S. of it all never sat well with me and you had to pay to get in of course. We always preferred sneaking in via the La Manga side of the beach rather than paying. Even after we had a lucrative multi year contract with the Club Med and could go out there just about any time we wanted it was still funner to just sneak in.
San Carlos was a tiny town back then and mostly a retirement community. Carl and I were essentially the youngest gringos in town and back then we
could walk into any bar in town without a penny in our pockets and run up a tab. You could always pay next week and we always did. El Yate was the official all time best dive bar at the time run by a couple of gringos with a penchant for alcohol abuse with La Terraza running a close second and the only sports bar in town was Pepe’s Cantina run by Jorge. Tourism was almost completely gringo: divers and sport fisherman in the summer time. Sure there were some Mexican tourists as well but San Carlos was diving and fishing in the summer and Snowbirds in the winter, far fewer Canucks back then as well. There was practically no traffic ever, except for Easter which was in fact a far wilder affair than it is now. There were only two lanes in San Carlos then as well and you could make a left turn any where you wanted any time you wanted and there was plenty of parking for everyone. It never ceases to amaze me how Guaymas has so fucked up this town. Really the powers that be in Guaymas could not have done a better job if they had tried!
In 1988 I think Carl was still working part-time at his mothers and step dads ranch in Sonoita but by then he might actually have been working in Tucson as a respiratory therapist? I still have very found memories of visiting the Merry Star Ranch in the early 90’s. Back then if I recall the Arabian horse market was huge and the Merry Star catered to the market. His mom Kaia and step dad Bob Barnhill sponsored a fund-raising charity event, a mountain bike race for the Arizona Heart and Lung foundation, Kaia being the recipient of
one of those transplants. I participated in the race twice, tended bar for the charity auction and still have the bike race patch on one of my back packs to prove it. Kaia was an absolute doll and her husband Bob was a class act. That was the most wonderful ranch ever! I don’t recall the year that Carl had the accident, the one that pretty much did him in as far as horse trainer goes and most likely changed the trajectory of his life to boot. It was sometime in the early or mid 80’s maybe when he took the tumble on the horse, and ended up having the laminectomy. I forget which vertebrae it was but he complained of the lower back pain often yet it never really stopped him from being active back then. Carl grew up sailing small boats in Wisconsin was a damn good windsurfer, way better than I ever got. He had several sail boats over the years here and I will never forget the name of his first small sail boat called the Naughty Wench. He had another sail boat called Cecelia that sunk on the dock over at the Marina Real. I remember well when we all went out there and busted our asses with lift bags buckets and then water pumps and floated her!
He taught me windsurfing back in the day when windsurfing was still about the most extreme sport you could do on the water. Carl also got into kite boarding but by then his close brush with death and the back injury from the horse training days had significantly slowed him down. He still loved to fish and became an exceptionally good sport fisherman. He captained all the fishing trips and I did pretty much all the dive trips.
I do know that the near death experience he had in 2001 did scare him. Unfortunately we homo supposed sapiens suffer from an inability to learn from our past experiences. We all seem to forget things to easily, just take one quick glance at the American political scene. I believe that Carl forgot how truly close he was to dying, or perhaps he did not forget the event or how close he was to death but forgot what it felt like to be so truly very very close to the edge.
I on the other hand will never forget that phone call and have not forgotten the adrenaline rush I received from it. I really can remember that day as if it were yesterday. Carl and I were no longer partners in the Sport Center, we had gone our separate paths and the truth is we had a few rough times together as the business relationship fell apart. Some of that had to do with the fact that one of our founding partners died in a tragic free diving accident a few years earlier. When Mark held his breath just a few seconds to long for the last time and passed out under water it was the beginning of the end for the Sonoran Sport Center and we all knew it. No amount of CPR could bring back Mark, although I did try to. I reckon it was the same for the Sport Center. But that is another story for another time.
The very day before that almost fatal phone call I found out that Carl was not feeling well at all. One of our kayak guides Manuel “El Seri” was working as a paramedic at Rescate and as San Carlos was, and is, a pretty small town and to this day we still run into people we have not seen in a while and start chatting right in the middle of the road; I serendipitously ran into El Seri somewhere on the street. He asked me how Carl was and I said I didn’t know he was sick. I had a six month old infant at the house, Ines had a bun in the oven named Dante and so that was pretty much my focus back then. So, I had not seen Carl Bunn for a while. Manuel explained to me that he had been giving Carl an I.V. over at his house. I immediately thought to myself that if he was that dehydrated and needed an I.V. then perhaps he should go the states and get some real health care. Most close friends of Carl knew that Kaia, had been the recipient of a heart lung transplant at U of A med center back in the day when U of A had one of the leading heart transplant teams in the states. Dr. Jack Copeland was famous at the time. Copeland once defied federal law and was one of the first doctors to use the Jarvic artificial heart to try to save one of his patients.
Carl was medically connected like no one I ever knew!
So when I found out he was sick I called him up immediately and told him flat-out. “Carl, Manuel tells me you are on an I.V. and really sick, if you want I can come over there right now and take you to the University Medical Center.” I said. And I was totally serious, the business was really slow that week and nothing was going on in San Carlos, the beauty of owning your own business here still is and always will be the ability to close the front door at any moment because something more important than hanging out at the shop came up. I felt this might be more important and back then we all ended up having to go to Tucson for that shit we couldn’t get down here.
Many of us considered driving to Tucson back then like we consider a drive into Walmart now. It was just something that you had to do, sooner or later.
I will never forget Carl’s voice when I called him up. He could barely speak and it was clear that he was laboring just to breath. He told me he was fine, he was actually feeling a little better. Kind of like that classic line from Monty Python, I’m not quite dead yet, I’m feeling better……….. I knew Carl well and deep down inside I knew that was pure bullshit but as we all often do with our friends, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I did tell him in no uncertain terms to “Call me immediately if you need anything.” And that was where I left it. Until the next morning of course.
So as I ran out the door that early morning after Carl’s phone call and I was thinking what should I do? I didn’t know Dr. Jose Canale all that well but I was very close friends with Dr. Juan Liciaga, a very talented Chilango plastic surgeon.
Being as it was 6 a.m.ish in the morning I drove right over to Dr. Liciags’s house and started banging on the door. It seemed like an eternity, probably less than one minute, before a groggy eyed Dr. Juan opened up. I initially wanted Dr. Juan to come over to Carls house with me asap. When I explained to him how sick Carl sounded Juan told me to go get Rescate and take him to the emergency ward at the IMSS hospital in Guaymas. Fucking brillant doc, why didn’t I think of that!!! Now that I had a mandate from someone in charge I drove to Rescate and in less than 5 minutes we were barging through the door to Carl’s place over at the Totonaka trailer park. The door was unlocked, Carl was waiting for us.
The image of Carl sitting at his kitchen table will stay embedded in my mind forever. Carl was actually pretty cool, figuratively speaking considering the amount of sweat that was pouring off his face, and collected. He was sitting there at the kitchen table pack of cigarettes clutched in his hands, keys to the house and truck sitting next to the ash tray on the kitchen table. The Rescate guys really had no idea how sick Carl was so they wanted to take his blood pressure and all his vital signs and blah blah blah……I was having non of that and I am pretty sure I was a complete dick to those poor Rescate paramedics when I told them that they could take all the vital signs they liked while they were driving him to the hospital in Guaymas.
Vamanos Cabrones Ya!
They immediately capitulated and we were off. I was happily surprised when a doctor showed up to the emergency room almost immediately and
agreed that Carl looked like shit, put him on a I.V. and agreed to check him into the hospital. The IMSS doctor had to be thinking that the hospital was gonna make a pretty penny off of the sick gringo.
I hung out with Carl for perhaps an hour or so and I am simply amazed at how after about an hour of I.V. Carl finally stopped looking like he was gonna drop dead right there on the spot. He still had a hard time speaking but was breathing better and no longer sweating, it looked like he was gonna be OK for a little while. When I left him to go back to San Carlos he was actually entertaining himself by continually playing with the flow adjustment of his drip I.V. While at the hospital I grilled him on what was wrong and he finally fessed up to the fact that Dr. Canale had treated him. I also found out that I was actually not the first person he called that morning. Carl had called Canale first but Canale had not answered the phone. I immediate thought WTF? – why wasn’t Canale answering his phone in the morning if Carl was his patient? So I was now off to Dr. Canales office to find out why in the hell Canale didn’t answer his phone.
The first words that came out of Dr. Canales’s mouth when I walked in his office were, “I told Carl he needed to be in a hospital two weeks ago”. Canale then brought out Carl’s medical file and showed me Carls chest X-ray. Denial is not a river in Egypt, and Carl should have been in a hospital weeks ago.
So while in Canale’s office it was quickly suggested that we immediately get him to the brand new DeCima hospital in Hermosillo and have a specialist start treating him. Jose made the phone calls to the the specialist and to Decima and after we had Carl’s new doctor and the hospital ready and waiting for him I went back to Rescate to get the ambulance again and off we were to IMSS to pick Carl up and take him to Hermosillo. I know that IMSS was sad to see him go. When I got back to IMSS I told Carl we were gonna take him to Hermosillo right now. He was still kind of in shock but instinctively he knew he needed to be some where better than were he was. The IMSS hospital in Guaymas is really not were you want to be when you are that sick.
I followed the ambulance to Hermosillo and got Carl checked into the hospital using my BOA debit card to put down the thousand dollar deposit for his admission. Carl was good for it there was never any worries about that. I stayed with him for an hour or so in Hermosillo but his doctor was late in getting there so it was there I left him. In the interim I had called Bob his step dad in Sonoita so Carl’s family was in the loop. It was one long day when I finally got back to San Carlos.
Carl would wind up staying in Hermosillo for at least 4 months. The best doctors in Hermosillo could not cure him and he ended up right were I wanted to take him in the first place. The U of A medical center. To get him to Tucson they flew him on a regular commercial flight out of Hermosillo. He was still extremely ill and certainly not fit to fly. If the airline had known how sick he was they would have never allowed him to board the plane. They dressed him up well and got him through the airport without a hitch, the airline never knew a thing about it.
As it turned out one of Jack Copeland’s team of physicians physically removed Carl’s heart and lungs from his body put them aside on a table, cleaned up the bacterial infection that he had in his chest cavity and then put everything back in its place and sewed him up!
I remember Carl saying that a heart and lung transplant, just like the kind his mother had, was actually technically an easier operation than just the heart. Less connections to deal with. So Carl was, just as his mother before him, saved by a heart and lung transplant, minus the transplant part.
Carl survived it all and ended up back in San Carlos. He even quit smoking…….for a while anyway. Carl had his demons, we all do. I think the tragic loss of his father in the Cessna accident at an early age and then the loss of his mother was simply to much for him to bare. For the many years that Carl was part of my life he had almost a fatalistic out look on life, yet he enjoyed his life very much here in San Carlos. He so loved his dog Poco and we all did to. We loved to watch that dog jump and boy could he catch a Frisbee, and then subsequently tear the living shit out of it!! I know I have a picture of Carl and that dog somewhere around my shop and I will find it and post it.
Carl lived life on his own terms and in the end that is just fine as far as I am concerned. He checked out far to early but none of us get out of this alive.
Vaya Con Dios Mi Amigo, Vaya Con Dios
Finally found a picture of Carl’s Dog Poco, god knows he spent more time with that dog that I can remember and Poco was truly a mans best friend.
There will be a funeral service/party for Carl at La Palapa Griega this Saturday at 1 p.m. I will certainly have Don Julio on ice for that!!
Comments section is open, please leave a comment on a fun experience you had with Carl!!