Medical Chronicle

Being with you

Louis Burton et Servane Escoffier
© Jean Louis Carli / AFP / DPPI / Vendée Globe

They will be thinking of their loved ones. Those with whom they share their life, their family and friends. It is very comforting to hear the warmth of their voice echoing around inside the boat, especially in this remote and cold part of the world. Everyone comes together at Christmas. There is the need to feel together to avoid being so alone.
Satellite links have changed things for the couples who are alone. Pictures and words are now transmitted in digital form via the Iridium and Inmarsat networks. People travel thousands of miles around the world in an instant. And there on the computer screen on the desk, there is the virtual presence of the loved one.

Pictures show us things, but it is words, which allow us to express ourselves and our emotions. She understood during the lunchtime link-up with the press centre that he was worried, stressed and on edge. Strong winds, nasty seas, boat breaking conditions. Maybe he’ll call later this evening to share his fears. It’s not going to be easy to get to sleep, thinking of him and waiting, fearing you’ll miss his call. The phone is under the pillow just in case.

It’s three in the morning. The phone rings. No you are not dreaming. You jump up in shock.
- Everything OK?
- Not really. The seas are horrible and I’m getting shaken around…
- Did you manage to sleep?
- Not really since yesterday. Too much noise and too uncomfortable. I thought we were getting knocked down… It’s not nice.
- Yes, I heard you at lunchtime…
- How are things at home?
- Oh, nothing much happening here. Oh yes, I was going to tell you …..
She tells him what has been going on, what the neighbours have been up to, just routine stuff, insignificant details, but with a touch of humour and laughter.
She knows what these stories mean to him. There’s nothing better to get him thinking of something pleasant rather than the stress and hardship of life on board. She won’t tell him the problems she’s been having. No point in worrying him… That can keep.
She feels what the silences mean, what the tone of his voice is saying. He’s tired, worried, fed up… She’s probably wondering deep down why he is putting himself through this. So much hard work to get to this. Is he really happy? Is he enjoying it? This race is particularly hard as it lasts so long. You need to hang on in there. She knows that these boats are so demanding that it takes more than he imagined and that he has to find some extra energy and willpower somewhere within. She knows too that he has that power to bounce back. He needs his rest.

What makes this race so fascinating is that voyage of discovery of oneself with all the doubts, questioning, the need to solve all the problems alone. Pushing back your boundaries offers satisfaction to reward the effort, particularly when you didn’t think it could be done. And let’s not forget that there are pleasures in this race. We see it in their videos. The pleasure at making good progress, the pleasure of being at sea of fulfilling a dream, the adventure of your life. Ashore, her pleasures are cuddling the kids, celebrating Christmas, the support shown by parents. And there are friends too, so they are not alone.

Suddenly he imagines standing next to a tinsel covered Christmas tree. There is the sofa, his bookcase with all those books about the sea. A place of rest, but today, it’s just a fleeting thought. They carry on chatting. He needs that. It is as if they were holding hands. Being alone offers you the time to think about what really matters. You really express yourself and although so far away, share an intimate moment, come together.
The phonecall during the night reassures. She’ll tell everyone how he is. Sometimes she adds things or removes details so as not to worry others. It doesn’t matter how she feels. She keeps that to herself. No one seems to care anyway.
In this adventure, only the hero counts. She is just there in the background, serving him, offering support, someone he can count on. Her life, her projects. That can all wait until he comes home, until after the stage lights go out.

Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE

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