Unexpected blessings on an Alaskan cruise

Ketchikan | November 9, 2017
Two nurses take a stranded traveler under their wings

What’s that saying about the “best laid plans…often go awry?” 

If anyone has experienced it, Jenny Mulligan has. But, in the end, she couldn’t have been happier.

In September, the Floridian and a host of her friends were preparing to embark on the Alaskan cruise they had been planning for the past year. Little did they know a major storm AND a significant health issue would enter the picture.

Mulligan was in Seattle to spend a few days with family before the cruise when Hurricane Irma slammed into her home in southwest Florida. That was on a Sunday. She said “We were all glued to the weather reports and Facebook posts to follow Irma’s path.”

The bad news was that three of their party had their flights canceled because of the storm. The good news was that Irma had lost some of its steam by the time it got to Punta Gorda, leaving some flooding, downed trees and power outages in its wake.

Knowing those at home had been largely spared, Mulligan and her four remaining travel companions were able to start relaxing in “cruise” mode on Monday, their first day at sea.

But on Tuesday, when the ship docked in Ketchikan, Mulligan felt bad. Really bad. Mulligan, a semi-retired registered nurse case manager for an accountable care organization back home, knew something wasn’t right. The ship’s medical team called an ambulance and she was sent to the emergency department at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

“It was a scary time for me and my friends.” Her four remaining friends had to go on without her. “We didn’t know what was wrong or what would happen next.”

By Wednesday she was an inpatient awaiting gallbladder surgery, under the care of Jeff Ryan, MD, a general surgeon and PeaceHealth Ketchikan’s newest doctor at the time.

“I must admit I was feeling very alone,” Mulligan said, “My cell phone was my lifeline to family, friends, and my church family. I felt that I had been plunked from the familiar contours of my life, landmarks and people that orient me, to an unknown place with unfamiliar people and situations. I just needed to trust that God was holding me and that he would provide everything I needed in the time and moments that I needed them.”

“I decided to take each moment as it came, to be grateful for the care I was receiving and ask for prayer from anyone willing to pray with me. I knew that I was alone and I didn’t know what was going to happen after surgery, how I was going to recover, or where I was going to go but trusted that all would work out as it was supposed to. And it did.”

The surgery went well and Mulligan was up walking the halls early Thursday. At first, she thought she could catch up to the ship, but it was too late. The ship was already preparing to make the run back to Vancouver, B.C non-stop.

Now what?

She was going to be discharged Thursday, but had no idea what she was going to do. “I needed to get to Seattle to catch my planned flight home Sunday, but I couldn’t leave Ketchikan until Friday and I had no place to stay.”

It’s expensive to stay overnight in Ketchikan during the summer. Hotel rates quickly soar to $200, plus a one-way, last-minute ticket to Seattle easily costs $500.

Jen Begley RN, the charge nurse on PeaceHealth’s medical/surgical unit, had come in to talk with Mulligan about options and found her overwhelmed. Not only was Mulligan’s long-awaited vacation short-circuited by emergency surgery, she was now alone in a strange place facing a barrage of expenses.

A few moments later, Begley came back and offered her own duplex rental (which just happened to be temporarily vacant) to Mulligan for the night in Ketchikan and fellow PeaceHealth caregiver, Maia Aspinwall, RN on the intensive care unit had airline mileage she wanted to donate for Mulligan’s trip to Seattle.

Aspinwall said, “It bothered me that the cost of an airline ticket to Seattle, and an overnight stay was so cost prohibitive. Plus, she was unsure about her home because of Hurricane Irma. It just seemed like the right thing to do for a person alone and stuck in Ketchikan.”

“It was very emotional for me,” said Mulligan. “I felt such a relief that everything was working out. For these caring gestures to have been provided to me, again showed me God’s hand in every detail of this journey.”

“In my experience, sometimes when I try to orchestrate events that don’t turn out as I planned, what does work out in the end is better than anything I could have imagined. This was one of those times.”

The two Jennys spent Friday morning together. Begley made sure Mulligan had her prescriptions and then set off to see all the sites that would have seen with fellow cruise passengers. “I got a personalized tour of Ketchikan. I met Jen’s three sons and husband and she spent all morning showing me around Ketchikan.”

“That afternoon, Marty West from PeaceHealth’s community relations took me to the airport where I caught the flight to Seattle. I was so grateful.”

Once on the flight, the man sitting next to Mulligan asked “So how is your day?”  She told him about her experience and the wonderful care she received at PeaceHealth Ketchikan and the generosity and kindness shown her.

As passengers got ready to disembark in Seattle, a woman in the row in front of her said, “Do I look familiar?” It was Lilin Wu, CRNA who was the nurse anesthetist for her surgery.

“It was as though the final detail in God’s plan was to have this angel accompany me to Seattle,” Mulligan said.

“The morning after surgery, I heard the overhead prayer for the nurses and staff as they care for their patients. That was, and is, an indication of the type of culture that PeaceHealth Ketchikan fosters. I was so moved to hear the prayers that morning and they gave me much comfort.”

“Thank you for everything and please know that this experience has affected me greatly. I will plan another Alaska cruise and PeaceHealth Ketchikan will most definitely be my off-ship excursion!”