Brent Cady and I got married on Sept 10, 1988. We flew out to Cancun the next morning. That first day we napped, had a lobster dinner and walked the beach. Monday we did a glass bottom boat tour. We wore tank tops we were given that said “the honeymooners” I had someone take a photo of us on the boat. We had dinner and did shopping downtown that night. We bought a great big wall carpet in pink and grey, it was on our wall over a pink sofa for years.
Tuesday morning I was at the Hotel Beach Club Cancun counter to get money out of the safe. I heard another guest asking about a storm that was coming. He wanted to know if it was going to be bad and if they should fly out. I didn’t think much about it. We road a tour bus for several hours to go inland to the Yucatan Maya ruins Chichen Itza. We had a great time there, climb to the top of a pyramid and took pictures. On the way we saw small shacks made of metal and poor dirty children that looked so sad. It was raining on our way back.
We arrived back in Cancun late, after dark. We found it interesting that the windows on stores had a large taped x on them. There were long lines at the gas stations and the downtown stores and restaurants were closed. We also found it interesting that the tour bus was dropping people off at their hotels instead of at the tour company like they said.
By this time we noticed that the driver and tour guide had been talking a lot to each other in Spanish and listening to the radio turned up. They finally told us that a “big storm” was coming and they were dropping folks off at their own hotels. We went to ours; there was another couple with us on the tour, who lived in New Jersey. We were told to go to our rooms and put our stuff away then come right back but bring nothing. We were the last four to be evacuated.
We were taken on a bus to an old power plant. On the way there we were told they were going to be separating the men and the woman. That scared me. They didn’t do it though. The power plant was packed wall to wall, barely a place to sit down. No A/C and we sat there for hours. Finally they called people forward who had time-shares. Our New Jersey friends did. They took us with them. We were all loaded up in a squished van. The rain had been coming down for hours.
We were brought to a Mexican migrant workers hotel, a very old two story building somewhere downtown Cancun. We were told they were full, had over 40 people. They finally put the four of us in a room with four others. There was another newlywed couple from Washington D.C. He worked at the pentagon and didn’t want anyone else to know in case people took their frustrations out on him. The last couple was from Puerto Rico, I think their names were Jose and Rosa. All three couples were in their late 40’s to 50’s.
The room had a small bathroom, a table, a long closet with a 2 inch raised floor, a small rectangle window high up on the wall and two very old, broken double beds. They had many stains on them, were torn and had mouse droppings on them. Both beds had one leg broken so they tilted too. I wasn’t able to bring my purse, but Rosa had hers. We all sat huddled together sharing a small package of crackers.
The Washington D.C. couple stayed standing in the closet most of the night. She was hyperventilating. The rest of us squished onto the beds, arms and legs hanging over. Brent had taken off his button up shirt and held it over us. The hurricane broke the window and rain would come pouring in every few minutes, depending on the direction of the wind. Brent would raise the shirt over my face then. But he slept! On a very scary night with a new bride, he slept!
The roof over the kitchen collapsed, the wind blew through the pipes so loud and piercing it was like ghosts and banshees were competing in a fright competition. The one story building next to us was a Corona warehouse; their roof blew off so you could see bottles of beer.
We thought about those poor folks living in the shacks and what a tragedy it was.
The hurricane winds were like 120 to 145 with gusts that were higher. It is the second most intense hurricane in history. Gilbert was also one of the largest tropical cyclones ever observed in the Atlantic basin. At one point, its tropical storm-force winds measured 500 nautical miles (930 km) in diameter. In total, it killed 341 people and caused about $5.5 billion (1988 USD, $9.4 billion 2006 USD) in damages over the course of its path.
The next day we stood on a little table to look out side. I took a couple pictures. There was many roofs blown away and there was a Volkswagen Bug floating in the water.
The sewer backed up so we had about an inch of sewer water across the floor. You could stand in the closet. We had many visitors that day. Folks would climb up on the table to look down on the Corona warehouse. They would discuss how they could take their belts and hook them together, toss them out the window to try and lasso a six pack of bottles! It was a long hot day.
We went downstairs at some point to sit in the lobby with folks and watch out the big garage door. Someone had an orange. I was born with only one kidney and was very dehydrated. So they shared a segment with me.
On Wednesday night the police brought supplies for people. Our group got a small candle and a couple canned foods without a can opener.
Thursday came. Hot. The water had resided a bit so we were able to leave the hotel. The eight of us started walking. We had no idea where we were in the city. We came upon a store that the door was broken down. Many people were in there looting. We got a bottle of coke, we paid for it. They gave me the cola first because of my kidney. I hate cola, it makes me gag and this stuff was hot too. I got a couple sips in then shared it.
We kept walking and eventually found ourselves in the middle of about 300 people rioting. We didn’t choose to be with them, we just got pushed into the herd. People were blocking the cars of the Mexicans, yelling at them. We were appalled, the Mexicans did not cause the hurricane and they would be suffering more than us. Eventually the crowd made their way to the courthouse. People were yelling and chanting all kinds of things. They wanted to go home, they were stuck outside during the hurricane and weren’t happy, they wanted a shower! We had heard that a lot of people were left outside to endure on their own. Finally a government official came out. They said there were over 10,000 tourists in the city and the airport wasn’t running yet.
We started walking again and found a tour bus from a major hotel chain, like Hilton, Hyatt or Best Western, I don’t remember which one. Jose talked to them in Spanish and was able to get us on. Turns out the military was blocking the hotel strip. The strip is five miles long and separates the lagoon from the Caribbean Sea. The airport was on the other side. You had to have a hotel representative to escort you across the bridge. Our hotel had left us stranded.
As we crossed the bridge, on the side was a concrete statue of the Mexican president. He was broken at the knees, lying on his back. Many folks cheered. Sad.
We got to the major hotel and went inside to use the restrooms. They had a generator and offered us food from their buffet, we all refused. We were anxious to get back to our hotel. So we started walking again, it was mid day and very hot out. Eventually we hitchhiked. We actually got picked up in a pickup truck. The eight of us perched on the sides while chicken coops sat in the middle. Honest! I took a picture.
We got to our Hotel Beach Club Cancun. The satellite was down and there was some exterior damage. We went inside and there was a clerk their waiting for us. He said the waters from the lagoon and sea combined through the hotel. They talked to each couple telling them their room status. The Puerto Rican couple’s room was on the 1st or 2nd floor and was fine. One of the other couples had put all their stuff in the bathtub like they were told. The tub in the floor above them broke and flooded their tub so all their stuff was wet.
Our turn. We were on the 5th floor ocean side. We were told “to go to our room and get our stuff but don’t stay there.” We were to move to the Jose and Rosa’s room. We repeated it back to them, then Jose repeated it in Spanish and it was confirmed. Our room was safe enough for us to go into. We headed up. There was sea water and sand in the kitchen sink. I actually dipped into it to wipe the sweat off. I shouldn’t have, I was sticky for hours.
Brent headed downstairs with a load of our stuff. I was standing over by the bed picking something up. The wind storms had continued. Next thing I know I was pinned. The armoire doors had opened, the 20 inch TV landed on my back with the armoire on top of it. What saved me was I landed on the bed from my waist up. The neighbor across from us saw what happened and hollered downstairs to Brent. He came and got me and took me to Jose and Rosa’s room. I couldn’t feel my right leg.
We eventually made our way to the lobby. Many folks were hanging out here. They had no generator and they were charging a dollar for rice and beans! Two couples finally came to us. One doctor, one pharmacist and the wives were both nurses. The doctor told me my back felt broken. Eventually the General Manager came to talk to everyone. He said the airport would be open the next day, to go there and try to get a flight.
He came over when he saw me and had the manager go get a rusty old metal stretcher. Then he had several young boys come and get me. They were rushing me out the door with Brent right there. All of a sudden I started to cry. I would be going to a hospital and we didn’t speak the language. Thank goodness Jose came with us. They slid me into the back end of a Volkswagen bus, resting the stretcher on the seats. The boys sat on all sides holding onto me. Brent was in the front passenger seat. All of a sudden he rolled the window down and started puking.
We got to the hospital and Brent stayed outside puking constantly. I waited a long time and saw them catheterize an older gentleman without being sterile. They finally brought me in to be x-rayed. He did it with me lying on my trusty stretcher. Then he had Brent come in to help him look at the film. There were several big bars going across my spine!
Eventually a doctor came and Jose translated. He said they were radioing Lybia to order an air ambulance for the elderly gentleman. If we had a major credit card they would pick me up. Well we were newlyweds and we only had a Discover card. So he offered me a Tylenol and sent me away.
The boys put me on the floor just inside the lobby doors. I knew that ice would help the pain so they went and got beach towels with ice and they slid it under me. Brent curled up on the floor next to me, he was so sick. He had diarrhea now too. The next morning I woke up shivering, my clothes were wet. Folks were starting to wake up and came downstairs to use the bathroom. Rosa finally came down and saw us. She went right upstairs and started pounding on doors looking for the doctor.
They all came down to help us. The pharmacist gave Brent something for the Montezuma’s Revenge. Folks held up towels around us and the nurses changed my clothes. I thought I had to relieve my bladder so they carried me into another room and used a kitchen pan that looked like a deep cake pan. They tried to slip it under me but it hurt my back.
It is amazing how much drugs folks take with them on vacation! The pharmacist would check them as he knew what certain pills should look like. The manager came with a clean needle and a bottle of morphine. He got them from the States for his migraines. The pharmacist checked both. I finally got some much needed relief.
They moved us around the corner and down the hall so Brent would have a sofa to lie on. He was finally able to get some sleep too. We both woke up hearing our New Jersey friend yelling. He was at the counter and was very upset that a couple days prior the clerks understood English and were willing and happy to take our money. He felt that they were playing the “I don’t speak English” card now.
Our friends all came over and it was decided we should go to the airport to try and get out. It was hard saying goodbye to these special folks. I wish I hadn’t lost their names and addresses.
They took me out on my favorite stretcher. They slid me into the back end of a station wagon taxi. We got to the airport around 6pm and they put me down on the floor. Then my husband had to fight with the taxi driver and give him the last of our money because he wanted MY stretcher back. He was going to leave me just lying on the floor and I couldn’t sit up, let alone walk!
We met another couple here. They came over, and it turned out he was an EMT and pharmacy assistant. And boy did he carry a tray of drugs. He gave Brent something for the diarrhea then gave me Valium and pain pills. I was going to sleep.
Brent and the EMT went over to the ticket counter. There were folks hollering all kinds of things trying to get a flight out. When they heard Brent’s plight they all started yelling for him. Eventually we were given tickets to fly out. It was dusk and the last plane was just getting ready to leave. We were rushed out. Someone from Club Med showed up and helped carry my stretcher. They put me on top of a baggage cart. The co-pilot was walking towards the plane. They stopped him and said we needed a ride. He said, quote, “It is a federal regulation that you must sit at a 45 degree angle on all commercial flights.” I will never forget those words.
We were stuck. While we waited a couple flight attendants came out with food and blankets. We were really grateful.
The Club Med guy went onto the plane and radioed the State Department. They called Brent’s step-dad, who paid over $6500 with American Express. Literally two minutes later a leer jet came rolling around the corner and we were whisked away. They offered us bottled water and sandwiches. I was sleeping. They had rested my stretcher between two seats that faced each other. During the whole flight the back of the seat kept falling on my head. Brent would have to get up and fix it.
When I woke up I had another shock. I thought I was going “home” but it felt like it was another country. In high school we had one African American family. I was not prejudice. But I woke up and the only Caucasian I saw was my doctor. And everyone talked funny. It was Houston, very strong accents. My father-in-law knew another orthodontist who lived there and he felt it was best to be were there was someone could help us.
They took my metal stretcher! I had laid 28 hours on that thing.
My Mother-in-law, Nancy, flew down to help, she was an RN. She stayed with us those two weeks. She would use special shampoo on my hair and give me sponge baths. One day she was putting lotion on my leg and my sweet hubby says “can I put some on her leg. It is our honeymoon you know”
They went out and bought me a music box clown that whistled, I think the song was “Around the world in 80 days” Well the two of them would waltz around the room whistling together to cheer me up. I still have that clown. (As I was writing this story I called Brent to ask him questions. I asked him the name of the song, he didn’t know the name but he started whistling the tune, he remembered after 22 years!)
We had all kinds of news media hounding us. We had the local TV and newspaper come for interviews and the Seattle and Everett, WA papers. My husband got stuck on a phone call from one of the Washington papers while I was being interviewed in person. I have a pretty good memory for facts, that’s why this has been so easy to write 22 years later. Well Brent struggles a little bit in that area. He got so flustered on that phone call that they had him wandering for days, barefoot in sewage up to his knees!
Brent had an adventure while in Houston. An older couple saw our story on TV and sent me flowers. The first time I had seen artichokes and asparagus with cactus and flowers in an arrangement, only in Texas. They invited Brent out to dinner to their Country Club. He didn’t have shoes, he only had flip flops, his shoes were left in Mexico. Nancy and Brent walked several miles to find a shoe store near the hospital. The restaurant provided him with a dinner jacket. The couple showed up in a big convertible Cadillac with a pair of long horns on the hood. “Tex” was drinking a glass of whiskey while driving. Everyone in the place knew him. Brent had a nice time.
My uncle Ray in Arizona, my brother Rick in Everett, Washington and Brent’s sister Carrie in Seattle all worked with the various media trying to get us a flight home, where I could lay down, of course. It turns out there is NOT a federal regulation saying you have to sit at a 45 degree angle! They were finally able to get our 2 original tickets swapped out for 6 seats on Continental. Thank you Continental!
My Mother-in-law had gone out and bought long sleeve pink t-shirts that said “The honeymooners say thanks Seattle” we wore them home. We landed in SeaTac and there was more folks waiting for us than there were at our wedding! Many of them had huge cardboard “welcome home” signs. I was put on the floor while we waited for the ambulance. I was very overwhelmed because about 100 folks were all just standing there looking down at me. Too much. Finally people started coming over and kneeling down by me.
Brent’s Grandma Cady was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. The TV was posting our “honeymooners” picture quite often. Late breaking news, you know. She looked up at one point and said “that’s my boy.” They brought her to the airport too. She came up and hugged him. I had a friend in England who saw us on the telly too. The South Korea Summer Olympics were on TV. Our picture was posted often during the games.
The ambulance finally came and took us to Nancy’s. She lived about 45 min from Seattle. We stayed there for about a month. Brent traveled to work in Seattle each day. They took those big cardboard signs and put them around the hide-a-bed in the family room. They also put them around the port-a-potty. My nurses and physical therapists came out to the house. Nancy, being a nurse, actually had to catheterize me at one point. Talk about getting to know your in-laws! I can’t thank them enough for all they did for us. I will always appreciate them. I had to go back to the hospital for a few days but don’t remember why.
After a very long time we were taken to our little white house with it’s white picket fence in downtown Seattle. We walked in and found all our wedding gifts stacked in piles. It was like “awe, we’re married!” I spent the days in bed, Brent would make me lunch before he left. He had to do everything, get me in the shower chair, help me get around, he was great. We were on our own.
One day I had to go and get a cortisone injection in my back. I got home and pain started, I couldn’t move. I ended up lying on the living room floor. Brent came home after 6pm. He opened the door to a dark living room and me laying there right in front of the doors, I had been there for hours.
My sister-in-law, Carrie, had been working with Seattle KOMO TV’s People Helpers. They are the ones who arranged our flight. They also arranged for us to stay at the Presidential Suite at the Seattle Hilton. It rents for $2,500 at night! A limousine picked us up too. We ate at their really fancy French restaurant. The first time I went somewhere with multiple courses and the waiter put the napkin in your lap. Fancy!
Our travel agency bombed by not having anyone at the Cancun airport to meet us, leaving us frustrated at having to arrange transportation without knowing Spanish. So they gave us a free round trip flight to anywhere in the US. Problem was it was September and they expired in April. Brent didn’t have any vacation left and had missed a lot of work, we were broke. In March we finally went to Disneyland for the weekend, my first time there. I tell you if you ever are stuck in a wheelchair, make sure it is electric. It was so frustrating when I wanted to go right and he would go left. But we had a good time.
I went to a lot of physical therapy and I moved from a wheelchair, to a walker and finally a cane. I had back problems for years but I finally went to a chiropractor and he helped it. I coached Special Olympics for nine years prior to our wedding. Using the walker in public and having everyone stare at me gave me just a touch of what people with disabilities endured.
We were on our local talk show, Northwest Afternoon twice. The first time we wore our pink “thank you” shirts. It was a strange experience. The second time was a year later they were doing a Disasters show and we were on with other couples. I have a lot of newspaper articles and cassettes of radio talk shows too.
We had a lawyer look into a lawsuit. But the hotel was owned by parties hiding behind corporate stuff, he had tracked them to Delaware. He couldn’t get local jurisdiction; it would have to be tried in Cancun. We couldn’t do anything about that co-pilot either. But we learned our lesson. When traveling outside the US, use major hotel chains and have a major credit card!
I believe in destiny, so the accident happened for a reason. I do know that it brought me a lot closer to the Lord. I spent many hours on my knees. It gave me strength that I don’t think I had before, to endure other chronic pain.
I have to thank my ex-husband Brent Cady for enduring all those years with me and my pain. And I want to again thank my in-laws, Nancy and Marc Joondeph. And also those six hotel friends and the six medical friends, we just couldn’t have made it without these good people. Also I am thankful for all the love and support from our families and friends.
And no, I don’t want to go back to Cancun.