Cellular Wet

by Howard Eskildsen

In January, 1993, I was on one of my biweekly checks of the Fairy Boat, our 26 foot Bayliner, when my cellular phone and I had a bizarre aquatic adventure.   The boat was moored at Metz Marina in Kennewick, Washington, and the night time low temperatures hovered around zero.  I was on call for the local hospital emergency department, and carried my phone in my upper front coat pocket.

Ice floes littered the river, and the marina was locked in by a 6 inch layer of ice.  As I struggled down the snowy ramp to the covered slips each breath quickly turned to a cloud of frost.  The boat sat in the middle of open, churning water created by the Kasco deicer; a submersible electric motor with a propeller that circulated “warmer” water from below, keeping my slip free of ice even in sub‑zero weather. 

All was well at the boat.  I turned my attention to some hungry ducks at the end of the dock in the only other open patch of water in the whole marina.  I found some stale crackers to feed them that were left in the boat’s galley from the previous season.  The ducks eagerly took the crackers, and the box soon was empty.  I set it on the dock for a moment and a gust of wind blew it into the water. 

I bent over to pick the box out of the water, barely noticing a flash of gray as my $600 cellular phone fell from the coat pocket.   Splash!  It drifted slowly downward in the clear green water.  My hand shot in after it, but I only grazed the edge of the phone.  One more desperate grasp while kneeling, then another while lying down, brought the same results.  Suddenly I found myself headfirst in the water, wet to the waist with my legs still lying across the dock, making one last desperate grasp at the sinking phone.  I shouted the usual exclamation which came to the surface in a shower of bubbles. 

Priorities then changed to something even more important than the phone–breathing!  The coat and sweater held the water like a giant bucket, and I could not pull myself back out of the water.  Only one viable option remained.  I dropped my legs into the water while holding on to the dock with one hand. 

My head popped out of the water and I took a deep breath of air laced with a rancid, rotting smell.  I hauled out of the water like a fat little harbor seal, and became aware that the dock I was clinging to was covered with day old duck doo doo!  So much for ever feeding those darn ducks again.  My pant legs started to freeze as I sloshed back to the car, but I never felt cold. 

“Hi dad!”  My 12 year old daughter greeted me as if it were perfectly normal for her grumpy dad to come walking in from the cold thoroughly soaked, clothes dripping wet and smelling like duck poop.  I hurried to the bathroom, stripped in the tub and then showered. 

I called the emergency room to see if they had tried to reach me during all this.  To my relief, they hadn’t.  I briefly explained the situation to the nurse who answered. 

After a short pause, I heard him say, “Hey everybody, Eskildsen’s phone was the victim of a cold water drowning this afternoon!”  Laughter in the background of the phone confirmed that they were humored, but not surprised by my plight. 

The next item of business was to get a new phone and try to figure out how to pay for it.  In the middle of a call to the phone salesman, my wife, Fairy, came home. 

“What’s this pile of wet stinking clothes doing in my bathtub?”

“Would you believe I went swimming today?”  I told my tale of woe as the expression on her face went from suspicion, to concern, to horror as the plot unfolded.  Finally she exploded into laughter when she heard how our daughter reacted to my arrival at home.  My esteem for her momentarily sank to a level slightly above that of the ducks! 

At the cellular store we discussed replacement options with Frank, the salesman.  Nearby, a young man, who appeared as wet behind the ears as I had recently been, said he could fix the phone if we could retrieve it.  “All you have to do is dive down, pick it up and bring it back in a bag of water.  You know exactly where it is, don’t you?”

I couldn’t believe what he was saying.  Of course I knew where the phone was, in 12 feet of freezing water surrounded by thick ice.  I was not going back in after it; I could freeze off my noggin or worse. 

“Do you know anyone who scuba dives?”

“What about dive rescue,” another salesman piped in.  “Frank, didn’t you recently service an account for them?”

Frank was as skeptical as I, but called the dive rescue coordinator anyway.  “Meet them at the dock in half an hour,” Frank said with a look of disbelief. 

I called the emergency room to give them the number for the cellular phone that Frank let me borrow until “rescue” of my phone was attempted.  The same sympathetic nurse answered the phone.  “Hey, everybody, they’re sending the dive rescue team after Eskildsen’s phone!”  There was again laughter in the background.  “You gotta tell us how this turns out, Doc,” he giggled. 

Right on schedule the dive team showed up with their gear.  The two divers and their coordinator didn’t seem upset with the dimwit who lost his phone, and treated the dive as seriously as if there were a person missing.  The diver was down less than a minute and came up with the dripping phone.  He placed it in a plastic bag full of water and I took it to the cellular store. 

Although it was closing time, the young man at the store began salvaging the phone at once.  He removed the circuit board, sprayed it with alcohol, and then scrubbed it with a toothbrush!  He let it dry out with the help of a fan and then hooked up to some wires.  Then he dialed the number and the phone rang!  We could not believe our ears. 

He wanted to do more work on the phone and told us to leave it with him for another day.  I called the ER to update the inquiring minds there on the situation.  “Hey everybody, they did CPR on Eskildsen’s phone and now it’s in the intensive care unit!”  The usual laughter followed.  “How did they find it so fast, doc?”

“Oh, one of them went to the bottom where it was dropped, I dialed the number and he headed for the ringing sound.”  For a brief moment I think the nurse actually believed me. 

A few days later, a couple sticky keypads were changed and the phone was fully functional.  To the ER staff the phone was in “rehab,” and they insisted on “visiting” it when I finally got it back.

It lasted another three years before it was gracefully retired for a newer model which cost one tenth what we paid for the original phone.  If the new one goes in the water, I’m not going after it. 

© Eskildoodle 2021