Dr. Jerome Nadler's passion for fly fishing lured him on Labor Day to the water's edge of the Nissequogue River at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve.
That's where he was wearing his waders and sipping on a can of soda -- when everything suddenly went blank.
The last things he remembered, Nadler, 76, said in a telephone interview Monday from his hospital room, were fishing and drinking Coca-Cola.
What caused the mind of the retired internist from East Setauket to go blank and end up missing in the Smithtown park for more than 72 hours remains a mystery.
He said he's not sure what happened, but he knows one thing: "I'm lucky," he said. "There is someone up there looking after me."
Nadler was found semiconscious and dehydrated after he vanished during his fishing trip, one of a few he took this summer, to the 543-acre park.
A Suffolk County search-and-rescue German shepherd named Chase found Nadler lying on his back and still wearing his rubber fly-fishing waders.
Nadler, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, said he never snared the trout he set out to catch that day.
"I remember I started fishing and caught more trees than anything else," Nadler said during a 29-minute interview. "I had two cans of Coke with me. I drank those and after that I don't seem to remember very, very much except that I didn't know I was lost."
Nadler said he has scattered memories, such as cupping his hands together to catch and drink rainwater that fell during the three days he was missing.
Rescuers said that when they found Nadler, he raised his right arm and joked with them that he was sleeping, but Nadler said Monday he doesn't recall that encounter. Nor does he remember being airlifted to the Stony Brook University Hospital after he was found Thursday.
"I just sort of remember waking up kind of groggishly, you know, in a stupor I guess," he said.
Doctors Monday said Nadler's condition had been upgraded to good from serious. He's expected to be released in a day or two.
At the time of his rescue, attending physician Frederick Schiavone called Nadler "extremely fortunate."
His waders may have kept Nadler from succumbing to exposure, the doctor said.
Nadler had a "sunburned look" indicating he had been in the elements for several days, Schiavone said. He said marks found on Nadler "could be bug bites or small lacerations from thorns."
Nadler said Monday his hands remained scratched and so swollen that "I don't ever remember my hands looking this ugly in my life."
Nadler said he is getting around with a walker, and remains weak. It wasn't until Sunday that he could hold a conversation, he said.
"The thing that I'm thankful for is that I survived. That someone up above is looking out for me. I survived and I have my family. I'm lucky that I'm alive to talk about it," said Nadler. "The next thing is, the next time I go fishing, it will be with my wife."