How the things you learn along the way really do make a difference.
19.06.2011 60 °F
I debated writing this and putting pen to paper (figuratively) over the last 24 hours since things have happened because of confidentiality and stuff, but I decided to write it out because I know I'll end up telling this story over and over again to friends and family if I don't put it in one place for everyone to read. So, here's the story, I hope I do it justice as it's impossible to fully explain everything that went through my mind. It's a bit long too, so you might want to take a seat...
Yesterday I summitted my 20th 14er, Mt. Antero just south of Buena Vista. On my way down, I was offered a ride farther down the jeep road to my car by a gentleman I met on the summit. I replied no because then I'd see it as an incomplete hike on my part, but told him if he caught me on his way down I'd hop in so I didn't have to cross the rushing and freezing stream on my way down. I already crossed it in the morning and was not interested in doing it again. So, he picked me up not much farther down and dropped me off by my car. Just above my car was the snow drift that I couldn't get over and was the cause of the now 2 foot scrape along my left running board. We met two gentleman on ATVs there on the other side of the snow drift. I took off my pack and taking off layers like any other standard 14er hike and suddenly one of the guys came running down the road screaming "help! help! my friend is drowning!" I'm thinking to myself, no way. This stuff never happens, there's no way. But still, I took off running up the hill.
His friend had hit a rivet in the snowbank from tire tracks on the opposite side of the snow drift with his front left tire, and flipped his ATV into the stream. The stream runs immediately along the road, and his friend was pinned underwater underneath the ATV. I've never felt so helpless in my life. This man was gasping for air and fighting, but simply could not break the surface. The stream was raging and much higher than normal due to the above average snowfall in Colorado this winter. Somehow, I don't really remember, I was able to grab his right arm closest to me (his head was downstream). His friend was standing on a sort of bridge of snow covering the stream that hadn't melted yet, and was leaning out against the ATV. Somehow, his friend grabbed his right arm, and we both pulled as hard as possible to get the guy above water. After a few seconds of desperate lifting, we got his head above water...but he was out, cold. Unconscious, lips bluish purple, eyes faded, face pale. I for a split second thought we had lost him. After about 10 seconds (I think?) he regained consciousness. Thank the Lord. He's alive and I don't have to perform CPR. He mumbled a few things that were simply noise, and then said to his friend, I give up. I'm exhausted, I can't make it out of this stream. I'm going back under.
I held on tighter, and yelled at him, we've got you! We're getting you out of here! He was heavier than anything I've ever lifted, and kept acting like he was going to use the ATV as a crutch to try to stand up. I refused to let go. At this point another bystander showed up and I immediately yelled at him for help too. This way, he was able to grab the guy's left arm and the guy's friend was able to get out of danger from standing on the snow bridge. Somehow through a series of movements, I don't remember exactly, we were able to get him turned around in the stream and solid footing on the stream bed so he could attempt to stand up. We had him do his best, and we both pulled with all we had to get him out of the stream and up onto the snow drift covering the road. This guy was probably 300+ pounds, and it was a huge relief to have him out of the stream. At this point, we had saved his life, and had I not been there initially, he would have drowned for sure pinned under the ATV. But, this is just the beginning.
With my knowledge of CPR, first aid, and an Eagle Scout, I knew the first necessary step was to get him out of his clothes, and being the only person around with any knowledge of first aid, everyone followed me lead, especially once I said I'm an Eagle Scout. I ran to my car and grabbed some towels my dad keeps in there and the fleece sleeping bag liner I slept in the night before and after we got him out of his shirts and hoodie, I did my best to warm him up. I asked him how he felt: nauseated, weak, exhausted, cold. I knew he needed a hospital ASAP. Next thing I did was a memory check with important facts since he was out for so long. DOB, wife's name, address, hometown, political party, things you should remember. He passed all questions, thankfully. He claimed to remember crashing and going under water but not much after that. I'm awaiting another call, but hoping he doesn't suffer from brain damage from the time he was unconscious. At this point the bystander and I got him to my car, and headed 3 miles down the rugged (and intense) jeep road to the Chaffee County dirt road.
Once we got back to the dirt road, we went to his part time retirement home nearby with his friend and got him some new clothes, shoes, etc. Not having cell reception and with their landline not working, I told his friend we needed to get back out and head straight to a hospital. I told his friend to follow me just in case they needed any information since he knew his friend better than I did, and that I was going to call 911 as soon as I had reception. This guy did NOT want to go to a hospital. He kept saying he would be ok and just needed to lay down, but the rules of CPR say otherwise. So, we headed out towards the nearest highway (285), speeding like mad down the dirt roads. I continually talked to him to make sure he was there and if anything was changing. Right before we reached 285, he told me he was beginning to shake. Shock? Hypothermia? Either way, I had him recline the shotgun side seat as best as possible and grabbed the fleece blanket to try to warm him. The person on 911 sent the nearest patrol car to meet us and the nearest ambulance, and told me the EMTs would be able to tell us what to do from there. Within minutes, I was pulled over, and for a good cause for once in my life, and the officer began checking things out, getting story info, contact info, etc. Within minutes of this the sheriff and EMTs arrived.
At this point I let the EMTs go to work. The officer turned to me and said you should feel proud, you saved this guy's life today. The sheriff said the same thing. The EMTs then pulled out the stretcher from the ambulance and loaded him on, covered him in a blanket, and loaded him into the ambulance. One of the EMTs then told me the same thing, and told me which hospital they were headed to. At this point, we began to wrap things up a bit. The ambulance flew off down 285 towards Salida hospital, and I shook hands with he sheriff and police officer, and they both commended be again. I told them both I attribute it all to being an Eagle Scout and our motto, "Be Prepared." You never know when those little things you learned in Scouting will come in handy. I exchanged contact info with his friend, and told him to please please call me with an update when they get the verdict from the hospital. Case closed? Hardly.
I got a call this afternoon from the gentleman's wife from the hospital with an update. They were both very grateful for me being there and saving his life, and for the kindness I showed in getting him to a hospital. His wife said he periodically coughs up blood, which obviously isn't great news. He said he experienced the worst shaking of his life yesterday and it took them 2 hours to warm his body temperature back up to normal. They scanned his chest and his enzymes were off (or something like that) and they think he might have had a mild heart attack (he's 69), but aren't positive. His oxygen level is still too low to let him leave, but the doctors said he might be able to go home tomorrow if things improve. He said the doctors said it's a miracle he survived. I told them if they need anything else to call me and also to please let me know how things end up and when he makes it home safely.
And that's where things stand as of right now. I've never been one to take merit in things and try to remain humble, but I do feel proud in some ways I guess for what I did. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that I was there when I was, had the knowledge and preparedness that I did, and that I took that ride down from the guy I met on the summit, because otherwise that man would not be breathing today. The feeling of knowing you saved someone's life is indescribable really. From the immediate terror and shock that something like that was actually happening to the ability to react to the humble pride you take in success from a situation like that, it's beyond words. I thank God that I was there yesterday. He works in funny ways sometimes. It's truly the most speechless moment of my life to date because you really can't describe the feelings and rush of emotions through the whole thing. It's just beyond words. I shared this story in an email to the man who was my Eagle Advisor last night and spoke with him today, and he suggested using it as an inspiration letter to the guys in my scout troop back at home and the guys in the Philmont crew leaving in two weeks that I had to back out of. I hope they can take as much from the story as I learned yesterday and understand that Boy Scouts really does teach you a lot of useful things. And with that I'm going to close with two words that have always served me very well:
- **Update 8/28/11***
I received an Award of Distinguished Service from the Chaffee County Sheriff's Department yesterday for what I did. For pictures of the presentation, follow this link: http://t.co/tjQl4eI