Things That Go Whump in the Night!

This narrative was not easy to write. Most of my blog posts are light-hearted celebrations of life. Though this post is definitely a celebration of life, it is not in the least light-hearted. However, I felt it was important to write, in order to let others see how valuable it is to think logically, without panic, during an emergency.

Jay wrote much of the content of this narrative. But I put the narrative in third person, in an effort to bring some emotional space between us and the events of August 11.

August 11, 2018

3:00 a.m.

Whump!

Jay’s eyes fly open to a confusion of darkness and collapsed tent. “A bear?” he wonders. “No, nothing is moving.”

Suddenly he registers a steady, burbling exhalation coming from beside him. Urgently, he reaches for Sarah. She lays still, face down under his questing hand. Something heavy rests upon the tent material on her back. A tree branch. Jay throws it off, shouting Sarah’s name. No response. He reaches out, suddenly feeling a warm, greasy liquid pooling around her head. Horror envelops him.

Struggling to his knees, Jay lifts Sarah’s face out of the blood. The gurgling noise continues below her, and he realizes he is hearing air escaping from the punctured sleeping mat, burbling through her blood.

Sarah begins to moan and struggle in his arms. Blood is pouring from a large tear in her neck. Thinking he must stop the blood, he presses fingers into her neck. Sarah cries out in pain, and Jay feels sharp bone fragments inside. Blood continues to pour out.

He struggles to lift Sarah to a sitting position. Realizing that he needs more hands, and remembering the hiker camped just a few yards down the trail, he shouts for help. The hiker, Jeff, answers. While he is coming, Jay fumbles through the tangle of collapsed tent, sleeping bags, and gear. He finds a glove, then a buff, which he tries to press against Sarah’s wound. She resists, so he hands it to her, and she holds the cloth below the upper cut.

He finds a flashlight and gets his first good look at Sarah. The bleeding has slowed. “Is she running out of blood?” he wonders. “No, she’s still conscious. That’s got to be good.”

“Do you hurt anywhere else?” he asks anxiously. He’s not sure whether to believe her when she answers in the negative. The tent and sleeping bag are so tangled around her lower torso and legs, he can’t tell if she is hurt there or not.

Jeff arrives with another flashlight. Together Jay and Jeff find the emergency locator and activate it.

“There’s a trail angel parked just half a mile from here,” Jeff tells Jay. “I’ll go see if he can help.”

Sarah is still conscious with only slowly seeping bleeding. Worried about shock, Jay tries to lay her down. She shouts in pain, and the bleeding starts again. Quickly he raises her back to a sitting position.

Jay remembers that there is phone service here. He searches through the jumble of downed tent and supplies, finding his cell phone. He kneels with Sarah leaning against him, and calls 911.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?” The dispatcher’s voice is calm.

“My wife is bleeding out.” He blurts his biggest fear.

The dispatcher leads him through a litany of questions and answers. Though Jay tells her three times that they are on the PCT, 20 miles south of Snoqualmie, he can tell that she doesn’t really understand. She finally takes his number and tells him she will call back after initiating a rescue.

Sarah’s bleeding has slowed considerably, so he tries to lay her down. Again, the bleeding surges out afresh and Sarah moans in pain. Jay raises her, and this time sits back to back with her, giving them both some rest and support.

Jay sees the first signs of dawn as rain begins. Sarah is getting cold, and he awkwardly holds his sleeping mat over her. The 911 dispatcher calls to say help is on the way, but when asked for an ETA, she doesn’t know.

Jeff returns, but, concerning the trail angel, he can only say, “He’s incapacitated.” Jay figures the man must be drunk. Jeff calls 911 to try to give the rescue party directions. He asks Jay what else he can do to help.

“Do you have an extra tarp?” Jay asks. “Sarah is getting pretty cold.”

Jeff assembles his own tarp over Sarah and Jay as the rain continues, then leaves to try to meet the rescuers at the nearest dirt road.

There is nothing to do except wait. Sarah needs to pee. Worried about moving her and restarting the bleeding, Jay helps untangle her from the tent. As she moves to do her business, he is able to see that there are no other obvious injuries. They settle back together under the tarp, sitting on Jay’s sleeping pad. Jay texts his sister, Nancy, for moral support. She answers, which is a great comfort to him.

Four hours after the tree branch fell, the rescue team arrives with several strong young men, one EMT, and a stretcher/gurney on one wheel.

“You can’t lay her down. The bleeding will start again!” Jay is anxious that they understand. Though the rescue team has never transported a seated patient, the EMT immediately grasps the importance of Jay’s information, and directs the others to prop up Sarah with the backpacks.

A few of the rescue crew look at the branch. About four feet long, five inches at its thickest diameter, one end is a tangled weaving of branchlets and twigs. It doesn’t really look sturdy enough to have caused this much damage. Appearances are deceiving.

They trace it’s fall back to a very tall tree some distance from the tent, with a screen of healthy greenery between the tree and the tent. We would have never have seen this hanging “widow maker”. The crew reckons it was a combination of the extreme height of the tree and the light wind which brought it all the way to our clearing.

“You know, it’s very good that you activated that emergency locator beacon,” the sheriff tells Jay. “It helped us find you, and cut our response time considerably.”

Sarah is transported for an hour on the gurney, up very steep trail, across rocks, between trees. It’s rough work for the rescue crew. Another hour in a four wheel drive vehicle across bumpy dirt roads brings them to an ambulance. There the EMT takes Sarah’s blood pressure, and Jay sees relief on his face.

The ambulance negotiates small back roads, then stops at a major highway. Another ambulance driver comes aboard, and suddenly the vehicle is going at high speed, sirens flashing, often in the carpool lane, weaving down the freeway to Seattle.

The ambulance arrives at the Harbor View Medical Center, an excellent trauma hospital, at 10:00 a.m., seven hours after the tree branch fell. From here, Sarah’s health is in the hands of trained professionals.

There were so many times during this narrative when panic threatened Jay. His ability to think rationally saved my life that night. He is my hero! Calm, logical, rational thought is a skill a person can practice and learn. We will probably never go into the woods again without an emergency locator. But also, from here on out, I am going to try to practice rational thought more often. For one never knows!

44 thoughts on “Things That Go Whump in the Night!

  1. We have kept up with you on your hiking and then conversing with Ruth. Your writings are amazing, horrifying with what you endured, and yet helpful to know how the emergency was handled. Our thoughts are with you and hope each day is better. Yet words seem inadequate at this time.
    Much love,
    Aunt Martha

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    1. Dear Aunt Martha,
      Yes, I agree that there are parts of the story that are horrifying. I’m very glad to know that you found the whole description helpful, in case of future emergencies. That was definitely my aim in writing!
      I’ll be writing one more blog post about convalescing. Yes, each day is full of joy!
      Love, Sarah

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Praying everyday for you and Jay!! Thank you for sharing this even though hard to write. Hope God heals you completely. Love you both very much!!!

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  3. Wow! Unbelievable what can happen in the blink of an eye. So glad you were able to get help. I can’t even imagine how horrifying that must have been.

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  4. Knowledge, patience, technology and relative calmness saved the day! So sorry to hear of this BIG near miss. Glad your in good hands. Prayers going your way for a quick recovery.

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  5. Thanks for writing about and showing a picture of ResQLink. I never thought about purchasing one but will now! Thought a cellphone, bear spray and bug spray were all I needed and I have hiked/camped for years! Praying for a speedy recovery for you.

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    1. Yes, we were the same! But so much of the PCT has no cell phone service, so Jay researched emergency locators. There are many kinds, with many different features. Jay chose the one that seemed to have the longest battery life and the best success rate for linking with satellites. We are very pleased with the performance of the ResQLink. (One added benefit: Its directions are simple enough for almost anyone to activate, including a child!)

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  6. What an unbelievable experience, Sarah & Jay! I cannot even imagine what all was involved to lead to this (relatively) good outcome. Having cell signal, having another camper nearby, having the ResQLink, having a quick-thinking, calm person in charge, etc. And even after the rescue workers reached you, having surefooted rescuers who could negotiate the steep trails without dumping you out of the rescue stretcher. I hope you are continuing to heal and that the emotional and physical trauma are fading gradually. All of us who have been following your travels from here in Maryville are very thankful for your recovery.

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  7. Thanks for writing this Jay and Sarah. I think you’re both heroes.
    And I’ll look into your choice of emergency locator. It”s a great idea for people living with mountains and limited cellphone coverage.

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    1. Dear Mela,
      Yes, the emergency locator is a very good thing! Jay researched it, and chose the one with the longest lasting battery and the furthest reach for satellites. There are many different kinds, depending upon what criteria a person has.

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  8. Wishing you a speedy physical and emotional recovery!! This was terrifying to read. Grateful for Jay’s presence of mind, and that you had packed along the beacon.

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  9. Yes indeed: brilliant and calm Jay, superlative EMTs, great docs, some wonderful technology… BUT the one thing I think also needs to be mentioned is YOU! You showed immense fortitude in enduring a terrifying incident, strength through what must have been a terribly painful transport, and faith during an event that for many of us would have been utterly defeating. YAY SARAH for your courage, grit, determination, and fantastic attitude. You are an inspiration! May you continue to have all these great traits (and all your good people by your side) as you heal! Sending love to both of you. 💗

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    1. Dear Jen,
      Thank you for the lovely cheerleading session! I’ve got to say though, that those fabulous adjectives don’t seem very real to me. All I did was wait, accept help, follow Jay’s lead, and wait some more. Kind of like telling a kid, “Good job waiting for Christmas.” The waiting has to happen, nothing the kid can do will make it come any sooner. I couldn’t do anything to help, so I just waited. I still say it was Jay’s logical thinking that saved the day and started the whole rescue process!
      But once again, thank you for the lovely ideas.
      Sarah

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  10. I have been following your adventure and am very sorry to learn of your injury. I wish you a full and speedy recovery. As an Emergency Medical Responder who has had a hand in a few rescues, I must say you two did everything right–especially having that beacon. Often the hardest part of a rescue is finding the patient and those beacons make it so much easier. I am always amazed when bad things happen to good people, but it wouldn’t be an adventure if there weren’t many opportunities for death along the way. I am glad you survived and I hope you keep going for a good many more miles.

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    1. Thank you! Your encouragement means a lot to Jay and me. And thank you for being one of those incredible people who respond to other’s emergencies! Jay and I were so very grateful when people with more knowledge than us showed up that night.
      Your observation that part of an adventure is the opportunity for death made Jay and I burst out laughing! Yes, one sometimes has to trade a bit of security for freedom. I have truly enjoyed our adventures in the forest this year.
      Once again, thank you.

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      1. You are welcome. I am glad you got a laugh out of my comment. Humor heals. I would like to mention that I have tried many things over the years and found that nothing is as satisfying and rewarding as working on a team to save a human life. There is a sense of cooperation, purpose, and direction unlike any encountered in more common hours. There is no feeling quite as good as knowing that you had a hand in saving somebody’s life. That is why people volunteer for Search and Rescue and rural fire departments and stay at it for years.

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  11. Whoa – Howard sent me the link to this (via Peggy). Very scary! And very glad everything came out ok. Congratulations on retiring and good for you guys for getting out there!! Here’s to more, but safer adventures!!

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  12. Dear Sarah,
    I told my husbend to worry if something happened to you because of you not writing such a long time.
    When I spotted the 1st sunday post and then the second post, I looked forward reading, I did a few Minutes ago…
    I feel so sorry for you and Jay have to go through this. I fear my english is not as good to find the right words, but I wish both of you all the Best to weather this times.
    While reading your personal thougts, I feel connected with you and I hope both of you will keep your positive attitude.
    Get well soon Sarah and Jay you’ve done that Job very well. (If I’m allowed say this)

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  13. Glad to hear that Sarah is (presumably) doing okay now. I’m also going to make it a point to carry an InReach or ACR on backpacking trips. Too bad we didn’t get to chat more since we seem to have a lot in common. Patsy and I also both retired early to travel. We’re still on the PCT with about 300 miles to go. Best wishes from Richard and Patsy.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement!
      I’m really glad to hear that you will be carrying an InReach or ACR.
      My memory is a bit foggy right now, so could you please remind me of where we met on the trail?
      Good luck with the rest of your hike! If you see the branch that nailed me, please stomp on it for us!
      Sincerely, Sarah and Jay

      Like

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