September 15, 2016
It was so strange to return to Yosemite. Many things seem different than I remembered, but now there is road construction in Yosemite Valley. We walked into the Yosemite Medical Clinic and ask to see Dr. Groves. We waited to meet MD Ralph since he was working with a patient.
After greeting us, he walked us to the back of house where we met ambulance medics Joy and Mike. The three of them range in height from 6’2” – 6’7”!! My husband is 6’3”. At 5’4”, I am quite a shrimp in comparison.
Apparently, my case was extraordinarily atypical and won’t soon be forgotten by YOSAR (Yosemite Search and Rescue) or the Yosemite medical staff. After initial thank yous and hugs, we spoke with the three and learned a few more details regarding my descent to the awaiting helicopter.
The average YOSAR teams are composed of a mix of medical personnel and non-medical personnel. Matt was a paramedic with the team who reached me first. He phoned via satellite the Yosemite Medical Clinic to speak with the MD Ralph regarding my symptoms. At this point, I was able to answer the neuro-cognitive tests (What year is it? Who is president?” etc.) accurately and paramedic Matt (and team) did not suspect I was not lucid. This is one of those times the tests didn’t give the whole picture. I don’t remember the YOSAR team at all! Or the search and rescue dog! Since 99.9% of cases that present with my symptoms are dehydration and altitude sickness, the doctor believed I was another simple case: just give the patient IV saline and altitude sickness medication; the patient will rapidly improve. We were told that one of the fastest hikers, who happened to be an EMT, took the medication up the mountain to us, which was around 6 miles from the trailhead.
After the medications were administered, they expected to see an almost immediate and significant improvement. Instead, my decline was rapid. It became obvious that this was not going to be a typical case. Those of you who know me, know that I don’t do most things in the classic normal fashion. We think this must be around the time I started counting in German! Ralph was searching for other causes of my condition. He had no way to confirm what he suspected: hyponatremia (critically low electrolytes especially sodium, calcium, potassium). He had recently read a case study of a Grand Canyon hiker with hyponatremia. The hiker did not recover. This condition is mostly found in marathoners in desert areas. To confirm diagnosis, a blood sample is analyzed. Treatment is IV hypertonic saline. Ralph queries: “Does anyone know if we even have hypertonic saline?” Medic Mike (the un-organized by reputation) had been recently put in charge of the inventory and organization of the medical supplies. He recalls seeing an odd type saline in the supplies. He thinks this is what the Ralph is wanting and he knows where it is. Yes! There are 2 bags of the hypertonic! Ralph weighs the risks vs. benefits of giving me the hypertonic and decided the benefits (if correct) would outweigh the risks (if incorrect). Remember, it’s around midnight at this point. Because of my continued decline, it was “all hands on deck”! YOSAR is bringing me down trail on a gurney with 6 people steadying it and, probably, another 2-3 carrying equipment and supplies. It is still a few miles, around 2 hours to the ambulance waiting at the trailhead. Ralph decides he needs to get the hypertonic to me quickly. Someone needs to hike the medicine to meet the team on the trail. Medics Mike and Joy cannot leave the ambulance. MD Ralph decides to drive to the trailhead and take it to me himself! It took him an hour to get to us.
I believe this is pivotal to both my being alive and having normal brain activity. God knew the hypertonic would begin the restoration of my electrolytes. God knew that Mike would know where the hypertonic was in the supply closet. God knew Ralph, a runner, would be quick on the trail to get to me.
It was another hour before I was at the ambulance. Typical ambulance procedure has one medic as driver and one with the patient. I was in such distress that both medics and another one rode in back with me. (Again, I’m not a typical patient!) We think it was one the of YOSAR team who jumped in to drive the ambulance the 40 minutes to the helipads at Crane Flat Lookout. There was a party in the back and I don’t remember any of it!! The blood analyzer wasn’t working to confirm diagnosis. I began showing the signs of pulmonary edema (trouble breathing). MD Ralph must weigh the options once again. It was decided to add the 2nd hypertonic IV. The party moves on to the helipad. The flight nurse is given all the notes for my case. Due to the pulmonary edema, the nurse decides it is best to intubate before take-off rather than risk needing to do it quickly while en-route on a moving helicopter.
A few people have asked, “Why didn’t they med-evac me off the mountain with the helicopter?” and “Why didn’t the helicopter land in Yosemite Valley?” The answer is: no flying in Yosemite Valley after sunset. It is too dangerous with the varying terrain.
This had such an impact on both YOSAR and the Yosemite Medical Team that the next day Cheyne (non-medical YOSAR) went to the clinic to ask Ralph what was wrong with me. I am glad this doesn’t happen much!
We took some photos near the ambulances. After hugs and some tears, and more hugs, we parted.
Bill and I decided we had time to drive to Modesto and visit Doctors Medical Center Neuro Critical Care Unit (NCCU). To gain entry, one must call the nurse station. Bill called and asked for the charge nurse on duty (Susan). Susan comes out to see us. He explains why we are there. She tells him that she remembers hearing about my case and that the staff would love to meet us. Susan takes us into NCCU. Several of the nurses on duty remember us, even remembering our daughters. One recalled extubating me! There were lots of hugs and a few tears. I have to admit that only one of them looked familiar to me.
Both groups told us that they rarely see the long term outcome of patients. It was an exciting treat for them. I told them “You done good!” laughing that my daughters would cringe at that phrase.
Here’s what went into the orchestration of my miracle (some taken from brother Ken’s list):
- I trained and was fit enough to complete the Half Dome Hike.
- There were other people with me.
- I chose to turn around, rather than push too far.
- I was able to hike 2 miles toward the trailhead – I didn’t fall, get lost, or meet a critter. I believe Jesus was carrying me.
- I agreed that I needed help and one cell phone had service where we were. God was the strong tower of communications.
- The YOSAR Team was less than 30 minutes away, not 3-4 hours. I consider this a divine coincidence. Unfortunately, the hiker, Timothy Nolan, they had been searching for was found dead the next day, having suffered a diabetic crisis.
- I had my medical info on my phone, plus my drug allergy bracelet. God forbid I need to use them again!
- YOSAR convinced Ken and Nils to continue back to Yosemite Valley to keep them safe. God watching over them.
- The “fastest” hiker was available to bring the initial medications to me and get the IV started.
- The medical staff was able to see that I needed more help as soon as possible. Divine intuition.
- Ralph had read and remembered the article about hyponatremia. He’s a runner. He decided to give both bags of hypertonic saline. God’s discernment.
- Competent Medical teams were waiting at the ambulance and the helicopter.
- Doctors Medical Center in Modesto is the trauma center for the valley and was prepared to handle my case.
- My phone led the charge nurse to call my husband. Divine communications.
- As my family and friends learned of my condition, a prayer fire started sweeping from coast to coast! God’s people joining together, petitioning heaven!
- My husband and daughters were able to get to Modesto – probably not as quickly as they would have preferred – but safely. God watching over them.
- Ken was able to secure hotel rooms during a tournament weekend. God’s provision.
- As my electrolyte levels came back within a normal range, I was brought out of the medically induced coma, able to respond. God’s timing.
- As my cognition improved, I was able to recognize family, pass the swallow test, and begin walking again. I was discharged and returned to Houston in less than a week! God’s restoring power!
God was the maestro and each person was an instrument in His orchestra. Thank God they were willing and available!
Jesus healed 10 but only 1 returned to thank Him. I want to be continually grateful for my life being spared, for the expertise of those medical professionals I encountered in the process, for my family being together, for the Body of Christ to unite in prayer, and for the opportunity to encourage others by showing God’s love.
I won’t know this side of heaven why God chose me for a miraculous healing and not someone else. My prayer is that the story spreads His love throughout the country. Remember, I am not perfect – well, perfectly ordinary! God uses those who have an open heart and are obedient to His calling.
Epilogue: I went for my yearly eye exam expecting nothing had changed. God is full of surprises! Amazingly, my left eye is now correctable to 20/20! Thank You Doctor Jesus! When I put on the new glasses, my world became so crisp and clear! I pray that I can keep God’s vision in full, clear view.