As stated earlier, this is really OUR story. So, without further adieu, B’s experience as told to me. I should note that he recorded the facts in journal form. I “interviewed” him for a look at the emotional side of the events.
It’s hike day for L. Wednesday, September 16th, mid-morning (CDT), I sent her a text to which she replied “1.5 hours in” with pic of her smiling face with sunglasses. At 1:27 p.m. (CDT), L calls. She is crying, saying she wasn’t going to make it to the summit. I asked her why. Her reply was that she was dizzy. We talked for a little while. I told her that it was a good decision to stop than to risk a more serious issue at a higher elevation. L had told K and N to keep going. At the end of the call, I asked if she was OK. She told me that she was fine. Her voice was good and her tone gave no cause for concern.
Six hours later, things had changed. I received a text from L: “FYI little hiccup, I have altitude problem. Getting help down.” Me: “are you OK?” L: “Mah. May be spending the night in the park. I love you. I will be. K may call you.” I told her to call me when she knew if they were staying in the park overnight. Soon thereafter, L called. She said that they were going to take her down the mountain. She didn’t sound right. She cut the call off short. Now, I am concerned. About 20 minutes later, I call K. He told me that the Search and Rescue Team was with her. They had sent K and N down trail, citing that it was better to have only one needing rescue than three. He told me he would call when he heard any news. I’m praying for the best. The waiting is difficult.
Two hours later (9:26 p.m. CDT), I text: “How are you Babe?” with no response. Thinking her issues were due to high altitude, my expectation was that she would recover quickly once she was at lower altitude. At 11:22 p.m. (CDT), still no news from L. K called. He had spoken to the Search and Rescue Team. He told me to call L’s cell. The rescuers had it and were waiting for me to call. Of course, I did just that. 11:24 p.m. I spoke to a paramedic. He explained that L was deteriorating and they needed to get her to a hospital expeditiously. There was also an EMT with the team, and they were in communication with the park doctors via satellite telephone. This was reassuring to me. They were waiting for a special stretcher to carry L down the mountain. She had been with the rescuers 5 hours at this point. It seemed to take way too long to get her off the mountain. Concern turns to worry and a feeling of helplessness; more prayers.
Although it was late in Houston, I decided to text my boss. I told him that L was having trouble and that I wouldn’t be at work in the morning – just in case I needed to go to California.
Time goes by excruciatingly slowly when waiting for news from over 1800 miles away! My sleep was fitful at best.
Thursday, September 17th: I awoke early. By 6:30 a.m. (CDT), I was beyond frustrated with the lack of information. It was only 4:30 a.m. in California. By 8:30 a.m. (CDT), still no news. I was anxious to hear something; do something. It was still early in California, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I called K. He had not heard from anyone either. K had called L’s cell phone, but no answer. K was going to track-down L, but it was only 6:30 a.m. (PDT) and the park offices wouldn’t open until 9:00 a.m.
My mind is racing with thoughts: “Should I jump on a plane?” “What should I do next?” “Why can’t I get answers?” I tried to keep positive, expecting L to call and say that she had a long day with a tough night but she was feeling better. This was not going to happen.
I would find out later that the charge nurse in Neuro Critical Care Unit (NCCU) saw the cell battery was low and decided to charge L’s phone. She noticed the missed call from K. She called him and he requested that she call me. Around 10:07 a.m. (CDT), the charge nurse called me. L was in NCCU at a trauma center hospital in Modesto, CA. L was in critical condition, on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma. I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I was stunned. My world changed in an instant. She gave me time to digest the information. It was difficult to process what this meant. The charge nurse told me of 3 airports that were each about an hour and a half drive from the hospital. She gave me her name, L’ nurse’s name, and the direct number to the NCCU Nurse Station to call (Of course, I couldn’t find pen and paper anywhere!) if I needed anything or wanted to check on L’s condition. She would call back if anything changed. I walked circles in the kitchen, mind spinning, unfocused.
Finally, I pulled it together. I had to book my flight, get a car, pack. I had to call our (adult) daughters. They both wanted to go to their mother’s side. I felt badly that I couldn’t work on coordinating all our flights. I HAD to get to L! So they worked it out together. I am very grateful to them.
Our neighbor Mrs. P had been calling to see how everything was going since she hadn’t seen an update on L’s Facebook page. I returned her call at 10:21 a.m. (CDT) and told her what was going on with L. She asked what I needed. I told her someone to take care of our dogs. She started spreading the news with the other neighbors. Thank God for good neighbors! A short time later, Mrs. D was at the front door to tell me she was taking me to the airport. I was shaking from the entire situation. Mrs. D saw that I had a large suitcase by the door. L had my carry-on and I, being in a frenetic hurry, couldn’t find the other one. She went home and brought back a carry-on bag, and repacked for me. No checking baggage!
Our long-time friend called to check on the situation and ask if I needed anything. He is from Bakersfield, CA. I asked him if he knew how to get from San Francisco to Modesto. He didn’t. So, I had him get directions and e-mail them to me. Having the directions when I got there was an invaluable help! I was 45 minutes into the drive when I realized it was the same route to get to our San Ramon headquarters, at least partway.
Mrs. D took me to the airport. The timing was excellent. When I got to the gate, I went to the counter and explained my situation. I inquired if I could board early to avoid having to gate check my bag. The agent put me in boarding Group 1 (thank you!). While I was waiting, I called the hospital to check in with the nurse. I didn’t know then, just how careful the nurse was with her information. Later, she explained that she couldn’t tell me that L would recover, because she didn’t know.
The aircraft boarding finally started. It was about half full, when a ONE HOUR weather delay was announced! This was very tough to hear. Everyone had to deplane. My patience was being tested. Remarkably, I remained calm. As I was about to sit down back in the airport terminal, there was another announcement regarding my flight. I didn’t hear it. I asked several people around me what the announcement had said. I must have seemed anxious. One of them asked if I was concerned about missing a connecting flight. I told them no and gave them the 411 on my situation. At last, passengers re-board and the aircraft was on the way to San Francisco. While taxiing out to the runway, I replay everything: “Did I pack all that I need?” “Have I missed any details?” “Have I called everyone I need to call?” I realized that I had not called L’s boss to let them know the situation. As the plane taxied, I send my boss a text asking him to notify them.
The flight was unbearably long. To keep from going insane, I played chess, read a book or just listened to music. Thank God for my iPad! I couldn’t focus on any one thing for long. Finally, on approach to SFO! My emotions had welled up and were about to make an outward appearance. Reality has hit and I feel like I’m losing it. As the flight taxied, a young woman behind me handed me a note. It was very sweet. She had overheard the conversation in the terminal. She wrote: “Have a safe journey. Please be careful on the road…I will keep you, your wife and family in my prayers…” It was signed with her name. She was an off-duty United flight attendant. We deplaned. The terminal was under construction. I wasn’t sure which way to go. The same flight attendant saw my confusion. She pointed me in the right direction. I hope to say “thank you” to her one day.
Off to get a rental car and get on the road. It was 4:22 p.m. (PDT) when I, at long last, was on the freeway and heading to the hospital – normally one and a half hours away. But 4:22 p.m. is full on rush – hour traffic. The stop and go traffic was maddening. It felt like I was being tested again. I remained calm, realizing that an accident would delay me even more. A full three hours later, I arrived at the hospital. It had been just under 12 hours since receiving the call from the nurse.
Neuro Critical Care (NCCU) waiting room: The first people I saw were L’s BFF J and husband; K and his wife J. I just needed to get to L NOW!! BFF J took me into NCCU. It was very difficult to see L this way: intubated, breathing machine, many IV tubes, restrained. I was scared, terrified by the recurring thought that I could be looking at life without her; not knowing what she would want if that happened.
About 4 hours later, our daughters (and one terrific boyfriend) arrived at the hospital. Their arrival brought me both relief and pain as we shared the shocking reality. After they spent time with L, we went to check-in at the same hotel as K. Once they were settled, I went back to the hospital. I spent the night with L, my head on the bed next to her legs.