Friday, May 6, 2011

The Last Week of March, Part 2

     Here's "the rest of the story."  This was harder to write about than what actually happened. I think you'll understand.
     I believe in miracles, but I think the term is used far too often and too loosely. I believe in them, but don't want to sound as though I am constantly looking for and seeing them everywhere. I'm not talking about the miracles like "the miracle of birth,"  as that happens daily, and is no less a miracle for it's frequency, or the daily morning miracle of sunrise.  I'm talking honest-to-goodness Miracles, capital M miracles. But let me tell you about the part of the story that got my brother TO the hospital. It still gives me goose-bumps.
     First of all, you have to know a couple things about my brother.  He is 57, the quintessential woodsman/outdoorsman. Has been since birth. He is 9 years older than me, and all my life, from my earliest recollections of him, he has been trapping, hunting, cutting wood, etc. He is also the epitomy of "Independent"  - stubborn and set in his ways and a genuine curmudgeon might be better-fitting terms and ones he himself would apply liberally as well. He's a good guy, but it's his way  or the highway.  He's also an expert in the woods, particularly with safety. He has been cutting wood all his life, nearly, and has NEVER had a careless accident. He is the type of person for whom careless accidents simply do not happen. I'm not trying to build him as a larger-than-life person, but it's critical that it is clear that he does not take risks in the woods, ever.
     Equally important is the fact that, until a year or two ago, my brother did not OWN a cell phone. Didn't believe in them, thought people who had them were generally rude and stupid (I TOLD you he was opinionated), as they were constantly talking or texting in public, and there was just NO POINT to them.  OK, whatever. Not my opinion (though I do agree that common politeness has gone out the window when many people use their cell phones...)  But, a couple years ago, my brother began dating a woman who lives in New Hampshire, and suddenly, quietly, he not only had a cell phone like the rest of the modern world, but became rather an expert texter as well!
     So, on that day, that Tuesday back in March, he had cut a tree down near his back door, and then had gone across the main road, down the dirt road diagonally across from his house and up into the woods to drop some trees for firewood.  Thankfully, his girlfriend in NH knew where he was, knew that he was alone, and so... had the unthinkable happened, we would have at least known by nightfall, as their plan was for her to text him on her way home from work, and if he didn't answer her text, she would worry. (I assume at that point the "worry" would have translated into a quick call for one of us locally to go check on least, I assume that was the point of their check in system?) Regardless, he did have his cell phone with him, something which, two years ago, would NOT have happened, given his previous exhortations about the ridiculousness of cell phones. Miracle number one. If you knew my brother, you would GET that this, in itself, was a miracle. He makes many proclamations, and seldom in my lifetime has EVER gone back on one.  If he says it, he means it, and does it. Thank God the cell phone one is one of the very, very few that he didn't stick with.
     So, cutting trees down. Something happened. We STILL don't know what, and probably never will. He always checks for loose branches, branches hung up, widow-makers. He DOES remember doing that this time, as well. But suddenly, something happened. Whatever it was, he was hit from the right side, and knocked about 15 feet away from his chainsaw, according to where the EMT's found him.  You can't tell from the trees that are down what happened, so I guess that part of it is always going to be a mystery.
     Somehow, regaining consciousness for a brief period of time, he managed to call his friend, at work an hour a way, and tell him "You gotta help me. I'm hurt bad. I don't know where I am."  That friend called his wife, who lives locally, and SHE called 911.  He also called other friends of my brothers who live in town, I think, or maybe my brother made a couple of other phone calls. THOSE friends immediately drove up, outside of town, to his house, where they spent time looking for him around there. Based on the tree being down, but not yet cut up, by his back steps, they assumed he was hurt there, and laying someplace near by.  After that, the story is pieced together from what people involved have said happened, but none of this is first hand to me. What I BELIEVE happened is, when his friend's wife called 911, she said she didn't know where he was, but gave them his cell phone number. 911 called him back, and as long as his phone was on, they used it to triangulate from the various cell towers where his signal was coming from to get a general location. He was apparently in and out of consciousness much of this time.  911 toned out the two rescue squads from the towns on either side of him - the closest one does not have an ambulance, but DOES have an emergency response vehicle and trained EMT's, so they actually were the ones who eventually reached him first.  I guess, based on the responders knowing my brother, knowing the area, and using the cell phone tower signals, they could tell what road they thought he was on. From there, when he WAS conscious, the 911 dispatch people asked both rescue teams to turn on their sirens until he said he could hear them. Then they had one turn their siren off, and the other leave theirs on, and vice versa. Based on which siren he reported hearing each time, they could narrow down their search area for him.  They drove down the dirt road, not knowing exactly where in the woods he would be, but then the guys on the closer rescue squad happened to see three-wheeler tracks through a tiny patch of snow that was left (most had either melted or been washed away by early spring rains and warmer weather at that point) heading into the woods. Either knowing, or just following a hunch, I don't know which, they went in after him there, where they saw the tracks. They found him, immediately back-boarded and c-collared him for obvious spinal cord injury, and called for Mercy Flight. MF landed in a cleared area of field used for a log landing zone, and... the rest you know.
     Thinking about all that went into that rescue, all the variables, the intuition, the skill, the friends, the coincidences, STILL makes me shake a bit.  If I DIDN"T believe in miracles before, MIRACLE miracles, I do now. 
     Currently, nearly 7 weeks after the accident, he is still in a body brace (that, in itself, is a miracle - we were so very afraid that "he-who-knows-all" would decide two weeks in that he knew better than the doctors, and would not live the necessary time in the wildly uncomfortable brace.) To the best of my knowledge, he is still in it. I THINK he has another 1-3 weeks.  He has been in NH with his girlfriend for the past month. Flying to Boston in a body brace, with two spinal column breaks, a few weeks after the accident was NOT what any of us felt was in his best interest, and we made that profoundly clear. But, he's a big boy, and because his girlfriend had a stroke, and then heart surgery once they discovered the stroke was caused by a hole in her heart, though we didn't agree, we also couldn't very well blame him for wanting to be there with her. Apparently it hasn't caused him any real harm.  The only residual at this point SEEMS to be hearing loss in his right ear, and he does have an appointment to get that checked soon. If that is the worst he ends up with, then that is small potatoes. He is a lucky man, indeed. 
     I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that there is something beyond the flat world we see. Peggy Noonan


Coloradocasters said...
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Coloradocasters said...

Wow...this is an amazing story. Wishing your brother the best from one "cutter of wood" to the other. For some this is a seasonal endeavor that comes with many perils.

Peruby said...

I have older brothers and I can relate to a lot of what you say about your brother's personality. The outdoorsmen type are an independent group at that.

That is such an incredible story and I am so glad that you took the time to share it with us. I realize now that I was not at all easy for you. Hopefully by writing it all down you were able to purge out some of the anxiety.

Years from now you will read back on this post and get the goosebumps all over again.

Sending best wishes your way.