Sunday, September 8, 2013

Catastrophic Hiking (or how I got a concussion of my own)


The hike you’ve been waiting to hear about. 

The hike I’m still frustrated about.

Here goes…


Last fall the kids & I went on several hikes.  On one hike we could tell we were near a waterfall, but we couldn’t see it no matter where we went on the trail.  Later I read the reason.  Oneata Gorge is possibly the closest thing the Colombia River Gorge has to a slot canyon.  Oneata Falls is only visable to the few, the daring, the hikers who are adventurous/energetic/crazy enough to undertake the short but extreme hike into the canyon.

It sounded like the perfect adventure to have with Jason—don’t you think?

I did a lot of reading about the Oneata Gorge hike so that we’d be very prepared.  We knew where to park, we knew that we’d have to climb over a big log jam, (a crowded mass of logs across a creek), wade in the creek, and eventually have to swim through the creek in the narrowest part of the gorge.  I had waited for this adventure until the end of August so that the water level would be at the lowest possible.  We packed dry clothes (for the other hike we were going to do later), snacks, and lunches, and we were ready.

(picture taken the next month.)

From the beginning it was exciting.  We walked down the stairs, into the narrow canyon and had to wade through a creek right away. 


The first real obstacle was the log jam.  First we had to scramble up and over an enormous rock, and then we had to cross over many piled logs. 


The piles of logs was bigger than anything I had imagined.


The kids thought it was great fun.


From the top of the log jam we could see the next part of the hike—the narrowing canyon walls and the next part of the creek that we would have to wade through.


And that was the end of our hike.  Because on the next to last log I slipped as I put my foot down, falling 5+ feet and hitting my head pretty hard on the log.  I guess I made enough noise that Jason heard me fall and climbed back up to me.  He said that I was unconscious and that it was scary.  He tried to rouse me but I didn’t respond at all.  Finally after 4 minutes he thought to give me a priesthood blessing.  After he gave me a blessing I regained consciousness.

I think if it hadn’t been so stressful the next part would have been pretty funny.  From what they’ve told me I was very shocked when I regained consciousness and Jason was there.  Remember, he had only been home from Chile for 12 days, and at first I had no memory of him coming home.  In fact the girls said that the most recent thing I remembered at first was Kate being born in the spring.  (Now I remember everything just fine right up until slipping.  That I don’t remember at all.)

Another hiker stopped when they saw that I’d hurt myself and called 911.  Jason sat with me on the log (which I have a super hazy almost non-existent memory of) and waited for help to come.  After 20 minutes some first responders from a nearby town came.  They had also been hiking in the Gorge so they hadn’t been too far away.  It was 20 more minutes before the ambulance came.

Even though I was sitting up just fine when the EMS people arrived, they still had to put a neck brace on me and strap me into a basket thing to extricate me from the canyon.  Jason tells me that I was coherent enough at this point to suggest to him that he take the purse cam and take some pictures.  So we have some pictures, though they do make me a little sick to my stomach to look at still.  (I have a slightly less fuzzy but very short memory of this part of the experience.)


We had already experienced a terrific camaraderie with the other hikers the day before when we (and they) were lost on our hike.  On this day I think that many hikers helped out.  Several hikers sat and chatted with the girls to keep them from being freaked out.  Clearly some hikers helped the emergency workers get me over the log jam.  It was definitely a good day to be grateful for the kindness of strangers.


Once I was off in the ambulance for my 40 minute ride to the hospital in Portland (I remember only about a minute’s worth of this—I can’t even remember if they had the siren on) one of the first responders walked with Rachel to the van to get my cell phone with Russ’s phone number on it.  Then the first responder called Russ at work to let him know that I’d been hurt and was on my way to the hospital.  I do not think it was a very good moment for Russ. 


Because we had been through Josh’s bike accident & ER visit earlier in the month I wasn’t too surprised when the ER staff cut my clothes off of me.  I was really sad to lose my pants though—they may have been 10 years old, but they were the best hiking pants.  I was able to persuade them not to cut my new ankle brace off, but everything else went and they just piled me high with warmed blankets. 

I do have some memories of the Emergency Room, but they’re fuzzy and very compressed.  I remember that Russ arrived and at first they wouldn’t let him come be with me because they needed to send me for CT scans.   Then they had to wait longer than expected and so they let him come in with me.  I remembered this week that there was some, shall we say, discomfort involving a fast flowing IV line and a bed pan, but Russ said it would probably be better if I didn’t try to remember anything more about that.  He also said that I was very annoying in my repeated insistence that I was just fine and should be allowed to get up and use the bathroom even though I was still in the neck brace and hadn’t had the CT scan yet.  Conveniently I don’t remember any of that!

The CT scans & xray found that my head, face, and neck were just fine, but that I did have a broken rib.  They also found a couple of cysts on my uterus and kidney when I’ve gotten to have more testing for this last month.  Thankfully one had disappeared and the other is something benign. 

They kept me for observation in the hospital the next day, mostly because they had a hard time finding a narcotic I could take for my rib pain (and it hurt!) that didn’t make me throw up and they wanted to be sure I could eat.  In what was one of the more random discoveries, they ran some blood work and found that my potassium levels were low.  They decided that since I was throwing up so much they would give me IV potassium, but very slowly because it is uncomfortable in an IV.  After lunchtime they started running the potassium IV and within a minute I thought I was going to die.  It was truly like having acid running through my veins, and I called the nurse and told her she had to take it out and that I would go home and eat lots of bananas.  Wow did that hurt.

When it was time for me to go home the next day I realized that unless they would let me go in the hospital gown I was wearing, I had a serious problem.  Russ had offered to go home and get me some clothes, but the hospital was almost an hour away from our house and I didn’t want him leaving me for that long.  The nurse found me a pair of scrub pants and the social worker had a turtle neck for some odd reason, and so I wore those home.  It was a pretty bizarre experience.


So there you have it.  In a totally unbelievable twist of fate, we had 3 ER visits, 2 concussions, and 1 urgent care visit all within 16 days.  After almost no medical treatment in the previous 7 months, we maxed out our deductible in about 10 minutes.  My hiking ER visit alone was about 8 times our very high deductible.

Recovering from the concussion has been interesting.  The most difficult result for me was that for the first several weeks I had a lot of ringing or echoing in my right ear.  That made life pretty difficult in general, especially when the kids got loud.  I’m still having problems finding the right words from time to time, but I think that’s normal.  I thought my equilibrium was back to normal but found out when I was on a boat in Portland last week that I was not as steady as I had expected.  I finally went back to Curves—two times last week, and one very gentle time the week before.  I’ll have to just keep laughing about how hard everything is for me to do, because otherwise it would be depressing to think about how much strength and stamina I’ve lost in the last 2 months.


I’ve been overwhelmed whenever I’ve thought about these accidents (mine and Josh’s biking accident in Moab) with a realization of how bad things could have been, and with gratitude for the protection we received.  Who knows how long I would have been unconscious if Jason hadn’t been there to give me a blessing—I’m glad I don’t have to know.  Both of us could have been hurt in ways that would have changed our lives forever and I’m tremendously grateful that we weren’t.  I’m glad that we’re both recovering well and hope that we never experience a month with that many medical disasters in it again! 

Alisyn sent me what is quite possibly the best “get well soon” card ever.  I’ve kept it in the kitchen so that I can look at it and laugh about it often—I decided to put a picture of it here as well.



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  2. Wow! The ironies of your family's recent medical encounters would be funny if they weren't so painful & serious! So glad it wasn't as bad as it could have been & so sorry that it was as bad as it was.

    We climbed a giant log jam like that getting to 2nd Beach outside Forks, so I know they're not easy to traverse -- & now I'm feeling extra grateful that nothing like that happened to us or our children -- esp when someone was helping a child over a giant log!

    P.s. Love Alisyn's card! Thanks for posting it. :)

  3. Oh man, I can only imagine that potassium IV was killer, because I thought it was going to kill me when they made me take 2 syringes of liquid potassium by mouth - it burned just like you're saying. Yuck!!!

  4. Geez, seeing pictures of you in that stretcher is way more scary than hearing the story over the phone! And, alisyn's card is hilarious. So glad you are okay. (lame thing to say, but it's true!)