Monday, February 28, 2011


Unlike last Monday, we made it to Denver without getting a speeding ticket. I didn't think 75 in a 65 zone would be pull-over worthy, and neither did my husband who'd encouraged me to pass the slow pick-up truck. I was dreading the moment the officer saw Nick because you just KNOW he was thinking, "Dude, your wife's driving do this to you?" but I digress...

Today's drive was beautiful, but a two-hour delay near Kenosha Pass where a semi had jack-knifed and come to rest clear across both lanes caused us to arrive at the eye doc's late. It was only the pre-op and they were aware of our predicament, so no worries. He's clear for tomorrow and is looking forward to getting it over with.

You know how Indiana Jones was with snakes? "Snakes.... ANYTHING but snakes..." Well that's how Nick has always been about his eyes. No matter how bloodshot they are there's no way a drop of anything is going near them (and putting three different eye drops in his injured eye four times a day is part of my nursing duties - fun!). On one of his Himalayan expeditions a climbing mate was doing some kind of eyes-at-altitude experiment, and it required the team to periodically put tearing strips under (in? in between? not sure) their eyelids to measure liquid levels. From the way he tells it, it's clear this helped worsen a doomed expedition which ended with bringing two of his teammates down in body bags. But that's another story.

Point is, tomorrow's procedure is going to be done under a local anesthetic so he'll be aware of what they're doing. This will be the first appointment where I'm not accompanying him in the room, and this is a good thing.  If I weren't driving him around afterward (looking for a water heater probably) I'd go support the hospital bar. Is there such thing as a hospital bar? There should be.

I just know I wouldn't be able to handle seeing him in any more pain. When we left Idaho Falls, there were so many immediate concerns, that his hand was kind of an afterthought. It was the last thing we needed to take care of in Durango, and he never mentioned it hurting much, except for when Cayenne accidently sat on it. When he broke out in that allergic rash he was going crazy wanting to scratch the itch under the boxing glove bandage, and he had me take it off, saying the original doc had said it could come off in 7-10 days. I wanted him to keep it on until the next morning as we were seeing the bone doc anyway, but he was having none of that. So I slowly unraveled it to reveal a massive, swollen, blue, featureless hand, with pins sticking out of it. It looked like the bloated off-coloured appendage of a drowned corpse.

I guess I had gotten used to the injuries he was dealing with daily at doctors' offices, because seeing yet another one hit me like a punch in the stomach. I held the edge of the kitchen counter and just cried (quietly, hoping he wouldn't hear me), and he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me until I got myself together again (i.e. reminded myself who should be comforting whom!). So I know that being in the room tomorrow - even if it were allowed - would not be a good idea.

I called the Thomases to say good-night to the girls, and the Piccaros to see how Satcho is doing, and it seems everyone is doing just fine without us. I guess that means I can rest now.

So with a tummy full of yummy Indian food I bid you a good night as well. Nick's tummy is actually distended with the largest meal he's eaten yet; he looks like a skinny snake who's just wrapped its jaws around a fat rat. There's that Indiana Jones thing again. How come when he crashes planes and things he doesn't get hurt?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Overwhelmed by the Kindness of Friends

Our neighbor Don is not only a great cook, he's also an ER doc, and he had lots of recommendations about with whom to follow up locally for Nick's different injuries. Our friends (and fellow hockey players) Michele and John Piccaro have been wonderful, Michele keeping Nick in soup and thinking of what we need before we know we need it, and family doc John being our command center, unifying all Nick's care, sending us to the hospital when we thought there might be a blood clot in his leg, telling us what to buy when Nick reacted to a pain killer (itching rash all over his trunk, arms and legs - you know, because he wasn't uncomfortable ENOUGH), visiting the house to make sure we're all okay, and making calls to the eye doc at home to ensure we were being sent to excellent retina specialists in Denver.

That trip happened on Monday February 21st. We packed up the girls' bags again and brought them over to Inge and Brad's this time, great friends who also have kids in Riverview, on Sunday night, and organised for Satcho to go home with Jeanette again - who in the meantime, had been on missions to find the fattest straws in Durango, clove oil for Nick's teeth, and who knows what else. Jeanette always thinks of everything.

We'd been to the ophthalmologist (one of Acacia's friend's Dad, and also a fellow hockey player) on Friday, but the ultrasound revealed nothing as Nick's eye was still too full of blood. Nick hasn't even been able to detect light, and everyone we've seen has said that that's not promising, so we've been prepared to hear that his vision is gone. But the eye doc mentioned that he has seen someone be completely sightless because of a blood clot obscuring all vision. On our way home Nick was livelier than he'd been in ages, and was talking about not filing for a single-eyed medical for the FAA just yet. The ray of hope we were given was more tenuous than a single thread of a spider's web but he latched onto it with such force, it tore my heart into pieces.

We were sent to Denver for a vitrectomy, cutting into Nick's eye to remove the blood and see why he has no sight. We drove the seven hours there, saw the eye doc who said his eye was too full of blood to see anything, and that he needs a vitrectomy, please come back in a week. Huh? Isn't that why we're here? The doc felt it was too soon to cut into Nick's eye, that it may just fill back up with blood, and that after another week they'd have more success clearing things out. So we turned around and drove seven hours back. I was tired.

So here we are, another week later, another Sunday night packing up the girls' stuff and Satcho's food, after spending the day trying to fix the water heater. I played hockey this morning and a teammate came over afterward to help us figure out the issue. Scott spent the better part of his day here, I made three Ace Hardware runs, and a neighbor brought over some 10 gauge wire, but alas, we still have no hot water. I boiled some to wash the dishes that the Gervaises  brought over dinner in - I love our neighbors - but showers will have to wait until the hotel in Denver. The lasagna Catherine made was the first real food Nick's eaten (I chopped it to smithereens so he didn't have to chew) and he had three helpings. This is fabulous news as he's already lost about 20lbs. That's what happens when you're a food snob. :) (Just kidding, babe.) Actually with the mega-blender Nick's sister Sophie sent, and the super-soft French cheese his parents shipped from France, he's doing all right.

Tomorrow we'll drive to Denver and Nick will meet the retina guy for a pre-op visit. Tuesday morning they'll do the vitrectomy and we'll have some news. After that, we'll probably drive around Denver looking for a water heater!

Wednesday, February 16th

It took the whole morning to fill out the paperwork and get sign-offs from the ophthalmologist, orthopedic surgeon, ear/nose/throat surgeon (ENT), and I don't know what other kind of docs, but by noon or so, we were heading out the door, booking a flight on Nick's phone as we went. Drove 2hrs to Jackson Hole and met Kristin at the airport, who happen to be picking up G's wife. Nick had a good heart-to-heart with her and I'm glad we had that opportunity, although I doubt seeing his physical state eased her anxiety about seeing her husband!

We got lucky on the Denver flight and got bumped to 1st class, where the flight attendant took my order for a vodka n' cranberry. She looked at Nick, looked back at me and said, "Shall I make that a double?"

In the hospital Nick had not used the morphine drip at his disposal, but unbeknown to him, there had been ibuprofen with the antibiotics, so by the time we were waiting in Denver for a mildly delayed Durango flight the pain meds had worn off, and he was slipping fast. He sat slumped with his burning eyes closed and never got to enjoy having people in the airport ask what had happened - he'd been looking forward to telling them a plane crash - because people were too scared to ask him.

I was bummed we were arriving too late to pick up the girls, but the next morning at 7:30am, I wanted to kiss Kristin (Thomas) for already having been up for an hour, getting all the girls ready for school. I was also ridiculously happy I'd put the garbage out already (the bears are still sleeping so that's ok) and didn't have to leave our warm bed for that either. It's the little things in life, you know??

February 15, 2011

As Satcho and I watched the girls get on the bus, tears tumbled down my cheeks. I could no longer focus on the minutiae of daily life and would now have to face the nightmare. We walked back home up the hill, I climbed into the already packed car and headed to the airport where Scott was waiting. Most of my bag was full of clothes for Nick. The only message he got through to me was the same one three times: Please ask my wife to bring me some clothes; they cut off all my other ones (including his leather jacket, it turned out).

On the flight up to Idaho Falls, Scott and Barr (their pro pilot) did a great job of not letting my mind freak itself out too much by getting me to tell stories of Nepal and Namibia and how Nick and I met. They pointed out the crash area as we flew right over it, and Crow Creek where the helicopter landed. My stomach didn't tie itself into knots until we were on the way to the hospital and I was going over all the things the doctor warned me about to prepare for seeing him. I had a picture of horror in my mind, so it was actually a relief to see that his face wasn't  a black and blue featureless basketball. His stitched up tongue wasn't too swollen, so although it hurt because of the cracked molars and broken jaw, he could still speak.

As we maneuvered around the nurses to get into the room but still stay out of the way, Scott goes, "Here, I'll just scoot over to your blind side." Nice wording Scott! Nick will laugh about that one.

Nick's right hand was bandaged like a boxer's glove, he had two shiners and stitches all over his face including 12 in his eyeball, couldn't move well because of the sternum, and couldn't eat because, as it turns out, even on a diet restricted to liquidy stuff, he's still a food snob - but he was already trying to talk the nurses and doctors into letting him leave the hospital: "The rescue team was incredible, and they did their job well, but it's done. Each of the doctors sewed up what they sew up - beautifully, but they're done. Our work here is done."

He looked an absolute mess, but he got them to agree if nothing came up he could leave the next day.

Longest day ever

Nick crashed at around 10am, and Kristin called me at 1:40pm, as soon as she had news. Cayenne (9) and I were heading out the door to go roller blading along the river trail, but I completely forgot about that once I hung up the phone. I had trouble dialing the hospital's number because I was shaking so badly, and it was difficult to talk with my heart pounding in my throat, but the case manager spoke to me immediately, told me Nick was heading into a CAT scan and they'd call with the results within 45 minutes, which they did.

Cayenne quietly put away her roller blades and made me a cup of tea, bless her heart.

"That boy needs to buy a lottery ticket," was the first thing the doctor said to me. "There's no brain injury, no spinal, no internal injuries. He's beat up, but he's going to be okay." He told me Nick had broken a hand, his jaw, his cheekbone, some teeth, had fractured his sternum, nearly severed his tongue, and had lacerations mostly on his face, including one that had punctured his eye. He went into surgery to get sewn back up at around 4pm and I got the next call as soon as it was done, at 8:30pm, saying that it had gone well.

In the meantime our neighbor, Don Bader, brought over dinner for the three of us. Making food was the last thing on my mind, and this way the girls received a much better meal - orange-glazed pork roast, broccoli, roasted potatoes and a spinach salad - than the leftovers I would have pulled out of the freezer.

Scott and Kristin had been standing by with their plane (TBM) to come get me whenever I was ready. I decided to go up Tuesday morning because Acacia (8) had been in Pagosa Springs all day with a friend and it would have been too traumatic if I'd told her that her Papa had been in a plane crash, and then left. If Nick's injuries had been life threatening I would've headed straight out, but as it was he was in surgery all evening anyway and wouldn't even have known I was there. I was needed at home, where Acacia curled up with me on her Papa's side of the bed.

It was a busy night! Organised to have the girls stay with our wonderful neighbors, the Thomases, who have two girls in the same school, and Satcho to stay with Jeanette (aka Old Faithful), packed a few days' worth of clothes, snacks, library books, gym shoes, swim team gear - and all those other things that seem so meaningless  when mortality has shaken its fist at you. Spent most of the evening on the phone with family, and didn't sleep at all. Loved having Acacia in my arms... Maybe it was me who needed to be with them that night.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Valentine's Day 2011

When Kristin phoned to give me the news, her first words were: "Have you heard from Nick yet?" Turns out it was the best thing she could've said. By unwittingly placing my hubby in my subconscious as a live, breathing, phone-dialing man, I never had that nanosecond to fear she might follow "Nick's plane went down" with anything other than "but he'll be okay."

Kristin and Scott are clients and friends. Nick was up in Wyoming working with them for a few days, but on Valentine's Day they were both too busy to fly, so Nick and their pilot-neighbour made plans to enjoy a scenic flight around the stunning area in his new Scout, a tiny two-seater (one front, one back). Scouts are often used for bush flying and relatively low-altitude stuff, and they were not breaking any height rules when they struck the power lines - just bones. What's weird is the experienced pilot in the back (G.) knew the terrain well and had warned Nick about the lines coming up; Nick had already seen them and was gently pulling up to give them a wide berth, and both pilots agree that they thought they were well clear of them.

The impact of the wing launched them into an uncontrollable spin, eventually colliding violently with the hilly ground, upside down. The snow cushioned their landing helping to save their lives - along with the angle of impact, the strong cockpit frame (all that was left), and the 5-point harnesses they were wearing - but if the 911 call G placed hadn't been picked up by the cell tower that was erected a month ago (!) they would have frozen before anyone even knew they'd gone down.

A friend heard the call on the radio, took off in his own plane, spotted them and relayed the GPS coordinates to the helicopter. There was too much snow for the copter to land, so they put down a mile or so away, while search and rescue snowmobiles made the trip in.

Meanwhile, Nick was hanging upside down with his head in the snow, trying to extricate himself from the harness, but his right hand wasn't working. G had a broken collar bone and ribs and couldn't help. It took forever to unpin his left hand while the gashes in his face filled his eyeball with blood, but he ultimately got it and crawled out of the wreckage. One of the wings was flipped over onto the other, which was why everything he'd done to save the spin hadn't worked, and he rested on the double-wing, shivering uncontrollably next to G, waiting for the life-saving snowmobiles.

Nick's used to rough conditions, climbing Himalayan peaks (8,000m+) in blizzards, but says he's never in his life been as cold as he was on that wing.

Kristin and Scott had heard about the accident but had no news about Nick and G, and knowing that 9 out of 10 people do not survive power line strikes, spent the next three hours living through the hell I would have shared, had they called me then. They knew one of the them called 911 but didn't know if it was a sole survivor, nor what shape they were in.

The snowmobiles arrived right about the same time the ambulance, which had been called to the closest drivable spot, was sliding off the road into a ditch. Whooops. A second ambulance was called. Nick was strapped to a sled and pulled behind one of the snowmobiles which kept getting stuck. These poor guys dug out the toboggan again and again until reaching the helicopter.

Three and a half freezing hours after hitting the ground, Nick was in the hospital in Idaho Falls. It's exceptionally quick considering where they crashed. It's an eternity when you're heading toward hypothermia.