(Part 2 ended with our son-in-law Tip bringing Hannah off the ledge to my waiting arms.)
After Tip brings Hannah up from the cliffside, she and I hug and hug some more. I put aside the subjunctive – the what ifs, the what could have happened. Startled and so grateful, as is her outlook on life anyway, Hannah lets the tears flow, knowing how fortunate she is to be on terra firma. Looking down at her left leg, I see some scrapes above her ankle below her capris but am oblivious to the sizable gash that Tip and Hannah have both seen. With no time to lose, we begin the mile and a half trek to get Hannah and her left leg out of the woods and to the trailhead.
With an hour on the rocky trail ahead, I clutch her left elbow as she takes her first tentatively step and leans forward. On a trail of sharply angled rocks, I brace her left side as she puts her weight on her solid right foot. Fortunately, we have already crossed the widest side creek, but there are still others to navigate with Hannah on one good leg.
I have no clue to the gaping gash on Hannah’s calf, which is a good thing, as I focus on supporting her as she gingerly steps down the trail from rock to rock. When the trail levels out, she says to me, we can go faster; knowing that the sooner we get to the bottom, the sooner she will get the medical care she needs. Remember, while I think she has just a few scraps, she has seen the deep gouge in her lower left leg.
On our slow walk down the trail on this Thursday in the last week of February, I think how Hannah and I usually never hike with others; but again good fortune smiles on us as today we have Molly and Tip. That said, if it had been just us two on this trail just above suburban Montecito in metropolitan Santa Barbara, we would have had many other hikers here to support us.
Stepping carefully and rarely looking up, we take no breaks and beeline it for the trailhead. The three tourniquets Tip tied on her leg are working as Hannah never complains, in fact, smiles her way down the mountain.
Both Hannah’s sunny disposition and our steady pace off the mountain has fooled me into thinking that she is okay and that the medical attention she will need may be minor.
At the junction with the McMenemy Trail to Saddlerock Mountain, we have a mile down, with just a half a mile to go. Our daughter Molly has gone ahead with our four-year-old grandson, Owen, to get our car in position for me to take Hannah for medical attention.
Fifteen minutes later, we see Molly waving from behind a chain link fence with their rented Toyota in the foreground. Behind them, we are surprised to see three bright red vehicles: a full-length fire truck, an American Medical Response ambulance, and a fire department SUV.
Hannah turns to me as says, I don’t want to go in an ambulance. I want you to take me to the hospital. How bad can her leg be if she doesn’t think she needs an ambulance?
Arriving at the staging area, we see Zach, an EMT, who says, you must be Hannah? Hannah smiles and nods, as he leads her to the back end of the ambulance to sit and be examined. Still convinced I can take her to the hospital ER, Hannah is smiling, in no pain, as Zach checks out her lower leg; he quickly assesses that this is no simple gash that just a few stitches will heal.
Saying to Hannah, It is your choice to go with your husband or go with us in the ambulance, but our service is free. Hannah remains unconvinced that she needs an ambulance.
As the four EMTs gather around, they are stunned that she is feeling no pain. To a person, they call her the patient of the year. Maybe they say that all the time, but I doubt it. Hannah is a rock star who has walked out a mile and a half with a gaping wound – never complaining.
As they are about to wrap up, Hannah mentions a spot of blood on her capris on her left thigh. Asking if it is okay that he cut away her capris, Zach soon sees a much larger and longer gash, twice the size of the lower one, that goes all the way to the bone.
Zach looks at Hannah and says, You can do what you want, but you are coming with me. Hannah readily agrees.
I asked Molly to write a reflection of what she was thinking when she went ahead for help. In Molly’s words:
Owen and I walked/ran ahead. Owen seemed to be leading the pace. We sang some songs together as we ran, as a way to pass time and keep our focus on getting down back to the car. We talked about how far he has hiked that day. I told Owen that “Omi is one tough cookie,” to which he asked, “what does tough cookie mean?” I explained that even though she was hurt, she was walking to get down the mountain. I told Owen that we were going to get the car to go back up part of the side road to pick her up when she got back down to the access road. And then she would get help.
As we got to the bottom of the trail, we ran 200 feet on the road to my car. As we got to the white rental car parked behind Omi and Poppa’s car, a man in a white Audi wagon pulled up right behind our car. Not sure whether to call 911 or not, I asked him if I could get through the locked gates on the access road to get closer to my injured mom. I explained that my mom fell and hurt her leg near the top of the hike – and was coming behind us with my husband and dad and another son. The man said that I could call 911 to get support – he was very encouraging and reminded me that “this is what they do — and they are close by.”
After realizing that I had no idea if mom was getting worse or if she was even able to walk at this point, I decided to call. It crossed my mind that my mom probably would not want an ambulance, I figured I’d rather be on the safe side and get medical attention if she needed it. I called 911 as I sat in my car. Owen was sitting in the back seat eating mixed nuts.
In general I felt pretty calm until I started talking to the dispatcher because I had somewhat incomplete responses to her questions – where exactly I was, how my mom was doing… I tried to describe where I was and where my mom might be. I knew they were walking down, but not sure at what pace. I told her that I wasn’t sure if she’d need medical attention but she had a bad fall 1.8 miles up the trail… the dispatcher said they were sending an ambulance to meet me at the trail head.
Owen and I drove up the access road to get closer to where Omi would be coming down and wait for the ambulance. We saw the man (from earlier) again who was hiking up the trail as I was talking to Tip (who had just come back into cell reception area).
Tip wanted me to look up a hospital in the area – and the man was walking by and heard the conversation – and told me about Cottage Hospital. He said it’s close and it’s the best in the vicinity! The man continued hiking – and I told him that he’d see my mom soon and asked if he could relay about how far they had to go when they crossed paths. Within 3 minutes, I could see Omi, Poppa, and Tip at the top of a hill — and simultaneously the ambulance pulled up the access road. Since the road was locked at the gate, the EMTs encouraged Omi to keep coming down the trail – and they met her there.
Here’s Tip’s take on the hike out after the accident in his own words.
So, after Hannah and I had climbed back up on the trail we were going to take a look at the “gash” on her thigh that was hidden under her capris, but then I thought better of opening up the wound to the elements even more, so we grabbed another long sleeve T-shirt and wrapped around her thigh to slow the bleeding. Once we all started moving down the trail toward the car and help, I had Max on my back and just watched Hannah slowly make her way down the narrow path.
I knew the cuts I saw were deep, but they didn’t seem to be gushing blood and Hannah just kept on going–there was no stopping her.
I was trying to think of a way to support her to get down, but other than carrying her on my back, which I offered, there didn’t seem to be much I could do.
When we’d pass hikers going the other direction many that noticed her injury would offer help and Hannah would say something like “I have these two guys to watch over me, I’m good.” Some would then look at me with questions on their face and I would just shrug my shoulders and then give a nod of thanks.
I’m not sure if we should have taken them up on their offer, and if so, what they could have done.
Once the trail was wide enough for two to walk down Dan was there to support Hannah.
Once we had cell service I got in contact with Molly, about a half a mile away from her, I knew she called someone for help. I wasn’t sure who was coming whether it was just a police officer to open a gate Molly’s car was stuck at or the ambulance. I didn’t mention that to Hannah and Dan. I thought that Hannah was a little embarrassed by the whole thing.
When we got close enough to see Molly and the car we also saw multiple rescue vehicles pull up. After we saw them Hannah told Dan that “she wasn’t going anywhere unless it was in his car.” I wasn’t sure that was the case and was glad there was someone professional who could look at her leg.
As we went down the trail, I felt like I wanted to do something but there wasn’t much I could do. I am grateful she is okay.