Day 29 - A Helicopter Ride to the ER

(First off, I'm ok now, resting in the cheapest room I could find in a mountain resort town, which means it only has a jacuzzi tub instead of a full hot tub.  So, don't worry, I'm safe and recovering in style.)

So, last night was basically the worst sick I have ever been.  All night long my body got rid of everything it could from both ends.  I was cowboy camping, where you sleep without a tent.  In the desert, this is perfectly normal.  There's hardly ever rain or condensation, except from your  own breathing.  Cowboy camping saved me from having to unzip and unbutton a tent every time I need to go.  I also learned that I can exit a sleeping bag in 4 seconds.  I felt weaker and weaker throughout the night.  I couldn't hold down my water, I would throw up, drink a little to try to keep hydrated, then throw up again.  I decided to not drink for a little, let my stomach calm down.  That also let me sleep for a couple hours.  Then I drank a tiny amount.  Then a little more.  I felt like I was getting better, my stomach was calming down.  I thought maybe I could stay here, drink more and eat something, enough so I could walk back to Splinters Cabin and get a ride into town, maybe find someone​ to help carry my pack south.  As the sun comes up, it starts getting warmer.  At first, my campsite is shaded, but not great.  Mouse gets a liter of filtered water for each of us, but he doesn't want to stay there in the heat and the sun.  He talks about walking the five miles to Lake Arrowhead and sending someone to pick me up.  I tried to eat some tortilla, but it was too much and I lost more fluids.  I decided I better try to hit my Delorme SOS button.  It tries to send for a long while, but doesn't.  I guess the valley I'm in is too steep to have much GPS visibility.  I decided I needed to get back up to the trail to get more help.  It took a monumental effort for me to get my stuff packed up, on my back and get up that 1/4 mile to the trail.  Maybe it was a shorter distance, but it felt long.  As I got up to the trail, I saw the retired cops, Dan, Dave and Steve sitting there in the shade taking a break.  Of all the people I've met on the trail, they were exactly the people I wanted to see right then.  I told them I was sick, they had me lay on a bench and gave me a little water with electrolytes, which I was able to keep down.  I felt so weak, I didn't think I could walk out, even without my pack at that point.  Steve was able to get a signal from Verizon and called 911.  We were right next to a dirt road, so I thought they might send a rescue vehicle down.

A helicopter starts circling, looking for a place to land and some of the guys signal where I am.  Shit.  I really didn't want a helicopter ride.  It circled for a long time looking, than we saw a second helicopter, with a hoist.  Dave tells me what's going to happen, which really helped.  I'm afraid of heights, but I like airplane rides, even small ones, because I trust the pilots know what they're doing.  I did some deep breathing to try and calm down.  The paramedic, Eric, dropped down first, with his equipment, I have a picture on Instagram where you can just make out the helicopter because of all the dust stirred up.  Eric asked me a few questions, then put a screamer suit on me.  He walked me over to where he dropped down, since I was resting under a tree. Then the helicopter flew back in, buffeting us with wind.  They dropped the line again and clipped me in.  Eric had told me to hold on to the front of the suit with my arms crossed if I needed to hold on.  I started standing, but as the hoist pulled me up, it pulls on the suit attached near my center of gravity and it's like I'm hanging in a hammock, secure and safe.  I smiled and might have laughed.  It's kind of a fun ride, a hundred feet in the air, swinging from a helicopter.  You just gotta laugh at the absurdity of it all.  Yesterday I was having a great day, hiking well and feeling strong, the next I'm struggling to hike the 1/4 mile to the trail and getting rescue choppered to a hospital.

The man in the helicopter pulled me in, kinda in his lap, he told me to lean back onto him and not hold on to the helicopter door, which stayed open the whole time.  The guys below told me later that they were actually flying away as I was being pulled up and they never saw if I was pulled in all the way.  The paramedic stayed behind and they picked him up after they dropped me off.  Mike, the guy holding me in the helicopter, told me the road we were passing over leads back to where they picked me up.  He pointed out the mountains I had already passed through.  He asked how long it had been since I had a bath and said he could tell, I was smelly, which made me laugh.  He said a bunch of other stuff, most I couldn't hear over the noise.  The pilot's name was Jon.  We landed at the hospital and a lady paramedic came and got me out of the helicopter, having me duck my head walking under the  chopper blades.  She walked me right into the ER doors.  They got me a bed in a few minutes, got my info and got me to change out of my dirty clothes into a hospital gown.  They were very busy, I could tell there were other people in worse shape than me there, I think all the beds were full.  I didn't care if it took a while to get to me, I was laying down in a safe place out of the sun.  The nurse, Renee, drew  blood and got an IV started.  I have good veins, apparently.  Thanks, I think.  They ended up giving me 3 liters of fluid.  In addition to the liter I drank from the guys, that's 4 liters I was down.

Dave texted me that they were bringing my pack up to the hospital;  Mouse, Dan, Dave and Steve.  I didn't know how they were carrying it, but at least the work was spread amongst four people.  Mouse texted me that I had a new trail name.  Chopper.  Yeah, I think that fits.  I learned later that as I was going up, Dave said my trail name was Chopper.

Mountains Community Hospital took good care of me.  They asked about what happened.  I told them about staying in town 2 nights ago and someone was sick there.  They checked my heart, pulse, breathing.  They ran x-rays of my abdomen.  They ran tests on my blood.  They brought me a salad, some fruit and soymilk when I was ready to eat.  In the end, they said I had a stomach bug and I was dehydrated from it.  They gave me a prescription to help with nausea and helped me find a taxi and a hotel.  I was released around 8 pm.

Dave and Mouse brought my pack in around the time of the second liter of fluid.  My heroes, they had hiked my stuff up 5 miles uphill on a long, rough dirt road.  It sounded rough.  Mouse carried my pack the whole way, and the other three traded off carrying Mouse's smaller pack on their front.  Mouse has ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which, to simplify, is an arthritis that affects his back and hips.  It seems that the hiking has not been helping, his back pain has gotten worse so he has decided to get off the trail for now and see a rheumatologist.  I know it was rough on Dan, Dave and Steve, too.  They're all "in the fifty to sixty age bracket" as they put it.  They said that road was too rough to get a vehicle down.  Even a lifted truck wouldn't have made it.  They were places with boulders in the road and a steep drop.  Hell of a place to get sick.  They told me that the way I got out was probably the only way I was going to get out in my condition.  I couldn't have walked up that road like I was.

Mouse and I ate at a Mexican restaurant, the only place still open when I got out of the hospital.  I had a salad, with beans, guacamole, olives, all kinds of fresh veggies and little tortilla chips.  I made a small dent in it and brought the rest back to the hotel for tomorrow.  My stomach is not 100% better, but I'm keeping down food.  I'm going to rest here until my stomach is up to the task of eating like a thru-hiker again.

I'm 31 years old, and this is the first time I've ever been admitted to a hospital.  I'm one of those people that doesn't get sick often, at least since I started running.  Being vegan hasn't really changed that one way or the other.  I might get a cold once or twice a year, but I've never been as sick as I was last night.  I probably haven't thrown up in years.  It was just unfortunate that it happened while I was in the backcountry, but when you're spending 6 months on the PCT, that's likely.  I'm definitely adding some Imodium to my first aid kit.  I've got pretty much everything else, but I didn't bring that because I so rarely have stomach issues.  It might have been able to keep more fluids in me, and saved me that helicopter ride.  My first aid is already large, I know many hikers who only bring blister care but that's just not enough out there.

Part of me feels guilty for getting into this situation and having to need all that help.  I'm not used to needing help, and I needed so much today.  I'm really grateful to all the emergency personnel from the fire department and the hospital who helped me.  I know they'd probably say they were just doing their jobs, but they did their jobs splendidly and made me feel at ease.  Thank you.  I'm also really grateful to my hiking partner Mouse (Daniel Feldt), Dave Dowty, Steve and Dan who called in the rescue and lugged my pack up that crazy steep road.  Thank you.  I owe you all a beer or two.

Chopper out.


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