The Day Gravity and a 17 Year Old J.G. Did Not Get Along

Rocky Mountains

The title may lead one to believe I am clumsy.  Let me assure you that is not the case.

On a late-August Sunday afternoon, way back in the year 1995, I was a senior in high school and was working full-time at—of all places—McDonald’s.  Two of my closest friends and I happened to work the opening shift, which meant we started at the bright and early time of 5:00 AM, but were fortunate enough to be off at 1.  With our stomachs stuffed full of free food, and with the whole day still in front of us, we all decided to go for a ride.  With no destination in mind, we headed west and followed the winding roads leading into the Rocky Mountains.

After an hour, or so, of driving, we pulled over next to a river and decided to do some light climbing.  We made our way up a very steep hill—I will get back to this later— and spotted a large outcropping of rocks.  We started the forty-foot ascent with no ropes or safety equipment on the loose granite stone, and finally made our way to the top.  In all honesty, we should have probably all fallen, or at least injured ourselves on the way up, but filled with youthful exuberance, adrenaline, and the misguided belief that we were unstoppable, we made it unscathed where we smoked cigarettes and BS’ed the afternoon away.

When we finally decided it was time to head back, one of my friends looked at the way we came up and said “there is no way we can get back down, I am going to look for another way.”  I, in my infinite wisdom—and cite my statement from above pertaining to feelings of invincibility—decided to go and look for myself.  This is where things went downhill—quite literally—for me.  I don’t remember anything, my mind having blocked it out.  I may have attempted to climb back down, or I may have slipped on the loose granite ledge at the top, but until my mind decides to unblock the memories, we will really have no idea.  My friends, who safely made it back down, rounded the corner and reached the spot where we previously climbed, wondering where I was.  They found me a couple hundred yards down the steep, tree-filled hill, laying next to a large boulder.  Thinking that I was kidding and was playing a joke on them, they yelled at me to “get up and stop playing around” but after I didn’t move, they realized something was seriously wrong.

They made their to me and realized something wasn’t right.  Both of my arms were broken, my chest had caved in, and my neck didn’t look normal.  One of my friends ran down—as I mentioned before—the very steep hill in search of assistance, while the other stayed with me.  He was an Eagle Scout and started splinting my arms using whatever he had at his disposal, including several shirts and branches.  At some point I came to, and I guess I tried to get up and I told my friend I was fine.  He told me I wasn’t and basically had to hold me on the ground so I wouldn’t injure myself any further.

Meanwhile, my other friend made it back down to the road where he frantically sought assistance.  Remember, it was 1995 and cell phones were in short supply.  Those that did have phones, found the service to be spotty at best, especially in the rolling hills of the Rocky Mountains.  After finding someone with a phone, but with no luck getting a signal, he found someone willing to drive him twenty minutes to the nearest town where he could call for help.  He had to run back up the hill, tell my other friend what he was doing, ran back down the hill, and headed for the bustling metropolis of Deckers, CO.  When I use the terms “bustling” and “metropolis”, I am being facetious.  It is quite literally a general store at the junction of two, two-lane highways in the middle of nowhere. Who knew if they even had a phone that worked, not to mention, how he was going to explain to the emergency personnel where they could find us.

Long story short, he made it and called 911, before driving back to the two of us, after once again climbing the hill (I joke because he liked to tell how many times he had to run up and down the hill).  They had to continue holding me down on the ground so I wouldn’t injure myself, all the while my complexion was turning blue and they were petrified I wasn’t going to make it.

After another hour or so (I believe, again I don’t exactly remember myself) a helicopter arrived.  The emergency personnel tied me to a board and carried me down before loading me in the helicopter, where we set out on the 45 minute flight to Swedish Medical Center.  This is my first memory.  At some point during the flight, I remember having difficulty breathing and told the EMTs that I needed my inhaler.  Of course, this was nothing more than an asthma attack—no it couldn’t be the fact half my chest was caved in.  I had always wanted to ride in a helicopter, and here I was, yet I don’t remember a thing.  My memories are blacked out again until I am being removed from the helicopter on the roof of the hospital to a frantic group of doctors and nurses, all who were asking me questions and trying to gather more information.

My friends dead-headed to the hospital, but it was a drive of over an hour.  They also stopped on their way and called their parents, as well as my own.  Not really explaining what happened, they instructed my parents to go to the hospital.  At the time I arrived via flight for life, my parents arrived at the hospital to see the helicopter landing, and my mother had a sinking feeling I was the one being delivered.

My next memory is of my parents, followed shortly thereafter by my girlfriend of the time—who is now my wife—and her mother.  I told them all I was going to be okay, but I of course couldn’t see myself, and I think they were all a little more frightened than I was.  My last memory, which was it for a period of several days—I was heavily medicated and sedated from this point on—was of being dehydrated.  I was so thirsty I quickly drank down the required amount of barium sulfate necessary for a CT-Scan, which anyone who has ever had the pleasure of imbibing this concoction will know, it is anything but pleasant, and no one in their right mind would chug it.  Well I did.

Anyway, I spent eight days in the hospital.  I broke both arms, punctured my liver, broke three ribs, one of which punctured and collapsed a lung, and crushed four vertebrae in my neck.  The vertebrae in question were C2, C3, C5 and C7.  Several of the fragments were close to slicing an artery in my neck.  I was put into a halo, which immobilized my neck.  I had to wear it for twelve weeks.  It was one hell of a way to start my senior year of high school.

All in all, I know how fortunate I am to be walking, yet alone alive.  Christopher Reeves’ injury was not too much before my own, and I know I could have faced a very similar fate.  I owe my life and am forever indebted to my two friends who were with me that day.  They are both still very close to me, and I only hope I am able to repay them for all they did for me, one day before our time comes to an end.

I have added two photos.  The first (where I am laying down) is about halfway through my healing process the second , is from the day I finally had the halo removed.  I know my hair was horrible, don’t know what I was thinking.

Halo 1Halo 2

Book 2 is in the hands of several beta readers.  Get a copy of Book 1: The Unknown Man, before book two comes out.

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