A drop of my sweat just missed her face. She noticed and seemed to smile at me apologetically with her eyes, but her injured mouth didn't move. The woman did answer, though, whenever someone asked how she was doing. She was okay, she would say, but her neck was bothering her.
She and her husband, both in their early 60s, had been enjoying a hike on a perfect afternoon on the Kachina Trail, the sky almost as blue as our SAR shirts, when she tripped and did a face-plant right into a rock. She'd injured her neck in the fall and, clearly, her face. We weren't sure if she had a concussion, but she was experiencing some anomalies with her vision.
She didn't complain a bit, though, as we maneuvered the litter up and down the rough trail, lifting it over rocks and sometimes struggling to maintain our footing on the narrow trail. It was not a smooth ride.
I'd been in the check-out line at the grocery store when the call came in. It would take me at least 45 minutes to get home, put all the perishable food away, and then get to the SAR building. Too long. So, I called our coordinator and asked where I could meet the team. I was told to drive to Snowbowl Road and, from there, take FS 522 (Friedline Prairie Road) about a mile in and look for the SAR vehicles at the corrals. From there, I'd hike up an unofficial trail to intersect the Kachina Trail. The patient was closer to the midpoint of the trail than the trailhead, so this would be a faster route.
Still reacclimating after my three months at a much lower altitude in Nepal, I was breathing heavily as I climbed, wondering how far up the trail the intersection was. I'd never hiked up from that road before. I pushed myself to maintain a steady pace as I tried to catch up with my teammates. Before I reached intersection, I saw a blue SAR shirt up ahead.
The last two teammates in the initial group were moving slowly. One of them wasn't feeling too well. The other, just ahead, was keeping an eye on her while carrying the extra weight of the backboard on his own back in addition to his pack. At the intersection, he handed off the backboard to me and stayed behind to check on our teammate. I pushed on, unsure how far up that roller coaster of a trail the rest of the team, the patient, and two Guardian medics were located. Turned out, they were farther up than I expected.
Just before I reached the others, one of my teammates met me on the trail and relieved me of the backboard. A fast hiker with long legs, he'd headed down to see if he could speed up the process of getting the backboard to the patient's location, so they could get her secured in the litter and ready for the carry-out. By that time, she'd been there for a couple of hours, and it would take a least a few more to get her to the waiting ambulance.
With just seven of us on the litter, it was a difficult evacuation. Only one person at a time could take a break, while the rest shifted sides to at least rest one arm a bit.
Using a piece of webbing hitched to the litter railing, crossed behind my neck and over my shoulders, and held by the hand away from the litter helped me make more of a contribution to the effort. Without the webbing, my arm on the litter was doing all the work, which meant my lack of upper body strength compared to my male teammates made me less effective. But my sore, tired arms and dripping sweat were testament to the fact that I was trying my hardest to help. By the time we reached the ambulance a few hours later, I was spent.
A day after the rescue, we received a nice thank you email from the patient's husband. He said his wife was doing well and didn't have a concussion after all. It's a rather rare treat to hear from a subject or the family after a mission.