911 operator, “Hello. This is dispatch. Are you calling to report an emergency?”
A male voice responded, clearly out of breath, “Yes. My girlfriend and I were in an accident up Stinger Canyon. There was some debris on the road, and it was icy. I crashed. I think the car flipped a few times. I was able to pull myself free. She is still stuck. She is in bad shape. Send an ambulance.”
“Are you injured, sir?”
“I don’t know.” There was a pause. “Maybe. My arm isn’t moving right, and it throbs.”
“We will send some help.”
“Hurry. I think she is stuck. It’s freezing out here.”
“Do you remember where you crashed?”
“Not really. It was like the third bend in the road.”
“We’ve contacted the ambulance and Search and Rescue, and they’re on their way. Can you remember anything around you?”
“Not really,” the male replied. “But the car landed upside down in the water. Please hurry.”
The line went dead.
The debris and a dead deer were still on the road when the ambulance arrived. There were tire marks, and it was apparent where the car had left the road. The canyon was closed in both directions, and Search and Rescue began unpacking their gear. It took less than ten minutes for a five-person team to get dressed, grab their equipment, and descend to the ravine. There was snowy and icy, but the worst part was the temperature. It took another three or four minutes to find the car.
The water wasn’t deep, and they could hear someone crying.
“Help me!” the girl screamed.
“We’re here,” replied one of the rescuers.
“I’m stuck,” she added. “I’m so cold.”
“What’s your name?”
“Tammy,” she said. “Have you seen my fiancé?”
“We haven’t. But I think he was the one who called in the accident. We’ll start looking for him once we get you secured.”
“I can’t get the seatbelt off. There is a lot of blood in my eyes.”
“My name is Derek. I’m going to take a look at you from the passenger’s seat.” Derek hurried forward. He found the side door open. From this angle, it was clear that Tammy had more risks from the stream than her boyfriend did. If it had been later in the spring, the water would have been higher, and Tammy likely would have drowned upside down in her car. The vehicle was also tilted slightly so that opening the driver’s door would be impossible without lifting up the car. That was not an option in this canyon.
As he crawled into the car, he noticed some of Tammy’s injuries. She was severely injured, with possible broken bones and cuts, and she was having trouble catching her breath, and there was a gash on her head. Derek asked, “How’s your breathing?”
“It’s hard for me to take a deep breath. Is that bad?”
“It might be the fact that you’re upside down. But you could have injured your lungs or your ribs. You’ve had quite the accident.”
Tammy began to cry at these words as if the truth of the dire situation washed her misbeliefs away. She knew she was in bad shape.
“You’re going to be fine,” said Derek hastily. “Don’t panic. That won’t help. We can get you out. I need to cut you from your seatbelt and pull you out this side.”
“Where is my fiancé?” she asked again.
“He’s fine. He called 911 to report the accident.”
“I want to see him,” Tammy insisted.
“Once you are safe from this accident. For now, you need to worry about yourself.”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
“Nothing that we can’t fix,” answered Derek.
The next twenty minutes were spent on getting Tammy from the vehicle. Her extraction was done in phases. First, the safety harness was removed, and Derek checked her neck and back. She was stable, and upon first glance, it didn’t appear she had severely injured her neck or back.
Once she was released from the belt, it took a few moments to lift her clear of the console and where her feet were positioned, close to the peddles. The paramedics had brought down a gurney, and when Tammy was removed from the car, she was immediately placed on a backboard and stabilized onto the gurney. This was a typical procedure and precautionary. It took four people to carry her from the scene of the accident.
The incident commander asked Derek, “How is she?”
“Hurt and injured. I think she might have an injury to her head, possibly broken bones, but she is talking and makes sense…most of the time.”
“Have we found her fiancé?” asked the incident commander.
“Not as far as I’ve heard. We will keep looking.”
Tammy was carried up the hill and over to the ambulance. She was quickly placed inside. An IV was initiated as the ambulance drove back into town. It would take thirty minutes to get to the hospital. Once the ambulance arrived, they had staff waiting. Tammy had taken a turn for the worse and was having trouble breathing on her own. Oxygen was placed.
Inside the hospital, it became clear that one of her lungs had been damaged. She had fluid on her lungs and couldn’t wholly expand when she exhaled and inhaled.
She required a chest tube to be inserted. This was necessary on the left side. Doctor Joseph and Nurse Vance performed the procedure. The plastic tube was inserted into the left lung. Blood had pooled in the lower part of the lung and some of the chest wall.
The X-ray revealed that she had four broken ribs, one of which had punctured the lung. The chest tube alone would not be adequate treatment. She would need surgery to repair the broken rib. To make matters worse, Tammy was still worsening when it came to her responsiveness. It wasn’t because of the lack of oxygen, but she had a skull fracture and increased pressure on the brain.
Both injuries were potentially life-threatening. Tammy was brought to surgery, and four hours later, she came out of surgery with a greater chance of survival.
The following day she woke up. The doctor, her parents, and her sister were there.
Doctor Joseph asked, “Tammy. How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know. I’m tired, and I can’t move. What’s wrong with me?”
Both of her parents started to cry.
Doctor Joseph came closer and started examining her. The bandage on her head was well-placed. Her ribs were bandaged, and she still had a chest tube. He looked at her eyes, and they responded well to light. She had some facial bruising and a broken arm. Doctor Joseph asked, “What do you remember from the accident?”
She tried to shake her head back and forth. When she realized she couldn’t move, she asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
“What do you remember?” he encouraged.
It appeared as if Tammy were thinking. She finally answered, “A crash. Up the canyon. I was stuck.”
Doctor Joseph nodded. “You broke some ribs, and you had a head injury. When you arrived at the hospital, you were hurt, and we had to do surgery on your lungs and your head.”
Tammy’s facial features changed, and her voice was faint when she asked, “Where is my fiancé?”
“He escaped the car crash and called 911 for help.”
“He got out of the car?” Tammy asked, clearly confused.
“Can I see him?”
“Well,” Doctor Joseph sat on a chair next to her bed. “It took them longer to find him. He was out in the elements for a few hours. He had been wet. He had an episode of hypothermia.”
“What does that mean?”
“He was less injured by the car accident but more susceptible to sickness from the hypothermia.”
“Where is he?”
“He is in a drug-induced coma. But he is responding well to treatment. We are hopeful he will be awake in a few days.”
“We don’t know for sure, but we will keep you updated.”
Tammy’s recovery took weeks. Her fiancé’s recovery took longer. Both were injured but differently, and they would never be the same. The fiancé had some problems with frostbite, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken arm. They couldn’t do surgery for two weeks after the accident because of the hypothermia. Tammy’s brain injury was a TBI, and she suffered from short-term memory loss. With work, she improved this over the next few years, but it never completely went away.