You can learn a lot falling down the side of a mountain, stunt-woman style, but honestly, I don’t recommend it. I’d suggest that you read books and articles instead, as those activities are far less painful and traumatic.
Last week, my daughter and I went hiking with my good friend, Tess Pennington of Ready Nutrition, and her family. It was a nice sunny afternoon and we were going to hike a short way down off the main trail to the river to go tubing with the kids. As someone who writes about preparedness it is a little embarrassing to admit this, but because this was intended to be just a step up from a leisurely stroll, we weren’t as prepared as we should have been for a major traumatic accident. Our first aid supplies were uselessly sitting a mile away in the van when our walk turned into an unfortunate scene from an action-adventure movie.
Lesson One: Listen to your instincts
I’m an experienced hiker. Up until this point, I have only suffered very minor injuries in the miles and miles that I have covered. I have shared my love of hiking with my kids, and we have spent many hours enjoying the wilderness and learning about nature. We have covered a lot of rough terrain, and I’ve always tried to teach my girls how to trek through dangerous situations safely and carefully.
When we saw the steep path, Tess and I both thought it might be a bad idea, but for some reason, we decided to do it anyway. Our footwear and gear for this particular descent were not really appropriate, but it was only about 40-50 feet, so I talked myself out of my concerns. I sincerely wish that I had listened to my instincts. Because of that mental warning, I tried to be especially careful descending the path, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
The second step down consisted of a large stone, about a foot and a half across, set into the path. I tested it with my foot and it seemed stable. Seemed. It wasn’t, and when I had my weight on the stone, it rolled off the edge of the path, and I rolled with it.
Unfortunately, I remember every second of the fall. It wasn’t one of those situations where I just woke up at the bottom of the ravine. I clearly recall feeling my face smash off the rocks once…twice…three times…and thinking that I was glad I had my sunglasses on. I remember feeling the thorns on the blackberry bushes tearing at my arms and legs. I remember praying, “Please, don’t let me be hurt too badly!”
When I arrived in a heap near the bottom of the ravine, I could hear my daughter screaming, the other kids calling my name, and Tess yelling that she was coming down. I was worried because I could only see out of one eye initially. I shouted back up that I was okay, a few times. I thought to myself, “Well, okay is an overstatement” as I saw blood drip off me to the rocks I was on. I had bounced approximately 30-40 feet down the rocky ravine shown in the picture above.
Lesson Two: Prioritize
I heard Tess assigning jobs to the kids in order to offset their panic. She sent them to run back to the trailhead for help, because her husband had still been at the van, getting some things together for our outing.
My first physical concern was getting something between me and the rocks without sliding the rest of the way down the ravine. Not only were they sharp, but they were so hot that the blood droplets gave a little sizzle when they hit. My bag had made it down with me since I had been wearing it across one shoulder, messenger style. I raised up and put the bag underneath me to sit on. I had lost a shoe part way down and the bottoms of my feet were embedded with thorns. I put my shoeless foot on top of my other foot and cautioned Tess to be careful as she hastened down to help me.
Tess (my hero) rushed carefully down to rescue me. She tossed me a beach towel when she got into range so that I could cover more of the rock that I was perched on. The heat from the rocks was burning my skin despite my efforts not to touch them. Once I got situated, nausea and dizziness set in, and I started shaking. (I think this was the aftereffects of adrenaline.)
Lesson Three: First aid kits aren’t always that helpful
When Tess got to me, she immediately began to assess injuries. She checked my limbs and the worst of my visible injuries, then used a towel moistened with a splash from a water bottle to clean the blood that was gushing down my face into my eye. (Phew, I thought – now I can see out of that eye – one worry resolved!)
“I can’t believe I don’t have my first aid kit, ” said Tess, as she used the items we had on hand to improvise what was needed.
“What would you really use out of it?” I asked. Really, in a major trauma situation like this one, the standard first aid kit would be virtually useless. We agreed that for the time being, the damp towel did just as good a job staunching some of the blood as a gauze pad would have. (Some additions to a standard “daily carry kit” that would have been useful can be found below.)
Once Tess felt certain that none of the wounds were life-threatening, our next task was getting back up the side of that ravine, a daunting venture. She had retrieved my missing shoe and plucked the worst of the thorns that had been embedded in the bottoms of my feet during my plunge.
We began to climb, very slowly and carefully, almost at a crawl. Because of the dizziness I had to pause frequently, since I really didn’t want to fall back down that hill again.
Then a voice from the trail said, “Are you okay?”
We looked up and a couple of hikers were staring down at us in concern. Tess told them that I had fallen and we were trying to get back up to the trail. That nice man, that good Samaritan, that guardian angel (whom I wish I could thank personally), was down the side in a flash, holding out his hand to me. He assured me that he would not let me fall, he said, “Dig deep,” and he pulled me up to safety in what seemed like only a few steps.
Lesson Four: Resting isn’t always an option
When you are standing on a trail, a mile or two from the trailhead, and the sun is beating down on you relentlessly, resting just isn’t always an option. Tess and a few hikers encouraged me to sit down on a pile of floats that they had made but I decided to walk back to the trailhead. Because of my experience in endurance sports when I was younger, I knew that if I sat down, by the time I got back up again, I would be much more stiff and sore than I already was. It felt, at the time, that walking back would be a now-or-never proposition.
I know that all of the medical texts and advice would caution against the course of action that I took. I consulted with my friend Lizzie Bennett, who informed me that in these types of situations, adrenaline could propel a badly injured person through a journey, causing their injuries to be even more severe. Because of this, I am NOT advising anyone else to follow my example – I’m simply telling the story of my experience.
With a bottle of water in hand, we trudged back down the trailhead, slowly making our way about half a mile before Tess’s husband met us at a run. My daughter and the other kids had reached him, and he had called 911 and left them at the gate to meet paramedics. We slowly continued until a man from the fire department drove up. He assessed me and was convinced that I was in possession of all my faculties and not suffering from any injury that would cause an immediate life and death issue. He gave us a ride the rest of the way to the gate, where the paramedics were waiting.
A quick exam by the paramedics confirmed that, although battered, I was fairly intact. I turned down the rather expensive offer of an ambulance ride and signed a release. I didn’t want to go to the hospital but Tess and her husband insisted that I do so. By the time the 45-minute ride to the hospital was over, I was glad I had agreed to go. At this point, my head was pounding horribly, I had a curious numbness across the front of my head that covered the crown, I was nauseated, and I was still dripping blood at a pretty steady pace.
At this point, I lost track of the time. About two hours had passed since the fall when we arrived at the hospital. I was immediately taken back and given excellent care. Preppers to the core, Tess and I were both very interested in the procedures and supplies used on such a large amount of physical trauma. We were at the hospital for about 4 hours in total. You know you have some pretty big cuts when it takes an hour to tape your face back together.
- Numerous (14) gashes that got steri-stripped together
- Abrasions from head to toe (See the photo below – this was what my whole body looked like, even areas that were covered by clothes)
- Fat lip * (How the heck do I still have teeth?)
- Bloody nose with a big sunglasses shaped bruise across it
- Two minor black eyes
- Lots of bruises (LOTS – there is less skin NOT bruised)
- Bruised kidney
- Dozens of blackberry thorns in the bottom of my feet and other parts of my body
Unbelievably, there were no broken bones or serious internal injuries. The staff was amazed by this, and having seen the fall, so were my friends and family. The bruised kidney was no joke, although it isn’t considered a serious injury.
The doctor recommended I stop fighting zombies, prescribed some strong painkillers, told me to get lots of rest, and predicted 3-4 weeks recovery time.
Lesson Five: Being healthy and well-nourished helps a lot!
Even in situations where you don’t expect your personal eating habits to come into play, they do. I can’t think of any other way to account for the speed of my recovery. Five days after the accident, I’m no longer hobbling around, although I am not exactly spry. I’m taking a few slow 200 yard walks per day. Many of the scabs have healed over and come off. The significant bruises look worse but feel better. The headache and the need for strong pain medication were both gone by the second day, and I am down to taking a small dose of ibuprofen in the morning and right before bed for the huge amount of inflammation still present. The only thing that still hurts terribly is the bruised kidney, and that is excruciating. Anytime I bend or twist, it reacts angrily with painful spasms. The feeling is starting to come back to the nerves in my head.
The first couple of days I couldn’t choke down more than toast and sorbet because of residual nausea and the swelling of my mouth. Since my appetite returned I have been sticking mainly to the following high-nutrient foods in order to speed healing (all organic):
- Yellow squash
- Lean meat
- Farm fresh eggs
- Full fat yogurt
I’ve also increased the following supplements:
- Vitamin B complex
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
And, as always, I’m drinking a minimum of a gallon of spring water per day.
What would we do differently?
Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. First, if I had it to do all over again, I would have used my common sense when I looked at that trail and thought it was unsafe. Since this was a recreational activity, not an escape from an ax-wielding madman, I should have looked for a safer way down or changed my plans.
Next, I would have made sure a small updated daily carry kit was with me. Some items that would have been useful in a daily carry kit:
- Electrolyte powder
- Blood pressure cuff
- Little flashlight
- Antiseptic spray
- Gauze roll instead of pads
Aside from this, I think that given the circumstances, we had the best of all possible outcomes. Tess took charge of things immediately and got the kids out of danger before she came to rescue me. We were able to assess the situation, improvise using what we had, and rely on one another to deal with what was at hand. We were so notably calm throughout the ordeal that several of the medical professionals commented on it. I believe that our prepper mindset helped with this because we have spent years learning about these types of scenarios, playing them over in our minds, and mentally training ourselves to be adaptable.
Some readers may scoff when they read this story, and that is okay. I really, sincerely hope that you are right and that you’d either avoid such an accident or perform far better in a similar situation.
For the rest of you, I hope that my unfortunate accident can serve as a painless learning experience!