Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hard To Describe

Disclaimer...very long post:

The last few days are hard to describe but I need to try. It's important that I try to leave an accurate record of my father-in-law's recovery because time passes so quickly and these things are just too important to not write down.

Jim's mom called on Sunday and said that my father-in-law's doctor didn't know what to say and couldn't take any credit for the miracle but that he was releasing my father-in-law from the hospital on Monday without the need for physical therapy. Jim's mom was very concerned about getting him home from the hospital and she requested Jim's help to be there for a few days to help with the transition. Both Jim and his dad are very big, very strong men. Jim's mom is a small, somewhat frail woman who suffers a lot from arthritis. She was scheduled to have a knee replacement surgery May 15th so a bad knee doesn't help anything either. The doctor originally told my mother-in-law that my father-in-law would need weeks of in-hospital physical therapy and months of out patient physical therapy to recover. Those words left all of us a little concerned about how everyone would manage. To hear the doctor say that he would release my father-in-law on Monday without physical therapy was exciting and heartening news but still a little scary because of all the unknowns. Jim and I decided to go to Idaho to help with the transitions.

We left our house at 6:00 a.m. and arrived in Idaho Falls a few hours later. Jim's parent's house is about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from the hospital in a very, very small community near Moore, Idaho. There's not much there and the closest towns on either side of it are so small that it's hard to wonder how people survive in such small communities but they do and they love it. The hospital discharge took a few hours and we went and checked Jim's mom out of the hotel and waited for the physical therapists to get a walker for my father-in-law. To my understanding, his only therapy had been a few walks in the halls of the hospital. The transition from the wheel chair to the car began the tenuous ordeal from hospital to home.
I brought my camera at the request of Jim's mom and snapped pictures for the next few days. The trip home was long and tiring because we had to stop at a hearing aid repair place because one hearing aid was lost in the water and had to be reordered and the other one had to get checked. We had to stop for gas, and to Walmart to pick up the medicine prescriptions for home. My father-in-law was nauseous and not feeling well and was very, very tired. We stopped at a rest stop on the way home too. To get to my in-laws house you have to travel through a barren, harsh desert area for about 45 minutes on the way. The desert (mostly sage brush) always makes me a little weirded out because it's so desolate. We finally made it home and my father-in-law went immediately to his bed and said he just needed to lay down flat and rest. Gratefully, Jim's parents installed a stair climbing apparatus a few years ago which has a chair that brings a person from the downstairs to the upstairs without the need for stair climbing. It surely came in handy.
After a much needed rest, Jim's dad found his way to his favorite chair to rest some more. He remained quite exhausted the rest of that first day home. The phone began to ring and visitors wanted to visit. Some people had heard what happened, some did not. A reporter called when I was there wanting to know what happened it seemed like quite an intrusion of privacy actually. The story is just so amazing though that every time we heard it, we all just shook our heads a little in wonder and awe at the great blessing of recovery.
The first visitor was Wayne, 
my father-in-law's best fishing buddy.
This man is one of the funniest, nicest men I have ever met. It was like being a "fly on the wall" watching and listening to the two of them. They were so happy to see each other. Wayne asked my father-in-law questions he needed answered and my father-in-law asked Wayne questions about what happened that he couldn't recall or couldn't remember. The atmosphere was riveting as we listened to the story unfold before us.
It turns out that Wayne is 74 years old. My father-in-law is 73. Wayne is not a big man. Jim's dad weighs around 280-290 pounds I venture to guess. That's important to know when you realize the magnitude of what he was able to accomplish because of adrenaline and prayer. He said a storm came out of nowhere and they were fishing in the "willows." He said he decided to try to get out of the willows and get to shore. He said a really strong microburst wind came up and he steered the boat really hard to miss a bank of willows just as a big wave hit them as he was turning the boat. He said it was so strong that it knocked him over into the seats giving him a big bruise on his arm. Unknowingly, the event pitched my father-in-law out of the boat into the frigid 40 degree water. Jim's dad says he was in the water watching the boat drive away as he was waving and yelling, "Wayne, Wayne, Wayne." Wayne estimated he drove about 50 yards away when he turned around to ask my father-in-law what they should do to only to discover that he wasn't in the boat! He said he could see my father-in-law swimming as he was steering to him. He called to him but my  father-in-law was swimming away from the boat and he couldn't figure out why. Shock must have set in rapidly. Jim's dad said he only remembers trying to get to the willows to try to hang on to one for safety. He lost one hearing aid, and the other one was defunct so he wouldn't have been able to hear Wayne calling for him. Wayne said he got to my  father-in-law just in time because by the time he reached him, he was just going under the water. He said is he had been any later reaching him, he would have sunk and he wouldn't have been able to get him.

Wayne said the next 56 minutes were exhausting for him. He reached down and grabbed Jim's dad by his shirt collar and tried to keep his head out of the water. He said he was blue around his mouth, his eyes were askew and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth like a dead deer. He said he prayed and prayed asking for help as he struggled to use his cell phone to hang onto my  father-in-law. He said he couldn't dial any numbers on the key pad because the phone was wet but his "quick dial" numbers worked so he called his wife to ask her to call 911 because he knew they were in trouble. He struggled and struggled to keep my  father-in-law's face out of the water but his head kept going under. He slapped him in the face and yelled at him to stay alive. He somehow managed to get a rope around Jim's dad around his chest and tied a one-handed bow line to prop him up against the boat. He was unresponsive and blue. The rescuers had been notified and were on their way during all this. 

The men were fishing on the Mackay reservoir.
There are a couple of landing points and this picture shows the "willows" on the far end of the reservoir. It's a good-sized reservoir. When the call came in, Randy (pictures to follow) heard that 2 people flipped a boat somewhere on the reservoir and were in the water. He didn't know who it was. Mackay apparently has a very well respected volunteer EMT service. Randy is also the fire captain although he mostly works at a small grocery store. Randy said when he discovered who it was, he was shocked and saddened...this was his friend. Another rescuer tells the story that he was going to take his boat that morning and go to the Salmon River in a different location to help locate a victim that had drowned a day or two before but "felt in his heart not to go because he was needed there locally" that day. Another tender mercy. Both men made it to the reservoir about the same time. There was another jet boat that just happened to be there and Randy told the owners he needed it for an emergency rescue so they let him have it. Wayne said that just before Randy got to them when things were very desperate and he was slapping my father-in-law's face a number of times telling him not to die on him, my father-in-law opened his eyes once. Wayne said he was so happy but was shocked at the same time. Randy said it took about ten minutes and a big struggle to get a life jacket around my father-in-law and cut him loose from the boat. They managed to secure him on the jet boat and got him to shore. Randy said his core temp was 91 degrees and that his eyes were fixed and dilated. At some point, he said that he had shallow respirations of about 8 per minute. They warmed him up quickly with hot IV's. When Randy told us this story, he picked up a blue bag and told Jim's Dad that he was that color. (More pictures to follow). He said he was gurgling a lot of water and he just didn't think he was going to make it. He said that if it weren't for Wayne, he wouldn't have made it. They drove the ambulance 6 miles to the place where the air-med helicopter landed in the storm and flew my father-in-law to the hospital where he was very quickly placed on a ventilator.

Back to the at-home recovery. The visit with Wayne that first day was extremely touching. We all sat there listening to a story that humbled us as we knew God intervened in the life of my father-in-law. Those two men bonded in a stronger way than I think they had ever bonded before. More visitors came that night and finally we all went to bed.

The next morning I told my father-in-law that we needed to try and take a walk to see what his balance was like. Their driveway and walk to the road is all uneven gravel and rocks. They live in a very remote area and I get in trouble sometimes saying that "this is in the middle of nowhere" because they seem to really enjoy the remoteness but I just shake my head sometimes. Here's a picture to prove it!
At any rate, about a minute later, he was standing on the front porch ready to go. I told him we needed to take the walker because it had a seat on it and we needed it for safety. He didn't think we needed it because he's a strong man. We headed out to walk to the road and he wanted to try to walk to the river to "see if it's still there." We got half way there and he seemed exhausted and said that the river seemed like it was getting "further away" as we walked.
He made it though...
but very quickly needed to sit down to rest a while. He used the walker on the way back. He was exhausted when we got back and rested more as the phone kept ringing. That afternoon we went for another walk in a different direction and he walked unassisted the entire way although he rested on the walker seat half way through. He seemed quite a bit stronger although he said his legs were every tired. More visitors came that night and we all retired for the evening.
The next day was a good day. We went out for another walk and he did great. Assuming he would need to rest the rest of the morning like he did the day before, I took a chair and a book and sat in the sun. About 15 minutes later, I saw Jim and his dad walking in the yard with Jim's dad giving instructions to Jim about how to place his huge sprinkler apparatus'. There were several of them. He was out without the walker and I was a little concerned. Next I heard a loud motor and then I saw my father-in-law on his ATV! I sat there in disbelief!
Off he went, around and around and around
 his huge property and around me smiling the whole time.
I just laughed because next he had Jim following him around doing chores as he directed him. At one point, Jim mouthed to me, "Help me!" His dad is famous for giving chore orders. Here they are headed to check out the greenhouse. I said to him afterwards, "You know, he's 53, not 12." He said to him, "Are you really 53?" Pretty funny stuff. Well he felt so good, he wanted to go for a ride to find Randy, his rescuer, to thank him.
 Randy was in the back of the store and 
he was called over the loud speaker to come to the front. 
He was literally shocked to see him.
He had the sweetest, most genuine look of affection on his face...
they all did.

 I felt like I was a "fly on the wall" again as Randy recounted the story in great detail. He said he couldn't believe Jim's dad was standing there. He said he seriously thought Jim's dad wasn't going to make it. It was such a tender, humbling experience to listen to his side of the story and  to see how genuinely he was affected by his miraculous recovery.
Randy said that he was told that if a man his size had the same thing happen to him (the hypothermia), he wouldn't have survived but that my father-in law's "body mass" probably insulated him enough to help save him. He is not a small man!
After that visit, we went to the reservoir and Jim's dad pointed everything out to us so we could understand what happened. Then we went for a ride in a small canyon and headed home. I was very tired. 

Yesterday morning we woke up and before you knew it, my father-in law was outside all on his own riding his ATV and setting his own sprinklers. We knew then that we weren't really needed anymore and headed home yesterday afternoon leaving Jim's parents to care for each other.

The events of this last week have been very humbling. We witnessed God's gracious hand in saving my father-in law's life and then in seeing his miraculous recovery. He discovers a few small mental deficits such as scary dreams and not being able to figure out how to do his checkbook because he couldn't make sense of it. The loss of time messed him up a lot. As soon as he discovered a deficit, he quickly applied a technique to overcome it. He was simply looking forward to restful sleep and visits form grandchildren someday. He said it was good to "not be dead." :)

My mother-in-law is grateful her husband is still with her. His children and grandchildren are humbled by the transpired events and hand of the Lord. This is a story that needs to be remembered and a life that needs to be celebrated. 

God is very good indeed.


  1. He looks good! It's been such a miracle.


    I loved your testimony on Sunday!