The Incident - Page 2
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We went to the new dam sight and had basically finished what needed to be done. Then I heard it. The worse sound I have ever heard, followed by the worse words I have ever heard in my life. The sound was a shotgun 00 Buck shot shell blast, followed by the words "Damn, I just blew off my hand!" My back was turned toward Jim when I hear the sounds; I turned to see if what I had heard was truly what I thought I heard. When I turned to face Jim I saw a horrible sight. Indeed, I had heard correctly.
Many people have asked me to describe what I saw that day, However I always refuse. It was a sight no one should have in the mind's eye. For a full year after the incident I had flashbacks about it and would see the entire thing all over again, and then at night, every time I would close my eyes for sleep I would see it again. I have been able to control the flashbacks for several years now and I seldom allow my mind to go back to the scenes of that day.
AS I turned and saw Jim I almost collapsed! Jim hurried toward me and repeated "I just blew off my hand." He told me to find something I could use as a tourniquet. I tried wrapping a coat around what was left of Jim's hand but it did not work. I say "Jim, I don't think I can do this." Jim looked me squarely in the eyes and said, ever so calmly, "Yes you can Nancy. Now find something else to use. A bungee cord will work." In the middle of Jim's trauma he was able to stay calm and able to keep me calm so I could do what needed to be done. As I ran for a bungee cord I screamed "God help us!" I wrapped the bungee cord above Jim's wrist as best I could. I had no idea how I was going to get Jim back to our cabin, let alone what we were going to do once we got there. It was a horrific scene throughout that day. Every so often Jim would say "Calm down Nancy everything is going to be alright". I am amazed how Jim stayed so calm throughout the entire incident and actually kept me calm.
We had traveled to the dam sight on separate four-wheelers. I assumed Jim would get on the back of one of the four-wheelers and I then would drive him back to our cabin. Instead, Jim got on a four-wheeler and announces "he could drive." I jump on my four-wheeler parked behind Jim's four-wheeler. We started our machines. I watched as Jim tries to shift his four-wheeler into drive with what was left of his hand, then tried to shift with his right hand but he cannot reach the lever. Next, I see him try to shift with his mangled left hand again. It seemed as if Jim had forgotten about his injury for a second and thought his left hand would work, after all. My heart ached as I watched Jim try to use his once useable hand as it bled all over the shift lever. I ran to Jim's machine to shift it into drive for him. By the time I got there Jim had managed to shift with his right hand. We speed off towards our cabin and the telephone to call 911 with our emergency. This 911 call would be the second time I have called them since living in the Alaskan bush for something Jim had done to himself (again, that is another story).
We arrived at the cabin in about eight minutes. Jim insisted on staying outside on the porch because he did not want to bleed all over the kitchen. I ran for clean towels and returned to Jim. He had me loosen the tourniquet in hopes the pain might ease. We then wrapped a towel around his hand. I called 911 and told the operator that my husband's hand has just been blown-up by a 00 buck shotgun shell and gave her our GPS location. She told me an ambulance would be dispatched immediately. I told her an ambulance would not work - we are in the bush, 13 miles from the nearest road. A Med-A-Vac helicopter and the Alaska Railroad were the only options for rescuing Jim. She told me to stay on the phone while she contacted the helicopter. I checked on Jim as I waited.
The 911 operator came back on the phone and asked how Jim was doing. I told her he was still losing a lot of blood even though we had a tourniquet on his arm. A sort of emergency comes over her voice as she said "No, no. Take the tourniquet off right now!" I said "I don't think you understand, Jim's hand is blown to bits and blood in pouring out." The operator replied "I do understand but tourniquets are no longer advised. I recommend you take the tourniquet off and wrap a towel around his hand. If blood seeps through the towel wrap another towel around the first towel but never remove any of the towels." She told me the wound must stay covered or risk getting airborne germs on the injured area. Here Jim and I thought we were doing the right thing, turns out we were doing the wrong thing. Jim and I removed the bungee cord tourniquet and wrapped another towel around the existing towel.
The 911 operator then told me the Med-A-Vac helicopter was fueling and would be at our location in about four hours. The helicopter is stationed 150 miles south of Anchorage and would take that long to get to Jim. I told the operator I did not know if Jim can hang on that long and that the Alaska Railroad could get to our location quicker. She responds "We are not allowed to call the Alaska Railroad for a rescue". The words "Then get off the phone because I am going to call the railroad!" flew out of my mouth. She says "No, wait; I will see what I can do." She goes on to tell me we will have to disconnect while she tries to contact the Alaska Railroad and she will call me back within five minutes. If she does not call back in five minutes I should call her back. I agreed and we hang up. I checked on Jim and tell him the situation about getting rescued. I got him something to drink and checked the towel wrappings as I watched the clock. Jim was hurting badly. We had no pain medication at the cabin. He was still bleeding and his complexion very pale. The pool of blood on the porch was growing. I watched the clock. CONTINUED ON PAGE 3