End to the Day at the End of the Road…

We had been to town and had made it to the end of the road in good time to make it home.  A busy day was seemingly coming to an early and civilized end.

But that was not to be.

As readers know, we have a very steep hill leading to the beach at the end of the road.  When we arrived, there was a truck unloading at the bottom so we parked in a small lay-by half way down to allow them to finish.  I took the opportunity to haul out two bags of road salt I had impulsively purchased in town to leave at that part of the hill.  I figured the hill would get even slipperier than it was when we had departed earlier and the forecast for the next few days suggested preparation.

When the first truck departed the unloading area, we went down.  The last few feet was getting icy but it was OK.  We unloaded.  As we were doing so another vehicle came to the same previous half-way lay-by and, doing as we had done, waited and did a bit of preparation for their unloading.  Their preparation included donning some heavier gear for their longer trip home.

It was then that things went awry.  I wrote a mutual friend last night to fill her in.  The following is what I wrote with some extra fill-in:

L, the wife, was driving.  We were at the bottom of the hill.  They stopped at the half way point parking lot and got out to put on their heavier winter gear.  But I guess L did not put the car in park.  Maybe it was half-in and popped out.  So, as they got out, it jumped forward and started to roll down the hill.  I heard them yelling and watched as their car rolled a 1/4 of the way down and hit the stump on the slope on the east side.  

I didn’t see her do it but L had leapt back half into the car and tried to save the day. The car still hit the stump on the east-side ditch.  But, while getting in she either yanked the wheel or the stump caused the trajectory of the still moving vehicle to change.  The car then caromed over the road to the west side and hit a boulder or something.  By the second impact it was doing 20 km or near and was more than half way down the 100 foot slope.  

Then it flipped. 

And landed on the roof.  L was flung out of the car from the still open driver’s side door onto the concrete ribbon strip with the door pinning her ankle and her face slammed into the pavement.  She hit it like a sledge hammer.  A lot of blood instantly started flowing onto the road.

The car miraculously stopped fifteen feet from our car and where we had been standing.  At the second impact and just before it flipped, Sal and I leapt for the relative safety of the off-from-the-roadway pathway.  

They had paused at that mid way point because we were already at the bottom unloading.  We looked up when we heard the yelling, stood there for a second and saw the car careening down to towards us and so we leapt up the ramp leading to the path to the dock to get out of the way.  When their car rolled, I was sure it would just somersault down and hit our car.  THEN I saw L get virtually flung out and smashed with the car looming ready to roll over her.  The open door had acted like a block and stopped the car from crushing her.  Her ankle looked smushed.  Her other leg was bent at an awkward angle.  We ran over, rolled her over and decided that getting her out of there was the best move and drag-carried her over to the ramp. 

I then called the Coast Guard on channel 16 with our always-present hand held VHF radio. There is no cell service in that area for miles around.  VHF is the only way to ‘get out’.  

The Coast Guard called the ambulance.

S and K showed up a few minutes later also ready to unload from a town day.  C L and his brother N (they were in the first truck we had waited for) were already at the dock and they came back to help.  P and N were headed up channel in their boat, heard my 16 call  and they came over to the end of the road, too.  As did D G who was already home but nearby and was called by another VHF listener. Within minutes we had the ambulance dispatched and L was on the ground wrapped up in everyone’s clothes.

With everyone, there must have been at least ten people on scene within fifteen minutes.  Sal and I were first.  L came dramatically to the scene a few minutes later.  

And, from then on in, everyone pitched in to do what they could.

Then we all waited for two hours until the ambulance came.  The police took 45 minutes but the ambulance seemed to take forever.  

Their car is basically a write off.  

We have their stuff (boots and crap).  C took their food to his house  Their boat is still at the dock.  They are currently at the hospital.  R (husband) wanted someone to go to the house*** (see epilogue) and turn on the lights….none of us thought that made any sense so we didn’t do it. 

Anything you can do…..?

I don’t think so.  Not tonight.  They will likely be home tomorrow, next day for sure.  L may need a bit of surgery ….we don’t know the exact extent of her injuries but her mouth took a helluva smack.  And her forehead.  She was FLUNG hard.  But, after a few minutes, she was remarkably coherent and logical.   But she WAS smacked onto frozen concrete as hard as anyone can be and still be alive.  Had the car rolled one more turn she would have been crushed.  And that is a 20+ degree slope.  I really thought it was coming all the way down.  The open door saved her.  

The take-away for most of us was yet another reminder of how easily an accident can happen and, of course, the incredible response of the community when it does. In retrospect, we might have simply taken the chance, moved her into my car and taken her ourselves to the hospital but, like most people, we have been conditioned to leave it to the professionals and, of course, there may have been some other injury that our moving her would have exacerbated.

But – and it is a BIG BUT – this is not the city.  It took too long for the ambulance. Our neighbour was starting to suffer MORE simply because of the cold.  We managed to ‘do the right thing’ by the book but maybe NOT by the standards of common sense.

This is NOT a criticism of the ‘authorities’, the ‘professionals’ the ‘highly trained’ but, in truth, they are not as well trained in the circumstances we faced as the group of us were. The end of the road is a foreign element to the ‘professionals’.  The ambulance driver was not as able as any of us to drive that part of the road.  And, what takes me 45 minutes, took them 90.  Our own group had people with first aid experience.  We had already done the right thing – so far.

I am NOT saying we did the wrong thing to wait.  BUT I am saying that, as a group, we may have to take a bit more responsibility for decision-making simply because of the distance and the possible conditions we are often in….

“Would you do it differently, then?”

Yes.  L, herself, has extensive first aid training.  She is tough, sane, competent and knowledgeable.  Best of all, she is calm by nature and was soon coherent.  And all of us know the road.  Most of us have SUVs.  In hindsight, I would have waited till she was settled (a decision in itself) and, if L thought she could be moved, we would have tried it gently.  Had she urged us on, we would have transported her to the back of my Pathfinder (already at the bottom of the hill), and I would have simply driven her to MEET the ambulance.

I was carrying the VHF and our chainsaw.  And we were also lucky to have let the ‘impulse’ make me buy salt.  We were doubly lucky that one of the neighbours had a duvet.  And, then the salt…..I have never bought road salt in my life.  Total fluke.  I have never carried a blanket in the car, either.  But there will be some changes made along those lines for the future, I can assure you.

***EPILOGUE:  They are home.  They are in good spirits.  And I was wrong (not for the first time!).  One of their rescuers DID, in fact, go to the house and turn on the lights (they had a generator going that may have put in too much charge and ruin the batteries – it was the right thing to do).

13 thoughts on “End to the Day at the End of the Road…

  1. As far a emergency services, until a few years ago people at 911 had no clue where Powell Lake was, let alone where any cabins were. After a man died from a heart attack because no one knew how to dispatch someone to get to his cabin, we now have “addresses” for our cabins. Not a mailing address, just a number followed by Powell Lake, but we have been assured that that information is now in the hands of emergency services operators so they can at least get the dispatch to the right people. On the other hand, local Search and Rescue do no have a boat. Recently when there was a boating accident near our cabin, a commercial helicopter was somehow arranged to come in to pick up the injured woman. They landed on an empty float across from our cabin to airlift her out. I don’t know all the details, but it was all coordinated by locals to my knowledge, not first responders. They would have met them at the bottom of the lake where the road to town begins. I often think about what I would do alone to help Wayne, especially at night if he wasn’t mobile. We emergency contact information by the phone. Since we have sporadic reception we also have the VHF in the barge that we can use, but we are a long way from any repeaters. We can hear them, but aren’t sure they can hear us. We try to be prepared to care for ourselves, but who knows how much is enough.

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    • I suppose there are times when nothing else but expiration will solve the problem. Still, I would prefer that as the truly last resort. In the meantime, I am happy to carry the VHF but government cutbacks mean the call goes to Victoria and, even though the guy was smart and competent, he had no idea where on the planet we were. And we do NOT have addresses out here. End of the road did not compute for him until a lengthy description. The local cops knew but Victoria did not. I am very impressed with the ‘fast boats’ the Coast Guard uses and, of course, the big boat when it arrives but the fact is, they have their limitations, too. I really think we have to add a bit to the equation and that includes making some on-the-spot decisions.
      But, we’ll talk about it……

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  2. Thanks for telling this amazing story JDC. I wasn’t there myself as you know, but did hear about it from C. and N. who did finally arrive home long after dark. They had stopped off at husband R.’s request to stoke their fire, turn on water (to keep pipes from freezing) and turn lights on (to stop batteries powered by micro-hydro from boiling over and frying the power system).
    Of course when one steps out the door to go to town the last thing one thinks is that you will finish up the day in hospital as L. did, after a very dramatic mishap like the one you describe. Who knows what will happen next, or how things will turn out after they do happen….could have been so much worse if, and if, and if again….luckily it was not as bad as it might have been. Horrendous enough, for sure. In the end, L. sustained a pair of broken wrists, and stitches to the face. She must be very sore today, but as far as I am aware she will make a full recovery, hopefully very soon.
    I believe they are home now, having been delivered to the end of the road by another helpful friend and neighbour. Their groceries are in their fridge at home, which is warm and lit with all the amenities still functioning, thanks to a collection of helping hands stopping by to help out.
    I feel honoured to live in and to be part of such an intelligent, gracious, loving and giving community. When something needs to be done, or someone is in trouble, everyone just pitches in and does whatever it takes to make things right again, to the best of their abilities.
    Being prepared is vital to how this incident played out; that VHF radio phone SO important here, though I did overhear the Coast Guard Victoria operator asking JDC, or another VHF responder, if they were actually a vessel or “just another VHF operator on the shore” which tone confirmed my opinion that the Victoria Coast Guard radio operators “just don’t get it” !! There is NO other guaranteed way to communicate effectively out here on the islands. Really.
    It sounds as if lessons have been learned. Blanket in the car. VHF in the pocket. VHF radio turned on and scanning Ch. 16 if, you are at home, in case you can help. A saw in the car is a good idea (trees often fall across the road). I think moving the patient, although frowned upon by the professionals, may have been alright in this situation, though one never really knows what injuries there actually are, especially in the dark, when the head or spine could be involved and shock possible. Yes, the frigid conditions were not helpful either. Some sort of jury rigged stretcher might be a thought for the growing end-of-the road inventory, next to the wheel barrow, the freight dolly, etc.
    Thank goodness it was not worse.

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  3. Holy crap!
    That was a close call…….for everyone.
    Lucky more of you weren’t hurt or killed.

    Had a similar issue a few years back with emergency responders not being able to find a cottage in the woods. The person died.
    They revamped the property tax system to help identify properties.
    Not sure that would have helped in this case since it was a marine boat launch.

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  4. Hi, I have to wade in to respond to some of Margy’s comments.

    I believe you can do a radio check with the Coast Guard on Channel 16, to ensure they are receiving you. If you want to make sure that it is okay, you can email them at mcts@pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca to confirm.

    When David was communicating with the Coast Guard via Channel 16 during the emergency he could hear them, and was heard by them clearly on the handheld VHF. A friend five plus miles away could hear the Coast Guard’s side of the conversation, but not David’s, so I would deduce from that, that they have far superior receiving and broadcasting power than we do.

    In our situation on islands in the ocean, and I don’t see it being different for you on the lake, we have our GPS coordinates by our phone/VHF in case of an emergency. In fact, our very local phonebook–which contains first names only plus the first letter of last names, if required, for the many ‘Dougs’ for instance–contains GPS coordinates for almost everyone. So if we are calling in an emergency for ourselves or on behalf of a neighbour we have this information handy.

    I also understand that a commercial helicopter can be called in the case of an emergency. I haven’t any information to support that, other than what I’ve been told. I’m going to check on this further.

    And as for Claudia’s comments, I couldn’t agree more.

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    • Thanks for the info re: Coast Guard radio. Depending on the time of day, we can also catch the work boats going up or down the lake if it isn’t an emergency. – Margy

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  5. I’m so glad you all were there to help L.
    She’s beat up, but will survive thanks to a
    Caring community. Sorry I missed seeing you and S when I was up on Surge in late October.

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  6. One of your best David. A reminder to us all,how fragile we all are and the vital importance of being prepared . What a incredible community of friends we have.

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  7. Wow! I’m so glad that everyone survived all of that! It could have been so much worse.

    We too live by our marine radios (one on each of our boats and one in the cabin). We are far enough off the beaten path that it is unlikely a neighbour will be able to help us out in an emergency, and we will likely have to depend on a coast guard evacuation. Hopefully it will never come to that – we try to be especially conscious of the dangers out here, and reduce our risks.

    However, that is the price for living in this beautiful place, and while many people have asked me the what if question, I guess at the end of the day, you have to come to terms with the possibility that you might also die out here. Sad maybe, but I think better than living in the city and dying in a hospital full of strangers.

    On the bright side – it was a beautiful sunny day, cold but with hardly a breath of wind in spite of the dire forecasts of 50 knot outflows, and our bay was full of birds. Definitely worth being out here for!

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    • 100% agreed. That is it…live fully…don’t worry but take reasonable precautions…you were given a life and you should EXPERIENCE it!

      Good on ya, B and K.

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