Dazed, I awoke, vaguely aware that Dutch, my Doberman, high above me, screamed in terror. He didn’t bark. He didn’t howl. He literally screamed, a sound I’d never heard from him before today. His shrieks echoed along the river.
This sunny morning in June 2019, Dutch and I had been running in a remote area on the Cowichan River. Dutch led the way, loping joyfully along in the sunshine, the river rippling far below the cliff side trail. I felt great, loving life on this gorgeous day, and thought with pleasure about how close I was to becoming a fully licenced realtor. I’d always had a passion for design and decor, and an interest in the concept of ‘home’ in general. Much more than a transaction, a listing or sale would present opportunities to assist others in their journeys, to be a part of their transitions between homes. For years I’d stayed home to care for our house and animals, renovating and landscaping our country property. My partner Roy worked outside the home, establishing a successful business. The plan was to swap roles when Roy felt ready to retire. I couldn’t wait to see him enjoy a slower pace while I forged this path into the business world. After the long stretch of studies and exams it was exciting to be this close to launching my real estate career.
Now I lay shattered, on a cold, flat rock in the river, 40 feet below the trail where Dutch stood, panicked, still screeching and helpless to get to me. I feared he would try. Confused, I foggily recalled bees stinging my ear and wrist. I’d blacked out and had no sense of what had happened. I wondered why I was lying down. I couldn’t move, but mercifully hadn’t landed with my head underwater. I heard myself say “I need help!” and the reply, “Help is on the way!” before blacking out again.
I awoke to six people standing around me. A group of campers who recognized Dutch’s cries as pleas for help had waded into the river to investigate. Miraculously, the group included an RN and other medically trained personnel. I was in shock but aware that a remarkable event unfolded around me. The RN assessed the situation and took charge, assigning tasks, everyone outwardly determined for the best outcome, but silently thinking, they confessed later, there was a chance I wouldn’t make it. We were too far from a trauma unit, in the bush, with no road to the riverside. Hours would pass before help would reach us.
The River Angels, as we came to know them, worked with extraordinary determination to save my life. Other campers joined the crowd, which by now must have numbered twenty. Some walked precariously back and forth across slippery rocks in the cold water, hurrying to the campground, grabbing towels, sleeping bags, blankets, anything that could be of use until more help arrived. In a moment of clarity, I robotically recited my name and contact information, and told them how to contact Roy. Someone had reached Dutch and first brought him to me for reassurance, then carried him across the river to where Roy waited. They waited anxiously together. I slipped in and out of consciousness, with no idea how badly I’d been hurt until much later. The sharp rocks I’d bounced off on the way down the steep cliff had inflicted massive head wounds. My left foot was nearly severed, I had multiple broken fingers, and a rock had forced its way through my right kneecap. The femoral artery had been severed above my right knee. I was bleeding to death. I was too unstable to move, especially without critically needed equipment.
The River Angels leaned discreetly over to shield the view of my mangled lower body. I didn’t see the dangling foot or the spurting artery. They applied tourniquets to my legs and immobilized my head. I was told later that for a few moments I had no pulse or heartbeat, when suddenly, alert and looking up at my rescuer’s distressed expressions, I said, ‘Look guys, if the outcome isn’t what we hope for, I’ve had a great life, and I have no regrets.’ I felt at peace with whatever should happen to me, but I was concerned for this remarkable group of people and the extreme challenges they faced. With great relief we then heard the Rapid Response helicopter landing where their team could walk to waiting transport. An ambulance drove the paramedics to the trail where they rushed to the campground and walked into the river with the equipment to lift me out. Later they said that when we boarded the chopper, they’d silently given me ten minutes to live.
I knew that night, lying in the hospital, the job I had to do. I owed it to the amazing River Angels, after what they’d been through, to heal and become strong again. Their heroic actions were the reason I was in that bed and not in the morgue. There would be no ‘poor me’, no negative language, nothing to hold back recovery. I had a plan. I would stay positive. I would do everything the medical team asked and work as hard as I could to get on my feet and back on the path to my career. With unwavering determination, excellent medical attention, and the loving care of my partner and friends, I was home in ten days, despite the medical team’s initial plan to keep me at least three weeks. I’d had six surgeries and sported a body and head full of steel pins and staples. Visitors looked past the appalling head and facial injuries into familiar eyes, assuring me of their love and support. Dutch, my faithful companion, stayed at my side.
Through months of therapy, I pushed hard physically, utilizing every opportunity offered in the recovery process. In six weeks I took my first careful steps. When I wasn’t in therapies, I used the time to refocus on my studies. I’m proud to say that I amazed the medical team and my family and friends, and only seven months after the plunge off the cliff, I walked unassisted into my new office at Royal LePage to help others achieve their goals.