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By Molly Loomis
We’re procrastinating at the base when
we hear the shouting. We drop our packs
and run: me, John, Shannon. A stranger
with a green helmet is at the base, rushing
to clip gear on his harness. Someone is on
the ledge; he will climb up — can we rappel
From below, John directs Shannon and me
towards the crack. Secretly, I’d rather take a
swim in the river before the sun leaves the
canyon. We figured it’s probably a broken leg.
I wonder if we’ll have time to climb more.
A young girl lies still on the ledge, legs
splayed. The man with the green helmet is at
her head. A blonde boy bends over her body,
his T-shirt shoulder covered in blood, his
face contorted with tears. His eyes are wild,
searching for focus. Deep, choking gurgles
escape in desperate intervals from the girl.
We’d met that morning, small-talked
about the weather, swapped Beta. We were
close in age. She had blond hair and blue
eyes like me. He had a black tattoo curving
around his calf.
The man in the green helmet, Ted, holds
her head between his hands. He rattles off
vitals and tells me there is excessive bleeding
from the back of her head. The boy hovers,
helping her breathe. Her upper-body goes
rigid; she sucks for air like an asthmatic.
Ted asks me to check for a pulse. Under
her cold skin I feel tendons and a thorax. I
cannot find her heartbeat. Colorado, one hundred feet up Staircase, a and tongue are blue-gray. I take a deep
The boy, Zac, calls her “Baby” between two-pitch 5.5 in Eleven Mile Canyon with a breath and exhale; her chest rises like a paper
breaths and repeats, “I love you. Don’t straightforward descent. Sirens and vehicles doll’s, filling with air. It makes me believe we
leave me. What am I gonna do without stop below, clouding the canyon with dust. can save her. Sometimes she surprises me by
you? We want to get old together.” He We think it’s almost over. It feels like things taking a breath that wakes her whole upper
breaks away and shouts at the sky, “I am will be okay. But nothing happens for a long body — exhaling cold, rank air, coughing
sorry! This is my fault!” time. Zac screams, “What is taking so fucking bits of blood. Her eyes look straight at the
It’s hard to know how much time passed. long?” I want to scream with him, but sky, reminding me of fish eyes: gray, cold,
The sun is leaving the canyon; it used to be lie. “They are doing their best; they’ll be blank. Blood pools in her left ear.
four of her breaths to one of Zac’s. It’s now here soon.” Eventually an EMT arrives, followed by a
four of Zac’s to every one of her’s. Zac is tired and can’t keep breathing for nurse, but the medical kit he’s hauling lodges
Getting her down should be easy once Jessica. He and I change positions. I feel in the crack. It doesn’t make sense; it would be
help arrives. We’re just outside Lake George, awkward putting my lips to hers. Her lips simple to lower or rappel with supplies. But I
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It Could Happen To You
don’t question. We aren’t in charge anymore. and compressions, Sherri whispers to me. before the EMT desists.
The EMT opens Jessica’s jaw and inserts a “Even if we get her off this rock, she’ll be Later that night, sitting on the kitchen
plastic tube down her throat for intubation. brain dead. She’s lost too much blood.” floor, I get angry. I want answers, but
We start CPR. I pump air into Jessica with I can’t remember how it’s finally called, or Shannon and John’s story only results in
the big blue balloon while the nurse, Sherri, if it even is. Sherri and the EMT back away more questions. The local SAR, ambulance,
compresses. Jessica’s pulse comes back while Zac dives to her still body, wailing, and fire team all arrived promptly, but
stronger. “This is the best sign yet,” Sherri “God, how could you do this?” almost immediately turf wars broke out;
says. “She’s strong; She doesn’t want to give She stares silent at the stars, eyelids half leaders engaged in shouting matches, men
up.” Then it fades. “I can’t do anything unless open, yellowed and gray. I try to shut them, challenging one another with fists, all to
we get those goddamn supplies up here.” She but they won’t close. Her head lolls to the side. decide who was in charge. The SAR team
She stares silent at the stars, eyelids half open,
yellowed and gray. I try to shut them,
but they won’t close. Her head lolls to the side.
I take off my sweatshirt and cover her
face, not sure that I should, worried I’m forcing
Zac to realize — too soon — that it’s over.
asks the question on all of our minds. “What I take off my sweatshirt and cover her face, not dropped their litter halfway up the dome
the hell are they doing down there?” sure that I should, worried I’m forcing Zac to thinking a better one would come. The
Something about Flight for Life sounds realize — too soon — that it’s over. nurse and EMT faced disciplinary action
over the radio. It has been waiting at the A fire fighter arrives empty-handed. By for ascending. Up top, Shannon asked
mouth of the canyon, but someone some- now, we are shivering hard. They send Zac repeatedly for supplies and clothing. John,
where else calls it off. Desperate, Sherri and myself down first. Zac bangs into the directed by an EMT to deliver oxygen
decides to try an IV. Jessica’s veins are too rock; I don’t think he notices. I don’t want bottles, was then threatened arrest by a
withered for an injection. to reach ground or the spotlights. The lights, SAR member and told to forget the
Sherri says calmly yet firmly, “Zac, we are fire trucks, ambulances, and crowd are there oxygen. I listen in disbelief.
doing everything we can, but we don’t because something has happened; it’s real. Although exhausted I can’t sleep. We
know if Jessica is going to make it. We need We are wrapped in blankets and escorted drive to the hospital; I’d been given strict
to call someone to be here for you.” He down the trail. instructions to get tested immediately for
turns away shaking with tears. The EMT It’s warm and quiet in the ambulance. A “exposure.”
shouts into Zac’s face, “Listen son, we need woman gives us wet, warm cloths to wipe I wait in the hallway listening to a man’s
information.” Ted shelters Zac in his arms away the blood dried on our skin. I scrub labored breathing. It’s too much like Jessica.
and coaxes names and numbers. and scrub, even after it’s gone. I clamp my hands over my ears.
Permission to cease efforts is given over Zac and I are self-conscious in the The doctor rattles statistics about HIV,
the radio. Sherri makes the final examination silence, neither knowing what to say. We hepatitis: I should be tested again in six weeks,
with her stethoscope. “No, I hear it. have shared one of life’s most intimate three months, six months. The risk is low. A
Something’s there.” The EMT listens, but moments as strangers. We begin to talk nurse preps to draw blood. It takes a few tries.
isn’t sure. For a few minutes, they debate about it in jumbled tenses: past, present, She pops through a dehydrated vein.
continuing. The EMT presses the radio’s future. They’d just bought a house and were “Go home, get some rest,” the doctor
call-button. getting married. They’d come climbing to advises. Then he lowers his voice, like we’re
“Resuming efforts.” celebrate his 21st birthday. pals or something. “Don’t tell my wife about
Miraculously, Jessica’s pulse kicks in. The door opens, the EMT enters. He this. I just got my son a rope and a harness
They decide to attempt an IV into the other ignores us, complaining about the cold and so he can start climbing.”
hand. The EMT worries he’ll punch through the body bag. “Could you not talk about “Tell me you got him a helmet, too?” It’s
her fragile veins. Between encouraging Jessica that?” Zac says, finally yelling “Stop!” all I can say.
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