It’s pretty incredible that Vivian invited me to write a post blog about “THE ACCIDENT” from my perspective. I mean, it is her story to tell, but I am grateful for this opportunity.
Just as Vivian documented in The Fall That Broke Me, Literally, it was a gorgeous morning at Vantage with crystal blue skies, warm, dry air, and the whole weekend ahead of us. The morning started out solid – we warmed up on a very odd climb that had mostly footholds and terrible handholds, then moved to some more exciting climbs. Vivian did a sweet boulder start to lead a climb, then I led the next climb. The start was very awkward and took me a few tries, but the climb got more fun with each clip. I couldn’t wait for Vivian to crush it, then declare how much fun it was. Maybe we would even push our grade today? We were feeling so good. Maybe this season we would climb stronger than ever before?!
Vivian started the climb and was a little stuck. She tried up and right, then down and over just as I had. After trying a few variations on the start, suddenly and out of nowhere, she was falling. It happened so quickly, and I felt her body roll back onto mine as we together tumbled backward. Judging from how far she fell, I knew something would be hurt – it was a question of how badly.
Vivian immediately sat up with her legs out in front of her and the second I saw her ankle, I knew a) that it would not bear weight, b) that I didn’t want to buddy hike her out on it, risking way more injury, and that c) we needed medical help immediately. I told Vivian we need to call 911 and, sitting quietly while staring at her ankle she said, “Okay”. Dispatch directed us to send someone to meet the medics at the trailhead and hike up to Vivian, who was now “the patient.” I asked a pair of climbers near us to help and we got Vivian’s leg onto my bag so she could be a little more comfortable while we wait. Her face was drained of all color and her demeanor was incredibly calm. I hoped the adrenaline would last to stave off the pain.
Vivian’s ankle was about 30% over-extended and looked so wrong. One small dot of blood and a small wound on the left side made me suspect an open fracture. I couldn’t fathom the fear and pain Vivian must be feeling. While the medics were on the way, our climber friend (and luckily nurse) was taking vitals and talking about what might happen next. We were just waiting for the litter carry team, now. I was already fearing how they would manage safely on the narrow, steep trail. “THEY BETTER KEEP HER SAFE! THEY BETTER KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING!” I thought.
How had this happened? Why wasn’t I giving Vivian a super-spot, to catch her in the event of a potential fall? Why wasn’t I expecting a fall? Could I have caught her from that far up? Would she have just injured me? If I had spotted at least her shoulders, would her ankle still have been injured? Was this my fault??? These thoughts were with me in the following days, weeks, and months. I think I’ll always wonder.
When the litter team arrived Vivian had the incredible foresight to tell me to take pictures. This kept me from getting in the way of the rescue team and criticizing them (seriously – more padding on the splint!). When Vivian got lifted into the litter and started feeling anxious, that’s when a deep sadness and regret set in. How unfair! That could have just as easily been me! After all the shit she had to deal with this year? I selfishly wondered how long I would have to wait to have my favorite climbing buddy back.
After the carry, Vivian started profusely thanking her rescuers as her morphine and kindness kicked in. As she was getting loaded into the ambulance and one of the firefighters was giving me the play-by-play driving directions to the hospital – in Quincy. He sent me ahead because it would take some time for them to load Vivian up. Of course today was the day my cell phone had 10% battery left! I arrived at the Quincy emergency room and the nurses informed me that Vivian wasn’t there – she was en route to Moses Lake, 35 miles in the other direction. They kindly printed out directions for me since I didn’t have enough battery to navigate by phone and got my ass (and Vivian’s car) to Moses Lake. The whole time, I was worried that Vivian was going to think I abandoned her.
The next 12 hours consisted of getting updates from the doctor, talking to nurses, helping prep all the questions to ask, and getting home. It was a long night. After buying a cell phone charger and grabbing tacos, I headed back to the ER to catch Vivian waking up from surgery. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I could actually see her, given that it was COVID times and I was not family.
We talked for a while, then I went to stay at a motel where we talked some more over the phone, eventually exhausting ourselves to sleep. In the morning, I visited Vivian again and couldn’t believe they let me stay through breakfast, physical therapy, and discharge. I’m so glad Vivian didn’t have to do this alone – asking all the clarifying questions just to make sure you’re getting decent care.
Coming home to Seattle and setting up Vivian’s bedroom downstairs felt like a whole new era. At a time when I lacked motivation in my job, helping Vivian gave me a sense of meaning. As the weeks passed, Vivian became more and more independent. She went from crying in bed for ice packs to climbing at the gym with a boot in NO TIME! It was incredible. She took her PT seriously and worked so hard. Several backpacking trips later, Vivian seemed to be even stronger than before. Just three months after the accident, she completed her first lead climb at Smith Rock State Park!
The experience of witnessing Vivian’s accident made me realize how much I value our friendship. She’s my favorite climbing partner! What would I do without her? All the detailed stories, funny texts, hilarious demands for attention, and someone who really knows me, friends like her are hard to come by.
To close with a few lessons learned, I want to encourage everyone reading this who sport climbs to buy a stick clip and sport it with pride and touch-up on your wilderness medical skills. To everyone reading this, climber or not, keep your friends close! Take care of your heart, your body, and your loved ones. Life is unpredictable, but you’ll never regret putting those things first ❤