Like Any Other Day, You Push On: Paul Gets Rescued After Nor’easter Nemo
Copyright 2013 by Lori-Ann Willey
Though lengthy, this is my take on the past several days. Paul has been maxed out with meds to retell much of his thoughts and experiences so this blog is from my viewpoint. It is rather lengthy and choppy, but I'm still playing Catch Up On My Rest.
What Do You Do When One of You Gets Hurt?
When people learn of us living off grid in the Maine wilderness, and then of learning of Paul and his disabilities, the all too common questions asked first are, “How do you dare do that?” and “What do you do if one of you gets hurt?” One of the responses we have said to people in the past is, “Like anyone else that needs help. We can call in rescue if we have to.” However, never in a million years did we ever think we would have to do just that! Though many people always thought that I would be the one that would need rescue, they were wrong, it was Paul.
Paul’s Initial Discomfort
For the past couple of weeks, Paul had some hip pain, but because he has MS, walking in general is difficult and he fatigues very easily. Living like we do is challenging for him any season of the year, but winters are especially difficult. I presumed that walking in boots and extra clothing was the cause of his hip pain. The joke is, “just don’t fall”, meaning, we are so bundled up, that if either were to fall, it sometimes requires crawling to a nearby tree, rock, or an inanimate object to aid in the standing process.
Nor’easter Nemo Approaches
As Nor’easter Nemo approached, we toyed with the idea of taking the ice shack off the lake before the storm. Watching the weather intensely like Paul always likes to do, Nemo was expected to hit Maine harder further south than our location, so with less predicted snow and winds meant less worries for us and our shack. Because of this, we decided to leave the shack anchored upon the lake some 3 ½ miles from camp.
The day before the storm, Paul was feeling better, so he decided to go outside to help me out a bit. One chore was to locate some scrap plywood so we could start brainstorming about how to widen the ice shack skis for easier pulling after the storm. He located those pieces, and that was good enough for now. He then walked over to the Polaris Ranger and hooked up the connectors so we would be ready post storm. He says that when he tried to slide a water bucket that was resting inside the tote he felt something go wrong in his upper hip, and felt pain in his back and thigh.
Once inside, he sat down and was in severe pain. I was able to get him undressed, but it took seemingly forever to do so. Every move was excruciating. Sitting down was not helping, so I helped in into the bedroom and into bed. I brought him light meals, meds, and a pee jug, and he did have warm coffee through a straw two mornings in a row. After 24 hours, his condition had not improved at all. He could not move his body from the chest down without gasping in pain. By then, Nor’easter Nemo was winding up pretty good, and despite his immobility and severe pain, he wanted to try to wait out the storm. His hopes were to see if the pain would subside on its own. Besides, he did not want to call in rescue and possibly take away from someone else that may need it more than he did. He knew he was warm, dry, and had me to help him until after the storm passed.
During the height of the storm, I sat or lay with Paul, wondering what to expect of our situation. While the rest of the state had real “survival” concerns such as heat, electricity, running water, transportation, etc. we did not have to share those same concerns. Living off grid and the way we have our set up, losing such necessities did not apply to us in the typical sense. I was not concerned with Nemo that pounded down upon us. I was not concerned with the strong winds that were throwing branches at our camp and about the lake or the tree that crashed down over the top of our popup camper. I was not concerned with electricity loss, heat loss, or water loss. I was not concerned with the wind, snow, or cold. Our transportation in here is snowmobile only for eight miles. I could have left if I had to. The problem was, could Paul?
Paul was now into his second day of immobility and ruthless pain. To call help now would mean possibly taking help away from someone else in a more dire need due to the storm. Not only was he in excruciating pain to the point of being sleepless, nauseated, and practicing Lamaze techniques almost constantly, he was unable to urinate on his own, afraid to eat anything that would encourage a bowel movement.
I have been Paul’s medical “aid” since 1995 and part of that aid has been to be as helpful as I can to make his daily living easier. Though his physical abilities have changed over the years, we have learned to adapt and carry on as a new “normal” if you will. We have been very happily married for over 28 years, and we have been through a lot together, so when people question our sanity for living in the woods like we do, we understand their concern, but do not share it. We live. We love. We laugh. He is my best friend. Together, we can conquer anything if we set our minds to it…and I truly believe that. So, helping him walk across the room, giving him weekly shots, cathetering him when needed, and helping him get dressed is part of our adapted daily living. I always say, “I am the muscle. Paul is the brain.” However, with that said. We now found ourselves in a predicament…and at the height of a nor’easter blizzard named, Nemo.
The night had already been long for us both, and the longer Paul went in such pain, it became evident that whatever was going on with his back was not going to subside on its own, but we still had hope. In the meanwhile, we still had to plan ahead for that just in case scenario. A major concern for us both was the ice shack. We already decided that if Paul had to leave camp for medical help, then we needed to get the ice shack off the lake, and it was looking like I had to do that by myself once the storm let up.
That evening, we knew without a doubt that we had to call in help. Even with the aid of a sheet to help Paul move even the slightest, we both knew I could not even consider trying to get Paul out to the nearest hospital by myself. If he had some mobility, I could have possibly helped him get into a well cushioned tow behind tote and then snowmobile him out to town that way, but we both knew there was no way that was possible. This was when I started packing to leave camp.
The Ice Shack Dilemma
That night was another near sleepless night for us both. As I lay there countless hours on end listening to him in pain, I felt as helpless as he did. Throughout the night, I never stopped thinking, planning, organizing what had to be done the following day. I visually planned each step so I would be efficient. I knew exactly how to pack what was needed, what needed to be done, and how to pack the tote so well I could have done it in my sleep as I have done that numerous times in the past. My concern was with the ice shack.
I ran every scenario through my head at least once. I knew I would have to head to the shack some 3 ½ miles via snowmobile and tote, and knew I wanted to be upon the lake by sunrise. I knew I would have to empty out the shack as much as I could to make it as light as possible. My concern grew as I thought how there was no snow left upon the lake before the storm and with Nemo dumping dry, powder-like snow upon that ice, the surface would be slippery as hell. I knew that I would have no choice but to use the Polaris Ranger with tracks on it to even have the slightest hope in moving the shack, but will the tracks merely spin in place while attempting to pull the shack off the blocks?
My mind started thinking that if I were able to pull the shack a mere couple of feet, then what happens if I cannot pull it after that? The ropes would be cut and if I could not pull the shack, I knew I could not push it either. I would have to jack it up where it sits, drill corner holes and secure the shack for a later date. Then, I wondered, what if the weight of the shack formed a dimple in the ice, so when I went to drill holes to secure the shack, would I instead flood the shack and have the same situation form as we had last year with the other shack? (Read Blog) Then what? I would have to double layer the blocks in hopes that 18’ish inches off the ice would be enough. So, that was figured out.
Then, my mind wondered another “What If…” Our last day ice fishing a few days prior found us fishing along a newly formed pressure ridge. I had no fears of that pressure ridge, but I did fear cracks in the ice that would allow water to seep up. The new dry snow would act like a wick making a thick slush layer. In the past, such slush areas have proven very problematic. Have you ever shoveled deep, cement-like slush for hours on end? What happens if I run across one of those unseen-until-I-Get-Stuck slush areas with the Ranger and the shack? Could I shovel them out? Could I drill holes and jack the shack up there with water constantly seeping above the ice? No, because then again, we would have the same situation as we had last year! Then what? I would be stuck abandoning both the Ranger and ice shack, and wading in the snow some 3 ½ miles back to camp, or less distance depending on how “lucky” I was.
Much of the night left me pondering such scenarios, what would I do if this happened or that happened? It is at times like these when I draw from past experiences, experiences of others, and all those times I thought I was not listening to Paul when he told me stuff…part of my brain was still listening, and was I ever thankful that it was! When I had worked out the answers for any and all situations, only then was I able to let myself drift off to sleep.
Predawn came way too early that morning, but I had no time to waste. The sooner I got stuff done, the sooner we could call rescue and get Paul out of here. My first question was if there was enough gas in the Ranger to complete the task. He said there was. My next couple of questions were about low and high gear and their maximum speeds with the tracks. Once I knew that, I was all set to go. I told him that snow amounts pending, which route I planned to take out to the shack, and that my first trip was to lighten the weight load. However, when I stressed concern about the tracks spinning in the dry snow on slippery ice, he suggested leaving the heavier stuff in the shack on the first trip, and instead put them on the back of the Ranger to help with ice gripping. That was an idea that had not crossed my mind and it made perfect sense!
The day before, I got a Facebook message from a new camp owner a few miles away. He and his wife had seen that I took pictures of camps upon request by other camp owners. One, they like to see their camp surrounded by snow, and two, it gives them a visual to see how their camps were fairing during the winter snows and winds. I always comply with such requests. However, this time, I private messaged the strangers back and told them of our predicament with Paul, but that I was planning on making a trip out to get the ice shack and could take the route by his camp, and if I did, I would be more than happy to snap a photo for him. He quickly offered to help me retrieve the shack despite living like 1 ½ hours away at best. Another stranger messaged me asking questions about our solar inverter type. I do not know much about our solar set up, and told him that Paul was currently immobile, but when he was able to, he would gladly answer his questions. He, too, a total stranger, offered to come help me out. Both men gave their phone numbers and asked me please not to hesitate to call them. The generosity of these strangers will always be warmth to the heart. How wonderful of them to offer, but for now I declined help from both.
By then, Paul was making mobile generic updates on Facebook, but soon people knew he was off his “game” and questions started coming in quickly until he made a more specific post letting people know of our situation, but not wanting to worry family and loved ones, he kept the posts minimal and low key. It did not matter. Private messages were coming in right and left with offers of help, phone numbers given, etc. I did not have time to read most of them, and Paul was in too much pain to reply. I was determined not to have help in here. Someone coming in to help get Paul out of here is one thing, but to help me do what I can do faster by myself would only slow me down and take longer to accomplish. Though grateful for all the offers, I knew what I needed to do, how to do it, and just wanted to get to doing it all. I did tell Paul that if I ran into a problem with the shack, that I would abandon it, and would take those two men up on their offers to help. That was a big step for me to admit that I would need help if I failed in my attempts, but I had no time to grovel in such thoughts. What had to be simply had to be….like it or not, but if I had no choice, I admitted that I would call.
As soon as I could see the mountain, I grabbed my phone and gave Paul a kiss before I was out the door. Another camp owner asked me to glance over at their camp the next time I want by, so as I drove past her camp, I snapped a photo for her. I took the alternative route so I was also able to snap a photo of the other new camp owner’s camp, too. While over that way, I eyeballed the camp of another friend, and I could relay the good news that their camp looked fine, too. Three camps seen, and three camps looked like they were in good shape after Nor’easter Nemo. I would be pleased to share such information with those camp owners.
This was probably the last morning for me to be out on the ice for the remainder of the winter, so as the sun came up behind me on my way out to the shack, I stopped and snapped a few photos of the beauty that pushed me along. I was pleased that I reached my goal to be out on the ice before sunrise. The mountain was exceptionally beautiful that morning, but I think it was because it would be the last time I would see it for a while. I remember sticking my bottom lip out and pouting, but that only lasted a second or two. I now spotted the shack over a mile away, and it was still standing. WOW! That was such a relief to see!
Luckily, for us, it appeared that only about six inches of snow fell from the storm, but it was so hard to tell the actual amounts because so much of it was windblown. I scrutinized the ice and snow all the way out to the shack, testing for track grip on the ice and snow, looked for newly formed pressure ridges, and looked for hidden or not so hidden areas of slush. I was good to go so far!
Once at the shack, I was relieved to see that there was no drifting on the hitch end of the ice shack. I was not looking forward to shoveling snow so the Ranger hitch would reach the ice shack hitch. I quickly emptied as much of the shack as would fit in the large pull behind tote, and soon I was snowmobiling back to camp within minutes. The temperature was five degrees with a nine mile per hour wind at camp before I left, which means the wind-chill factor was about -10 degrees below zero. Out on the lake, the winds were more plentiful, so cooler. I was dressed appropriately, but I have difficulty working with gloves, so my fingers did get cold while carrying metal items, but that just made me work faster is all.
On the way back to camp, I stayed on the path I made to the shack. I paid close attention to any new changes from just a few minutes before. I looked for new cracks, for new water seepage, etc. The ice was plenty safe enough and about two feet thick the entire way, so I was not concerned with thin ice. I was concerned with slush. I still saw none. Again, I was relieved!
Once back at camp, I parked the sled to the side and went in to check on Paul. Soon, I was back outside, started the Ranger, and was off to get the shack. WOO HOO! I had a good feeling that all was going to go smoothly as long as there was enough snow to for the tracks to grip that ice!
The first thing I did was pull up to the ice shack door and emptied out the heavier ice shack contents, locked up the shack so the door wouldn’t come flying open on me for some reason, and then drove around to the hitch. I stopped about 10 feet from it, and assessed the situation. I knew that there was very little play in the shack hitch, so I had only about two inches to the right or left, an inch play on either side, for those two inches. It was going to be tricky because with the tracks, the Ranger does not respond quickly like tires would, so I had to use my best estimate. It took me three different attempts to line up the hitches. Each foot or so in reverse prompted me to get out and visually align the hitches, figure in the reaction turn time and back up again making corrections if needed. After about ten minutes of this, I finally lined the hitches up perfectly. Ahhhh! I was so relieved.
Next, I had to be brave enough to cut all tie down ropes and then kick free the blocks underneath the skis. “Now, if I can move the shack without spinning upon the ice I’ll be a very happy camper!” I got in the Ranger, and repeatedly mumbled…ok, begged, “Please, please, please, please be nice to me”. Before long, I was on my way toward camp! Ahhhhh! About a mile or so away, I stopped on a thick patch of snow and called Paul to let him know all was fine and I was heading back toward camp with the shack. I could hear the relief in his voice. I do not know which one of us was most relieved to be honest with you.
Paul Made the Call
When I got back to camp, I needed to rest and catch my breath a bit. It was like 10:36am, and Paul thought that he wanted to make the call to rescue by 11am. Though I understood he was in pain, I was like, “What? I am not even ready for them to come through the door. Honey, I am still packing! There is no way they can get in here right now.” I don’t know if it was my tone, or my plea, or him feeling sorry for me having to do all this work without his help, but he understood that if they came in here in record time, they couldn’t get him out of here without me having to move all the stuff that was blocking the way. I asked him if he could wait until I was on my way out to the truck with first tote full. I ran down through a list of things that still needed to be done that were top of my list. I was not being selfish, and I was not afraid of being left alone to finish up what I needed to do, but there was literally no way for rescue to get from the door to Paul in the bedroom. In all honesty, knowing in the past that it takes a minimum of two hours for police to get in here, and up to a week before we get a response from Game Wardens, that habitually, we fully expected to have to wait for many hours for rescue to get in this far, too. I wanted to play it a bit safer and wait a bit longer to call…just in case, and I am glad we did!
I got Paul dressed and boy did that take a long time! Then I was rapidly bringing stuff outside to be organized into the tote. Finally, I was ready for him to call. He waited until he could no longer hear my snowmobile in the camp yard, and made the call then.
From camp to where we park the truck is eight miles of snowmobiling. I was toting behind a heavy and very full covered tote, so despite the good trail conditions, I was traveling 20-24 mph to the truck. It did not take me long to unload the three food coolers, and other necessary bags, before I was heading back to camp. With an empty tote, I still had to drive slowly, just not as slow as on the way out is all. By the time I crossed the bridge over Millinocket Stream, I thought I could see a white square vehicle through the trees up ahead. Thinking it was just a new snow height, I continued. As I approached the intersection we call “The Four Corners”, I could not believe what I saw! The ambulance rescue team had driven as close to camp as they could drive. The fire truck and trailer had already unloaded their snowmobile, and inside the ambulance was a man and woman gathering needed supplies in a bag. I remember so clearly saying to myself as I approached, "How in hell did they get here so fast? Holy Shit!" I crossed the intersection, parked and walked up to them, and spoke, “You must be here to get my husband?” The man replied, “Mr. Willey?” I shook my head yes, and he replied, “Good, we can follow you in then." and asked, “What can you tell me about your husband?” Not expecting questions, I replied, ”He’s 49, has MS, and is in a lot of pain.” He continued to ask me questions and I answered them the best I could. They were very focused and none of them missed a beat in their preparations.
Soon, I was leading them in toward camp. Once there, I still had to move several things out of the way so they could venture through to the bedroom to start tending to Paul. Watching them work was impressive. One of the first things they did was give him a shot of fast acting, short lasting medicine called Fentanyl (?). I do not know how many times they had to give it to him, but a few, I think. They were a team, and like a well-oiled machine, they worked so fluently together that I just stood there watching in awe. They knew their job well, and they were very efficient! It was a nice surprised to hear that they were a husband and wife team. No wonder they worked so well together! They not only made Paul feel comfortable, but me comfortable as well. I knew instantly that he was going to be in good hands. I left the room from time to time so I could continue gathering more stuff for my last trip out of camp behind the rescue team, but first, I had to catch AhChoo, the cat!
I helped them the best I could, but with the tight quarters and corners, I was more of a hindrance than a help. Soon, Paul was in the snowmobile rescue toboggan, and with his snowmobile helmet on and laying down like he was, I couldn’t help but think how he looked like he was in a single man luge sled…I was almost jealous! I love to watch the sport. Once he was all packed in secure and comfortable-like, the wife was going to be the driver of the snowmobile, while the husband sat back tending to Paul on the toboggan. Off they went.
The Final Trip Out
After about a half hour after Paul left with the husband and wife rescue team, AhChoo finally came out of hiding while I was putting the finishing touches on the tote. I was able to put him into his cage, wrap the cage up in a wool blanket and bungee it to the back seat of my snowmobile. After going back inside to double check everything, setting the security system up, AhChoo and I were on our way to the truck eight miles away.
At the truck, my first goal was to get AhChoo into the truck, comfortable, and warm before I unloaded the tote and then loaded the snowmobile onto and secured in the trailer. When I went to unstrap his cage, I glanced in at him and he apparently had been facing outward the entire eight miles out. I had to laugh for the first time in days. All that fine powered snow that had been kicked up from my snowmobile track and AhChoo’s face was now misted with snow. He looked like a white cat instead of a brown one. It was adorable, but I was in too much of a hurry to snap a photo. I wished I had taken the time now, and so does Paul. Before long, we were on our way to the nearest hospital to see Paul.
At The Hospital
I had not been there at Paul's side before he was taken to X-ray. The staff there were not only wonderful, but funny. A joke between the nurses and Paul was already an ongoing one, so they filled me in on the fun so I could chuckle, too. By then, they had given Paul a dose of Valium to work as a muscle relaxer. I do not know how much of that they gave him, but it was not working for the pain, so they went straight to a morphine push after that.
Before long, a nurse came in to tell us we had a visitor. It was our good friend, Hope of the Bob Hope (husband and wife) couple we know and love so dearly. She had come to see if there was anything she could help with. She had offered help numerous times over previous days, but it was all a waiting game then, so there was nothing anyone could do even up until Rescue was called. As much as I hated to, I asked if she had room in their driveway for our snowmobile trailer. She offered me a place to stay if Paul should have to stay in the hospital. We hugged and told each other, “Love you.” Before we had even left the hospital she messaged saying her and Bob had already retrieved our trailer, and it was safely in their yard until we came to get it at another time.
Just as soon as Hope left, I went outside to get Paul’s wallet for his Military ID so they could fax in some prescriptions when a familiar voice spoke to me from about five feet away. I looked up to see another great woman, our friend Nancy, and in her hand, she held out a yogurt and a spoon and told me to eat! I had mentioned in a message that I had not eaten anything all day, and I agreed that I was beginning to feel hungry, especially after being on the go from before sun up, and it was now after 5 pm. She followed me inside and we stood talking for a few minutes when I realized I had to get the card to the nurse. Nancy waited for me to return. I came back through having to leave quickly to get to the Hannaford Pharmacy before they closed at 6 pm. We gabbed for a couple more minutes and then she followed me out to the truck. I was so fatigued that I do not think I was making much sense, as she looked as confused as I felt. She also offered me a place to stay for the night if they should keep Paul. When I declined, she offered to take the cat for me as the cat cage was taking up Paul’s seat, and the back seat was literally filled from floor to ceiling with stuff to go home with us. She looked at it all and her mouth dropped. She said she felt bad that they were not there to help me with it all. I smiled and said, “This is what we do. I’m used to this.” She shook her head and looked at me with the most pouty, sad look upon her face, but I was still smiling. I agreed that I was tired as we gave hugs upon departure. Her last words to me were either, “EAT!” or “Love you”
I beat the closing time to Hannaford by 12 minutes. WOO HOO! While the nurses were still getting Paul dressed, I reorganized the backseat and made room for the cat cage, so Paul could have his seat back. Once back inside the hospital, that poor receptionist…I don’t know how many times she had to stop what she was doing to push the button to let me back into the ER, but she did so every time with a smile. I could hear Paul talking and the nurses laughing. Paul was doped up with lots of painkillers and I could tell his voice was fatigued, but that does not stop him from being himself…always comical. I turned the corner and both nurses were tying up his boots. I had to chuckle at the things nurses put up with.
Soon, the nurse came in again and told me that we had a phone call. This time it was Paul’s sister Angela wanting an update. She was not happy to hear that Paul was being released and asked how I felt about it. At the time, I did not quite know. It seems I arrived late and each time he was given information about his back pain, I was not in the room. She told me people were getting anxious wanting updates about Paul that we were not posting and updating on Facebook due to being busy, Paul having X-rays, blood work, or sleeping, etc. She asked if it was OK for her to post that she spoke to us and that he was being released. I agreed and thanked her graciously, because otherwise, we were already getting so many messages that it was impossible to read even ¼ of them.
It took three of us, all rugged women to help Paul into a wheelchair. His X-ray’s came back good, as did his blood work, so no reason to keep him. Because he was in such pain still that he could not move on his own to sit in a wheelchair even with the aid of three people, the doctor ordered another shot of morphine to help him tolerate the two-hour or more trip to our home in Palmyra.
I Simply Knew My Shit
I would like to point out all those people who called me a “hero”, “super woman”, “amazing”, “unbelievable”, “Bad Ass”, “stubborn”, and countless other names, because I simply did what needed to be done…I did it because I knew how, because that is the life that I live, we live. One cannot live like we do and not know how to do things that need to be done. I have said it before in a previous blog entry that there are no defined woman vs. man jobs when living like we do. It all has to be done. Simply put, I have to know my shit, and living like YOU do, you’ve gotta know your shit, too. It’s all relative, but the more you know, the better off you will be when it comes time to put it to use!
I have to say that the amount of support shown by family, friends, and strangers was simply amazing. Who would have known that so many people would show such outward concern and love, and the numerous offerings to help to two loonies in the Maine Boonies?
And to the AMAZING response team....WOW! Thank you all.