Jarhead Survivor’s Broken Ankle Story – Part 2

Part 2 – Getting Out of the Woods

*Warning* – Gross pictures at the end of the post…

The pain was manageable at this point, but my ankle was swollen to the point where it was uncomfortable against my boot.  I could still wiggle my toes and there was no numbness so I decided not to mess with the boot right then.

I lay in the tent for an hour or so when I heard voices coming down the trail from the North. The father/son team had returned. They offered to assist me down the trail by having me put my arms over their shoulders and then have me hop along. I agreed to try. I figured that the closer I got to the trailhead the better off everybody would be.

We tried their way for a bit, but the trail was too narrow and they were slightly built men and they were breathing hard within minutes. We then tried to rig a crutch using more of my sleeping mat and tying it to the top of the hiking pole. No joy there. The “crutch” kept sinking about eight inches into the wet ground when I put my weight on it and was useless.

After five minutes of that I removed the sleeve from the makeshift crutch and borrowed one of their poles and set out the same way I’d been doing earlier. Put the two poles out in front of me and jump. Repeat. One pole or the other would always sink four to eight inches into the ground when I put any weight on it, which meant I had to yank the poles out of the ground every time I moved forward. One of them stood in front and one behind as I moved, so they could catch me in case I fell.
We moved like this for well over an hour. I drank lots of water and took plenty of rest breaks. My right leg was extremely tired by this point and I kept inadvertently hitting my broken left leg on roots, rocks and whatever else lay in the path. I was slowing down considerably and I told the guys that I wouldn’t be able to go much further. The son offered to get my gear for me and departed rapidly up the trail when I told him that would probably be for the best.

It must have been close to 4:30 pm when Brandon finally caught up with us. He said that I’d covered at least a mile, which I didn’t think was too bad since there were trees across the path and a couple of brooks that I’d had to navigate.

They set my tent up for me and as they worked another hiker showed up and asked if I was the Jarhead. I assured him I was and he said that June had caught a ride with some people to a forest ranger station and was bringing in help, hopefully this evening. I thanked him and he set off again headed North.

After the tent was up I told the father/son team to take off before it got dark. They set out and once again I crawled into the tent and put my leg up. I’d taken three ibuprofens right after I’d broken it, but now I could really feel it. All the abuse I had given it working my way over the trail was catching up with me. I was also getting cold because I’d been wet all day and I was no longer working plus I was undoubtedly in shock. I dug into my pack and pulled out my thermal shirt and wool sweater and quickly changed into them. I also drank water to replace what I’d lost in the last couple of hours of activity. I pulled a poncho over me and relaxed for the first time in hours.
I was warm, dry, my foot was elevated and I was eating some small candy bars to restore the energy I’d burned. All in all I was feeling pretty good and decided that if I had to spend the night in the woods that I’d probably be ok.

At this point I started noticing a little numbness in my foot. I could still wiggle my toes, but my foot was swelling to the point where I had to do something. Moving slowly, I removed the top layer of the splint and then the twine that held the bottom layer together. Once I could see my bootlaces I was able to untie them and start to loosen them up a little. My boots have an interesting device that allows them to become untied without actually loosening the boot itself. In order to loosen the laces you have to pull the laces down and then feed them through the device. Now usually this is pretty cool, but when you’re laying on your back in the middle of the Appalachian Trail with a broken leg connected to it, it suddenly doesn’t seem like such a great idea. I loosened them until the tingling went away and at then retied my boots and put the splint back together.

As I lay there mulling over the days events I heard a helicopter in the distance. At first I didn’t pay any attention to it, but eventually it worked its way closer and closer until I became convinced that it was looking for me. It flew over fairly quickly and while I could see them I knew that there was no way they’d be able to see me through the dense forest canopy.

The poncho I’d covered up with was bright red. I opened up the tent and every time they flew over I waved it back and forth hoping they’d be able to pinpoint my position and relay it to the ground crew that I knew must be on the way to find me. At one point the helicopter was orbiting so close to me that I could see the pilots elbow as he leaned out the window looking for me. They never did see me.

Frustrated I crawled out of the tent and started building a small fire out of pine cones, boughs, needles and anything that would burn. When they got close I’d throw some wet pine needles on it to create smoke. Due to some atmospheric trick the smoke stayed below the canopy of trees and just moved south.

I was standing by the tent  on one leg raking pine needles into a pile with my hiking pole when I heard voices from the South. I looked up and a man and two boys came around a corner of the trail. They saw me and waved.

“Hey! Have you seen the guy with the broken leg?” the older guy asked.
I laughed. They couldn’t see my splinted leg because the tent was in the way. “That would be me.” I replied with a grin.

“You’ve got a broken leg?” he asked dubiously as they walked up to me. His name was Bob and he was hiking a couple of days with his boys to give them a taste of the outdoors. Bob announced that he’d stay with me until the paramedics showed up and proceeded to help me build up the fire.  His boys went off towards the river to see if they could signal from the open.

I was talking with Bob when I heard yelling from the direction the boys had gone. Suddenly they came around the corner with two forest rangers and an EMT. I’ve got to admit I was happy to see them. Eric, the EMT, asked how I was doing and I told him I was fine.  He took my splint apart and checked my ankle and told me it was the best field splint he’d ever seen.  I told him that the Marines had trained me for treating battlefield wounds and that some of that training must have stayed with me until I needed it. Eric also put an IV needle in my left hand at this point and gave me a shot of some kind of pain medication that gave me quite a rush for a second, but it helped with the pain.

About this time June showed up from the south with more EMTs.  Another crew had arrived from the north and by this point there must have been at least fifteen people milling around on the trail at this point.

They asked if I was ok to move and I assured them I was ready. The EMTs said there was a stretcher if I wanted it, but I told them it would probably be easier if I “walked” and they agreed with me. One of the guys that showed up with June’s group was a weight lifter. Andy was in his mid-twenties and was built like a tank and he said that he could piggy-back me for some of it. I was reluctant, but agreed that it would probably be faster.

The rangers pulled out a map with access roads on them not shown on other maps.  (Thanks a lot.)  They determined that the fastest way out was back north a short distance and then across the river and up a hill to the access road.

While we’d been waiting one of the forest rangers struck my tent and packed my gear for me then June grabbed it and we all set out. We went North for a little bit with me jumping on one leg again, but this time with lots of support. When it was time to go off the trail Andy got in front of me and I climbed up on his back. He grabbed my thighs and hitched me up which caused my foot to flail around a little. He apologized and I told him that he just had to do what he had to do. So saying we moved off into the dense undergrowth.

We were descending towards the river when he slipped and fell back. He kept hold of my left leg and pointed it straight up in the air as we went back. Someone tried to grab us as we went down and slowed us down so that it was a relatively soft landing in the dense scrub. Andy got up and I made it down to the river on my own with assistance from Andy and another EMT.

Crossing the river was a bit of a challenge and in the end Andy and his friend chair-lifted me across. We crossed slowly and carefully with men helping to steady Andy and the other EMT. When we reached the other side they set me down and I set out on my own once again. There was a fairly steep hill with lots of fallen logs, jumbled rocks, and soft moss to fight against.

After we got through the difficult portion Andy once again lifted me onto his back. I had to admit that I was exhausted and I was astonished by his endurance and strength as he climbed the hill. Near the top we ran into some forest rangers that were clearing a path with chainsaws. They also had put out chemical lights to show the way, as it was now almost dark.

Just a few more feet and we were on the road where a four-wheeler with a trailer was ready to take me on the next part of the journey. I scooted to the front of the trailer and Eric put a pack underneath my left leg to help stabilize it. He then climbed up in the back with me and we set out.

We traveled another ten or fifteen miles over this rough logging road. There was at least one small stream crossing and lots of rough spots that would have been impossible for a regular road vehicle to negotiate. After traveling through the darkening countryside we finally made it to where the ambulance was parked.

They got a stretcher out and wheeled it over to me where I was sitting in the trailer. I managed to get over to it myself and then lay back in relief. The four-wheeler ride had been entertaining and the driver careful, but I was quite happy to be in a road vehicle with shocks where my foot wasn’t going to be bouncing around. Eric had been holding the toe of my boot for me, but there was still some discomfort involved.

Everybody gathered around for one last look at me and I thanked them for coming out. I shook hands with Andy and some of the other guys and then they pushed me into the back of the ambulance.

Eric took my vitals and was recording information on a sheet when a forest ranger knocked on the door and joined us in the back. He got my name, age, address and some other information then he looked at me and said, “I’ve got to say that it was a pleasure working with somebody with your grit out there today. You have a positive attitude, didn’t bitch about anything, and managed to get out a good deal of the way on your own. Not a lot of people do that and we really appreciate it.”

That made me feel a lot better about the whole situation I’d gotten myself into. The way I saw it was these guys were out there missing dinner and time with their families to rescue some guy who’d gone and broken his leg hiking the Appalachian Trail. The least I could do is make it as easy for them as I could. The pain was going to be there no matter what and I felt that I had a better chance of minimizing it if I did some of the traveling myself. Either way these guys were going to get me out of the woods so why make it a difficult situation for everybody involved?

The rest of the story is surgery, recovery, therapy and so forth.  None of it very fun and most of it painful to some degree or other.  Below is my ankle after the surgery.  As you can see I had eight screws on the left side of my ankle and two pins on the inside. 

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Below is a picture of my leg about a month or so after the surgery.  The cast had just come off.  The swelling had gone down by this point!

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So that’s the end of the story and if you made it this far sorry for the excessively long post. 

I made a full recovery and a couple of years ago had the hardware removed because of shin-bang when I was ice climbing in plastic boots.  (The edge of my boot was hitting the plate in my ankle.) These days I’m back to running and hiking and I’m still planning on making another bid at the 100 Mile Wilderness some day. 

Anybody interested in coming along?

-Jarhead Survivor

18 comments… add one
  • irishdutchuncle December 20, 2010, 9:16 am

    i’m about thirty years too old and fat for that kind of trip. i’ll look foreward to seeing the pictures, and the after action report.

    under normal circumstances it might have been better to stay where June left you. (if you had a compass, and could get a good visual, on two land marks; they could have been told exactly where to find you) the trees looked pretty dense in the picture.

    Reply
  • JarheadSurvivor December 20, 2010, 11:22 am

    Staying put would probably have been the wisest thing to do in retrospect. As to pinning my location down using the map there was thick canopy all around and no chance of shooting an azimuth, although we did work out a pretty good location using pace count and the map. Cell phones didn’t work and nobody had a radio, which I think would have been useless out there as well unless someone happened to be monitoring that same freq. (Doubtful.)

    Reply
  • Dee December 20, 2010, 12:13 pm

    Yes Jarhead, I want to go. Just need to lose about 30 pounds and break in a new pair of boots.
    You are one tough guy. Can I join your clan when SHTF?

    Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 20, 2010, 1:24 pm

    @Dee

    Sure! Anybody with skills and/or a will to live are welcome to my clan when TSHTF.
    :-)

    Reply
  • Katie December 20, 2010, 11:18 pm

    Ok, I now think anyone who is a prepper should work in or at least be exposed to the medical field! A few years ago, your ankle pictures would have left me sick and cringing….but, after working at an orthopedic clinic part time to get through college, I can look at that and remember the hundreds of staples I’ve removed…definitly an improvement on my stomach stamina, which should come in handy when shtf :)

    Reply
    • ChefBear58 December 22, 2010, 4:53 pm

      Want REAL “stomach stamina”….. Field dress a “gut-shot” deer sometime! Those pictures and staple removals will seem like paradise!

      Reply
  • ChefBear58 December 22, 2010, 4:56 pm

    I feel your pain Jarhead, I have 4 screws and a titanium ladder on my lower spine (moved a 1,000lb. hot water heater at work). Bet you had tons of fun with the “physical terrorists”! How long was your recovery for that?

    Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 22, 2010, 7:31 pm

    @ChefBear58 – In some ways the time with the physical therapists seemed a lot more painful than right after the surgery, but it had be done and I wouldn’t have done it on my own, so I’m glad someone was there to push me.

    It probably took three months to get walking again and six to the point where I wasn’t thinking about it all the time. Maybe close to 9 months or a year to get back to about 90%.

    Your back injury sounds painful. How long was the recovery for that? What was the surgery like?

    Reply
  • ChefBear58 December 23, 2010, 2:55 am

    Jarhead, first let me say, I have the utmost respect for physical therapists they put up with uncooperative patients, folks that lack hygene and god knows what else. I use the term “physical terrorists” as a joke with the ones I have become friends with throughout my recoveries.

    My back injury is a LONG story, so I will attempt “the abridged” version
    -blew out L4-L5 & L5-S1 (last 2 disks at the base of the spine)
    -First doc diagnosed it as “slightly herniated disks”- He is an idiot!
    -Wound up going to about 5 other docs (work comp screwing around!)
    -MRI showed those disks as BLACK when they are supposed to appear WHITE
    -1 yr after the injury and 8 mo PT; Dock went in , took out the disks, fused my spine and put a titanium & stainless steel ladder with 6 screws
    -1 of the screws was resting on part of my spinal nerve column, they went back in and took out that whole side
    – New incision became infected with MRSA (looked like I had a 4mo “baby-bump” on my back)
    -2 more surgeries and 14 days in isolation along with some HARDCORE antibiotics (pumped in through a “pic line”) cleared it up
    -1 yr PT including “work hardening” and adaptive lifting techniwuoes
    -Still have serious back pain daily
    -Found out a couple months ago thst they need to go back in, replace the ladder, put another one on the front of my spine, remove the next disk up (L3-L4), break the areas that were supposed to be fused (MRI shows incomplete bone growth), re-fuse the two and fuse the new one
    -AT LEAST 1yr more PT
    -Hopefully after all that will still be able to get into the Police field

    I agree, the pain associated with the PT is much worse than the actual injury, the re-learning how to walk (not nearly as bad as some of our boys comin home with PH’s) again was challenging because of the loss of flexibility. Probably the most difficult part for me, that is still a challenge, is having to tell myself “your not as strong as you used to be”. Before the injury I was an amateur “power lifter”, I was in the gym at least every other day DESTROYING the iron, now the doc doesn’t want me lifting over 50lbs…. That is like tourture! Kinda wish I was a horse at times, then they could just use me for glue fodder and be done with it (not really but it sounds funny)

    What was the biggest “hurdle” for you in your recovery?

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor December 23, 2010, 8:35 am

      Chefbear — I actually liked the “physical terrorist ” name for them! They seem all nice and smiley and then the torture starts. I’d go in walking fine and feeling good and come out an hour later limping and feeling like someone had hit me in the ankle with a hammer.

      Sounds like your back injury is much more severe than anything I’ve experienced though. It’s no fun living with constant pain of any sort, especially back pain. I hope that whatever happens for you in the future helps you to feel better.

      I lift weights too and as I get older I’m much more careful about what and how I lift. I’m keeping my deadlift in the low 300’s now and not benching more than 225. Any more than that and I can start to feel it in my joints. Squats caused me to have knee surgery a few years ago, so I just do low weights and high reps these days when I’m doing a leg day – nothing more than 185 lbs on the squat. (I used to do close to 400 lbs in my 30’s.) Sounds like you were an animal in your day!

      The biggest hurdle was I kept wanting to go too fast to get better. I HATED being laid up for months. As you can probably tell I’m an outdoorsman and when I can’t get outside it makes me nutty. I was out shooting my .44 way before I was supposed to be walking and my PT gave me a lot of grief over it. I promised to be good and the very next weekend I ran into them on a hiking trail. They couldn’t believe it! After that they just advised me to wear very good ankle support and to take it easy because they figured I was going to go out and do it anyway. :-)

      Reply
      • ChefBear58 December 23, 2010, 2:51 pm

        I feel your pain on the knee injury too! I blew out my left ACL 2 weeks before I was supposed to start the “early entrance” program for the Corps. To this day I still can’t do full squats. Back in my football days I used to max 475-bench, 390-squats, 350-dead, 1200-leg press… but that seems like FOREVER ago!

        When I was last in PT, they started sending one of the assistants to the gym around the time I usually go to make sure I wasn’t “overdoing it”. I got “chewed” a couple times for it! The whole “slow down and heal” idea seems counterintuitive to me, but I guess they go to school and study all that for a reason.

        Thanks for the “well wishes”, just wish they would hurry up and get it over with, so I can move on with working towards becoming a police officer. Glad to hear your ankle has improved, those were some pretty wicked looking pictures. Did I read correctly before that you are gonna have the surgeon that put you back together do an interview? I would be interested to hear his “take” on what happened.

        Merry Christmas!

        Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 26, 2010, 6:52 am

    475 bench??? Man! You ARE an animal!

    The only time I got careless doing squats I screwed my knee up, so these days I just do higher reps and lower weights. Still get a great benefit from lifting, but not as likely to get injured.

    Older and wiser I guess.

    I’m gonna have the interview with the surgeon up very soon, but it’s more a first air primer for broken bones in the field plus some commentary on volunteer work he did down in Haiti.

    Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 26, 2010, 6:53 am

    That’s First AID primer – not first air. Fat finger on the keyboard!

    Reply
  • ChefBear58 December 26, 2010, 3:50 pm

    Stipulation to the 475 bench- *used to* be able to lift like that! Yeah I thought I was “hot $hit” back in the day and indestructible! I guess we live and learn! I have been trying to stick to the low weight-high rep thing for years, but I know for me at least, it just feels depressing! There are some great benefits for the prepper/survivalist, really anyone, to be had from weightlifting, improved stamina and strength (kinda goes without saying), improved focus, goal setting and attainment, and most folks don’t know that there have been recent studies proving a correlation between weight training and increased pain tolerance.

    I am eagerly awaiting to read the info from your doc, and indeed eagerly await all of the posts on your blog! Keep up the good work Jarhead!

    Reply
    • Jarhead Survivor December 26, 2010, 5:18 pm

      Thanks Chefbear! Very nice of you to say that.

      You know, I think I’m going to use your comment about weightlifting as a post idea – physical fitness and the prepper! You couldn’t be more right about it’s importance in an emergency and I think I’ve mentioned that in other posts. This might be a good idea to give a little advice on lifting. I’ll be looking forward to your comments as a someone who’s “been there and done that.”

      Reply
      • ChefBear58 December 26, 2010, 11:23 pm

        DEFINITELY looking forward to that post! I would be happy to add any info possible, but considering your Marine Corps training, years of weightlifting and experience, I doubt I will be able to add much!

        If you don’t mind, can I make a suggestion for a future topic?
        From the screen name it’s pretty obvious I am a chef (I am a member of the American Culinary Federation and classically trained Haute Chef- traditional French cuisine). One thing I have never seen when folks are talking about freeze-dried or canned food or rations of any kind (besides MRE’s which are delicious, except the “dehydrated pork patty”) is the taste/texture. I think it would be interesting to have a discussion about what you and others have tried and liked/disliked so that others can have a reference. I know that whenever I look at a website advertising these products they go on and on about how great their product is, even a few that I have tried and couldn’t manage to “choke down”! This might be a good “place to start” for those who are new the prepping community, and provide further insight to those who have been in the mindset for some time. Another good idea for said discussion would be to include ideas for long term storage recipe ideas.

        Thanks Jarhead!

        Reply
  • Katie March 27, 2011, 10:19 pm

    What a tale. I give you props for being such a trooper about it. I am a very experienced toe-stubber, and I accompany that with a nice amount of whining about it. June must have been proud that you were so brave! Good for you!

    Reply

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