Surviving survival

So that’s the name of a book. Which I’m reading. For obvious reasons.

The other day, the sound of a helicopter caused me to have a panic attack.

Yes, ’twas a helicopter that airlifted me out of the desert.

But the sound of those buzzing blades takes me back to the Friday night and Saturday afternoon when a chopper flew for hours near the area where I lay. For me, it’s a noise that reminds me of how it feels to lay helpless.

Last week, Hubs and I went back. A member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Search and Rescue Team led us back out to the area  where I was found.

The hike itself was empowering.

I can do this, I told myself again and again. And I did. I even found my little mesquite tree all by myself.

But the hard part is the now. Because with that trip came new pieces of knowledge.

For one — I didn’t realize how far off the trail I was. Nor did I know that I probably wouldn’t have been found if I hadn’t been able to yell for help when search teams were near. I was in a deep ravine in a cut. No way was the helicopter ever going to see me.

I also didn’t know that coyotes were gathering 200 yards downwind of where I lay unable to move.

Search-and-rescue teams had heard them yipping and howling all morning  — calls from one family of coyotes to another. When I was found, a pack of half a dozen had assembled, waiting for the smell of imminent death that would let them know it was time to approach and attack.

I don’t blame them. Coyotes have survived by being opportunists.

This week, my medical records arrived in the mail. Apparently, my body was in the midst of renal failure when I was found.

So the coyotes were pretty dead-on. A few more hours, and I would have been oblivious to their attack.

Or maybe I wouldn’t have been oblivious. Maybe I would have been all too aware and yet unable to fight back.

Regardless. On the one hand, I feel good about going back. At the same time, I’m now subject to a new kind of panic attack. I feel like my body remains adrenalized, poised for a fight that’s over.

Right now, I cherish evenings, when I’m at home, snuggled up in blankets and surrounded by my children and husband.

Daytime finds me irritable. Why can’t people appreciate how good they have it? Why can’t people quit bothering me while I heal?

I’m not talking about those who want to know how I’m doing. I’m referring to those who can’t understand why I haven’t just snapped back. Why I’m not jumping when they snap their fingers or call me umpteen times a week.

I’m trying. I really am. But please. Give me a little more time to find the me that was the reporter — the me that wasn’t a victim.

Because right now, on most mornings,  I would rather just stay in bed, huddled under the covers where it’s safe.


My cactus-needle-plucking good Samaritan

As most of you know, I’ve been struggling to remove cactus needles from my hands and mouth ever since my rescue from Big Bend Ranch State Park.

First, I want to thank all of those who have called with or emailed suggestions. I so appreciate it.

I’ve soaked my hands, used glue, Duck tape, baking soda and salve. But the needles embedded in my hands and mouth look like small, fine hairs. And they’re barbed. My last resort: hot wax, per the suggestion of websites devoted to cactus-needle removal.

Yesterday, I got another phone call, this time from a man — Terry Holler — who works at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s print shop.

Terry, it turns out, is a licensed massage therapist. But the magical words he uttered were:

“I have an industrial hot wax machine.”

I resisted the impulse to declare my love. But I was, well, rather enthusiastic in my reaction to this news.

“I can bring it tomorrow,” he told me. “It takes two or three hours to heat up.”

No problem, I assured him. Just call me when it’s ready.

The timing was perfect. You see, in the past few days, my body started to reject the needles, just as doctors said it would. This process involves raised, pus-filled blisters, which help force the needles to the surface of the skin.

Today, around 1 p.m., I headed over to the print shop.

Here’s a before photo of one of my afflicted fingers:


Forefinger on my left hand.

Now imagine those blisters all over both hands. Ugh.

Once at the print shop, I dipped each hand into hot wax. Then Terry bagged them up and stuck what appeared to be oven mitts over the bags.

And then we waited.

Once the wax cooled, he peeled it off. Now the blisters were even more prominent. And the needles were even more visible.

Terry took a pair of tweezers and set to work.

I managed not to yelp too often. But my sighs, heavy, “relaxed” breathing and various panicked noises indicated my, er, wussiness.

Bearing in mind that needle removal in the hospital involved a hefty dose of morphine, I thought I was rather restrained, however. At least I didn’t sound like a woman in labor.

Each time Terry plucked out a needle, he held up his magnifying glass so that I could get a good look at it.

And, wow. No wonder I’ve been in pain.

Some of the needles fell to the floor before Terry could lay them on one of the oven mitts. But of those he saved, we counted 11.

So yeah. He managed to get more than 11 teensy little hairlike needles out of my hands and fingers.

The man deserves a medal.

I can’t thank him enough.