By Ed Kane
I have had a stroke of luck recently, and would like to tell the story. It’s a modestly long story, but I think it needs to be told.
On Friday, October 25th, I was in a remote spot, on a hillside rising from Waughop Lake at Ft. Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. I do conditioning backpacking on that hill as often as I can to try to keep in shape for the backpacking seasons. Lately I noticed that the Scotch broom invasion has grown exponentially. I decided I would join the few volunteers that are trying to curb this growth. There are two others that I am aware of, but each of us works independently and on different days as our schedule and energy permits.
So it was that I was alone ripping up Scotch broom on the sides of the steep hillside trail when I struggled with an especially difficult plant. It was more exhausting than I expected, and I was working downhill from the bush. As I struggled with the extraction tool I was burning energy to the point my legs were getting weak. But I prevailed and when the roots surrendered their grip on the soil it was with a sudden snap. I was sent to my knees sliding on the trail a few feet. I was “bushed” but felt victorious.
I started to get to my feet and, oddly, could not do so. I tried many times to push myself up, even using the long iron pry-bar as leverage. My legs would not hold me.
After a good ten minutes of alternately resting and struggling to rise I angrily cursed myself out loud for my weakness. I was stunned–I could barely comprehend my own voice. I was slurring–a telltale sign of stroke.
It was time to swallow my macho pride and holler for help. I could see segments of the paved trail that surrounds Waughop Lake below through some openings in the trees and I knew there would be plenty of walkers and joggers passing by.
At the sight of the first walkers I shouted “Help.” It was feeble, but mostly because I was too embarrassed to really shout. With the next walkers I shouted louder. I know they heard me–they glanced about, not sure what they heard, but did not see me. I was lying in the bushes wearing olive green cargo pants and a brown shirt that camouflaged me very well.
I then spotted what had to be a student bearing a backpack and headed for Pierce College. I shouted louder. He heard me, slowed and looked around. I shouted again and he stopped and scanned his eyes in the direction of the voice. Seeing nothing he disappeared behind the trees. He re-appeared briefly through a small window in the trees, still glancing around, then vanished toward the walkway to the school.
I was convinced at this point that I may not get help, and would have to figure out how to rescue myself. I was about 75% up the 75′ elevation of the trail. I could try to pull myself up to the top, but once there nobody would be there to help me get out of the park. Dragging myself down the hill meant going through barbed vines in a prone position, but it seemed the only option I might manage.
Then I glanced up toward the school and saw the same student walking through the parking lot. But he was not walking normally–he was still glancing toward the hill I was on. He stopped, glanced, stopped and glanced again. As long as I was immobile and well camouflaged he would not see me. I attempted to wave, but my arm was too weak. I struggled to get up, knowing I wouldn’t make it, but hoping it would be enough motion for him to spot me. When I manage to turn and look in his direction, he was gone!
As I lay there revisiting my options a voice startled me “Are you okay? Can I help?” Josh, the student, had spotted me and made his way over the hills to my location. After explaining that I believed I had suffered a stroke he helped me to my feet and pulled me to the top of the hill. Planting me on a flat boulder, he went back to my previous position and retrieved my jacket and tool and his backpack. Then he hoisted to my feet again and we proceed down the quarter-mile trail back to the parking lot. He called my wife, Irene, and gave her the message to meet us at the parking lot. Once there he loaded me into the truck and, promising to give me a call in a day or two, bid farewell and headed to his math class. But he exclaimed, “at least this time I will have a legitimate excuse for being late.” Indeed!
The rest of the crazy and tense drive to the hospital and their rapid response is another story, but in the end I went home the next day fully recovered from my minor stroke–a fortunate result that occurs less than ten percent of the time in stroke victims.
I met with Joshua the next day at Starbucks and got to know him. He’s a great young man (compared to my own age) with great plans for his and his wife’s future. I thanked him and we had a truly enjoyable afternoon. But it is only right that he be acknowledged publicly for listening to his inner voice that told him he really did hear a call for help. His actions have no doubt saved me from an untold fate, as the stroke might have worsened without quickly getting to a hospital. And I am delighted that I am able to relate the story with my full faculties and appreciation.