“I am Fine, I am Okay”



   The Guide I worked for took 3 of our clients out on horseback while I took one of the clients that was as fond of riding a horse as I am, out to glass another valley on foot.  We spent a pleasant day and had camp to ourselves all evening as the others were doing a spike camp and would be back tomorrow evening.  I listened to his hunting stories a while, then we turned in for the night.

We were up early and returned to the hillside we were using as a base to glass the lovely valley below.  By late afternoon, we spotted a very nice bull with a couple of cows moving into the valley to feed.  It was getting late and too far to stalk before full darkness so we headed back to camp, determined to be waiting for them in the morning at first light.

No one was in camp yet, when we arrived but we prepared a nice evening meal so it would be ready when they arrived.  We were almost finished preparing the meal when we heard the horses coming in.  The client went over to see if he could help them and see if they had any luck.

He soon returned, helping one of the riders to a seat beside the fire.  The man was obviously injured, but trying very hard not to let on that he even felt any pain.  When I looked at him, he said, “I am fine.  Really.  I am okay.”

The smell of dinner did perk him up a bit and soon he had a plate of food in front of him and started eating.

Everyone else straggled over, picking up plates and filling them as they passed the Dutch oven on the edge of the fire pit.  We asked how their trip had gone and they mumbled a bit between mouthfuls.

The Guide was done eating first and started the story of their excursion.  They had covered a lot of ground and saw some nice bulls but nothing that excited them.  It was still early in the hunt and they wanted to see if they could find something larger.  The injured man was only along for the ride as he was a non-resident alien and it would have been very expensive for him to get a license and tags.

As they turned to come back, the horse he was riding must have gotten stung or something because he went completely crazy, bucking and finally falling and rolling on the tundra.  The man riding him was still in the saddle when the horse rolled.

Everyone was stunned by the suddenness of the event and the poor horse was thrashing and screaming in pain.  The Guide threw his reins to one of the other clients and was over, pulling the man out from under the thrashing horse and trying to calm the horse when he saw that the horse had a badly broken leg.  He pulled his handgun and shot the horse.

He turned to the injured man, laying there on the ground, gasping for breath and also in pain.

“Are you okay?”

The man looked up at him, looked at the horse, looked at the gun still in the Guide’s hand and stammered out, “Yes, I am fine.  I’m okay.”

As we sat around the fire, whenever anyone would look over at the man, he would still hold up one hand and say, “I am fine.  Really.  I am okay.”


Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 3

Our Old Ranch House

We seemed to work cattle quite often and I seemed to always manage to either get slightly damaged or in the way.

This time, we were loading a truckload of cattle to haul for sale. Dad didn’t get the truck backed to the loading ramp very well, so jammed a log in the gap and I had to stand on the large boulder beside the truck and shoo the cows away from trying to escape out the side gap. Yeah, you can see this one coming. I didn’t.

I was busily shooing the cows back from the gap and getting yelled at for not keeping them moving faster when at least one cow stepped on the other end of the log between the bottom of the truckbed and the edge of the ramp. Wheeee! The end closest to me smacked me under the chin and flipped me backward off the boulder.

I came to a bit later, flat on my back on the ground, the sky slowly circling overhead. Someone was yelling at me and I tried to get up, but kept falling back. Finally I managed to get up and staggered over to the boulder and back up on it, shooing the cows back in the gap.

Finally the truck was loaded and we all got back on our horses for the ride almost 10 miles back to the house. Every step the horse made felt like a small hammer thumping my head. I couldn’t open my mouth to talk, even. My chin looked like a caricature of a lantern jawed prizefighter. The bruising was quite impressive, too.

I found that I couldn’t let anything touch my chin or it hurt even worse and I would get woozy and a little sick to my stomach. If I turned in my sleep and it touched anything, I woke up in pain. As the swelling went down, I discovered a hard small lump in my chin that wasn’t attached but painful if touched. Then I found I had a nick in my jawline about the same size. Evidently a small piece of my jawbone was free floating around in my chin tissue.

I eased it back into position, but it wouldn’t stay. Each attempt left me weak in the knees and ill feeling. Finally I decided enough was enough. No one was in the house, so I sterilized a razor blade and did some surgery using the bathroom mirror to see what I was doing.

Just as I made my cut, Mom opened the bathroom door and made a small screech. I jumped a little bit so have a bit larger scar than I expected under my chin. I did get the piece of bone out, convinced Mom I wasn’t doing a weird suicide thing and bandaged up my chin.

Life on the ranch was always interesting.

Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 2

Ranch View

Several years after the surgery on my foot, which healed up finally, I had to do a very minor one by myself, on myself.

We had been working cattle on our back range, many miles from the house. It usually took 3 days to move cattle from one pasture to the next, so we left home before daylight and returned after dark. The 1st morning, we rode to work, then corralled the horses in the evening and returned home in the back of my Dad’s cattle truck.

My Dad usually took the shortcut home. This shortcut was the dry creek bed, over rocks, small waterfalls, downed trees and other assorted obstacles that would cause most folks to at least pause before driving over or through them. Not my Dad.

The truck was a 2 1/2 ton cabover Jeep 4 (6) wheel drive. It seemed able to go just about anywhere and its main drawback was a distressing habit of losing a front wheel while being driven.

This night on our way home, Dad took another shortcut that might save a few minutes and drove us right off a small rock ledge. I was standing up, holding onto the stock rack for dear life and as we became slightly airborne, I swear my life flashed before my eyes just a little bit.

When we landed, I immediately wished we were back in freefall. The rack bounced out of the stake pockets and hit me under the lower lip, forcing it into my upper front teeth and I heard something snap. What goes up, usually comes down, and it did. Right on top of both my feet. I was wearing flipflops and they are not a lot of protection from a long section of stock rack.

I plopped on the bed of the truck, one hand over my mouth, the other holding my damaged foot. I bounced a lot on the rest of the ride, but it could not be helped, I could not stand.

I hobbled through the kitchen to the bathroom before Mom got a good look at the bloody mess of my mouth and shut the door behind me. I sat on the side of the tub and ran cold water over my feet and tried to pry my fingers away from my throbbing mouth and lower lip. Then I slid down to the floor and washed my face and hands in the tub of cold water.

Most of the bleeding seemed to stop, so I got up and let the messy water out of the tub and looked in the mirror. Yikes.

My lower lip was swollen way out with 2 dark lines across it, just under my lip. I could feel something in my lip so finally opened my mouth a bit and pulled my lip down. There, shining white through the blood were the backs of both my front teeth.

Somehow, the whole tooth had not broken off, just the enamel off the backs of both, so my teeth still looked fine from the front. I tried to pull the pieces out of my lip, but they were firmly embedded.

Out came the alcohol, the peroxide and the tweezers. I soaked the tweezers and then carefully pulled the pieces out of my lip. Then, I quickly poured the peroxide, then the alcohol over my lip and almost blacked out and sat firmly back down on the floor.

The thud I made hitting the floor brought Mom and she kinda yelped when she saw my bloody face as it was bleeding again.

I used a wet washcloth and held it firmly against my lip, wanting to whine the whole time. The bleeding stopped and Mom brought me some ice cubes to wrap in the washcloth. Most of the swelling went down before I went to bed, but by the next day, I was very colorful and sore. We finished the cattle and rode the horses home the next evening. Just another day on the ranch.

Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 1

1941 Ten Mile Creek Homestead

We lived in the Boonies and loved it. Wild as the woodland creatures around us, none of us had much for social skills. We played in the woods and the swift running creek that in most places would be considered a small swift river. Then we decided the off-limits abandoned mill pond would be a better swimming hole.

We didn’t mind that when we waded in, it had 2 feet of water and 2 feet of soft mud. Some areas had only a foot of water and 3 feet of mud. The bottom had sharp rocks and some random bottles thrown in by the former mill workers. At least most were deep enough that we seldom found them.

As we found the bottles, we removed them from the pond. Then one of us got the bright idea to build a raft. We crafted our raft from green alder wood, which was easy to cut down with an ax and shape. We built it on the steep bank that dropped off into the pond. It’s a good thing the bank was so steep. That raft was heavy. We finally managed to get it into the pond and it floated nicely. Well, it floated nicely until someone got on it.

The two youngest boys ended up using the raft the most. With both of them on it, it floated, but was about 2 inches under the surface. Due to the high amount of mud under the water which kept the pond a rich mud color, it appeared that the two boys were standing in shallow water holding a long pole, each.

The first time they tried poling the raft, the poles stuck and stayed in the mud. The boys could hang onto the poles and let the raft float on away from them, or they could let go and leave the poles upright, stuck firmly in the soft gooey mud. They finally figured out just how to pole gently to travel around the small pond.

Before we upgraded the mill pond to swimming hole, we used to rescue stranded salmon fry in drying puddles along the creek and dump them into the pond. They grew quite well and soon the pond was stocked with landlocked salmon and good fishing. The fish would freak us out when they bumped into our legs in the water. We managed to scare each other with tales of monsters lurking under the mud.

Somehow, I managed to step on a broken whiskey bottle in the mud and sliced the bottom of my left foot badly, leaving a large flap of flesh hanging. It was bleeding freely and I sat on a rock beside the pond trying to convince one of the other kids to go up to the house and get Mom.

Since we were not supposed to be in that pond, no one would go up and let her know I was hurt. I ended up having to trudge up the dusty road and tell her myself. The flap of flesh was totally caked in dust and mud by the time I got to the house. I was trying not to step down on the wound, but there is not many ways to walk without touching the bottom of your foot to the ground.

Mom tried cleaning the dirt out of the wound and finally decided it was too dirty to replace the flesh flap into the hole. She sat me down on one of the steps outside so we didn’t mess up anything in the house. Then I had to hold my own foot still while she cut the large flap of flesh loose from my foot. She used her sewing scissors as that was the sharpest instrument she could find. My foot would start jerking as she started snipping away the flap of flesh. It took quite a while as live human flesh isn’t easy to cut through. I was having a very hard time holding my foot still. If I let it jerk, I got reprimanded or smacked. She finally tidied it up fairly well and poured merthiolate into the hole. That stuff burns and certainly took my mind off what we had just did.

Mom made a bandage of sorts to cover the entire bottom of my foot as most of it was involved in the damage. I wore a couple of pairs of socks over it to try to keep more dirt out of it. It took several months to heal and at various times it would get infected and it was back to the merthiolate. I had to clean it daily with peroxide and rubbing alcohol which was one way to make sure I never went back into that pond.

Finding Trouble

Eastern Oregon

The first we heard, was when someone stopped by and asked if we had seen the small plane owned by a rancher farther up the valley. Mom and I joined the search and drove downriver, then up a side stream toward the higher hills in the flight path the plane would have been on, on its way home.

The man flying the plane was a very careful pilot and it seemed impossible that he could have possibly made some kind of mistake. He would never fly if he had been drinking and was very careful, even when he didn’t have family with him.

This trip, he had his wife, all his daughters plus a neighbor’s daughter. His son did not make the trip as he was recovering from a cold or the flu.

Mom and I drove slowly along the highway, searching the hills on both sides of the road for any sign of tree damage or fire. We finally spotted something that didn’t look right in the sparse juniper trees on the right side of the highway as we headed west.

We parked off the edge of the road and started hiking up the hill. There was the plane, looking like it had dropped straight down out of the sky. There were charred areas directly above the plane in the tree limbs, but the fire had not spread, nor had the plane sheared off trees or limbs on either side.

Mom began taking pictures and we moved around the plane on all sides, documenting the damage to the plane and the ground around it. There was no movement in the plane.

Mom stepped to the open door, gave a gasp and started clicking pictures faster than ever, not touching a thing. Then she came over where she had told me to stay and said, they are all dead.

The inside of the plane was charred from fire, the girls were all in their seats, bent over facing the front, with their coat pulled up over their heads as though they were trying to filter out the smoke. From the waist up, they were not burned but from the waist down, they were just charred and unrecognizable as part of a human. We could not see the parents and did not want to step into the plane and disturb evidence.

The flags we had left tied on limbs to mark location soon guided several men up to the plane. The men looked at us, then the plane, then saw Mom’s cameras. One that was evidently the leader walked over quickly, grabbed the 16 mm. movie camera and opened the side, exposing all the film in it. Mom was quickly rewinding her small 35 mm still camera and popped out the film cartridge. The man rudely grabbed it from her and ordered us off the hill.

We hurried down to the Jeep and went home. Neither of us felt comfortable with that group of silent men.

These men were not in uniform, nor were they locals that we would have recognized. We never did learn who they were nor what authority they had to confiscate Mom’s film and expose the movie film.

Later, when a report was given on the cause of the accident, they blamed the pilot, saying he must have been drinking. They also said he flew the plane into the side of the hill. Unless he managed to drop the plane straight down, I don’t see how he managed that. There were junipers all around the plane and none were broken, only the ones directly above the plane.