Through the Fence 9-27-10
September 27, 2010
Having a Y chromosome makes most men think they’re bulletproof. From the time they’re 5 years old and jumping off the house in a Superman cape – to the teen years when they’re drinking a vat of beer and flying down the highway in a tricked-out truck – to working like a 20-year-old, long after they’re eligible for senior citizen discounts. Some guys think that getting sick, getting hurt, or dying – that’s the stuff that happens to other men. A buddy of mine – a tough old rancher who’s accustomed to handling lots of physical challenges – had a brush with death last summer that reminded him that he’s tough but not immortal.
He was working on a fence on the edge of his property that went down into a deep rocky ravine that was overgrown with brush. It was a blistering hot August day in central Texas, just a few degrees cooler than hell itself, but the lack of humidity made it almost tolerable. His Blue Heeler was his only companion as he hacked away at the briars with a machete, cutting a path wide enough to work on the fence. It was awkward making his way down the steep hill since he was wearing high-topped boots worn for protection from a snakebite. That was the first time he’d ever worn them, but a friend had given them to him and insisted that he try them out.
He took frequent breaks during the day and drank what he thought was enough water to keep his 76-year-old body hydrated in the heat of the day. The day wore on, and the light breeze died away. There was no sound but the cicadas droning and the grasshoppers zipping through the tall dry grass. About mid afternoon, he took a break in the shade. In a few minutes, when he got up, he was so light-headed, he nearly fainted. He sat back down, drank some more water and rested.
He awoke later that afternoon when his dog started licking his face. He managed to crawl back to the truck, find his cell phone and call 911. He knew he was in trouble. What he didn’t realize was that he was having a heat stroke. His body was unable to make enough sweat to cool his body due to the extreme heat and depletion of his body’s water reserves. His mental ability was compromised, and he was unable to convey to the paramedics exactly where he was. He couldn’t think of his nearest neighbor’s phone number, but finally remembered his name. If he hadn’t come up with that information, the emergency crew may not have found his remote location in time.
As he crawled back towards his resting place on a flat rock in the shade, he felt something hit his shin. Even in his delirious state, he recognized the distinct markings of a rattlesnake in the grass at his feet. He felt relieved that the fangs didn’t penetrate the snake boots, although they did pierce his jeans. He stepped over it and staggered back to the rock and waited for help. He had no idea how much time passed, and periodically his dog roused him by licking his face.
Finally, he heard the rumbling of a diesel truck and voices on the ridge above him. The emergency team scrambled down the ravine and lifted the old rancher onto a stretcher. They took him by ambulance to the nearest hospital.
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He didn’t realize what bad shape he was in until he felt himself being loaded into a helicopter. “I’ve flown over 15,000 hours as a pilot in the Air Force,” he told me. “I sure didn’t think I would take my last ride as a critically ill patient instead of the pilot.” He spent several days in the hospital hooked up to an IV. He survived that close call but found he no longer had much tolerance for the heat. A lot of factors were working in his favor that day – a working cell phone, snake boots, some professional paramedics and a good dog. All that coupled with his self confidence and steadfast belief that he was indeed indestructible.