Your Story: Are You a Survivor?

Are You a Survivor?

We all know life-and-death situations aren't limited to Everest mountaineers, or even to people hiking in the wilderness. They can surprise us in the workplace, at home, and with regard to personal health. No matter the circumstance, such events can yield valuable insights. In our August issue (on newsstands July 10), we'll report on the psychology of survival and how your day-to-day decisions can affect your capacity to endure the unexpected. But we also want to hear about your survival experiences, whether they occurred in the woods or on your commute. Check out some highlights from the first readers' stories below.


Case Study #1:

A skiing spill left Ned Gold, of Warren, Ohio, with ten broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a fractured hip socket, damage to his skull and cranial nerves, and a medically induced coma. Gold describes how he made it out of intensive care in only two weeks and consistently exceeded his doctors' expectations for his recovery.

Lesson Learned: Attitude is Everything.

As I came out of the drug fog I began to comprehend how badly I'd been hurt and what was going to be necessary for me to get back to where I had been before the accident. I remember sitting up in bed one day and saying to myself, "You have got to get in gear and get going! You have a lot to do!" That became the prevailing thought as I entered my personal survival mode. Everyone else involved had done his or her part to help me survive; now it was my turn. One day, a physical therapist came to my room to assess whether I could be mobile. I told her I could stand and walk when I had no idea whether I could. She put me to the test. It was the first time I had tried to stand. The room began spinning every which way, but I stood. And then walked. I was determined not to miss a single step. I made up my mind to stand if they said "stand" and to walk if they said "walk." I would have found a way to stand on my head if they had asked. I never once said, "I can't!" That was the key. That was the theme of my recovery—and my survival.

Case Study #2:

Kim Hally, of Fairport, New York, was 16 when she crashed her car off a remote embankment.

Lesson Learned: Persistence is Key.

I remember seeing a tree branch coming at my window. A little later I woke up in a car that was upside down. I screamed and cried. After a few moments, I remembered that I was on a country road and that not much traffic would be driving by. As I started to move around I realized I could not see out of one eye. I wiped my hand over my face and noticed it was covered in blood. I knew then that I needed to get out of the car. I tried all four doors with all of my strength, but they would not open. I knew that I had a shirt in the car and looked around for it. I put it around my hand as tight as I could and tried the doors one more time. After that, I knew I had to kick out a window. I was wearing shorts and had lost my flip-flops getting out of my seat, so I took the shirt and wrapped it around my foot. I kicked against the window three times before it finally broke.

Case Study #3:

Patricia Santilli, of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, was about to summit the Grand Teton (13,768 feet or 4,196 meters) when she was mysteriously knocked unconscious.

Lesson Learned: Allow Your Exit Strategy to Evolve.

When I came to, my friend was yelling at me above the wind: "Come on. Get moving. What's taking so long?" I was under an overhang, just below the summit, hanging by both feet and one hand. I was upside down and had to save myself. I could turn my body just enough to drop into the snow below, but not roll off—which would have meant a fall of several thousand feet (several thousand meters). I sat in the snow a few minutes, just thinking and listening to the wind. My friend rappelled down to me. Though I could explain how I released the knot that left me upside down, I couldn't explain how I got into the predicament. The weather was worsening, we were tired, and we had two more rappels, which called for extra caution. As many climbers know, most accidents happen during rappels when you are overtired, so we didn't want to take any more chances than necessary. We needed to make good decisions for the descent. Looking back, I'm amazed I made it. Quick thinking, looking at alternatives, and just "keeping your head" paid off for me.

Case Study #4:

On a trip through Central America, Bill Ruzgis of Long Beach, California, was stung by an unknown creature while he was sleeping at a lodge in Belize.

Lesson Learned: Stay Grounded.

Suddenly, my left knee felt like I had been stabbed with an ice pick. Throwing back the sheets, I failed to see what stung me. Minutes later, my fingers, tongue, and mouth began to tingle. Not good, I thought, since I had no idea what stung me and was not close to any medical facility. My heart began to race and I began to perspire. I remembered a doctor once told me that if your condition did not progressively get worse, it was "not serious." So there I lay, wide-awake for hours physiologically disturbed, but my symptoms did not get worse. At dawn I contacted our guide and the lodge manager, who told me that I had a suffered through a non-lethal scorpion sting. They said I would be back to normal in 12 to 14 hours.

Case Study #5:

Veteran outdoorswoman Amy Racina was on day 12 of a 17 day solo trek through King's Canyon National Park, in California, when the hillside crumbled beneath her and she fell 60 feet (18 meters) into a ravine, breaking her hip and shattering both legs in several places.

Lesson Learned: Focus on Staying Alive.

I could not walk, crawl, or even stand up. I could not move my legs at all. I was 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the nearest trailhead. Only a handful of people hike in that area each season. I was not visible from the trail. I was not expected back for five more days, so there would not yet be any searchers. I was still alive, but the question was … how could I stay that way? While calling out for help, I dragged myself with my hands down a ravine for three days and nights, until, miraculously, I was heard by a distant hiker. Twenty-four hours later, I was flown to safety. The chances that I would get out of that ravine alive were very slim, but I never allowed myself to focus on the likelihood that I would die. And here I am, alive, happy, and able to hike and backpack once again.

Case Study #6:

John Sturr, a U.S. Forest Service employee, was crossing the Wyoming border from Idaho on an electro-fish survey of a remote stream when one of the rangers had heart trouble and had to be evacuated by helicopter.

Lesson Learned: Know Your Signals.

A map, compass, signals, and GPS are the most important items to have when in the backcountry. Most backcountry areas are populated enough so that help is just a day's walk away and someone will likely see your signal. Fire is important, if stranded in an area, either for signaling, warmth, or protection. When it comes down to life-or-death situations, do you really need to know which plants are edible? Or is it better to know the quickest way out of a forest or wilderness to the nearest road for help? I have come to realize that signaling is the number one key to a successful rescue. And signaling encompasses many things from a whistle, flares, radios or even a cell phone to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

Case Study #7:

Officer Kory Turnbow, D Company, 212th Battalion, Iraqi National Guard was driving his team of 14 soldiers back to Taza, a patrol base near Kirkuk, Iraq.

Lesson Learned: Don't Let Fear Control Your Life.

A vehicle-contained IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detonated about ten feet (3 meters) away from the right-front side of my Land Cruiser. The moment was almost surreal. I was so focused on driving that I didn't have time to notice, or do anything about the white Mitsubishi taxi on the side of the road with its hood up. I looked right just in time to see a flash of light come from the side of the road, followed by a gigantic dust ball filling my entire viewing area, followed by a ka boom like I've never heard before. Giant pieces of steel shrapnel started flying through the air, puncturing the Toyota in all manner of places. The passenger-side tires were blown out, and a giant piece of shrapnel struck the windshield, finishing off the outer layers of ballistic glass for good. We drove through the chaos of the explosion, and I was able to nurse the car about 500 meters (1,640 feet) down the road from the blast, in order to get clear of the engagement area, before the Toyota shuddered to a halt and wouldn't go any farther. The most important lesson I took from my time in Iraq was that life isn't worth living in fear. While I still have a healthy respect for conducting any of life's activities in a safe manner, I learned that life is too short to put off living for tomorrow. There is nothing that someone can do to me, and no circumstance that can befall me, through which I can't continue to persevere. Reference: PDF Version