I’m writing from a Starbucks near our hotel in Las Vegas, which is unfortunate, because in order to write this post I have to flash back to Wednesday night, which I can not do without crying. Just hours after I wrote the last post we arrived in Death Valley National Park, planning to camp for several nights. We were surprised to find out that most of the campgrounds were full. The friendly ranger at the Visitors Center recommended a magnificent camping spot in the nearby backcountry, 4 miles down a rough dirt road. We had 6 gallons of water, a full tank of gas, lots of food, and fully charged devices. We decided to go for it.
Jay drove of course since I have no experience driving on 4 wheel drive roads. In fact, I’m such a nervous passenger that I read the park newspaper and didn’t even look at the road. After about 45 minutes of incredibly slow travel, we came to the Hole in the Wall. Surprisingly enough there was already another group there, but we were able to set up camp just out of sight of them.
I snapped pictures while Jay parked the car and chose a site for the tent. We picked a spot between some big rock features so that we could have some natural wind protection. Even at 6 pm, it was pretty hot and windy in the valley. We set up the propane stove and cooking stuff next to the car for further wind protection and decided to cook some Indian food and rice so that all we would need was two pots of boiling water.
As we were setting up, another truck came down the road and set up camp within sight of us. We couldn’t believe we had come that far only to have neighbors.
We were feeling very pleased with ourselves. Toasting the evening with fresh beer from Boulder City and snacking on appetizers of triscuits covered in cream cheese and roasted raspberry chipotle sauce. The sun was just starting to set and we could see amazing colors in every direction bouncing off the canyon walls.
Suddenly a bigger than normal gust of wind came right through the campsite. I reached to grab some of the food packaging that went flying. Next thing I knew, Jay was screaming. He was on the ground writhing and screaming. I didn’t know what had happened, but I saw that the stove and the pots were on the ground. I thought he may be on fire and yelled for him to roll. His shorts were all wet and he was yelling at me something I couldn’t understand. I helped him get his shorts and underwear off and finally could figure out that he had been hit by the 4 quarts of boiling water that had been on the stove. The wind gust had knocked the entire stove and both pots of water over right at Jay. Luckily he had been faced away from it and was scalded along the backside.
Once we got the shorts off he was able to speak and I got a Nalgene of fresh cool water to pour on his backside where his skin had been burned. I could see red skin all along where his waist band was and in a T down his rear. He had lost a layer of skin and I could tell this was going to be bad.
We got him laying down on his stomach on the sleeping pad and I got the second skin treatment out of the medical bin. We had three full sheets but it only covered about half of the burned area.
The next 30 minutes or so were a frenetic blur of trying to decide what action to take. Our tent and supplies were blowing away. Jay was starting to shiver and I was very worried about shock. There was no cell signal so the only options for help were our tenting neighbors and self evacuation. Since the burns were on Jay’s rear, I wasn’t sure how to put him in the car to drive out. Not to mention I didn’t know if I could succeed at driving four miles without giving us one or more flat tires that would put us into a deeper disaster.
After covering Jay with a sleeping bag and giving him ibuprofen, I went to see if the other campers had medical supplies or could help somehow. Luckily our closest neighbors were there and jumped up to give us aid. They recommended cutting potatoes and putting that on the burned areas. I ran back to try the potato trick while they searched for medical supplies.
By this time I had realized we would need to evacuate, but I was overwhelmed with how to do so safely and quickly. Jay was speaking normally and did not seem to be experiencing a lot of pain. He couldn’t see the damage and the adrenalin or shock was dulling his pain sensors. We decided that he could kneel on the passenger’s seat facing backwards. Luckily the neighboring campers had come and were able to take down the tent and throw everything in the car so that we could get out of there. We were so grateful for their help and the comfort that their presence provided.
At around 8 pm, with Jay kneeling in the passenger’s seat, the Rav 4 stuffed to the roof with our disorganized load, and daylight completely gone, I started the 4 mile, 45 minute drive to the park road. Taking my time and trying to make jokes to keep our spirits up, we crept towards help and cell signal.
Finally we reached the main park road and I drove straight to the nearest building, which happened to be a 5 Star Hotel, the Furnace Creek Inn. The Inn had cell signal so we stayed in the parking lot and I called 911, which immediately dispatched an ambulance. The wait for the ambulance was a bit awkward since Jay was wearing only a shirt and couldn’t really cover up. He ended up laying on a sleeping pad between our car and another parked car. Amazingly enough the hotel guests that walked right by us did not seem to even notice him.
The ambulance showed up remarkably quickly and starting assessing the damage and taking Jay’s vitals. We still had a bit of a wait ahead of us though, since they had more experienced medics on the way. The medic called from the ambulance to the local hospitals (in both California and Nevada since the park is near the state line) to find out where Jay could be treated. They made the call to go all the way to Las Vegas since UMC has a burn care center. I followed the ambulance in the Rav 4. It was about 10 pm when we left the park. I still had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of me, back where we came from that morning. The park ambulance actually passed Jay over to a new ambulance after crossing the state line.
Driving behind the ambulance by myself was actually the hardest part for me. I had kept my cool up until I pulled out behind the ambulance and saw the sirens and flashing lights rushing Jay to the hospital. At that point Jay’s care was out of my hands and I was hit by all of the “what ifs” and “could have been worse” thoughts. I plugged in the IPOD and blasted my favorite mix, singing “Build Me Up Buttercup” at the top of my lungs to keep from hyperventilating.
I finally arrived at the University Medical Center at 12:30 am on St. Patrick’s Day. Jay received good treatment there, including some heavy pain meds and a thorough cleaning and dressing of the burn. I managed to stay with him the whole time (which is amazing for those who know my propensity for fainting). During the worst of it I held Jay’s hand and read Walden on the IPAD to distract both of us.
Jay was discharged at 2 am and by that time we were both exhausted and he was loopy from the pain meds. We had been given phone numbers for hotels and managed to get a room at a nearby Hotel & Casino.
That is where we are now. We have already been back to the burn center for follow up and now have all the medical supplies with us to change the dressings ourselves. Jay continues on paid meds and is trying to rest as much as possible. They warned us that the skin cells will continue to die off for up to 72 hours, so we are still in the critical stage. We will be remaining in Las Vegas for the week so that Jay can heal and see the burn specialist again on Wednesday. Next week Jay’s parents will be coming in from Phoenix to help us get him back there as safely and pain free as possible. Obviously our trip is on hold for the indefinite future as Jay heals and we figure out how to pay for thousands of dollars worth of medical bills. I hope to update the blog with posts about our visits to Flagstaff and Lake Mead in the next few days and will also keep you posted on Jay’s condition. Thank you for all your support.