12. Stress free was not in the cards. Sunday began normally enough, breakfast, Wisdom of the Elders, and then they loaded up the buses and headed for the Badlands. Usually the tour went to Wounded Knee first, but today because of the heat they would begin the day with the hike to the Sanctuary.
The buses first pulled up to the small visitor center welcoming people to the South Unit of the Badlands. It was little more than a double wide trailer, painted in the same State Park Tan as a thousand other government buildings in the country. The group wandered around a bit, some using the restrooms, some looking at the displays, others staying on the buses. They were given a choice to stay at the visitor center because of the heat. Some of the volunteers were pretty aged, and some not in the best of health. But for the most part, everyone wanted to go hiking in the Badlands. Jack and his dad both decided to make the trip, mostly because they both loved the Badlands.
Soon enough those who were hiking loaded back onto the busses and headed into the park. Jack saw the old familiar hills and buttes, and soon the busses pulled up to the hiking area. Volunteers and staff flooded out into the prairie and were soon making their way slowly and warmly to the Sanctuary. Jack’s dad was not ready for the dry heat and the altitude and decided that at their first stop he would set up a chair and wait until everybody got back. One of the staff members, Erika, said she’d stay back with him so Jack could go ahead, but as Jack hiked back towards the Sanctuary he realized he would rather spend time with his dad and headed back. He found his dad and Erika marveling at a small circle of rusty ground.
“Hey bud!” His father greeted him. “Come and look at this.”
“What is it?” Jack asked.
“Fossilized turtle shell.” He said. “I was just sitting here and saw it. Pretty cool, huh!?!”
“Very cool!” said Jack. He sat on the ground and started carefully clearing dirt from around the shell with a pair of nail clippers.
Erika found an old cow rib that she used as a back scratcher, and the three were having a delightful conversation when they noticed a staff member running back towards the vans and busses.
“What’s going on?” Erika asked.
“Somebody broke their leg!” The staffer yelled, not even slowing down. “I’m going for the emergency bag!”
Jack’s dad looked at him.
“Think you should go check it out?” He half asked, half stated.
Jack was silent for a moment and smiled at his dad.
“Guess so.” He said. “You going to be OK here?”
“I’ve got Erika!” He said, “What could go wrong?”
Erika promised to stay with Jack’s dad, which pleased his dad immensely.
“See ya’.” Jack said, and started walking towards the Sanctuary.
Very soon he was being passed by a parade of volunteers heading back to the busses.
“You’re heading the wrong way!” They told him. “We’re all going to the busses. Where are you going?”
Jack just smiled and nodded, waved good naturedly. What was he doing? He wondered.
“I’m no longer a medic.” He thought. “Well, technically I am still Nationally Certified until next March, but I got out of the business. I haven’t had a patient for months. I have nothing with me. What difference will I possibly make.”
Another volunteer ran past. This one Jack recognized.
“Hey!” He said. “Need a medic?”
“Yeah, man! I’m glad you’re here! We’re going to try to drive the van in to get ‘em.”
“Guy or gal?” Jack asked.
“Guy.” He said, running on.
Another staffer came running.
“How bad is the break?” Jack asked.
“Not too bad.” She said. “I think she’s fine.”
Jack was confused, but the staffer ran on. Was it a guy or a girl? Was it serious or not? He kept walking. Soon he saw one of the members of his group being helped along by two other staffers.
‘Well, at least she’s walking.’ He thought. ‘Can’t be too bad.’
A few seconds later he saw something much more frightening. There was a group of staff and others carrying a man on their shoulders. It looked like a scene from a movie where they took Christ down off of the cross and carried him. But in this case someone was holding his feet very carefully.
Jack arrived just as they were setting him down for a little break. He introduced himself to the man with the broken leg, and examined the break. It was bad. Broken through both of the bones, the foot hanging loosely. Fortunately there was no broken skin, but the area around the break was already bruising.
One of the staffers had wrapped it with an ice pack and ace bandage. It was the best they could do with the supplies that they had on hand. Jack called for his backpack, which by chance had a SAM splint in it that he had brought along as an afterthought as he packed up before he left.
A van came bouncing along out towards the group. Soon they had both the man and the woman with the hurt leg into the van, along with the group leader of the man’s group. As they drove, Jack took the foam lined malleable metal splint and carefully unwrapped the break. It was worse than he thought. The muscles on the leg had pulled the bones into an overlapping position and was causing the man excruciating pain.
“How long until we get to the hospital?” Jack asked the driver.
“Twenty minutes to Pine Ridge, but they’ll only send him to Chadron, so we’ll head there. Forty minutes to an hour.”
Jack looked at the break again. The man’s foot was turning purple from lack of blood flow. Jack worried that an hour of this might compromise the chances of keeping his foot, so he made a quick decision.
“Mike, I’m going to have to readjust your leg bones a bit, and it is going to hurt. But when I’m done, it should relieve some of your pain.”
“Do it.” Mike grunted.
Jack had never reduced a fracture in the field before. In fact, as a medic he was trained to just immobilize the break and get the person to a hospital ASAP. But in rare cases, it was OK to reduce it, such as lack of blood flow to the area and long transport time.
He smoothly pulled the foot away and felt the bones scraping along each other. Mike let out an agonized grunting scream. After what seemed like an eternity to both men, the leg was back in line and Jack braced it with the SAM splint. Mike said that he was immediately relieved from the intense pain that he had been feeling. With the roads as bad as they were, Jack held the man’s leg for the entire 45 minute ride to the hospital. The end of that story was that after many surgeries and much therapy, Mike got to keep his leg thanks to Jack’s actions.