Injured in the Wilderness
June 2003

“Injured in the Wilderness,” Ensign, June 2003, 20

Injured in the Wilderness

Alone, with a broken arm, I wondered if I’d ever make it to safety.

At age 53, I still loved the adventure of horse packing in the remote backwoods. So when July came, I prepared my horses and started through the two-and-a-half million acres of Idaho’s “River of No Return” wilderness. My trail would include the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, famous for its rushing water, scenic beauty, and many river-running expeditions.

My wilderness solitude was serene and undisturbed until the third day. When I stopped for a brief rest early that afternoon, an insect stung the lead pack horse, and in an instant he had taken off in a trot, leading the other pack horses with him. My saddle horse started after them, and I lunged for the trailing lead rope to keep him from running away. As I grabbed the rope, the horse jerked his head, throwing me off balance and flinging me onto a rock as he ran off to follow the other horses.

A sharp pain shot up my left elbow. I had struck it violently on the rock and saw immediately that it was broken. Bleeding profusely, I said a quick prayer for help and set off to find my horses.

A painful mile later, I found the lead pack horse tangled in his rope with the others standing beside him. My bleeding hadn’t stopped as I stood there considering what to do. I knew that six miles downstream I’d find river runners at the confluence of the stream and the Middle Fork, but remounting my saddle horse with a broken elbow would be excruciating. Climbing onto a large rock, I looped the lead rope to the pack horses over the shoulder of my injured left arm and pulled myself awkwardly onto the saddle horse with my right arm.

Those six miles took two difficult hours on horse, but when I reached the river, I saw a bustling camp.

“Could someone help me clean my wound?” I called out. Two guides hurried over.

“You’ll need to be airlifted out of here,” one of the guides commented grimly. “This will have to see a hospital.”

I looked at my still-bleeding elbow and the hands of the two guides cleaning it. On one of the hands was a CTR ring.

“Are you a Latter-day Saint?” I asked the young guide. He nodded, concentrating on my wound.

“My name is Josh,” he said. “I’m doing some guiding on the Middle Fork until school in the fall.”

I paused for a moment. “Would you give me a priesthood blessing, Josh?”

While the other guide called on a two-way radio for air assistance, my LDS river guide and I took a canvas chair into a stand of trees.

As I listened to the words of the blessing, the pain in my elbow seemed to subside. When the blessing ended, I knew that the marathon to save my arm had only begun, but I found comfort in the inspired assurances that all would work out.

When we reached the small backcountry airstrip, a stiff wind was blowing its wind sock to a nearly 90-degree angle.

“I’ll circle the strip, but if the wind’s too strong, I won’t be able to land,” the pilot radioed down to us before he arrived. We watched nervously as the small plane neared the airstrip. Just as the plane arrived and began to circle, the wind sock went completely limp. A paramedic quickly loaded me into the plane, and we departed for McCall, Idaho, where the nearest hospital was located.

A paramedic relayed my vital signs ahead to the emergency room, and when an x ray was taken at the hospital, the diagnosis was confirmed: a compound, open fracture requiring immediate surgery for repair. Since 2:00 P.M. that day, I had been steeling myself against the pain, knowing I would have to be conscious in order to get to safety. Now, in the hands of capable medical personnel, I began to relax.

The McCall hospital wasn’t equipped for surgery such as I needed, so a life flight to Boise was ordered. But the wind that had deterred the small plane earlier that evening had become a major storm that was rapidly approaching: timing was essential if I was to fly to Boise for the necessary surgery before the storm struck.

With lightning cracking around the plane, we touched down, and the rain began pouring in earnest.

“Lucky we made it now,” the pilot remarked. “Another few minutes and we wouldn’t have been able to complete the trip.”

From the airport, an ambulance rushed me to the hospital. An orthopedic surgeon began reattaching the two-inch piece of bone with rods, pins, and screws, and the slow work of recovery began. The storm blustered outside, my horses were far away in the Idaho wilderness, and the guide with a CTR ring was probably still at a riverside camp, but I had finally been brought to safety.

The priesthood blessing assuring me that everything would work out was fulfilled against daunting odds. Not only did the weather barely hold until I had arrived at the right hospital, but the surgery was performed just in time. Compound fractures like mine require medical attention within 10 to 12 hours of the injury in order to avoid major infection. I had broken my elbow at 2:00 P.M.; the surgery took place 12 hours later at 2:00 A.M.

Over a year later and with my arm completely healed, I can see in amazement that everything happened according to the priesthood blessing I had received in the remote wilderness of Idaho at the hands of a righteous young man wearing a CTR ring.

  • Reed Tucker is a member of the Twin Falls 15th Ward, Kimberly Idaho Stake.

Illustrations by Sam Lawlor