“My Own Emergency Team,” Liahona, Feb. 1998, 34
I staggered away from the table saw, my ears ringing, my stomach churning. Warm blood reached my elbow and flowed to the cement floor. With the palm of my undamaged hand, I cradled the mess, terrified at the sight of the red blood, white bone, and yellowing skin.
“Tim, what happened? Tim? Tim!”
I heard a voice yelling my name. It was Jeff, the only other person in the shop. Through blurred vision, I saw him running toward me.
“Go. Go get help! Call an ambulance! Hurry!” I screamed, and Jeff ran out the door.
Now alone, I lay on a large roll of plastic to stave off my dizziness. I had just finished a year of college and landed my dream job—working for the United States Forest Service in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado. A week earlier I had received my mission call to Melbourne, Australia. I was to finish my summer job in Colorado, then report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
Where are they? I wondered. I started to get up, thinking I would go outside, get in the truck, and drive myself to the hospital. With dizziness returning quickly, I lay back down on the slippery plastic and closed my eyes. Soon I heard the wail of an ambulance.
“He’s in here.” I recognized Jeff’s voice.
Opening my eyes, I saw Jeff and a uniformed man and woman from the ambulance standing over me. Almost simultaneously, the man grabbed my cut hand and the woman took my pulse.
“You’re going to be all right,” he said as he wrapped my hand with white gauze. I was relieved the injury was out of sight.
“How old are you?” asked the woman.
I whispered the answer. My throat was dry, making it difficult to speak. She asked more questions about allergies, past medical problems, and medications I was taking. I responded quickly until she got to her last question.
“What family member do you want me to call to come to the hospital?”
I thought of my family, more than 950 kilometers away. Mom would be eating lunch at work, and Dad would be sleeping after working a late-night shift as a security guard. My younger sister, Erin, would be in school.
“There isn’t anyone who can come now. I don’t have any family in Colorado,” I replied. As they lifted me into the ambulance and drove toward the hospital, I remembered times that summer when I had hiked into isolated wilderness areas to repair eroding trails and hadn’t seen anyone for days. When I came back into town, I always felt detached and alone, the way I felt now.
“Tim.” It was the woman from the ambulance. Her voice sounded distant. She continued, “Is there someone else I could call—a minister or a priest?”
I thought of the small branch in Gunnison, Colorado. The members had been friendly to me during the past few months, but I didn’t want to bother them with this problem. I looked down. The blood had saturated the white gauze. I winced when I thought of the ripped flesh inside.
“Call Willy Akers or Bud Smith,” I said at last. President Akers had just been called as branch president, and Bud Smith was his counselor.
“I know Willy. I’ll call him when we get inside,” she said with assurance.
The ambulance stopped in front of the small hospital. I saw the doctor waiting for me to be wheeled in. Once inside, I looked around at the small emergency room as they placed me on an examination table. The doctor spoke calmly to the nurse as he unwrapped the dark, red gauze. I looked away.
Finally, he finished and directed the nurse to wrap it again. Without a word, he left. I could hear his voice on a telephone in the next room and knew he was speaking about me. He stopped talking after a few minutes and entered the emergency room.
“Tim,” he started, speaking slowly, “you’ve cut yourself pretty badly, and I don’t have the equipment or expertise to do much for you. I just called for a helicopter to fly you to a hospital in Denver. They will do everything they can to save your hand there. Meanwhile, I’ll give you some pain medication to make things more comfortable for you on the way. Do you have any questions?”
I managed a weak no, then thought about what he had just said. The words “save your hand” kept repeating themselves. I had never had a cut that required more than a few stitches, and now I faced the possibility of losing one of my hands.
“It’s a good thing this happened while I was home for lunch or you wouldn’t have caught me,” President Akers said as he entered the small room. Brother Smith followed close behind. “They tell me you get to go on a helicopter ride.” I nodded, too weak to speak.
“Would you like a blessing?” Bud asked. I nodded again, and in the curtained partition of the two-bed emergency room in a small hospital, I was promised two things: my hand would be all right, and I would be able to fulfill my mission to Australia. President Akers went back to work, and Brother Smith stayed with me until I was loaded onto the helicopter.
“Now I’m really alone,” I thought as I flew above Gunnison. I knew a few people in this small town of 6,000, but in Denver, a city of half a million people, I knew no one.
But I was wrong. When the helicopter landed and I was wheeled through the open doors of the hospital, a missionary couple from the Colorado Denver South Mission greeted me. Their gray hair and warm smiles reminded me of my grandparents.
“Your branch president’s wife called and asked if we’d visit you sometime this week, and we came right over,” Sister Jeffreys explained. They sat by my bed until late that afternoon when the surgery team had assembled and was ready to operate.
I wanted Elder and Sister Jeffreys to stay, but we knew they would not be allowed in during the operation. I said good-bye and watched them walk down the long hallway.
“Hello. I’m Lile Hileman, one of the anesthesiologists here,” a man said, approaching my bed. “I was supposed to get off at 4:30, but when I saw you were the only Mormon besides me here, I thought I’d ask if it would be all right for me to be your anesthetist.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” I joked for the first time since cutting myself.
“For you, I’ll learn fast,” he said, laughing.
It took the surgeons more than 14 hours to repair the damage, and I was in Denver for just as many days.
The day after the accident, my mom flew to Denver from our home in Orem, Utah, and she was greeted at the hospital by the full-time missionaries. For the three days she was in Denver, she stayed in the home of Church members she had never met.
After my mom returned home, and during the ensuing weeks, I continued to receive visits from the Jeffreys and Brother Hileman. In addition, six members of the local singles ward came three times each week to cheer me up. The night before I left, they all “kidnapped” me from my room and took me to an ice-cream shop close to the hospital.
I flew home, and after six more operations and months of therapy, I was able to use my hand again. Although my mission call was delayed six months, I served two years with added vigor, for I now could teach the people of Melbourne about the caring brothers and sisters who they’ll always have as part of their Church family.