Two years ago about this time, I had just received word from my Rehab Doctor at Craig Hospital in Denver that in a couple of weeks they planned to discharge me; about three weeks early. I had learned everything that they thought I was ready to learn and it was time to fly on my own. This would become the next step on a journey that had started a couple months before on a ranch in northeastern Montana.
My name is DuWayne and our family ranches in a pretty remote area of Montana. In fact, a couple of months ago, the Washington Post published a story talking about a study that was commissioned to find out the place that was the “most out in the middle of nowhere,” in the lower 48. Our little town placed second. First and third are less than 75 air miles rom here. I also think their data may be flawed as the number one town has both Amtrak and Air service. So we are remote.
My youngest son lives on the homestead that my Grandfather claimed back in 1909. My wife and I live on his brother’s homestead. Our family also still farms and ranches on the land from the maternal side of my family. It has been in our family since 1917. We have deep roots here. The people here are a pretty resilient and independent people. There are very tight family connections and neighbors, if they aren’t related, they are nearly as close as family.
My injury occurred on a beautiful mid winter afternoon in late January. It was a fluke accident that was a combination of a new hobby that I had and work. The spring before, I had purchased a team of work mules and was just starting to use them to help with the feeding of cows. My wife had never ridden with me on the wagon so we were just going to have a nice ride and feed the cows. If you have ever been around horses or mules, you know that sometimes on those nice days they really start to feel good and maybe a little frisky. Today was that day. My wife ran in the house to get something and I was driving the team in a circle. I was leaning too far ahead, and when we hit a hole I toppled over the front of the wagon. I remember telling myself, “this isn’t good!” It wasn’t. When I landed on my head I saw stars. As I looked back and the wheels were coming. For whatever reason, they all missed me. The mules went back to the barn and my wife and the dogs came to my side. I knew my life was changed, likely forever.
The first thing I told my wife we needed to keep our act together and she needed to call the ambulance. While most of the ranch has good cell phone coverage our home yard is hit and miss, but that day 911 went through. While my old cow dog sat on my chest, the phone call went through to dispatch to get the ambulance coming. As I said before, our town an county stick together. We have managed, largely through donations of the community, to be able to keep an excellent volunteer ambulance service and even a local hospital.
In less than half hour, the ambulance pulled into the yard, escorted by the deputy Sheriff. I am a big guy, so three was better. Because of the nature of my injury, the trauma team at the hospital had been paged and the ambulance plane from Billings, nearly 300 miles away was on its way. From then on, for the next few days, my life was out of my own control. From the time I reached the local hospital and for the next week I remember only bits and pieces. My journey as a quadriplegic had begun. Not only for me, but for my family an my community, near and far.
My first plane ride sent me to Billings. After reviewing my radiology reports, they felt like I would be better served by going to Denver. My wife had only planned to be gone for a couple days but now things had changed. One of my boys was going to be back at the ranch taking care of things. My two other boys came to Denver to be with Carrie and I. The surgeon told my family that I “might” have some use of my hands when the surgery was completed. As a C7, that was the likely prognosis. I had use of both hands and arms when I got it the ambulance the afternoon before. I am very thankful the doctors were wrong. As soon as I started to come around, I asked for a pen and paper and to the surprise of nearly everyone, I wrote on the paper. I simply wrote, “Craig!” Unknown to me, my wife had already contacted them.
I started my learning process. One that will likely consume the rest of my life. I was dependent on others for my care. From a feeding tube to a trach and everything in between. The care I received at Denver Health was the best. Support messages from all over the state of Montana poured in. A GOFUNDME was started as well as fundraisers back home. I had been a teacher for 25 years and cards and messages from students and parents from many years ago came in from all over. The countdown to Craig began. My personal and family’s journey was just beginning.