“Is your name Kenneth?” I asked, kneeling beside a stupefied-looking man sprawled across the trail. I was careful to keep a certain distance; we’d been told that the injured man we were looking for had warrants out for his arrest.
“Buh!” he sputtered, spraying me with beads of alcohol-saturated saliva.
“Which knee hurts?” I persisted. “I’m with the rescue group, we’re going to get you down from here.” Struggling to form a coherent syllable, the man said, “Buhh..Brian!”
“You’re not Kenneth?” I asked. He shook his head.
Tim Schlough, one of the team paramedics, came up beside me, breathing heavily. “I don’t think this is our guy,” I told him.
“There were two drunk men up here, according to the dispatch call,” Tim said. “This is probably the injured guy’s buddy.” He began to remove bottles of booze from Brian’s pocket, speaking to him as if he were a small child.
“Do you know where your friend is?” he asked loudly. Brian shook his head.
“When did you last see him?” I asked. Brian shrugged, and a tear rolled down his cheek.
“I’re OK,” he slurred, “I jus’ can’t get down from here.”
Jen, another paramedic, arrived with Joel from the Sheriff’s office and we debated the issue of what to do with Brian.
“I don’t have any problem with just leaving him here,” Joel said. “He’s not the one we’ve been called in for.”
“Yeah, but if he falls and hurts himself we could end up evacuating a second one,” I pointed out. Joel and Jen nodded.
“Do you guys mind walking him down, while Anna and I look for the other one?” Tim asked. “I owe you a beer,” he added to Jen.
Tim and I continued up the trail, winding steeply toward the top of Mount Royal, and were soon out of breath again. I kept thinking I heard shouting from somewhere to the south of me but dismissed it as nothing.
Finally, Tim said, “Do you hear something over there?” We stopped to listen for a moment but didn’t hear the noise again. Continuing on, we met a couple hiking down from the summit.
“Hi,” I said, stopping to catch my breath. “Have you folks seen anyone sitting on the trail that might be injured?” The hikers nodded. “Sure have,” the man said. “He’s below you.”
“Well, we found that one, the one in the middle of the trail down there. But there’s a second one we can’t find.”
“He’s below you too,” said the woman. “The one with an orange cast on his arm?”
I nodded. When the injured man had called 911, he’d told the dispatcher that he had two broken arms. Of course he’d also said, hysterically, that there were ants crawling all over him and he couldn’t get them off, so we weren’t entirely sure what to believe.
“He’s down at Masontown,” the man said. “Just sitting in the middle of the trail, with his cell phone.” Tim and I looked at each other, baffled. That had to be our guy. But how could we have missed him? Masontown was a collection of old mining ruins below us, and we had walked right through it on the main trail. At least it would explain why we kept hearing calls for help from below us. We thanked the hikers and headed back down the trail.
Twenty minutes later, we reached Kenneth, who was indeed sitting right in the middle of the trail at Masontown. Team two, Mike and Josh, had already reached him and were inserting an IV. Kenneth was clearly drunk, although not as incoherent as Brian.
“Have you been right here the whole time?” I asked him. Kenneth nodded.
“We’ve got two more teams on their way up to help evac,” Mike told us. “We’re splinting the leg, and we need oxygen.”
“How much energy have you got left?” Tim asked me. “The oxygen is on Jen’s pack.”
Jen was still above us with Joel, walking Brian out. I ran back up the trail, always happy to get a little more exercise. I found them on a switchback, resting, with Brian sitting once again in the middle of the trail, and Jen leaning against a tree looking exasperated.
“How’s it going?” I asked them.
“Great!” said Brian, enthusiastically. Jen and Joel rolled their eyes at me. I was glad to take the oxygen tank and disappear again.
When I got back down to team two other teams had begun to arrive, carrying a vacuum split, litter, hypo bag and the rickshaw, a three-wheeled cart that we used to evacuate patients. Kenneth was on his cell phone, oblivious to the four or five team members who were working to get him packaged up.
“Yeah, my brother paid that bill for me,” Kenneth told whoever was on the phone, as if he were sitting at home on the living room couch. “I can send you a copy of the check.” Several of us exchanged bemused glances.
Half an hour later, we were back at the trucks, loading Kenneth into the ambulance. Jen and Joel had arrived ahead of us with Brian, and he was already gone, also bound for the hospital.
“Let’s do a quick debrief,” Joe Ben said, as we packed up and put away equipment. We gathered around him. Joe Ben began to summarize the mission. When he reached the part of the story where team two found Kenneth in the middle of the trail, all became clear.
“When team one came up the trail, the patient saw Joel’s sheriff uniform and crawled off the trail to hide, for fear of being arrested. Then he crawled back onto the trail and team two found him.”
“So how drunk were they?” someone asked.
“The first guy blew a .340,” Joe Ben answered. “What was his name again?”
“Buh!” I said, helpfully. Everyone laughed.
“And the second guy, Kenneth, was taking some sort of hallucinogenic drug, in addition to alcohol.” More laughter. That would certainly explain the crawling ants.
“We’ll call this the dumbass rescue,” Joe Ben said, wrapping up. “Anyone want to go to Moosejaw for a burger?”
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