Stag Party- Part One
On May 6, 2016 I was with my wife Ivey on New Zealand’s spectacular South Island hunting Red Stag. We were filming an episode of Outdoor America, a TV series I have hosted on Outdoor Channel since 1994. We were in the wilderness featured in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Ivey and our guide, Shane Johnston had walked out of sight over a couple ridges following the blood trail of a giant deer Ivey had put an arrow in but was yet to catch up with. The sun had set and it was getting pretty dark. I thought maybe they could use some help so I fired up the Polaris Ranger and took off to see if I could give them a hand.
It is amazing how quickly your life can take a sudden, dramatic turn without warning and with life changing consequences. This is one of those stories.
The Moment Of Impact
The uneasy feeling of losing my balance and the sudden realization that the whole damn thing was going over still haunts me. I still get that sickly smell in my nose I remember from surviving cancer when I was a teenager. I can vividly recall scrambling out of the vehicle to get away and then the sledge hammer-like crushing blow to the back of my leg that sent me spinning wildly in circles and swearing at the top of my lungs. “Oh F###!” I screamed! I shuddered! I spun again! My mind was crashing out of control in the sudden aftermath of a devastating injury.
The pain shot straight north through my leg and caused my mind to flash white. “You ain’t gonna walk this off”, I thought with tremendous sarcasm. Tears pooled in my eyes as a tidal wave of pain crashed through me ripping my nerve ending to shreds. I knew instinctively that things had just changed dramatically for the worse and possibly forever. I looked up to the see the Ranger on its side tilted downhill and our hunting and photography gear scattered over the hillside in the fading twilight. Our radio was somewhere in the debris but it was too far for me to go, even though it was just a few feet. My heart was pounding and my mind racing.
There was no chance I could walk, I wondered in the ‘Oh-my-God-what-the-hell-just-happened’ sort of way if there were bones sticking out of my leg or foot or both. I tried to tough my leg and foot but recoiled. I wondered if I tried to remove my heavy-duty Cabela’s Outfitter boot if the blood would pour out from compound fractures. I simply didn’t know and was not yet up to the task of finding out. My reality was quickly evolving and I came to terms on that New Zealand hillside that my situation was quite serious.
The pain was intense and instant and still building. I knew I’d done considerable damage to a foot that had been problematic all my life already because of a genetic birth defect.
For the first time in a very, very long time I felt helpless.
I grabbed above my right knee and strangled my leg in the hopes of slowing down the boiling-oil-kind-of-pain shooting through my whole body! It didn’t do much to mitigate the crashing waves of ever more intense pain except to distract me from focusing completely on the crushed limb.
Jake was in the rig when it went over and fortunately he wasn’t injured at all. In fact he had been filming with us that day for some outdoor television series I work with and in the tumble he didn’t even scratch his camera. “Find the radio”, I yelled “you gotta find the radio!” But the radio was somewhere in a pile of coolers and boots and assorted gear that all got dumped onto the ground when the Polaris tipped over.
“Help!” I screamed into the growing darkness while Jake dug through the debris scattered on the hillside. “I need help!” I was not feeling very well at that point. I am not sure if 30 seconds had passed or several minutes. I wasn’t very clear on time at that point anymore, I just knew I was in trouble, needed medical care and had no idea how extensive the damage really was.
It’s funny the things you think about in a place like that. The setting was beautiful, twilight on a hillside on New Zealand’s South Island. It is the kind of place where poets dream and lovers embrace. For me it had gone terribly wrong in just three or four seconds and I knew it was bad, really bad.
“I found the radio!” Jake blurted out after some period of time. I was still yelling for help thinking somebody could hear us. It had become apparent they could not but I kept hollering anyway. Maybe it was just a way to release all that bad energy and pain that was now coursing though me like a runaway locomotive. The best way to describe what I was feeling, as close as I could figure anyway, would be to put your foot into boiling oil and hold it there long after you could possibly stand it. Then pull it out for a few seconds and plunge it back into the boiling oil again for far longer than you could possibly stand it. And repeat.
Jake started yelling into the radio with an urgent panicky sound; “I need help, Steve’s hurt bad, we had an accident.” Nothing. “Hello? I need help Steve’s hurt the Ranger rolled over, he needs a hospital right now!” Nothing.
The next few minutes swim in my memory. I honestly couldn’t tell you now if it took 15 seconds or 15 minutes. I was yelling again. “Help!” “Help! I Need Help!” I didn’t hear anyone respond on the radio to Jake’s pleas. I couldn’t seem to focus on anything except on the throbbing and exploding pain in my leg and foot. I was imagining the bones in my lower leg sticking out. I was thinking bones were sticking out of my foot as well.
Where the hell was everybody?