As a little girl I used to love sitting around the table listening to my uncle Bob and my dad talk about their crazy misadventures, but this past weekend topped any story I’ve heard to date. Last week, my dad and uncle were hunting for elk in Sparwood, near Fernie BC. On the morning of September 13th dad got up early, but my uncle wasn’t feeling well and stayed back.
As dad was making his way through some tight alders, he heard a sound and initially thought it was an elk. Within seconds, a grizzly came out from the edge of the alders, and before dad had time to react, the grizzly swiped the area around his neck and knocked him to the ground. Dad curled into a ball and then she bit down on his shoulder and the top of his head. She then began to circle him and gave him time to take the safety off his gun. Dad stood up and she continued to circle for a few seconds and then took off. Dad had unknowingly come within fifteen feet of her food cache and her two cubs.
As dad began to walk out, he realized there was gurgling coming out of the hole in his neck, where her paw had caused a puncture wound. He actually said he could hear his voice coming out of the hole. He quickly plugged the hole with tissue and began his 4km journey out to the road, where three hunters picked him up. Not wanting to bleed in their truck, he sat on the tailgate as they drove him back to camp. His cap kept a lot of the blood from his head wound encapsulated, so nobody really knew the extent of his injuries until they took his cap off.
I can’t imagine what went through my uncle Bob’s head as dad banged on the door of his camper and said they had to go to the hospital because a grizzly had mauled him.
My dad and uncle arrived at Sparwood hospital, where dad was intubated and stitched/stapled up. Sparwood hospital arranged for air transport from Vancouver, but because of wind the plane couldn't land in Sparwood. So plans were made to have ambulance come from Cranbrook Regional Hosptial, pick dad up and take him to Cranbrook where he would then be flown to Kelowna General Hospital.
As soon as I got the news, I made my way to Kelowna. The first glimpse of my dad shortly after he arrived by air shocked me. He was intubated and looked so beaten up. He was the last person I ever would have imagined would get into such a jam, but the conservation officer said he did everything right, which is why he is still alive.
On the side table of dad’s bed, we saw a letter from the conservation officer, which we were to give him when he awoke. In the letter, the officer assured dad that the bear and her cubs had not been shot. The bear was only protecting her babies and her food, so they cordoned off the area to prevent other hunters from coming onto her turf. If the bear had been shot, my dad would have been grieved because she was only doing what she is supposed to do. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Too many times bears get a bad wrap, but when people enter into their world, they are taking a risk. My dad knew that going in.
While dad was intubated, he was trying to communicate through writing letters on our hands (he can't even be quiet when he's intubated). Finally the nurse brought in a piece of paper. On it he wrote, my glasses are on the top of the tent, the bear bit my head and shoulder, and she was a beautiful bear—a silvertip. We told him the bear had not been shot and a smile came to his face and he gave us the thumbs up.
Throughout the night, dad was obsessed with getting his breathing tube out. The oxygen clip was on his finger, so he kept intentionally knocking it off so the nurse would come in and he’d motion to her, quite assertively, that he wanted the tube out. She kept saying no, and would put the oxygen clip back on his finger. He did this about six times, and finally she attached the clip to his foot so he’d quit knocking it off. That’s just how persistent and stubborn he is. It’s that same persistence and stubbornness that has gotten him through his other, too many to count, predicaments. But the thing is, dad lives life richly and fully. At his age (sorry dad) he could be playing it safe, but he refuses to live that way. He is not careless at all and never has been. But he lives out of the box. He is not by any means the norm—he pushes the limits, he doesn’t listen well, and he is painfully cantankerous at times, but nobody will ever be able to say he was a bore!
The ICU staff laughed as my dad walked out of ICU after refusing to use a wheelchair. When the nurse asked dad if he needed a wheelchair, dad scrunched up his face and gave his famous look that says so much without saying anything at all—are you serious? Me need a wheelchair? I’d have to be dead first! So out he walked, looking like he’d been raised from the dead. He’s now at home in Kamloops, with rows of stapes in his head, countless stitches, and many battle wounds, but he’s on the mend. When we asked him if he was still planning on hunting he said, “I’d go out tomorrow if I could.” Even a grizzly attack doesn’t slow him down. If you see a guy running down Valleyview Drive, looking like a semi truck has hit him, it’s him refusing to obey orders, so send him back home. I’m so thankful he’s alive. If the bear had swiped his throat 1cm away from where she did, she would have severed his arteries. Doctors say, it’s a miracle and I’m so thankful for miracles!
Our family would like to thank the people who picked him up alongside the road in spite of him looking so scary. We would also like to thank the staff of Sparwood Hospital, Cranbrook Hospital and Kelowna Hospital for their kindness and committment to excellent care. In a crisis, this make all the difference. Compassion goes a long way!