For a family in Colorado things changed forever, in just a few minutes.

The context is a family vacation in Colorado with my wife and daughters. We were on a level 4 white water rafting trip with a guide with water at about 800 cfs and there were many people taking these trips. Estimated water temp in the mid 50’s.

Our boat, carrying 5 had pulled over to the shore to rest for a minute when we saw an oar floating downstream (the water was calm where we were). This alerted our guide, and a few seconds later we saw a floating vest which alarmed the guide. We rowed over as fast as possible, my daughter in front grabbed the vest and lifted and up came a man’s head. The guide with our help heaved him into the boat and we began CPR. The boat was so soft we couldn’t get proper pressure so we rowed to shore. There were no responses of any kind from the man, and no pulse either the guide or I could feel.

Getting him on shore was unbelievably difficult, because we estimated him to be mid 50’s, obese with a weight of at least 260. I can’t stress this enough: a guy that size, from a boat to a higher shore, slipping in water with little to hold on too.

GUYS, PLEASE KEEP SOMETHING IN MIND: IF YOU ARE TOO BIG AND SOMETHING HAPPENS EVEN THE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO HELP YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TOO.

 

IF YOU ARE NOT IN SHAPE YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO DIE.

 

IF YOU ARE NOT IN SHAPE YOU CANNOT HELP PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP.

My wife hailed another boat and that guide was a well-experienced EMT; across the water on land someone called 911. We all traded compressions and breathing until EMS arrived maybe 10 -15 minutes later. They took over, and the AED indicated no shock.

Maybe 15 minutes later his family arrived, and truly I would rather not have been there for that, as hearing and seeing their panicked grief was truly terrible; I think everybody teared up at that point.

EMS worked on him at least another half hour and finally called it and covered him.

Our guide – maybe 28 – had never performed actual CPR, but I tried to reassure him that he did well, he worked his training, and we had full confidence in him completing the trip. Afterwards I spoke with him again and told him what Scuba told me several years ago when I came across a man in a parking lot whom I performed CPR on and later died; that it could stay with him a very long time, that he did his job and didn’t freeze – things like that so he doesn’t eat himself up wondering if he could have somehow saved the man.

My family did well, helping where they could in effective ways, and the unexpected action of my youngest daughter -18 surprised me; during a break she organized a family prayer for him and his family on the spot which she conducted herself.

The strange thing is that everybody in my normal, everyday family has had contact with CPR and I’m hoping as a dad I’ve done some things right, meaning afterwards they told me they were calm because I was calm, and the guide was decisive.

My son witnessed the CPR I did, and several months later when he saw someone collapse he performed CPR himself until a medic came.

My hope is that by having such experiences in our family, it has set up an expectation that ‘our family gets on with it, and helps where we can.’

The other take-away was slowness of recognition for us (but not the guide). Our initial thoughts were we thought someone dropped the oar, and maybe the lifejacket, but the guide upon seeing the jacket shouted ‘Paddle! Life jackets just don’t come off!” and he was right.

The kids aren’t traumatized by it, but they certainly are bothered to a degree and we have talked about it quite a bit. Turns out the man was 51 with a history of cardiac problems and they will be performing an autopsy next week.

He did have water in his lungs, so we know he took at least one breath. Cold shock? Cardiac arrest? He wasn’t wearing a wet suit.

But how fast things can go pear-shaped.

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