Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I was having a great time running laps on the MD lines, hanging out with good friends in the crowd that had gathered at Horseshoe and just generally enjoying a beautiful September day. It was just four days before Gauley Fest. Laura had come up to get in some practice before her first Lower Gauley trip that was planned with the Jackson Crew that weekend (she'd just one the World Kayak "Am I ready for the Gauley" contest. We chatted a bit and she headed down O-Deck to head home. I was going to hang out for a bit more and was sitting in the eddy. I heard someone calling my name but with so many people had no idea who or why so initially ignored it. But then i saw Helene climbing back up from the bottom of O-Deck. Finally i understood what was going on, Laura had dislocated her shoulder.

I pealed out quickly and headed down. I found Laura laying over a rock with her arm extended out over it. Sean and a few other people were there trying to comfort / help her. Scott and a few others showed up shortly after. But unfortunately none of us knew anything about shoulder dislocations. I'd seen it happen to Mark twice but he'd always been able to reduce his own. I was rather annoyed with myself for not having learned anything to this point. The irony of the whole thing was that Laura, Scott, and I had all signed up for Jay Ditty's shoulder reduction class that he was holding at Gauley Fest just a few days later.

We were able to ferry Laura over to Fisherman's eddy but she was in too much pain to hike up to the parking lot. So Scott called 911 while Sean and a few others worked on comforting Laura and getting her out of the water. It was starting to get dark and it was cooling down so a few people brought blankets from their cars to wrap her in. Soon after we were being circled by a helicopter. When walked up to the parking lot to great the ambulance we were amazed at the scene. No less than 5 firetrucks and dozens of medical and emergency personnel. It was quite the incredible sight.

I so had wished that Jay's clinic had already taken place. I would really have liked to have been able to help Laura. I hope to never see this happen to anyone again but as a boater i know it is inevitable. In the future perhaps i can be more useful.

I will let Laura tell her experience:

After a fun evening “attempting” (generally, I would just flush off) to surf at horseshoe, I decided to call it a night and head down to the take out at Fisherman’s eddy. Just downstream from Horseshoe, is a fairly straightforward class III rapid called O-deck which mainly consists of a few ledge holes. I had done this rapid a couple of times in the previous week so felt pretty comfortable just heading down. I even joked with my friend Helene, who I consider a paddling mentor, that I would “lead her down”. Anyways, at the very bottom of the river left line, I hit the edge of a hole and flipped. At this point, I essentially wasn’t in the rapid anymore and thought to myself—“I can’t believe I just flipped at O-deck”. It was pretty shallow and tucked to avoid the rocks.

When I flipped, my paddle was more on my offside so I began to move it around onto my onside. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the best plan, and I felt my paddle blade get stuck on a rock and my boat started to come up.. “Well, I guess I am doing a bottom brace” I thought to myself. However, all of the sudden, my paddle wasn’t in my hand and I couldn’t control my arm; it was just dangling there in the water. “What the f#*k?,”. I thought. And then the pain hit me…

I swam out and was basically already in an eddy across from the take out. I yelled, “I dislocated my shoulder” as I crawled up to shore. I could already feel the muscles spasming and I held my arm protectively to my chest. While I sat on shore, Helene and a few other paddlers collected my gear and assessed the situation. Several paddlers who had either been running Great Falls or playing at Horseshoe stopped and offered their assistance.

The next hour or so it’s a bit of a blur. All I can say is that several paddlers, both strangers and friends, helped get me across the river to the takeout, called 911, carried my boat up to my car, covered me in blankets to keep me warm (as the sun had now set), and waiting with me for the paramedics. The pain was getting increasingly worse and by this time I could hardly move. Apparently, I kept asking those around me if I would get pain medications when the paramedics arrive- clearing I had a one track mind at that time.

I was only a couple hundred yards from my car (as the crow flies) but first you had to climb up a steep hill . I knew I couldn’t do it given the pain I was in but I assumed when paramedics arrived that they would give me a painkiller and sling and help me walk up, or carry me up the hill. Then I heard a helicopter over head and the approaching paramedic say “the boat should be up here shortly.” My pain was then complemented by humiliation and embarrassment. I was going to be one of those people that they always complain about on the message boards who were medi-vaced out unnecessarily. I tried to stand up to show I didn’t need the help but the pain was too much and I resigned myself to wait for the boat and ignored the humiliation I felt.

Within a few minutes boat came and I went on a very painful ride down to Sandy Landing, a boat launch about a ½ mile downriver. I felt a sense of relief as I saw the blinking lights of ambulance. Finally, I will get my pain medication and someone will put my shoulder back in, I thought to myself. At this point, I think I was almost delirious. Over an hour and half has passed since the dislocation. I was cold, shivering and the pain was unbearable. I didn’t even protest when they cut off my Astral Rescue PFD and my brand new hydroskin top. And I hardly noticed that it took four attempts to get an IV, leaving me with bloody spots all over my arm. I was just focusing on breathing and relaxing to ease the pain.

Finally, I saw the paramedic inject me with something and he told me that I would feel much better soon. But I didn’t! It felt just the same. I asked for some more morphine and the paramedic after the calling the hospital for permission obliged. But even after five injection, it wasn’t working. It turns out I am one of the lucky few that is not affected by morphine! The pain just kept getting worse.

We arrived at the hospital were I was greeted by frantic boyfriend who had been informed by my friends of my accident and had been waiting for me. As a veteran of shoulder dislocations himself, he was very sympathetic. After signing some papers and being admitted, the doctor finally came and reduced my shoulder. The pain, which has tortured me for the past 3 hours receded instantly. I thought to myself, “I wish I had done that to myself three hours ago.” After some x-rays, they gave me a sling and some pain medications and sent me home with instructions to keep it immobilized for three weeks.

I am now almost done with my immobilization period and anxious to start physical therapy. I am hoping that within 3 months, I will be back on the water (or in the pool as it will be January) and my normal active life will be resumed. While the medical literature says that it is highly likely that I dislocate my shoulder again, I am vowing to do my pt regularly to mitigate this risk.

Having been restricted from my regular hectic lifestyle, I have had a lot of time to reflect on this experience. Here is what I learned:

  1. The kayaking community is full of good Samaritans. I still can’t believe how many perfect strangers helped me. Actually, one of the strangers who helped me, a father and son, ended up being chosen to take place my place in the World Kayak contest! I think that is karma at work. Thank you to everyone who helped me and I am proud to be apart of such a community.

  1. Learn how to reduce a shoulder. This is a common injury in kayaking and if you paddle long enough, someone you know will dislocate a shoulder. I know that my situation inspired many of my friends to take a shoulder reduction course at Gauley Fest. I plan to take one soon as well.

  1. Don’t let your pride get in the way of safety. A few days after the dislocation, I ran into, Tom McEwan, paddling legend who I had received instruction from over past year. When I told him what had happened, he said, “What would you have done differently in hindsight?” I laughed and said that maybe I should have waited until I knew there were no rocks. He agreed, but said “What about just letting go of your paddle when you felt it catch?” I responded, “But Tom, I can’t hand roll my boat very well and I would have swam at O-deck which would have been embarrassing.” He just looked at me and said, “ But you swam anyway and at least you wouldn’t have hurt you shoulder….” A lesson I should remember for the future.


At Fisherman's Eddy

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