little things one
scarcely thinks about when one has the use of one's limbs became
considerations. We had to be very
careful not to drop grit, shed from our coveralls and helmets, into
eyes, for he had no way of wiping it away. Numerous
times along our journey it was necessary to
stop and ever so
deftly brush away sand that had fallen onto his face.
It was the intimacy of such requirements, the
trust and reassurance exchanged during these moments, that raised all
consciousness beyond anything one can learn in a mock rescue. This was no dress rehearsal.
This was life and death, and the smallest
gestures took on unimagined importance.
wasn't until we were headed up
the breakdown hill leaving the deepest are of the Big Room that we had
and most decisive crisis. Looking back,
it was the scariest moment of the rescue for all of us who were
ascent from where Gregg had
fallen was quite steep; it was very difficult to keep the Ferno
horizontal. We quickly learned, however,
that keeping the Ferno horizontal was absolutely requisite. As we were struggling to ascend the jumble of
breakdown, we allowed the Ferno to slope somewhat, though we did so
this evidently put pressure on Gregg's damaged spine.
Gregg tried to call out, but was interrupted
by what appeared to be an epileptic seizure. Alarm
was written all over his heretofore passive
face. In a chilling moment, Gregg
violently and gasped, apparently experiencing difficulty breathing. Throughout the seizure—perhaps the longest
ten seconds of my life—he could not communicate to us what was wrong. He arched against the Ferno, choking and
looking very startled. Then, with a
peace not of this world, Gregg stopped moving utterly; his eyelids hung
eyes that had
his filmy, insensate stare, we were all frozen by what we feared the
worst. And then he came back to us.
Checking him as thoroughly as was
possible, Mike Summers saw to it that Gregg was again ready for
before we proceeded. If we had let
ourselves slip at all, the seizure had tightened all our belts a couple
notches. I don't think my heart ever
stopped pounding from the adrenaline rush Gregg's seizure had roused. We were all driven with a renewed urgency to
get the hell out of this cave. The Ferno
was kept as level as possible from that moment forward.
It was also determined early in our
return that the "spider" was more a liability than an asset at this
point in the rescue, its loops snagging on rock outcroppings and
dangerously underfoot. It was removed in
the pause following Gregg's seizure, and should have been left at the
where it was required.
Negotiating the automobile-sized
blocks of breakdown with a cargo of utmost delicacy required the
organization and stamina of a team of Himalayan sherpas.
We valiantly endeavored to meet the
challenge. If you can imagine a mode of
terrestrial locomotion, it was utilized somewhere along the concourse
Garbage Pit. In the stoopwalk phreatic
tube that circumnavigates the Second Lake Room, we were obliged to put
practice one of the more curious rescue manual techniques for litter
transport: a nifty little teamwork trick
"the turtle". In proper context,
such as a stoopwalk passage where hauling a litter is a strenuous,
backwrenching chore, it is an eminently practical arrangement.