helicopter that had arrived so precociously had left shortly after
had been unable to return due to the heavy blanket of fog that had
valley during the wee hours of the morning. An
ambulance was standing by, however, ready to
whisk Gregg to the
hospital in Somerset, where he would be airlifted to Louisville.
I helped load Gregg into the
ambulance, more out of a need for personal symbolism, a totem of
than for any lack of stronger arms that could carry him.
I confess my hubris: I
am very proud to say I was among the first
group of hands that lifted Gregg from the floor of the Big Room, as
among the final group of hands that scooted him into the ambulance
later; seven hours that were so much more than a concatenation of
endeavors, so much more than seven hours of selfless toil.
I was not the same person who had
gotten an urgent phone message a mere twelve hours ago.
All that I had learned in that single,
awe-inspiring night is still revealing itself to me, months later—even
as I sit
here at my computer. Close my eyes, and
I am there again. It is a good
feeling. A feeling of something real in
a lifetime of dreams and uncertain progress. A
chance to have done something that actually
mattered. It is a profound comfort in
doubt. I thank all of the wonderful
people who were my fellow rescuers that evening for reassuring me of
decency of humanity. How can one ever
repay such largesse?
As the ambulance drove away, a
lightness of spirit infected all of those it left behind.
The rescue was a resounding success; a model
of speedy accomplishment. Less than 14
hours had passed from
of the accident to the punctuating closing of
the ambulance door, Gregg safely inside. It
was a day’s work we can all be proud of. Naturally,
all of us were deeply
concerned for Gregg’s immediate and future welfare, but for now, our
part was over. The cheerful volunteers
that offered us
sandwiches and soft drinks appeared like angels of mercy.
I slugged down three Mountain Dews in a row,
relishing their syrupy zing as never before. A
lot of back clapping, hand shaking and bear hugs
were exchanged as we
slowly dispersed into the mounting day. Suddenly
it occurred to me that I still had an MVG
conduct. It seemed so surreal and
downright silly, I could not help but chuckle.
Justin Gibbs, who had arrived too
late to be part of the actual rescue, was jesting with us as we chatted
side of the Crockett’s driveway. It
should be noted the Justin, too, made a substantial contribution to the
for he single-handedly hauled out the ropes, depleted oxygen tanks and
left behind in the Big Room, relieving us exhausted folk from the chose
post-rescue cleanup. Justin also
returned the blankets and overlooked equipment to the Tateville
Department; a most appreciated act of goodwill that helped put all us
a better light. To the uninitiated,
cavers are a rather misunderstood and under-appreciated lot, and any
public relations on our behalf is a step in the right direction. Thanks, Justin.
Since this fateful evening, I have
seen Gregg Harrington regrettably only once, visiting him in Louisville a day
after surgery that removed his
dysfunctional gallbladder. He was
genuinely pleasant company, despite his inability to speak beyond a
whisper, due to the tracheotomy that had been performed to assist his
breathing. After over a month and a half
at University of Louisville Hospital,