A Cajas Misadventure

When kids are little everyone breaks something. You see Tommy come into first grade with an arm cast. Everyone thinks it’s so cool because now we all get to write our names on it like our little narcissistic selves would love to do. Now, Tommy is chillin not having to do all his homework because, c’mon, his arm is broken. We all thought whoever broke anything was living the dream and just soooo cool. While I was an adventurous little one, always climbing up on the tallest part of the playground, I still never got to be the “cool kid.” In my entire life I had never broken a bone… until now. 

January 11th: 10:30AM

Angela, Maya, Elaine, Bella, Buddy, and I all meet up on the bus to hike the beautiful Cajas National Park. With all our gear, me being one of the only ones with real hiking boots, we get off the bus and start our adventure. While hiking, we avoid the slippery patches on the ground as the drizzle coats our raincoats and creates blurry sections on my GoPro video. All of us walk in complete awe of what is around us. It is truly spectacular, and for the northern fellows, so unlike the scenery we are used to in the Imbabura Province. After walking for about an hour, and of course taking pictures along the way, we come across this interesting looking cave. Angela, Buddy, and I cannot resist going inside because, how often do we see a cave in real life? Finally, getting down to the rest of the group, Buddy still getting out of the cave, Angela proudly announces she actually got a picture of Buddy who this whole time protested having any. Us all moving in to see the picture, we praise her for her camera work, and the next thing I know we are walking again. Always having to look where you are walking here I am careful with my steps and yet, in this moment, while I feel my body going forward, I feel that my right foot is not. My foot is stuck behind a rock. This all within seconds, my ankle snaps in a weird direction and then I’m on the floor crying. 

11:30 AM

Now, it’s panic mode. Elaine holds me from behind so I can lean back as Buddy takes off my shoe and then my sock while pain pulses through my foot to my ankle, even up to my shin. Angela, having sprained her ankle earlier in the program, has an ankle wrap that Buddy puts on me. Without fully being aware of everything going on besides that I'm really in pain, I see Angela and Bella start going back the way we came to go call an ambulance and get help. There is no service where we are, not that it would have mattered anyway. Buddy announces we need to get out of here and because I can’t walk, he is going to carry me. Buddy and I hand off our stuff to Maya and Elaine who are behind us as Buddy somehow gets me on his shoulders and starts walking. 

The hike is hard enough to do without someone on your back at that altitude and I cannot even imagine how hard it is with me there. We have to keep telling Buddy to stop walking because though he is tired, he just wants to get me out. At one point, I am in piggyback position and we are on a really slippery rock and we fall. My foot slams into the rock below making me wince in pain; we know there is still so much longer to go. We try to walk me through the narrow and slipperier parts now with Buddy and Elaine being my human crutches. When Buddy can carry me again he does and once we finally get out of the hardest part, we see three huge German guys. They ask us if we need help and one of them sees we clearly do. He tells his friends he has done this hike before and they can go ahead, he is going to help carry me back. To this, his friends say that if I need help they are going to help too. Soon after I am on one of their backs going through what they call the “German Evacuation” as they take turns piggybacking me. With the three of them we are going the fastest we have been and really moving through Cajas. 

Finally, close to the house we started at with only the huge, endless stairs leading up to it, the Ecuadorian park patrol comes with Angela and Bella. They let the Germans go which I still do not think was the best decision, as they spray my ankle with something that makes it cold and only relieves my pain for a minute. Then, they try carrying me, one holding one arm and one leg and the other with the other arm and other leg. With this being both extremely uncomfortable and ineffective, I have Buddy make them stop. He explains to them if they are going to do this they need to piggyback ride me. With this new plan, the Ecuadorians and Buddy finally get me to the house and out of the park. 

Reaching the top step I am looking around for the ambulance and see nothing. They tell me that because Cajas is an hour and a half away from Cuenca, the ambulance is still on its way. Trying to be positive, they put me down on the bed inside and Bella gives us all some gummy worms. Now we are just waiting for what feels like forever and I’m having everyone take pictures and videos of me, including the rangers, I think because I may be the funniest person to get their ankle “sprained”. I finally was put on a stretcher and as I was carried out of the room I felt it was appropriate to sing the Batman theme song. I don’t know. You had to be there. 


Once in the ambulance, pretty sure they are going to drop me carrying me in, I get strapped in. Still in pain and now having yet another thing wrapped on my foot, even more people tell me I just have a sprain and need to wait. Now, for the hour and a half ambulance ride where these may be the only men in Ecuador who drive slowly, never even putting on the siren. At one point during the ride I am in so much pain I tell them they need to help me somehow. One of the EMTs comes to the back and says he can give me a shot if I want. Thinking it is only a sprain, he gives me a little bit of medicine which I never feel kick in. With the pain increasing and my ankle only getting more swollen, the EMT offers to cut off the wrapping we have on. I oblige and still, there is no relief. Angela and Buddy are telling me stories to try and keep my attention off the pain. Buddy, being a very good sport, agrees to hold my toes during the ride since for some reason that is the only thing that helps with the pain. Time keeps passing and we pull up a map that shows we are only four minutes away from the hospital. Four minutes seems doable, just four more minutes, or it would have been four minutes if we did not severely respect every traffic law. 

Pulling up to the hospital and being carted down to the ER they took off my sock and then cut off my pants which I wasn’t jazzed about. Those were my good hiking pants after all. While being carted in I see that David is here and it’s nice to know that I have a GCY member helping me. He deals with the doctors and they talk outside the curtain while I am just trying to control the pain. 

It felt like a lot of waiting around while I’m being stabbed with an IV before they tell me I need to go get X-rays. Everything goes silent while I’m left alone for the machines to do their thing. My foot is yanked in every which way to get the perfect picture and finally the surgeon walks back in. He tells me I fractured my ankle in what looks like two places and I will need to get surgery but he wants a CT scan to see if there are any other breaks that the X-ray didn’t pick up. After that scan is done, he comes back in and says there is actually another break that could not be seen before because it was “floating.” Nice. I’m then carted back to the ER and am told I broke the most important bones in my ankle. So three broken bones in total here, not two broken bones, and definitely not a sprain. 


Lying in bed wincing in pain, the surgeon comes back in. He asks me if I can wait another hour to which I ask if I even have a choice. He says no, I’ll be fine and they will take me in to prep me at 4:50PM. Something about special screws he needs for my ankle and sterilizing them. Great, more time to chill in pain. 


Now crying, I ask why I have not been taken in yet. I am told that they need more time and I’ll be taken in at 5:10PM for a 5:30PM surgery. I ask why they can’t do anything for me and he says my ankle is so broken that if they did snap it back in, it would pop right out and hurt even more.  


Still, not being taken in and having the mental struggle of being told I would be taken and the surgery feeling farther and farther way, I ask to please have anesthesia or something to not feel it anymore. I do not want to be awake for the rest of this. Then, it is brought to my attention that they intend to do the surgery with only my legs numb. Me being awake and able to hear the drilling into my ankle for two hours. After already being in pain for hours there is noooo way that, that is happening. I protest, and tell the anesthesiologist that is not what I want. I just want to sleep.


Finally, I hear doctors coming in and telling me it’s time. Now having nothing on my body except the gown, a blanket, and the IV, they start taking me upstairs. Going in different elevators and winding hallways I finally end up in the surgical room where there are many more people than I imagined. Everyone scrambling around having a job to do. The anesthesiologist is above me and is wiping away my tears telling me in Spanish that I will be asleep soon. Another woman starts speaking English, she tells me they will fix me now and it will be okay. My arms are strapped to the table, the mask goes on my face, and I’m out. 


I wake up in a room with one guy typing on a computer telling me to go back to sleep. I can’t sleep because of the pain but I am relieved it is less pain after waking up. I am finally rolled out of the room and down a hall to where I see my friends and David waiting for me. In that moment I want to cry, just filled with so much love that they would all be there for me when I woke up. 

They go outside for a few minutes as I explain to my parents what just happened before they all enter bringing me flowers and a card. We talk until it is time for them to leave and they have been texting me every day since. 

Sadly, this marks the end of my time in Ecuador… for now. I have been so blessed to have had this experience and lucky that this happened so late in the program. I will never forget what happened here, especially because I journaled it all. I appreciate all of the support I have gotten throughout these past months as well as all the love I am getting from this incident. We just have to keep looking up and look at all the positives from the wonderful and wild time I have had in Ecuador. I know more than I thought I ever would about Ecuadorian people, education, society, culture, government, and now even the medical system. I have met incredible people and had some amazing and difficult times. For all of it, I am grateful. Thank you to all of you and thank you Ecuador.   

But to think, from all that, I don’t even get a cast. I do get a pretty great story though of resilience, friendship, inner strength, and help from strangers. Plus, at least it was a cool way and place to break my ankle. Beat that Tommy.