Last week I took some vacation time after a busy summer. I left Eric Petersen, the new Huts Field Supervisor alone at the helm of the Huts Dept. He had a stormy week.
On Tuesday evening Benny Taylor, the Greenleaf Hutmaster, called him at 11pm to report that Luke Ingram, her Assistant Hutmaster, was having a seizure. Luke had no history of seizures, or any other medical problems. After the seizure stopped he was groggy, and could not remember anything after dinner that night. His crew stayed awake with him through the night while Eric talked with doctors at the ER in North Conway, and NH Fish and Game Officers. In the early morning Luke had another seizure. The original plan was to carry Luke out. But at 6’2” and 190 pounds Luke is one of the largest crewmen in the huts, and would have been a very slow carry. After the second seizure Fish and Game officers called the NH National Guard to request an airlift by a Blackhawk helicopter.
However, a fog bank blanketed the west side of the Lafayette Ridge during the early morning. Members of the AMC Trail Crew, the Lonesome Lake crew, volunteers from the Pemi Valley Search and Rescue Team, and NH Fish and Game officers all ran up the Old Bridle Path to stand by in case Luke needed to be carried down.
However, around 9am the fog lifted just enough for the Blackhawk to hover near the hut. One soldier was lowered on a cable, and Luke was lifted up into the helicopter. The Blackhawk pilots and flight crews have flown hundreds of combat missions in Iraq. As Lt. Todd Bogardus of NH F&G told me “Those guys are good. They have flown in such tough situations that as long as no one is shooting at them they’re happy to fly anywhere.”
The Blackhawk flew Luke down to the Cannon ski area parking lot, where an ambulance waited to take him to the hospital in Littleton. After two days of every test available in modern medicine, and a consultation with a neurologist, Luke was given a clean bill of health. The doctors said that dehydration and a sodium imbalance could have caused the seizures.
The following Wednesday Eric had to rush to the Lonesome Lake Trail to help with another rescue. Dave Weston was cooking at Lonesome Lake that day. He had a few day hikers in the hut during lunch. He sold bowls of soup to a group of hikers who had ridden the tram to the top of Cannon and who were now hiking down. Half an hour later Dave got a report over the radio that one of them had suffered a heart attack less than a mile down the trail. Dave arrived within minutes and helped the man’s hiking partners with CPR. Eric ran up the trail along with a Lincoln Police officer carrying an AED. Unfortunately Arvindkumar Pancholi had suffered a massive heart attack and nothing could be done. Luke Ingram came over from Greenleaf to help carry Mr. Pancholi’s body down the trail with the same NH Fish and Game officers who had helped him a week earlier.
Medical emergencies are the most stressful situations the hut crews can be placed in. Broken ankles, head injuries, and other traumas are more obviously treated. All the hut crews have a minimum of Wilderness First Aid training, and many have Wilderness First Responder or WEMT certification. However, they are not doctors. The huts can feel very remote during a medical crisis when the ER is hours away by trail. The crews can only do their best, and then hope for the best.