Little did the gentleman know he helped save my life when his Chevy pulled up in my driveway upon one text message: “Can you drive me to the hospital?” This implied a two-hour drive one-way, in the dark, across a steep and winding mountain pass; he did not hesitate. And that’s Wyoming.
The evening of Wednesday September 8th I fell gravely ill. The 26-day hospital stay, 10 days on a ventilator, and 30 days of lung collapse that followed only strengthened my love for Wyoming, our small community, and the values that define us. The remoteness, wildness, of Dubois attracted me here. 70 miles from any large grocery store, fast food chain, let alone hospital, where better to truly connect with nature and all the lessons it teaches?
Admitted into the ER with fever, body aches, and cough, the staff tested for COVID-19. Negative-consistent with the rapid test I had taken that morning. Each doctor and nurse that came into my room listened to my lungs. My pain and wheezing: increasing. I understood the seriousness of my condition when one nurse said, “Her lung hasn’t collapsed yet.” Staff struggled to both remain calm and attempt to calm me, aware that my x-ray showed a complete “white-out” of my right lung. All infection; no lung. My white blood cell count read 1,000x the normal. They explained I had pneumonia. As nurses monitored my oxygen levels, it was clear I could not breathe on my own, and in just hours, the condition worsened despite nebulizers and a BiPAP oxygen mask.
On September 15th I came back to consciousness, on a ventilator, to find my dear sister and father by my side. This was their first time in Wyoming. They explained I had been diagnosed with the Pneumonic Plague. Yes, the Black Death that decimated nearly one-third of Europe’s population in the 14th century.
As my condition improved with the proper antibiotics, my sister began to describe the prayers sent, the food they received, the fund created to help with medical bills, and the expertise and compassion of St. John’s Hospital staff. I cried. She explained, “This [response] would never happen in New Jersey…”
Despite the circumstances, she saw the best of our community and our values. WY are we different? Our personal experiences in Wilderness and with its wildlife, much more abundant here, connect us to our deepest humanity. Experiences in the outdoors cultivate a sense of dignity, compassion, and responsibility to all things: humans, animals, and lands; a togetherness you don’t find in cities.
As my treatment continued at the University of Washington Medical Center, doctors explained the graveness of my illness. I know how lucky I am to be alive. Though I explained to any willing listener that I had already seen Heaven, heck, I live there!
Friend, I am back and glad to write you this letter. This experience has deepened my confidence in the power of personal connections with wild spaces and wildlife. How honored I am to work towards this with you throughthe NationalBighorn SheepCenter’s educational programs and future classroom expansion.
I’d like to thank our phenomenal staff, Dubois community, and supporters across the nation who have helped in this trying journey. In my absence, the team launched our “Big 4” Virtual Raffle. Visit our website to enter and support our mission to provide education and outreach for the national conservation of wild sheep, wildlife, and wild lands.
Talk to you soon,