When I picked up the phone last Thursday morning to hear an unknown caller telling me my fiercely independent, 67-year-old mother had taken a bad fall and likely broken her leg, my first impulse was to call an ambulance and head out there.
Mom was out at one of the hot springs, several miles from a paved road, and I knew it would take some effort to get her safely back to Mammoth to the hospital.
But the caller, who told me her name was Jenna Aadland, said Mom didnâ€™t want an ambulance if at all possible. Jenna added that the other four adult members of her family already there would be happy to get my mother the one-quarter mile back to the car, then drive her the 12 miles to Mammoth, where I could meet them at the emergency room.
For whatever reason, the thought never passed my mind that this was not a good idea. My mother is an excellent judge of character, independent enough to head straight up a mountain alone with her dog, or drive her 4WD down a rocky road that would give most of us pause. While my heart ached for what I knew would be a hard time of enforced inactivity, when she told me not to come out because there were already so many people helping, I trusted her.
Besides, Jenna had a plan.
â€śWell, we just came from camping at Burning Man and we had a short ladder and lots of blankets and pillows and sheets and even some memory foam in the RV,â€ť she told me later as we waited in the emergency waiting room to see my mother. Jenna, her parents, fiancĂ© and brother carefully padded Momâ€™s broken leg in the exact position it was in when she fell, then piled the short ladder high with blankets and foam.
They then put Mom on the makeshift gurney and started back to the car on the boardwalk path that leads from Wild Willyâ€™s hot spring to the parking area, Momâ€™s husky dog Naia following anxiously along.
â€śIt was quite a sight,â€ť said Jennaâ€™s mom, Theresa. â€śHere we were, this big group of people, walking along the boardwalk with this huge pile of blankets and your Mom all piled on a ladder and this huge dog following along.â€ť
The group had to stop and take a breath every couple hundred yards, but eventually they got to the parking lot and managed to load Mom, still on the makeshift ladder stretcher, into her own car. Naia climbed in and wrapped herself around Momâ€™s head as they drove carefully to Mammoth; an 80-pound guardian angel.
With Jennaâ€™s dad Doug driving Jennaâ€™s truck behind Momâ€™s Toyota, the little entourage made it to Mammoth about 45 minutes after the fall.
When I met them at the parking lot of the hospital, I could tell they were the ones even before I got out of the car. Dressed in serapes and boots, the group stood out in the gray utilitarian parking lot, vibrant and beautiful.
We traded hugs and laughter and headed into the hospital to see Mom, who had been wheeled in a few minutes before I got there.
For the next hour, we waited and talked. I wasnâ€™t deeply worried, believing it was a simple break, and our family has faced much worse tragedy than that.
And I felt blessed. I have long known that it is sometimes as likely to strike up enduring friendships in five minutes as it would be in five years. I knew then that if these people were locals, we would become true friends. You just know when you have met kindred spirits and Jenna, her parents, her brother Daniel, and her fiance James Sepulveda were exactly that.
In the meantime, the rescue story unfolded.
â€śWe were just approaching the spring from the boardwalk when we saw your mother fall,â€ť Theresa said. â€śShe was crossing the little creek that feeds the hot spring when she slipped on some moss and we knew it was bad from the angle of her leg.â€ť
When they found that Mom truly didnâ€™t want to get an ambulance (she later said she had seen too many emergency vehicles driving around out near the springs trying to find the right spring and thought this would be faster if Jennaâ€™s family was willing â€“ they were), the group sprang into action, racing back to the RV to get the ladder and blankets while the others stabilized Momâ€™s leg with their towels.
By the time I got to the hospital, it was 10 a.m., only an hour after I got the first call, an admirable response time for even an ambulance, given the distance and dirt roads involved.
When we were finally cleared to see Mom, once again, it was hugs all around again as she greeted them from her hospital bed.
Later that day, when we got the bad news that the break was much worse than we had anticipated, with a expected recovery time of one year, Jenna called me from the road, as the group got ready to head back to Southern California to check in.
â€śMom says sheâ€™s going to your wedding next September,â€ť I told her.
And she will. Almost exactly one year after the fall, she will be at that wedding. Walking.