Am I Still on the River?

by | Field Notes

In honor of Great Outdoors Month, our AmeriCorps Program Director Aaron Stanton shared this thrilling story of his rescue on the river.

“In 2018 I had the good fortune to raft and kayak the Grand Canyon.  The trip did not end the way I would have liked, but it still changed me. This story is from the very first few days after I was air-lifted out of the canyon with a broken ankle.  While I have many lasting emotions from that trip, this describes the intense impact the river and the canyon had on me.

Group of people watching Aaron get into the rescue helicopter in the Grand Canyon

During my return from the Grand Canyon and the subsequent re-immersion into the noise and bustle of civilization, I’ve struggled to pull my mind back along with my physical being.  The realities of work, society and certainly the ongoing medical processes related to my broken ankle only make the desire to escape to my memories more powerful.  I fall asleep each night recalling the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of being so ultimately present in that amazing environment.  I scan through the few pictures I have on my phone on a daily basis.  I watch YouTube videos of those places I’ve been and those rapids I’ve run.  My mind’s desire to be there is tenacious.

I remember laying on the operating table, four days after being snatched from the Canyon, watching the gowned and masked medical professionals preparing me for surgery.  I felt the now familiar pang of reliving my poor decision to jump into that opaque blue and, ultimately, shallow creek; the desperation of knowing I’d just lost my right to be in this place.  The surgery was not an issue.  I felt confident about the procedure, but perhaps not at ease.  I should be on the river with my friends right now.

There was a mystical point in this preparation where time ceased to exist and I was transported through some sort of wormhole.  The anesthesiologist was asking if I was ready.  The advances in medical technology are miraculous, for the instant I affirmed my readiness with a clear-headed nod, a thumbs up and verbal, ‘let’s do this,’

I was simultaneously emerging from a deep haze into a darkened, muffled environment.  Its features were a mystery to me.  A disembodied voice off to my left was asking, ‘Do you know where you are?’

Whatever happened during this time warp; whatever my body experienced; however long it actually took; none of that eased my mind’s grip on the Canyon.  Every time I recall my response to the question, “Do you know where you are,” I choke back a sob and wipe away the inevitable tears.  It’s heartbreaking.  I heard the labored croak of the slowly retreating anesthesia in my voice.   I recall answering with a great deal of uncertainty, but with equal hopefulness, ‘Am I still on the river?'”