Interview With My Mom

If you’ve been reading a while, you remember the interviews with my mom from last summer.  They’re seasonal, like my contact with her.  Anyways, if you missed them before, click here to get to them.

So tell me about the time when we were out on trapline and dad broke his back?

He didn’t break his back.

He did too!

He ruptured a disk, that’s not breaking a back.

You were almost a year old. We went out, snow hadn’t fallen yet, it hadn’t frozen. We were working on building an addition to the cabin, and your dad’s back was bothering him a lot. It had been bothering him for years but it was really bothering him a lot. He insisted that it felt better when he was carrying these heavy green house logs, which made me very suspicious that something really serious was going on. A plane landed, it was the pilot that had dropped us off saying that he was going on to Fairbanks to have his floats removed and it would be a month or so until he’d be able to land again because he’d have his ski’s on and he just wanted to check and see if we were okay since he was flying over.

I tried to talk your dad into going with him to get this back checked out. Neither of them thought this was a good idea, to leave me alone with a one year old. That night your dad got up to put wood in the stove and his disk ruptured right then and there, he was in raging agony. We were up all night. By daylight, his leg had atrophied dramatically so that it looked like he had had polio.

He didn’t eat or sleep or do anything for five days, just pain management. He kept saying he was going to kill himself, he couldn’t stand it. These were pretty desperate straights, we were more than thirty miles from the nearest village with absolutely no trail cut and pretty swampy ground. It would have been extremely low odds that I would have been able to walk out and hit that village of thirty people. We had no way of communicating with anyone.

While you were napping I went out and cut trees and wrote “HELP” in three tree high letters on the lake.

It was frozen over, then?

Yeah, well, it wasn’t immediately. I was trapping with you on my back and then when I would get home I would stand outside and steel myself for the possibility that your dad had followed through on his suicide threats and I would find him splattered all over the cabin.

The situation continued for thirty days with him pretty much unable to function due to pain. Me, highly stressed with trying to keep everything going, get at least some fur so that we had some money, not knowing what was wrong with him and worrying about finding him dead when I returned.

Planes would fly over between the big village and Fairbanks, but they were several air miles away. Twice a day I would run out and try to signal them with mirrors, which I knew was futile because of the distance but I couldn’t resist. Finally one day a plane flew over real close. I ran out the door down to the lake and threw myself in the snow trying every antic that I could think of to get them to land. It worked. When the pilot stepped out he said that he’d just been checking out the lake. He’d just picked people up and was full but he was planning to bring our frozen food out to us the next day and was checking to see if he would be able to land. I explained to him that your father needed to get to town right away, that it was an emergency medical situation here. So they unloaded the whole plane, laid him on the floor, put the seats in upside down over top of him so he had that triangular space, loaded everything back in the plane on top of the seats, piled the people in and took off, saying that the pilot would be back for me the next day. That night the weather turned, started snowing, had a blizzard, and they couldn’t get a plane out for over a week.

Meantime, trapline chatter message that your dad had been medivac’d to Fairbanks and they were going to do surgery.

Then what?

When I finally got to town, flew into Fairbanks, he was… he was afraid of needles. When they operated on him, he told the doctor, the doctor promised him that he was to get pain meds orally, but the doctor forgot and ordered shots. He declined the shots because he was afraid of shots. One of his famous lines was, “if you won’t bring me a pill, just bring me a gun.”

He told me that his roomate, when he was back in from the after the surgery and was kind of still out of it, you know, still under sedation. Two orderlies came in and started loading him on a gurney, and the roomate said, “where are you taking him?” and the orderlies said, “to surgery.” His roomate said, “he just came back from surgery.” They looked at their orders again and found that they were on the wrong floor. As they left the room the roomate claims to have asked what the potential surgery was, and the response was that they were going to remove his left testicle.

It turned out that the entire disk matter had come out in one blob and lodged in the crotch of the sciatic nerve.

After a stay in the hospital he still couldn’t walk. He insisted however on going right back out to the village where he laid, insisting that if he could not walk to a friends house then he couldn’t walk, with me insisting that he could get up and walk to the kitchen and build up his strength.

He would send me down to the liquor store which was a three mile walk with you on my back, to get him whiskey to help with the pain. Several of his alcoholic friends would be hanging out at the liquor store, see me buying whiskey, jump on their snow machines, and go to visit your dad, leaving me to walk the three miles back carrying a year old kid and the bottle of whiskey which they would then help him consume. Yeah they were jerks.

He didn’t walk for three months. So eventually we went back to Fairbanks. His surgeon said there was nothing wrong with him but that he would operate again if we wanted. No one would offer physical therapy and he kept threatening to commit suicide. Finally we found a doctor that would provide physical therapy, which turned out to be a great dissapointment because what it amounted to was we had to take a taxi to his office, and your father crawled on his hands and knees into the building and it was fifty below outside, and then they would put heating pads on his back.

We finally located a chiropractor who was new in town and would come to where we were staying to treat him. None of these treatments had the desired result. Finally we decided that we needed to seek help outside of Alaska, and returned to the East Coast City that I was from, where a friend of my fathers that was an orthopedic surgeon/physical therapist had agreed to treat him. He treated him with trigger point therapy which at the time was a relatively new therapy and was sucessful. While still in a great deal of pain, your father was then walking and we returned to Alaska.


  1. I am doing this same process with my mom, plus she’s been scribing her memories on her computer. She’s got almost 400 pages of thoughts and she’s hardly even scratched the surface. I live a life of books yet my mom is an encyclopedia … great stuff, Tara. God bless your Mom, and you! 🙂 ~ Irish

  2. Your mom is really amazing. We are actually getting ready for a move to alaska. Its a very slow process but we plan to leave by Jan 2010 to travel through Slab City and the National Forests of Cali and Oregon till early summer then head to alaska. I cant wait to hear more about your mom and her adventures in alaska. And your amazing too!!

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