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By SOFIEA CLERICO
Bill Bennett lay on the side of the mountain, unable to move, hoping on hope that someone would find him and send medical help. It must have been a terrifying experience. I wept as I read his story, because I know it all too well. I lived it.
To regain strength one day at a time, to struggle through therapy, to live with a visible handicap, to learn a new vocation -- our friend Bill deserved the chance to try no matter how difficult. Life is precious, but not ideal for any of us.
In describing columnist Lois Henry's reporting on the attempted mountain rescue as "crap," Sheriff Donny Youngblood was perpetuating the joke from Roman times where you punished the person who told the truth, not the person who did the deed.
Rather than, as Henry put it, "the less said the better," I strongly believe we need an independent review board and immediate changes in our emergency system. One life lost is one too many.
Many of us in Kern County have needed or will need emergency help. I, too, have been in desperate need of emergency care. In my case, things turned out differently.
On my way to work on a foggy, wet January morning in 1972, my new BMW began to skid. Again and again, I tried to grab the wildly spinning steering wheel, but couldn't. It was broken. Years later, we concluded I'd hit something in the road.
Then, the door swung open and I was thrown out. Later, I learned the door handle was just the right height for my knee to open. Seat belts were new and mine would not fasten, even though I'd complained numerous times.
I landed in a ditch on Lerdo Highway. My struggle to get up got me nowhere. I could only move my arms.
"I've knocked the wind out of my sails, but I'll be OK in a few minutes," I repeated to myself. I knew nothing about a broken back.
While I wasn't afraid, my concern was growing. Looking around I saw the road was much higher than I was and likely, no one could see me. By this time, I'd forgotten the car and I'd lost my sense of time.
The sound of my boss's car door pulled me back to consciousness. We all called him "McGeorge" but his full name and title was U.S. Army Maj. Kenneth McGeorge (Ret.). He had seen enough during World War II to realize instantly I'd broken my back. He knew what to do.
"Can you move your legs?" I shook my head no. He moved well to the right of me to pull my dress down (much later, I learned my left leg had a long, jagged wound and was bleeding profusely), then took his field radio out and called someone.
The pain was beginning and I was getting sleepy. McGeorge told me the ambulance would be there in 45 minutes.
At this point, my story takes a much different path than Bennett's.
The ambulance arrived on time. As the emergency crew swung into action, I felt deeply comforted. Someone said it would take about 45 minutes to make it to KMC. They asked lots of questions and talked constantly to people at the hospital. The emergency room was ready when I arrived. My left leg injury was treated, then it was on to Memorial Hospital.
All this time, I was mostly out of consciousness, but I came to briefly when I heard my nurse screaming on the verge of hysteria -- this woman needs surgery now! She has a broken back and is dying!
Through the fog of painkiller, I assimilated the fact that I'd broken my back, but I somehow had the strength to reject the notion that I was dying.
The surgery lasted many hours as the surgeon picked splinters from my spine. In intensive care a few days later, I asked the nurse why I couldn't open my eyes. He explained I'd hit my head so hard the concussion had caused my head to swell. Soon my eyes opened. It was my first tiny step toward a recovery. After nine months in the hospital, I came home to my kids.
My story is old, Bennett's is recent, but our stories are the same. We both wanted to live.
Sofiea Bussell Clerico of Bakersfield, retired from various careers, has written extensively about her four brothers' contributions during World War II.