I never saw the girl with the broken arm, but I did speak to her father.
I knew something unusual was happening when one of the workers from the main parking lot approached the mercantile. It was the middle of a busy Friday, and I didn’t think she’d have walked over without a good reason.
I just happened to be outside talking to Javier the camp host when Cindy the parking lot attendant walked up. She told us a girl had broken her arm on the trail. Cindy had walked over to the store with the girl’s father.
Do you want me to call 911? I asked. Cindy said yes, and the man nodded. His eyes looked blank, and he seemed exceptionally calm.
I burst into the Mercantile and asked the other clerk for the phone. A girl broke her arm on the trail! I explained. The other clerk handed over the phone, and I punched in 9-1-1.
I saw the father had followed in into the Mercantile. I’m going to coach you so you can tell them how to get here, I told the dad. He continued to look blank, as if there were nothing going on behind his eyes.
Calling 911 (or AAA, for that matter) from the Mercantile was an ordeal. Since the campground didn’t have an actual street address, the dispatcher always had great difficulty finding our location. An address associated with our phone number did pop up on the dispatcher’s computer screen, but that address was fudged and existed in a tiny community fifteen miles from our phone’s actual location. Invariably, the dispatcher asked for the nearest cross street, which was a few miles away. After four years on the mountain, I knew what to say to get the help visitors needed, but most tourists barely knew where they were, much less how to convey that information to someone in an office in a city in the valley.
In the long seconds between the rings of the phone, I asked the dad where he was from.
France, he said with a thick accent.
My plan of coaching him went out the window. A language barrier on top of our remote location would have simply been too complicated. I decided to speak to the dispatcher myself.
The language barrier also explained the dad’s blank expression. He wasn’t necessarily drugged up or tuned out; maybe he only understood a small fraction of the words being spoken around him.
The 911 operator answered the phone and asked about my emergency. I explained a girl had broken her arm and the father was French, so I was helping by making the call. Then I said we were in a remote location, thus beginning the ordeal of explaining where to send the first responders.
Once the dispatcher finally pinpointed our location, she had some questions about the situation.
She asked how old the girl was. I relayed the question to the father.
Ten, he replied after a moment’s thought.
I gave the information to the dispatcher, then she asked how the injury occurred.
Again I conveyed the question to the father, and this time had had to think for a longer while.
She fell from a horizontal tree, he finally said.
I repeated his words to the dispatcher, who seemed satisfied with the answer. She then said she was going to connect me with the ambulance company so I could explain our location to their dispatcher. Oh joy.
Moments after I’d walked into the Mercantile and asked for the phone, moments after the father of the girl with the broken arm had followed me in, a tall, imposing woman with a French accent had also come into the store. I found out later from Cindy that this woman had been translating for Cindy and the family of the girl with the broken arm. I didn’t get a good look at the woman, but I clearly heard her tell the father (in English!) that she was giving him a tablet to give to her daughter. It was a pain reliever, she said. You must trust me! she said. I didn’t mention the tablet to the 911 dispatcher because I didn’t know what the drug was or if the girl had actually ingested it. (Later, after he father had left and then returned, I asked him is the girl had taken the tablet. He said she had, then told me it was ibuprofen.)
Despite specific instructions not to move the girl that I had relayed from the ambulance dispatcher to the father, when the father returned to the Mercantile, he told the other clerk that now the entire family was waiting in the shade near the entrance to the campground.
An EMT from a nearby fire department (and by nearby, I mean 25 miles and 45 minutes away) arrived before the ambulance and accessed the situation. He cancelled the ambulance after telling the parents the girl would probably be more comfortable if they drove her to the nearest hospital instead of continuing to wait for the ambulance. (The parents were also likely saving themselves a pile of money by not giving their daughter a ride down the mountain in an ambulance.)
I never found out if the girl’s arm was actually broken or if she’d only sprained her wrist. In any case, the lesson to be taken from this tale by all adult caregivers, regardless of their nationality? Don’t let children for whom you are responsible play on horizontal trees.