It is 9:00 p.m. on a sultry August night. I sit, loosely belted into my no-extra-leg-room seat on a surprisingly crowded Frontier Airlines flight to Seattle. The thunderous rumble of the 737 signals impending lift off. Never one to like flying, I sit back in my seat, exhorting my heart to retake its position at the center-left of my chest cavity as I silently intone, "God, please let the plane arrive safely." But it is not enough to cease my heart's pounding. It has just had a major shock and will not feel ready to resume its normal cadence for another day or two while it awaits the outcome of a life-changing event.
Three hours ago I had entered my home, ready to relax after a tiring day at work. The school year had just begun and I was beat. As I scanned through the day's mail, the phone rang. Normally I would let it ring, allowing the telemarketer to record the usual message that implores me to act fast. This time, I decide to answer on the second ring, thinking it might be my daughter Jenna or my husband Johan. The two of them were halfway through their father-daughter hiking trip, a high-school graduation gift for Jenna. I figured they were calling to wish me a late happy birthday. They'd probably been unable to phone yesterday, given the dead spaces that infuse much of Glacier National Park.
I answer, "Hello, Otter residence."
" This is Kalispell Emergency Room in Montana. I have Jenna with me, and she'd like to speak to you."
Nonplussed, I answer, "…Ok…"
"Mom, Dadandigotattackedbyagrizzlybearwhenwewerehiking! "
I pause. I am sure I heard the words "attack" and "grizzly."
"What?" I ask. "What do you mean?"
Jenna's voice, slightly calmer now, answers, "Dad and I were attacked on the trail by a mother grizzly while we were hiking. "
How am I to reply to this type of news? I hear her words, but they do not sink in. I blurt out a typical motherly response, as if she has merely scraped her knee or bumped her head.
"Are you all right? Is dad ok?"
"I am cut up and bruised but all right. Dad is being taken to another hospital, but he is doing o.k. " At this point, I hear the nurse in the background. "The nurse is going to talk to you now."
A calming adult voice speaks, "Mrs. Otter, this is Shirley Smith. I am a nurse here in the emergency room at Kalispell Hospital in Montana. We tried to call you earlier, but no one was home and we didn't want to leave a message for something like this. First of all, your family is safe and they are going to be all right. They were mauled by a mother grizzly bear while they were hiking. Jenna is going to be ok. Her wounds have been treated. She is going to need a short surgery to fix a tear in her shoulder."
Meeting silence at the other end of the phone, she continues, "Johan had it worse but he is going to be all right. His injuries require a transfer to Harborview General in Seattle. We are preparing him for helicopter transport right now. The doctors in Seattle have the facilities necessary to treat his injuries. I emphasize he is alert and stabile, and he is going to be ok. He wanted us to let Jenna talk to you first so you wouldn't be so worried"
She ended the conversation with an assurance that Jenna and Johan were in world-class medical hands. The doctor in charge at the emergency room was an expert in treating bear attack victims and he would be calling me after Jenna's shoulder surgery. Johan was going to the best trauma center for his type of injuries.
By the time I hang up, fifteen-year-old Stephanie, our younger daughter, has wandered in from the other room. She doesn't hear the whole conversation, but she senses something is off. Quizzically, she looks at me.
"Steph, first of all, I don't want to panic you. Jenna and dad are going to be ok, but they were attackedbyagrizzleybearwhentheywerehiking"
"What do you mean?" Her wrinkled brows and her eyes that begin to tear up show Steph's disbelief and fear. I look and realize her friend Kate is here too.
"I just talked to Jenna from the emergency room in Montana. .She and dad were hiking and got attacked by a grizzly bear on a trail in Glacier. I don't know very much else. They are flying dad to Seattle to treat his injuries. Jenna is staying in Kalispell to get treated there. I've got to go to dad. Kate, I am going to call your mom and see if she can help me get to the airport tonight so I can get to Seattle as soon as possible."
I ask Steff," Are you ok to stay with Kate and Laura? I don't want you to miss school so early in the year, and I don't think you can do much of anything up there anyway."
I don't really hear Steph's reply, but it must have been affirmative. While the girls go upstairs to rummage through my clothing drawers and closets in an attempt to pack an overnight bag for me, I dial Laura's, Kate's mother's, number.
"Laura, it's Marilyn. Johan and Jenna were attackedbyagrizzlybearwhilehiking."
"What! Oh my god; oh my god! What do you need me to do for you?"
"I need a ride to the airport. They are flying Johan to Seattle to treat his injuries and I have to get there tonight!"