Dec. 24, 1990, began the worst Christmas and the best Christmas ever.
Having moved to the Four Corners the previous month, we spent the holidays in Rico. As my older daughter and I headed out that day, I tossed an axe into the vehicle. We were sworn to return with a Christmas tree.
Leaving the slopes that afternoon, we headed into Telluride. Finding no trees nothing save needles where trees had sold we motored over Lizard Head Pass as darkness fell. Spotting something near-suitable, I whacked a tree and struggled back to the highway through waist-deep snow.
The phone rang while I was stringing lights. The caller spoke urgently: Fraser, I need you here now.
Grabbing my emergency kit, I drove the 1.5 miles to the home of our dearest friends (since 1969) in the West. I found the callers husband, a mining engineer and former superintendent of the Rico Argentine Mine, sprawled lifeless on the bathroom floor, no pulse, no respiration. Dragging him by the heels into the living room, his son and I began CPR.
The interval from the phone call to commencing CPR likely consumed the precious four-minute window for initiating CPR.
After CPR, advanced life support, or ALS, should be available in less than 10 minutes. Our nearest ALS was in Cortez, 50 miles distant on snow-packed mountain roads.
The Rico ambulance arrived minutes after me with oxygen and a backboard. After inserting an epinephrine IV and with fresh hands to perform CPR, I updated the family still no pulse or respiration, worse than bad. We would keep trying.
Out we went to the rig CPR impossible between the 7-foot snow bank and parked cars. South of Priest Gulch, we met the Cortez unit (nurse and paramedic, ALS equipped) and transferred the patient.
With two Rico volunteers maintaining CPR, I intubated (placed an airway) while the nurse got IV access and set up the monitor/defibrillator. In ventricular fibrillation, we shocked him six or seven times and trashed the drug box before restoring a regular rhythm and very weak pulse.
Rolling into Southwest Memorial Hospital with our patient, again, pulseless, we were met by half the physicians in Cortez. Our patient, a friend to many, was a recently elected county commissioner. In the ER, pulse and weak blood pressure returned; then he was off to ICU.
I bought a 12-pack of stress reliever for me and the crew. Christmas Day was teary-eyed as a vigil began in ICU, but two days later, he opened his eyes. Two more days, he yanked the tube; in another two weeks, he entered a lengthy rehab in Farmington, beginning with grade-school readers and arithmetic.
But, oh no, the docs said, hed never go back to Ricos almost 9,000 feet. Not only did he beat the million-to-one odds on Christmas Eve, he shoveled snow in Rico the next winter.
Recovering 95 percent of his intellect and all of his spirit and humor, he lived for 10 more years, dying on his 80th birthday. He just wasnt ready 10 years earlier.
Ours was a team effort, and, for me, the most incredible experience in 40-plus years of medicine.
www.alanfraserhouston.com. Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.