The River

On Friday, August 5th 2005, my life changed forever.

At the time, and for many years afterwards, I was pretty upset about this day. Why did it happen to me? Things were going so well in my life, I really didn’t need this. With 20/20 hindsight, and lots of healing, I understand that it had to happen so I could begin my journey that lead me to who I am today. Yes, it was extreme and rather unkind for all involved, but I needed to get hit over the head to wake me up.

* * *

I was having the best summer ever. My twin girls were 3 1/2 and so much fun. Everyday was pure joy to be with them. My husband and I were doing great and our furniture manufacturing business was humming. In less than 10 minutes, this bliss ended.

I was at Edworthy Park with my girls, my mom-in-law, my sister-in-law and her two boys. We were all playing by the edge of the Bow River when a woman caught my eye.

Wearing a life jacket, she was calmly floating in the current next to her big black inner tube. She was about 15 feet past the Edworthy Park pedestrian bridge and not showing any distress.

My attention was broken for a few moments by some dogs running past. When I looked back out to the river, there she was, calming floating by… BLINK! I knew something was wrong. Despite zero physical evidence of harm, I grabbed my mother-in-law’s cell phone and called 911. Speaking to the operator I said, “I don’t know what, but something’s happened on the Bow and you need to get help down here now.”

To his credit, he stayed with me.

Edworthy Park pedestrain bridge.

Pedestrian bridge at Edworthy Park, Calgary.

I shifted my focus upstream to the pedestrian bridge, and there in one of the piling’s decorative openings was another woman. She had just crawled up there, and was yelling at the people on the bridge above her.

The 911 operator and I were able to piece together what happened as other people started phoning in from their different locations: A group of four adults went for a float on the Bow River on that hot August day. A mom and her husband, her adult daughter (the calmly floating inner tube woman) and her friend (the woman in the bridge piling). They had tied two rafts together with rope. When they got close to the bridge, the current drew them towards the piling. Unable to paddle away, they collided with the bridge.

The daughter lost her inner tube and floated past. The friend stayed on the raft and from there climbed up to the piling opening. The mom was caught between the rafts and the bridge piling. The rope that tied the rafts together was across her body and holding her below the surface.

Some people tried to swim out to the bridge, but were carried away by the current. Then two young men blasted off the shore and swam almost perpendicular to the current to reach the trapped woman. One man lost his shorts he swam so hard.Pedestrians on the bridge above tied together several shoe strings, and dangled down a pocket knife. One of the swimmers cut the rope, and the trapped woman floated away. By the way that young man immediately slumped and laid perfectly still, I knew it was too late. The other swimmer stayed with the body and brought her to shore on the bank opposite me.

This entire time I was giving a detailed blow-by-blow account of everything that happened to the 911 operator. I was actively involved in every single detail, unable to divert my attention from the scene. All five senses actively engaged. The rest of the world, my kids, my family members, the other people on the shore, all disappeared.

Then it was over. The fire department arrived, and the 911 operator said goodbye.

I had no idea that the combination of witnessing the death of a woman, and being actively engaged in her last moments of life, would result in post-traumatic stress disorder that would haunt me for the next six years.

* * *

Next, I explore what it felt like to have PTSD, and how it affected various areas of my life in Part II, The Movie.

I have purposely not named the mom who died that day to offer the family their privacy. To the man who cut the rope (and anyone else involved that day), if you need help, please contact me.

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Posted in My Journey, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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