Chat room rescue
July 8, 2004
[Editor’s note: Soldier Meadows Ranch and Lodge is a family-owned cattle ranch in the Black Rock Desert located approximately three hours north of Reno, accessible by a 60-mile stretch of dirt road north of Gerlach, Nev.]
Sydnie Sorensen’s body broke down at the most inopportune time ” in the middle of the desert. She would have preferred it to be her motorcycle.
Sorensen, her husband Wayne Gilmore, and their friend and riding partner Tim Sharp left for Soldier Meadows for a weekend campout and motorcycle getaway on Friday night, June 11. After a full Saturday of riding her Yamaha XT 225, while Gilmore and Sharp buzzed around on their Suzuki DRZ400s, the outing was going as smoothly for Sorensen as any one of the group’s many previous excursions to the Black Rock Desert.
That was until a dangerous process began to transpire in Sorensen’s stomach that would cause her unbearable pain and lead to one of the most bizarre rescue stories ” perhaps the only one of its kind to date.
On the morning of Sunday, June 13, Sorensen, a 42-year-old Truckee resident and case manager nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno, woke up with a sharp pain in her stomach area.
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Thinking she may have been hit with a bout of food poisoning from her Saturday night dinner, Sorensen told the other campers that she was taking a walk.
“I was maybe about 50 yards from (our campsite), and I ended up just doubling over and rolling around on the ground for about three hours. It hurt so bad I couldn’t even get up,” Sorensen said as she reminisced on the porch of her Truckee home on the morning after the Fourth of July.
Even with her nursing background, Sorensen said she could not diagnose her condition. She had no idea at the time, but Sorensen was suffering from a small bowel obstruction. The small bowel begins at the end of the stomach and ends where the large intestine starts. Sorensen knows all about the condition now, which can be life threatening if blood flow to the blocked part of the bowel is cut off.
“What happens is you get an obstruction and everything below it starts to die. The pain I was feeling was that (below the obstruction), my small bowels were starting to necrose ” which means they’re not getting blood and food ” they’re dying. It’s the most intense pain you’ve ever had in your life. I couldn’t even catch my breath.”
As Sorensen lay in a ditch-like area about 100 feet from camp, she could hear her husband and Sharp waking up, making breakfast and carrying on with their regular morning routine. Sorensen’s dog found her and nudged and licked her face, but she could not get up and couldn’t yell for help.
Sorensen said her stomach pain was so violent a snake that slithered next to her wasn’t even enough to get her to move.
Back at camp, Gilmore became worried when he realized Sorensen hadn’t returned for a few hours. He started searching and to his dismay, Gilmore found Sorensen keeled over and carried her back to the campsite.
At this point, Gilmore understood this was not your average stomach ache and started packing up the truck, suggesting that he drive Sorensen to a hospital. Sorensen disagreed. Because of the remoteness of the area combined with the extreme pain she was feeling, Sorensen thought Care Flight would provide the most feasible transportation method.
There was only one problem. Soldier Meadows wasn’t the best place to reach out and touch someone.
The crew had cell phones and walkie-talkies, but the gadgets are rendered useless in the remoteness of the Black Rock Desert.
“This is out in the middle of nowhere. The phones don’t work out there. Nothing works out there,” Gilmore commented.
It was a busy weekend at the ranch, but asking other campers for help wasn’t an option because they too would have the same inept communication issue.
Their campsite was about five miles from the lodge where the friends had eaten dinner the night before. Figuring that was a good place to start, Sharp hopped on his motorcycle and sped away to find help. Sorensen used all her energy to climb in Gilmore’s truck, and Gilmore followed Sharp to the lodge. But the communication breakdown continued at the lodge.
“The people that run the ranch were on vacation. The only one there was Mario, a sheepherder from Peru (who) doesn’t speak English,” Gilmore smiled.
Although the lodge is not equipped with standard telephone lines, it does have a power generator and a satellite Internet connection, Gilmore said.
Mario, an employee at the ranch, led Sharp to a computer powered by the generator. Unfortunately, the computer wasn’t hooked up, so it took Sharp about five minutes to get it up and running, he said.
Once on the Internet, Sharp confronted another unforeseeable frustration ” he desperately tried to find an Internet emergency Web site, but one did not exist.
“You get the REMSA Web site and all the sheriff Web sites, but no one has immediate help,” said Sharp, who said he searched the Internet for about five minutes with no luck. “I was panicky. I had never had anyone tell me they were dying.”
As sort of a last ditch effort, Sharp logged onto http://www.thumpertalk.com, “the largest and most active online community of 4-stroke motorcycle enthusiasts on the planet,” reads the home page. Sharp, Gilmore and Sorensen are members of the Web site that allows motorcyclists the chance to chat about the latest hot topics of the industry.
But on this occasion Sharp wasn’t signing in to chit-chat.
He made his first emergency post on thumpertalk at 9:27 a.m. Meanwhile, Sorensen moaned in the back of the truck, which Gilmore had parked in the shade. At this point, even Mario was concerned for Sorensen’s life.
“Every once in a while, (Mario) would come and touch my head really softly and go, ‘Mamasita, es no bueno.’ He was a really good guy,” Sorensen said.
Sharp added, “Every time she’d quit moaning I’d go over there and say, ‘Hey, you still breathing.’ She’d say, ‘Yeah.'”
It was 9:47 a.m. when William French, of Castle Rock, Colo., responded to Sharp’s plea for Flight Care on Sorensen’s behalf.
French immediately contacted Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) officials and was able to direct a rescue chopper to Sorensen’s location; Sharp had a Global Positioning System and could relay the longitude and latitude of the lodge to French over the Internet.
Because of a delay that forced the helicopter to make a fuel stop in Fallon, according to Sharp, Care Flight was a bit late but arrived at the lodge before noon.
“When Care Flight got there, all I cared about was pain control,” Sorensen said. “I thought, ‘Give me a shot of morphine, and maybe I can handle it.'”
Sharp added, “The pilot just stood there and said, ‘What the hell are you guys doing out here?'”
Sorensen was flown 133 miles to St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno. Initially, both French and REMSA had to trust that Sorensen’s story was not a hoax, but Sorensen downplayed that notion.
“They charge $79 a mile. That’s a lot of money for a hoax.” Sorensen will be covered by her insurance, but for someone who didn’t have insurance, such a flight would cost around $15,000.
Sorensen went into surgery after 10 p.m. that night. She said her recovery time was estimated at six to eight weeks. Nearly a month after the incident, she said her energy level is still low. She is recovering at her Glenshire home.
To her surprise, Sorensen’s unique rescue story has brought a barrage of local and national media attention. The day following surgery, with Sorensen barely able to formulate a sentence, reporters asked her to speak to news cameras, but she declined.
The nature of her rescue has been labeled the “first rescue over the Internet,” Gilmore said, and it may provide the threesome’s first trip to New York City. Sorensen, Gilmore and Sharp could meet French in person on “Good Morning America,” ABC’s morning talk show hosted by Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, if French agrees to do the show.
“I even did an interview for an Arkansas paper the other day,” Sharp laughed.
Since her harrowing Sunday in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada, the hits keep coming on thumpertalk, too.
“Get well” posts have been continuous since Sharp’s original plea for help just before 9:30 a.m. on June 13. After it was confirmed that her surgery was successful, Sorensen and Gilmore said that people from all over the world have inquired about her condition on thumpertalk. She also had flowers delivered to her home.
Sorensen’s Flight Care pilot even posted a statement that thanked everyone involved. The CEO for thumpertalk also e-mailed Sorensen, who Gilmore had to set up an e-mail account for just because so many people wanted to reach out to her ” something that is easily accomplished these days if you’re not out in the middle of the desert.
“If this ever happens again, I’m telling them to just throw me off the side of the truck. I’m never going through this again. That was the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life. I’m a nurse, and I tend to have a higher pain tolerance than some people. A 10 for me is a 20 for others, and this was a 20.” – Sydnie Sorensen
“You’re pretty anonymous on the Internet. I could have been full of crap when I was asking for help. That was the dumbest title (“Help”) that I ever could have put for (Sydnie). People put posts for help and they want help on what kind of handlebars or tires to get.” – Tim Sharp