Chapter 8

Mother and cub on the beach (Courtesy: Larry Rodman)

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From behind the broken fence, Chase drew on her emergency response training and urged the group to assess everything they could see. “Where’s the bear?” she yelled as they all stared into the darkness.

Gross handed his flare gun and binoculars to Frankel so she could cover him. “I’ve got to get out there,” he said. Isenberg went with him.

As the beams of their flashlights swept the ground, they saw pieces of Dyer‘s tent. His clothes. His sleeping bag.

About 75 feet from the campsite they found the lawyer’s crumpled, blood-drenched body. At first, they thought Dyer was dead. But when Isenberg knelt beside him, he saw that Dyer was breathing.

They tried to lift him, but he was too heavy. They called for help. Castañeda-Mendez and Rodman, now dressed, ran out to them. The four men laced their arms under Dyer’s body and carried him back to camp. Dyer hung limply between them, a dead weight.

Castañeda-Mendez grabbed a sleeping pad from his tent, and they carefully laid Dyer down on it in the middle of the campsite. Castañeda-Mendez covered Dyer with the double sleeping bag he and Chase shared and placed a duffle bag under Dyer’s head for a pillow.

Gross and Castañeda-Mendez ran to the cook tent and pulled up its stakes. The teepee-style shape of the tent gave Isenberg enough room to work and protected Dyer from the wind. Although Chase had wilderness first-responder training  and certification, Isenberg was a physician, and she deferred to him.

All he had to work with was a basic medical kit with typical first-responder materials—four-by-four gauze pads, a roll of gauze strip, antibiotic ointment, splints.

“Can you move your hands?” Isenberg asked Dyer. “What about your feet?”

He could. Isenberg cut off Dyer’s shirt. It was wet with blood, and the doctor was afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep his patient warm. Dyer’s face was swollen and bruised, and his jaw was displaced. The good news was that he was talking.

“Thank you. Oh, thank you,” he said over and over, his voice a raspy whisper because of his crushed jaw.

Much of the blood appeared to be coming from his head and neck, but the wounds were hidden beneath his long ponytail. Isenberg hacked through the blood-soaked hair with a small pair of first aid scissors.

That done, Isenberg assessed Dyer’s wounds. Puncture wounds ringed his face and head, but they were oozing blood, rather than pumping it—a good sign. His arms and hands were covered in gashes. Isenberg could only assume that Dyer had been fighting back.

The biggest wound was  a gash on Dyer’s neck that looked as if it had been filleted open by the bear. As Isenberg examined the wound, he could see Dyer’s carotid artery, the principal blood supplier to the head and neck. The artery was intact, but if anything caused it to tear, there would be nothing he could do to keep Dyer from bleeding to death. 

Isenberg moved and spoke with confidence, but inside he was terrified. Not only was Dyer in critical condition; not only were they in an isolated area several hundred miles from any kind of help; but Isenberg hadn’t practiced medicine in 15 years.

The doctor fell into a routine—find a wound, clean it, bandage, move on. But he also realized that Dyer’s wounds might not all be external. The lawyer was struggling to breathe and regularly spitting up blood and mucus. If he stopped breathing, Isenberg would have to perform a tracheotomy, punching a hole in Dyer’s windpipe to open up the airway. But how?

Isenberg took a mental inventory of the supplies they had on hand. Cutting the hole open would be easy—he had a pocketknife that would work for that. But what would keep the hole open? A drinking straw wouldn’t work; its diameter is too small to allow enough air in. He cycled through other possibilities until he hit on something: the drinking tube in a Camelback. The tubes to the water pouches are sturdy, and definitely big enough.

The prospect of actually performing the procedure was terrifying, but at least he had a plan. He prayed that he wouldn’t have to use it.

Isenberg quickly used up the supplies in the medical kit. There was little more Isenberg could do there in the wilderness, without sophisticated medical equipment.

Isenberg held Dyer’s hand and prayed as his patient slipped in and out of sleep.

Outside the tent, Chase forced herself to stay calm as she worked her satellite phone, using the list of emergency numbers and protocols she’d been given by Parks Canada. Rodman helped her.

Chase’s biggest fear was that no one knew exactly where they were. With the whipping winds and cloud cover returning, getting a rescue plane in would be difficult.

Her first call was to the number at the top the list—the closest outpost of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the village of Nain. It was about 200 miles away as the crow flies, but separated by the Torngat Mountains.

At 3:45 a.m. Atlantic Daylight, Chase got a police dispatcher on the line. Her group had been attacked by a polar bear, she said. One member of their party needed to be evacuated, and the rest of them were in danger.

Their electric fence—which clearly hadn’t worked—was in tatters. The fence around the cooking area was still intact, but moving there seemed pointless, given that they no longer believed the few strands of wire could protect them. 

They needed more flare shells, she said. They’d started off with eight shells, but four bears and one attack later, only five shells remained. They still had bear bangers and spray. But after watching the bear drag Dyer out of camp like a ragdoll, they didn’t think they’d help much.

While Chase stayed on the phone, Frankel made slow circles around the perimeter of the camp, holding Gross’ flare gun, her eyes scanning the horizon. Castañeda-Mendez and Rodman took turns patrolling with the second flare gun. They also cooked food, heated water and collected what remained of Dyer’s gear.

Gross stationed himself just outside the cook tent, ready to get whatever Isenberg needed, and made rounds within the group, ensuring that everyone felt safe. Every 15 minutes, Chase called the police dispatcher to update their status and ask about the rescue plan.

Three thoughts cycled through everyone’s minds.

They needed to keep Dyer alive.

They needed a rescue plane as soon as possible.

They needed to be vigilant in case the bear came back.

Next: Chapter 9

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