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Focus on staying alive

by: SUBMITTED - Zuber climbing in the Dolomites in ItalyJoan Zuber, who endured 18 hours with her right hand trapped under the hood of her pickup truck, said at times the experience was like being stranded on a life raft in the middle of the ocean when a search plane flies over but doesn’t see you.

Last week doctors had to amputate her hand, but she is home now and recovering well.

An avid outdoorswoman, Zuber, 68, lives on a farm high on a ridge off Sawtell Road, some 15 miles from Molalla, where she and her daughter keep three horses and some chickens, but mostly the farm is timber land, 2,200 feet above sea level. Her nearest neighbors live a mile away, and in that remote area, there is no cell phone service.

So when the hood of her pickup truck slammed down on her hand that Wednesday afternoon, she relied on her survival training she’d had as a member of the Mazamas mountaineering club to stay calm and stay alive.

Her throat was scratchy following three surgeries, but she was cheerful and easygoing while talking about her ordeal.

“What happened is I came home that afternoon and needed to feed the horses and the chickens,” Zuber said. “It wasn’t that cold, so I was wearing a long-sleeved cotton shirt and fleece vest, but then on my way out, I pulled on a barn jacket with a hood.”

Before feeding the animals, though, Zuber had another chore she wanted to get out of the way.

“I had a battery charger on our 1995 Ford F250 pickup, and hadn’t been driving it,” she said. “So I wanted to take the battery charger out and put the truck’s hood down.”

The problem was that on one side of the hood, a spring on the hinge was hung up. Zuber was trying to release it when the hood slammed down on her right hand.

“I was on the passenger side by the wheel well when happened, so I could not move,” she said. “Fortunately, I was warm, and I worked on figuring out a way to get someone’s attention, because my daughter had left the day before to visit friends in Florida. I was alone. So I thought someone, one of the neighbors, might be coming home who would hear me shouting across the canyon.”

She called for help, but nobody heard.

“This time of year, from 5 o’clock on, everyone stays inside the house,” she said. “So I focused on trying to stay calm. I thought if I heard a car, I’d call out.”

Zuber had a wrench and tried to pry the hood up, and hopefully free her hand.

“But the hood was extremely heavy, and I couldn’t get my hand out,” she said.

by: SUBMITTED - Zuber recovering from surgeryLuckily, the weather wasn’t that bad, she said. Once in a while there was a light rain, but since she was dressed for the weather, she didn’t get too wet.

During the night, she walked in place at a fast pace to keep her heart rate up. Towards morning when snow fell, she licked the snow off the hood of the pickup to quench her thirst. She knew she’d probably lose her hand, but she focused on staying alive.

“The pain was not really bad,” she said. “After standing there a while, I couldn’t really feel my hand at all. There was nerve damage, and the circulation got cut off, so my hand got pretty numb — it wasn’t’ like I was standing there all night in a lot of pain.”

While getting through a chilly night walking fast in place to keep her blood flowing, Zuber said she thought a lot about how to get help, come morning. She knew her nearest neighbors would be leaving early for work, and she planned to shout for help with the hope they’d hear her. She got no sleep, but somehow the night went by surprisingly fast.

“Then all the sudden it was daylight,” she said. “By that time, I’d been pinned more than 12 hours. I tried to call out to the neighbors living across from me, about a mile away,” she said. “Their dog was barking, so I knew it probably heard me. The neighbors were outside, leaving their house, but they couldn’t hear me because their dog kept barking.”

A few hours later, around 9 a.m., Zuber heard someone respond to her shouts for help.

“I called back to them, and they replied,” she said. They came up the county road. I could hear them, but then they left. That was like floating in a life raft, and a plane flies over and doesn’t see you.”

Finally, a couple of hours later, her calls for help were finally answered.

“I got a reply from my neighbors Mary and Clarence Nunn, who were out horseback riding,” she said. “They heard my calls, but couldn’t tell who or where I was. Mary said if they hadn’t been able to find anyone, though, they would have gone back to their house and called search and rescue.”

It took some time, but the Nunns kept searching for whoever was in trouble, and finally they found her.

“I told one of them to walk into my house, turn left and call 911,” the ever-practical Zuber said. “I had an elastic band used for physical therapy in the house, and I told them to bring it out because I didn’t know what was doing with my hand—I thought I might need to wrap it.”

Clarence Nunn lifted the pickup hood to free her hand, and Zuber said she went into the house, took off her boots and put on some slip-on shoes.

“My rescuers were pretty wound up when they saved me,” she said. “But they focused on getting me help. We got in the truck and went to the top of the hill and met the ambulance, and then they took me to Lifeflight and flew me to Emanuel. I don’t think I could have lasted another day out there without help.”

by: SUBMITTED - Former Molalla Buckeroo Royal, Zuber, in red jacket, poses withother royals.Through it all, Zuber never thought about her experience as being all that out of the ordinary.

“When I got in the ambulance, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” she said. “I just made it through the night and tried to make contact with somebody, and then they found me.”

Portland has two trauma centers, Emanuel and OHSU. The paramedics gave her a choice of which one to use.

“So I went to Emanuel because I figured Emanuel would be easier for people to visit, since it’s right off the freeway,” she said.

A trauma team of specialists made decisions as a team on how to save her hand. In the end, she went through three surgeries.

In the first, doctors took two veins from her arm to perform a vein graft into her hand.

“But it didn’t work,” she said. “Anything longer than five or six hours is too late. But they did everything they could to save my hand. Even when I was pinned, I thought if I have a choice between my hand and my life I choose my life.”

Now she’s looking forward to full recovery and learning how to be left-handed.

“I do hike and ski and ride horses, I do mountaineering and rock climbing, and I think I’ll be able to continue all these things,” she said. “I’m doing pretty well. The nitty gritty will be at the point where I learn how to drive one-handed, put in contacts one-handed and tie shoes. I’m not a patient person, but I’ll have to be. I’ll even have to do my writing left-handed.”



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