During our vacation, we went to visit Luray Caverns. Jon and I had memories of visiting as kids and we thought that it would be fun to take Cooper. He's at a great age for "amazing discoveries" and he was in awe of the visit- almost like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Really, we all felt that way. It's truly incredible to see these stalactite and stalagmite formations and to realize how they were created over millions of years. The visit was perfect.
Because our visit to Luray went so well, and Cooper was so into the whole cavern deal, we decided to tour another cavern on the following day. Our friend Jess (owner of the cabin) had mentioned a lesser known (therefore, less crowded) nearby cavern. I checked their website and it seemed ok, though not as "professionally done" as the Luray site. They boasted having an elevator to go down into the cavern and I figured- what can go wrong.?
We drove up and were greeted by gnomes and a giant Cootie. Jon glanced at me as we continued toward the main building. A single tour bus was in the parking lot. Another sideways glance from Jon. We get out of the car, and there is an announcement- in 2 languages- saying that the bus will be leaving in 15 minutes and to please complete your purchases and return to the bus. The next stop would be the City of Baltimore. At this point, a flurry of passengers fly out of the front doors of the cavern. Yet another glance from Jon- this time with a raised eyebrow. We continue our journey and Jon makes a stop in the restroom. I'm doing lots of self talk at this point and Cooper pulls on my arm- about 6 people were gathered around a cat, feeding it cheetos and taking pictures like there is no tomorrow. Deep breathing begins- and more self talk. I cannot leave this place- we are going to tour the caverns.
We are called to report to the elevator for our tour- Jon, Cooper, myself, the tour guide and an elderly couple walk into the elevator to begin the tour. These caverns may have an elevator, but the paths seem to be a little more rugged than Luray. Our tour guide is a little less polished than our guide at Luray, the lighting is more harsh than Luray- almost garish in some places and the formations seem a bit more primitive. No matter- Cooper is happily skipping along the path, looking at stalactites and loving it. I relax a bit- but I can't make eye contact with Jon for fear of laughing hysterically. How do I get myself into these situations?
This cavern was discovered by 2 little boys- and Cooper is fantasizing about making a similar discovery of his own. Our guide receives a call on her cell phone (she said that she got coverage to a certain point in the cave- but not the whole way) and there is a woman who will be joining our tour. We wait for her, and it takes a while for her to arrive. During this time, we talk to each other, and to the guide- we don't talk to the couple. They are quiet and haven't asked any questions- I don't recall even hearing them talk to one another. The woman joins us, and we discover that she speaks very little English. We continue our tour, with this strange little group of misfits.
We walk to a large "room" that has a ton of amazing formations- things that look like bacon, and the capital building with snow all over it.
We are surrounded by beauty and wonder, and so we stare and take in all there is to see. And then, from the corner of my eye, I see the woman turn to her husband and I know instantly that something is wrong. I tap Jon and he starts to move towards the woman because it's clear that she is in trouble. And then, she collapses and as she falls to the ground, hits her head on a stalagmite
Have you ever had a moment where it seems that time almost freezes, because something so terrible is happening right in front of your eyes? It's only for an instant and then everything begins to move again at light speed.
We all run to her and I get there first, Jon holds the man because he's crying hysterically and our guide is running down the path yelling that she'll get help. She is unconscious, and I'm panicked and thinking the worst. She's completely white and limp. I've got her basically in my arms and am talking to the man to tell him the we're going to help her and she's going to be ok. Jon was ready to begin cpr but realized that she was breathing- which made all of us breathe a sigh of relief- she's still unconscious. Our guide comes back and tells us that help is on the way.
A few key points that help illustrate the situation-
1) the temperature in a cavern is a constant 54 degrees
2) water is dripping from random places in the "ceiling"- they call them cave kisses.
3) this is the 2nd time in less then 2 months that Cooper has witnessed someone passing out cold right in front of him
4) neither Jon, nor I have any medical training
5) it is against the rules (and maybe the law) to touch stalactites or stalagmites.
6) the woman who joined our tour late has no idea that we are not "with" the couple.
7) there isn't anywhere to sit in a cavern- except the floor.
The woman is Vivian and she is 87 years old. She and her husband Odell were in the area to celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary. Vivian is a cancer survivor (multiple times) and Odell was in the Air Force and served our country in WWII. He was a B-26 Marauder Man and was a POW in Africa for 3 years. He is an American Hero. They are an incredible couple- with so much history together and so much love for each other.
Vivian came to and was frightened, understandably. She was also in pain and unable to move. She had a wound on her head from the stalagmite and was resting in my arms with her head in Jon's sweatshirt and was covered by the jackets of her husband and our guide. We were all together in a cavern for more than an hour until the rescue squad arrived and then afterwards for what seemed like another hour. The manager and assistant manager came down in the cavern to wait with us- when they arrived, they asked me for the details because they too thought that we were all together. They were shocked when we said that we didn't know them at all.
And that's when it hit me.
We were supposed to be here, gnomes and all. It was the plan and God was with all of us the entire time.
I am thankful that Jess told me about the cavern
I am thankful that we didn't turn the car around and leave without touring the cavern.
I am thankful that Jon and I had a moment when we knew, at the same instant, that something wasn't right and there was no hesitation on either of our parts
I am thankful that our son, although scared, was able to see how important it is to help one another- even strangers
I am thankful that the personnel at the caverns were quick to act during an emergency
I am thankful for the Rescue Squad- all volunteers- who climbed down into a cavern and carried an elderly woman gingerly out through the winding paths and stalactites. She was treated with dignity and kindness throughout the whole ordeal
I am thankful that Jon was able to comfort a man who was in agony with worry about his wife
I am thankful for the strength to remain calm and in control through the accident
I am thankful that the place that Vivian fell was seemingly on the roundest stalagmite in the cavern- and that her injuries, although serious, were not worse.
Once the rescue squad arrived, and ensured that Vivian was stable, they carried her, on a backboard back to the elevator- almost a mile away. We passed another tour- about 30 people were lined up single file in the cavern to give the rescue squad room to pass. We followed, I walked with my arm on Odell to steady him. I can only imagine what those people were thinking. When we got back to the lobby, Odell drank an apple juice to make sure his blood sugar was ok- I was worried sick that he'd pass out too. Before she lost consciousness, Vivian had turned to tell Odell that she had vertigo and wanted to sit down. We didn't want the same to happen to him.
Odell went to the hospital in the ambulance with Vivian. The cavern manager drove Odell's car to the hospital and the assistant manager drove his car to pick up the manager. Jon, Cooper and I thanked everyone for their kindness and they offered to buy our lunch.
We declined- and headed out, thankful that the day had a happy ending.
It almost seems like it didn't happen....it makes me wonder about the chain of events. It makes me sad that we didn't talk to them from the start, why didn't we? Jon says that he had a bad feeling from the start, which was why he was keeping an eye on them and knew what was happening. But still, what is wrong with me that I didn't say hi from the start? It makes me happy that we had a chance to make a difference in their lives. It makes me proud that Cooper saw that his parents are kind and caring and that he knows that there is goodness all around him even if he can't see it.
It makes me hope that someday, I'll be celebrating 66 years of marriage with a man that I love dearly- just as Vivian loves Odell.