some of you already know I had a freak accident on lower Big Sandy
Creek on the afternoon of May 1. Brent Austin, Brent’s friend
Scott, Charlie Walbridge and I were enjoying a magnificent day on the
river, the level was a sweet 6.15 feet, the river was running green
and clear, the weather was warm and sunny, a perfect spring day on a
great river in northern West Virginia.We were all boating well and
enjoying the day until we got down to First Island rapid.
that is where the fun stopped at about 4:15 p.m. After navigating the
first and second part of the drop cleanly, I went over the bottom
drop on line and my kayak was pushed left toward the rock on the bottom left.
The rock was pillowed at this level and I thought I would ride off
the pillow and around the rock. Instead I was quickly and violently
flipped over the top of the rock and struck my chin hard, just left
of the center line of my jaw, on the down river side of the
rock. Instantly I knew something was very, very wrong.
I remained conscious throughout the entire episode although quite
dazed. After missing an attempted roll I exited my kayak and quickly got to
the shore. My buddies gathered my gear and we began to assess the
situation. I was sure at the time that I had knocked out some teeth
or at least cracked them up pretty good. As it turns out this was not
the case. The teeth were still solidly in the jawbone, but the bone
was displaced. The blow had cleaved my jaw cleanly in two and pushed
the left side of my jaw back into my mouth, tearing the tissue on the
inside of my mouth. To say the situation was bloody is an
understatement.Interestingly, however, there was no external
laceration. In addition to the clear break in the front of my jaw was
a less serious, non-displaced fracture on the left rear of my jaw.
has some rolls of gauze in his first aid kit that I stuffed in my
mouth to stem the bleeding. As we debated our options it became quite
clear to me that the quickest way to the hospital was to get back in
my kayak and paddle the remaining two miles or so to the confluence with
the Cheat and our vehicle. So we got was back in our kayaks and headed
for the takeout. I managed pretty well but did swim once before the
takeout. I am sure in hindsight this was the best decision and
probably saved several hours getting to the hospital.
got to the car we made our way to Charlie’s house and then Charlie
drove me to Ruby Hospital at WVU in Morgantown. Charlie, Brent and
Scott were all you could ever ask for in a river buddy and did their
best to help me both on the river and afterwards, getting me to the
hospital, breaking down my campsite at the Cheat Festival, shuttling
my car around, picking Nanci up at the airport, etc. I want to thank
each of them for all their help. Charlie and I arrived at the WVU
hospital about 7:30 or so and I was how quickly I was processed
into the ER, given treatment and diagnosed. By about 9:30 I had been
x-rayed, cat scanned and seen by several doctors.
at that point things almost took a bizarre turn. They wanted to give
me a prescription for pain, discharge me and let me go home and see
my own doctor, telling me that I had up to ten days to have the
surgery. I was dumbfounded and couldn’t imagine spending another 48
– 72 hours with the left side of my jaw shoved back into my mouth.
Besides I was 700 miles from home and by myself. This fact seemed to
change the equation and finally I was admitted to the hospital and
put on the surgical “add on ”list (i.e. standby list). They told
me not to expect surgery beforelate Friday afternoon or even
that I knew what the situation was it was time to call Nanci, my
wife. That call went like you might expect. She wanted to know
everything and I didn’t want to talk any more than absolutely
necessary because of the pain. We successfully communicated and she
made plans to fly to Morgantown on Friday to help get me back to
Atlanta. I was greeted early Friday morning around 6:30 a.m. by Dr.
Michael Hurst and learned to my surprise that they were ready to fix
me up right then. I was whisked off to the OR where they installed a
titanium plate and wired my jaw shut.
went great and I was back in my room by about 10:30. I had to spend
the night in the hospital Friday night and was discharged early
Saturday morning. Nanci drove me back to Atlanta, arriving Saturday
evening. Thank goodness for pain meds.
enough, Charlie and I had sat at Big Splat and debated the merits of
helmets with face protection just 45 minutes prior to the accident.
As we watched some hot shot young paddlers run Big Splat (while we
portaged), Charlie exclaimed that he would never kayak a river where
he needed a face mask like they were wearing. I told Charlie I
thought they were a good idea and was considering getting one. Had I
had a face mask I probably wouldn’t be writing this email right now
and would be eating a really nice dinner tonight for my birthday
instead of sucking something unappealing through a straw. I
think I want a new helmet for my birthday!
want to thank Brent, Charlie, Sandy (Charlie’s wife) and Scott
again for all their help. I want to especially thank Nanci for coming
up there and getting me and putting up with my whitewater addiction.
A broken jaw can make one somewhat grumpy and she is an angel. I
visited a doctor here in Atlanta for a post operative evaluation and
follow-up. He says things look great and I can expect my jaw to be
unwired in about 4 weeks. While the discomfort remains, the pain is
pretty much gone.As I write this, it is just about one hour short of
one week since the accident. I have already lost 9 lbs. It is harder
than you think to get 2000 calories a day through a straw!
Note: Don’s jaw was unwired May 30 and he is well on the way to
recovery and is back at work. He ended up losing nearly 25 pounds on
his involuntary liquid diet. Fortunately, not being able to talk
didn’t keep him from being elected President of American Whitewater
on May 17. Don is a experienced whitewater kayaker who was one of the
boaters on the “expert boater panel” who paddled the upper
Chattooga as part of the Forest Service’s User Capacity Analysis.
If this can happen to Don, it can happen to any of us who paddle
whitewater. Consider getting yourself a helmet with a facemask for
your next birthday.
Don Kinser JULY 2008