I’ve always considered myself to be a spiritual person and in the last week I’ve experienced God’s presence in major ways that I had not before. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was going to Gatlinburg to celebrate my 35th birthday with friends and family. The plan was to zipline, go whitewater rafting and enjoy the presence of my friends. For the most part, the plan was followed but we opted not to go ziplining for several reasons, the main one being the fact that I almost drowned after being pitched out of a raft on a class IV rapid. Let me explain.
Off I trekked with two of my friend and their families along with my family to the beautiful Smokies that you see above. My family and I enjoyed a day of tubing on Friday and on Saturday we went rafting with USA rafting. I had confirmed that there was only going to be class two and three rapids because I was taking my twins and I wanted something that would be safe. So off we go on the lower Pigeon River with my friend Sibbreena. I should digress for a moment and tell you that Sibbreena only went because I wanted her to go. She kept telling me how she was only going because it was my birthday. White water rafting was never something on top of her to do list but she said she wasn’t going to go on this trip and not do something crazy with me. Throughout the safety talk she would ocassionally glance back at me and buck her eyes as if to say ‘are you all nuts?’
We finally got to our rafting spot and our guide, Travis, gave us the instructions we needed to navigate through our first few rapids. They were a piece of cake but I noticed the water began to have a lot more force behind it as we got further down the river. Sibbreena and I were at the front of the raft and were setting paddle pace. My twins were directly behind me and M was at the very back acting as motor man while Travis guided us.
Travis told us we were about to approach a class four rapid named the “Lost Guide” Supposedly the rapid got its name because guides would sometimes fall out. We all laughed and told him we were not going to lose him. I then asked about the class four rapid and mentioned how we were told there were only class two and three. Travis said it was the only four and we would be fine. When we got to the rapid all I saw was what looked like a waterfall with the water flowing upside down. That’s the last thing I remember after seeing Sibbreena pop out of the raft like Jiffy Pop next to me until my faculties came back to me as I realized that I was choking on a mouthful of salty briney river water. The force of the water had pitched me out of the raft too. I looked up to see Sibbreena to the left of me and I began to scream for her to grab my hand. Another current then drug me back under and when I came back up I was completely panicked. A thousand thoughts ran through my head, including the fact that I had lost a shoe, and to flip on my back the way they said to do in the safety instruction. When I flipped on my back I saw two things that made me completely freak out 1) I saw one of my children being plucked from the river. 2) I realized my raft was exremely far away and that the nearest raft to the left of us was quite far off. When I realized this, another current pulled me back under and it was then that the thought occurred to me that I was going to die on my birthday with my children watching.
Another thing they taught us in the safety class was to hold our paddle up in the air and shout paddle so that if a raft was near they could pull us in by the t-bar. I realized while underwater for the third time that I still had my paddle in my hand. I popped up out of the water and yelled paddle only to realize the rafts seemed to get farther away than closer. I’ve never felt so defeated before. I began to cry and scream for someone to please help me. The current originally seemed to be taking us toward the banks of the river and I kept thinking that if we got close enough that we would be able to grab onto a branch. As soon as I thought this was my way out, the current changed and began to shift us back to the center of the river. I finally heard one of the raft guides yell out “Swimmer!” But I saw no one jump in..(I figured out later we were the “swimmers” only we weren’t swimming at all.. we were being drug by the currents), he then yelled out “Rope!” They had told us in safety training that As soon as I saw the rope being thrown at Sibbreena who was to the left of me, I realized it was going to fall short. Thank God Sibbreena had the thought to take her oar and grab the rope with it. That’s how they were finally able to fish us in. Needless to say when the rescue raft pulled us in I was in tears and shaking like a leaf on a tree on a windy day. I thanked God for having protected me and my family.
About the time we began to settle our nerves we were transferred back to our own raft where Travis told us we had to resume our positions. I wish you could have seen the looks on me and Sibbreena’s faces. I turned to Travis and said “You want us to do what?! You’ve got to be kidding me” But he wasn’t. Sibbreena and I silently resumed our positions and the next rapid we hit was a class III. It was harrowing and I prayed aloud the whole time. Sibbreena told me later she hadn’t heard anyone praying so hard and loudly before. What she didn’t realize until much later was how the experience had shaken me in a way that words can’t explain. Later when we talked about what happened, she told me it was life changing for her as well but that she didn’t regret doing it.
Two more weird things about the experience.. when we got in the raft, Travis handed me both of my shoes that had been in the river..my first thought was “what the hell?! you found time to fish my shoes out of the river but not me?!” The second weird thing is that the sunglasses I had on my face were STILL on there even after having been drug undercurrent three times. I think it was the straps on the helmet that kept them on. Either way I was surprised.
Since having that rafting experience I’ve not slept without being back in the water. It disturbed me so much that I’m constantly reliving the moments several times a day. It’s not healthy and I realize that despite how crazy others may think I am, my goal is to conquer that rafting route without falling out. It won’t be soon but it will happen one day. I know that if I don’t do it, I’ll have always let that moment define me in negative ways. I am thankful that my family and friend are safe. Prayer does change things.
Three days after the rafting trip, I had surgery. I had already told the doctor’s I have had my near death experience for my life so they needed to be on point. I was in recovery and had been awakened and M had been brought around when I began to have severe chest pains and problems breathing. I was immediately whisked to the urgent care area where they tore my gown off, hooked me up to some electrodes and began to pump medication in me. I don’t remember a whole lot other than My surgeon suddenly appeared he began to use a fist to rub around in my chest. Another doctor (the anesthesiologist I think) was yelling out medication orders. I soon got physically sick and began to throw up. Well as you know there was nothing to throw up digestive juices which the doctors and nurses said was full of air bubbles. They seem to think the problem was from air being trapped in my chest wall. Before long I began to feel better but they kept me longer as a precaution. Again, I feel I was standing in God’s grace.
M doesn’t understand how these experiences have shaped my thought process about things and how scared I felt and still feel. He said our raft guide was very concerned about us hitting some of the many rocks in the river but that he felt assured we would be rescued with no problem because we had on our life jackets and there were many rafts in the area. He said they immediately got my son out of the water as soon as he hit it. But what disturbs me is that I don’t recall M even asking if I was okay. Of course he said he did but I don’t remember that.
M’s sister told me the other day that he has always been an internalizer-even as a kid he would never talk to anyone and would brush things off. I understand his nature but times like this it doesn’t work for me. I need him to understand the seriousness of all of this and how it has really screwed with my head. I’m a bit too close to death these days and I don’t like it.
Everyone keep me in my prayers. I’m sure I’ll be okay but it’s only been a week so I still have some things to sort out. Enjoy the pics from the trip.. Until the next blog my lovelies…