The physician was in great pain. Dr. Nick Alexander knew he had suffered a compound fracture of the tibia in his right leg. Broken ribs restricted each breath the forty-year-old tried to take. One eye had started to swell shut and his left hand was numb. But, it was the seemingly lifeless body lying next to him that had the doctor’s attention.
In agony, the father tried to crawl closer to his seventeen-year-old son who lay in a heap like a pile of dirty clothes. He could make out his child’s shallow breathing. The doctor’s right hand trembled as he searched for a pulse. He noted it was weak.
Alone on a rocky cliff, fifty feet below where he and his son were climbing a minute before they fell, the doctor tried to muster some composure. The father’s voice was weak and shaken. His words tried to find a sense of authority as they passed by his many broken teeth and bleeding, swollen lips.
“Bobby, son, can you hear me? Hang in there boy. You’re going to be fine.”
Years ago, a younger Nick Alexander used to free-climb the same mountain with his father. The view was still extraordinary, but that didn’t matter now. The vastness of the vista was now an enemy. He needed to see something. He needed help.
Somebody should be looking soon. Rangers know we are up here. So what now, God, wait? I can’t do anything. I have no equipment, no phone, nothing. What am I when I can’t be a doctor?
Guilt seeped into Nick’s thoughts. He had known his son was not an experienced climber. But, the doctor had been up the mountain a hundred times and knew it like the back of his hand. He thought the rock climb would be just the thing to bring them closer. He remembered Bobby’s feigned enthusiasm about the trip, “Sure, Doc, sounds like fun.”
My own son doesn’t even call me dad. He only came on this trip to make me happy. God?
A labored moan refocused Nick’s blurred attention to Bobby.
Nick reached over to caress his son’s forehead.
“Bobby, wiggle something if you can hear me.”
The father heard air escaping his son’s trembling lips. He inched his body closer to listen.
“Are you saying something, son?”
The boy’s voice was a shallow whisper, no louder than a slow leak from a bicycle tire.
“My…wiggle…isn’t working, D-Doc.”
“Can you tell me anything else, Bobby? Where does it hurt? Can you feel anything?”
The son started to move his lips a little. The dad eased down to listen.
Nick grimaced as he put his arm around Bobby’s shoulder.
The father moved his hand up to Bobby’s head.
“Tell me you love me…Doc.”
“I love you, boy. I love you.”
Nick looked up to the sky and then back down at his son.
“Did you hear me, Bobby?”
The doctor’s hand frantically searched for signs of life. Panic had a stranglehold on his lungs. He couldn’t breath. Fear iced through the father’s veins as he tried to find a pulse on his son’s body.
It can’t be. There has to be one. Dear Father-God, please let me find his heartbeat.
“Yes, I think I feel it. There it is, life.”
The dad was exhausted. Injuries to his own body had taken a toll. Words were spoken in painful gasps.
“Bobby, you stay with me. You…keep breathing. Somebody’s coming. I know it. You’re not dying on this cliff without knowing I love you.”
The doctor was becoming lightheaded, dizzy and his vision was blurred. At first he didn’t recognize the whopping sounds of the helicopter blades above him. But, with a split second of remaining clarity, the father leaned over Bobby’s body to keep the flying dirt and rock dust off of him. Completely depleted of all strength, he finally collapsed on top of his son.
When the doctor opened his eyes he saw an emergency worker securing him to the rescue basket below the helicopter.
“How’s my boy?”
The Ranger had to put his face down by the doctor’s ear and yell.
“Not good, Doc. But, I’ve seen worse make it. Now you relax. We‘re going to lift you up.”
The doctor nodded as he closed his eyes.
Nick opened his eyes again as he started to move up.
“You’re son said, ‘Tell my dad I heard him.’”
He said, dad. Thank you, Father.
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