The noise I heard seemed a light year away, but before we could move, Alex and I were swept down the slope by the force of a freight train. Tumbling head over heels, rocks hitting my head or my back, and I had no idea what was happening to Alex. The word horrible took on a new meaning.
Buried completely in white, I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t know if I was upright or standing on my head. Worst of all, I had no idea where my husband was.
“Oh Lord help us!” I shouted into the snow an inch from my nose. Struggling, I freed my right hand. Then I cleared snow from my face and screamed, “Alex!” No answer. I screamed again and again.
When I inhaled, I realized I couldn’t breathe out. My lungs were full and burning, but I couldn’t let the air out. Our dream of trekking in the Himalayas on our tenth anniversary had become our worst nightmare.
Forcefully twisting to the right gave me some freedom. I expelled the trapped air, but the pressure started again as the snow pressed into me. My lungs burned with used air. The frozen white around me became darker. I had to get out or die.
We were going to visit De-chhen phu (“Cave of Happiness”) which is only accessible in the fall. It’s a three day trek above Dzongri and only visible before heavy snow fall. “Oh Alex, I’m sorry our plans are ruined. Where are you, honey?”
Alex was visibly excited as we trekked up the last slope before the avalanche. His cheeks were ruddy from the relentless wind and his blue eyes sparkled in the blinding sunlight. “I love you so much . . . I can’t die here without you . . . I can’t lose you, Alex.”
Three Months Later
“Okay Maralee take a deep breath—hold it—let it out. Again, take a deep breath—hold it—let it out.” Dr. Ben Epson said as he listened to my lungs. “Your lungs have improved faster than I expected. But be careful not to exhaust yourself—you still have a ways to go.”
“You’re the boss, doc. I don’t think I would be here without you. I should give some credit to the emergency rescue team in India. But you have kept me moving forward. You are a blessing to me.”
“Stop all that. I’m a doctor. It’s what I do. You would have made it; you’re too strong to give up. I haven’t heard of many people surviving six hours buried by an avalanche. What kept you going?”
“I had no idea how long I was buried until the rescue. Truthfully, I thought I must be dreaming or dead. One moment, I was seeing Alex climbing the slope; the next I was remembering how wrong our plans had gone.”
“You young lady are a miracle. Breathing freezing air for hours severely injured your lungs, but the low body temperature helped your heart and brain survive.”
“I suppose God wasn’t ready for me, and I certainly wasn’t ready to . . . well, you know.”
“I know, Maralee,” said Dr. Epson patting my hand consolingly. “But the will to live is a God given thing and you are living proof, so is Alex. Let’s get him in here and check him out.”
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