Finally, Dad made the decision to test the snow ahead before turning back. He unhooked the sled, leaving it with our guide. I hopped on the snowmobile behind him and he slowly inched forward over the crest of the pass.
Suddenly the snowmobile plunged down into the valley. Not only was the snow much deeper on this side of the pass, it had no hardened crust for the snowmobile to ride on. The skis sunk through the powder and the tracks did little but dig down to the frozen ground beneath. We slid down to the valley floor, grinding to a halt in deep snow that came above the windshield.
And so for the next hour or so we tried to get the snowmobile to move…in any direction. We fell into an exhausting pattern. Drive forward, get stuck, hop off, dig it out. I became exhausted. Dad, unacclimatised to the altitude, fared even worse and began to fear another heart attack.
Just as it began to get dark, over a dozen men from the village arrived, carrying torches and lanterns. I got off the snowmobile and walked with them as the weight of two people made driving it impossible. Over the next two hours the men helped to push, pull and tramp down the snow in front of the snowmobile until we neared the village. More men arrived, helping bring Dad and the snowmobile to the house where the patient waited.
I arrived later, walking with the men who had arrived first. We walked single file through waist deep snow, taking turns leading in order to gain some respite from the exhausting motion of standing and sinking and standing again.
I feared the worst when I arrived at the house, seeing the snowmobile sitting outside without the usual care that Dad would have taken to cover and secure it.
Thankfully he was okay, though incredibly exhausted. The patient lay inside the room as well, in severe pain and unable to respond. From time to time he groaned in spine-tingling agony. The villagers brought around food and tea while we warmed our wet and freezing feet next to the bukhari.
That night we were put up in the village mosque. I was relieved to get out of the stuffy room and away from the groans of the poor boy.
The next day we returned to the patient’s house for breakfast. A number of men from the village gathered to discuss plans for the day. The weather was looking up and the sun was shining, but the impossibly deep snow remained.
Dad was hesitant to give any hope of being able to transport the patient. Even if he could sit up on the snowmobile, the extra weight would make driving difficult. The constant starting and stopping would be excruciating.
Fifteen or so men from the village agreed to accompany us to the fateful pass where we had entered the valley. They brought with them spades and the large wooden snow shovels they used to clear the snow from their flat-roofed houses. More men went along to escort the patient who stoically walked for three or four painful hours to reach the pass where we had left the sled trailer.
With much effort the men cleared enough snow from the pass to bring the snowmobile to the other side. We re-hooked up the sled, bundled the patient in blankets, and traveled back to the hospital.
The story ended happily. The doctors at the hospital confirmed that the boy had appendicitis, and successfully operated on him to remove his appendix. His father later called to express his unending gratefulness for helping to save his son’s life.
This was not the first, or the last person for whom Dad provided lifesaving transport to the hospital. I was grateful for the opportunity to accompany him on a couple other less complicated journeys.
I remember, at a young age coming to the devastating realisation that Dad wasn’t the strongest man in the world. I consoled myself with the thought that he must at least be above average, “extra strong.” Now, as an adult, I realise that strength comes in many forms. Dad is certainly not perfect, but he has demonstrated a deep strength that I hope to emulate. Strength of character and a strength that comes from faith. Strength in standing against poverty and injustice. Strength that comes from believing that God is good, that goodness will prevail over evil, right over wrong, and love over selfishness. My dad is my hero. He always has been.