The clinical instincts can kick in anywhere, as Drs. Donald and Cheryl Green learned on their recent vacation.
The Green family was looking forward to enjoying each other and nature during their recent Yosemite vacation. They got that — but they also encountered something unexpected.
Media attention. Hero status.
That’s because the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa physicians and their two children found a missing 20-year-old hiker on March 23, causing friends and colleagues to send congratulatory text messages and for a reporter from their hometown newspaper, The Press Democrat, to feature them in a front-page article.
On their first morning in Yosemite National Park, they came across Michael Dahl, a college student who was separated from his friend two days earlier and was reported missing. Dahl had endured a stormy night before the Green family spotted him in the morning, about 20 or 30 feet off the trail leading to the Lower Yosemite Fall.
Dahl was barely visible from the trail. but Donald Green, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, saw something move in the corner of his eye. He went to check it out and found a drenched, muddied Dahl between moss-covered boulders and partially covered by a tree.
Dr. Green and his wife, Cheryl Green, MD, immediately assessed him.
“He was barely alert, badly injured,” said Cheryl, a family medicine physician. “His pulse was weak and thready.”
However, Dahl was able tell the pair of physicians his name.
“We knew he was the missing kid, but he looked very different than he did in the fliers we saw,” Cheryl added.
They noticed Dahl’s bruises and wounds on his face and head. He also seemed hypothermic, Cheryl said. They didn’t want to move him for fear they could worsen his injuries, but they gave him a hat and a jacket to keep him warm — he was soaked from the night before, and the morning was chilly. They also gave him water.
“I don’t think he would have made it another day,” she said.
Cheryl and her 13-year-old son went to find the search-and-rescue team, while Donald and their 10-year-old daughter stayed with Dahl, assuring him that help was on the way.
After Dahl was taken to a nearby hospital, the Green’s five-day vacation resumed, but the incident lingered. They talked a lot about what had happened, and they turned it into a teachable moment for their kids.
“It was a real lesson in wilderness safety for them,” Cheryl said.
They also felt a range of emotions.
“It felt good to help this kid, and we felt absolute compassion for his parents and what they must have gone through when he was missing and then when he was found,” Cheryl said. “Then we also recognized the dichotomy of this magical place — how such beauty can lead to significant dangers.”
Donald said they received many messages, saying ‘You did an amazing thing’ and ‘You’re a hero.’
He added, “It’s nice that friends and colleagues acknowledged this, but anyone else would’ve done the same thing.”