August 2019 had already been a trying month. Paula had just spent a week in the hospital with her mother, who eventually died. After sitting shiva, she and her husband headed to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where they own a home, to unwind.
Paula is a seasoned hiker who had recently completed a week trekking in the Teton Mountains. She and Rick decided to spend the afternoon summiting nearby Monument Mountain.
“We took some pictures [at the top] and that’s the last thing I remember,” she says.
Paula was walking down the path behind her husband when she fell, tumbling 75 feet onto a rock ledge. She broke 10 ribs, her clavicle, tibia, and fibula. Though she doesn’t remember the accident itself, Rick certainly does.
He was searching for her when a local 18-year-old named Henry Grant announced, “I’m going to find her.” Within 20 minutes, he did just that. It took another five hours for the rescue crew to reach Paula, carry her down the mountain, and load her into an ambulance, which raced to a helicopter that flew to Albany Medical Center.
A year later, Paula was gifted an Artifact by her dear friend Cindy. She decided to tell this story — or at least the parts of it she can remember — with a little help from Rick. In a moving twist, what starts as the story of a fall eventually transforms into a story about resilience through life’s myriad tragedies and plot twists: a troubled son, breast cancer, COVID. Though, as Paula says with a laugh, this pandemic “is the first horrible thing that’s happened that I don’t take personally.”
The recording process was quite comfortable for the working therapist — she likes to talk. Paula is also from a family of archivists: Back in the late ’80s, her father interviewed his mother on cassette tape about her life story. Her son has a business, Reiss Restorations, that specializes in digitizing customers’ family videos, audiotapes, and slides. She has told him to add her Artifact to their family archive.
But even as someone who wholeheartedly embraces the power of storytelling, hearing her own story in her own words remains a singular experience.
“I just listened to the whole thing again and it kind of blows me away,” says Paula, who recorded her Artifact in April 2020, nine months after the accident. “Like more so than when I listened to it the first time. Aside from the fact that he asked good questions and, you know, it was well done, I listened to my story and thought, ‘Did this all happen to me?’”
“What is it going to be like to listen to it in 20 years?” she continues. “By then, I hope I have grandchildren, so there will be this whole new generation to hear about it. I think it's gonna be incredible to have something like that.”
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