Dying on the Dunes

by Barry Hoch

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    I wasn’t just lost. I needed medical help soon or I could die.

    A bright orange sun was sinking low on the horizon as we parked our van near our campsite. There were nine of us on the Scout outing plus our two leaders. I was 14 and was nearing Eagle rank.

    Like most boys my age, I had exciting plans for the future. Little did I know what terror the next 24 hours held for me and how much my future lay in jeopardy.

    Before breakfast the next morning I did my blood sugar testing to see if there was any excess sugar in my system. I’ve been diabetic since I was seven, so it was a daily habit for me to take care of my testing and insulin injections.

    The test showed my blood sugar was in the lower range of normal. I prepared a syringe with insulin and gave myself a shot in my leg about eight inches above my knee. It was a daily routine and not much fun, but I was used to it.

    “Time to get this camp straightened around,” our Scoutmaster shouted.

    We all pitched in and set things in order. Then we gathered near the fire for a breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, and hot chocolate. I went easy on the hot chocolate figuring a small amount would be okay since my sugar level was low that morning.

    It’s hard to pass up goodies all the time. My doctor told me often that the only time diabetics should really have sugar is to bring them out of insulin reactions, and then they need to have it fast.

    I felt great after eating breakfast. Along with the other guys, I jumped into the van for a drive along the bay and around the peninsula to the Pacific shore. We hiked in farther than we had planned, and some of the guys went for a swim.

    I began to feel something I’d felt a few times before. It was a feeling of tiredness and dizziness, and I knew an insulin reaction was coming on. I’d taken too much insulin that morning and then done more exercise than usual. I had some orange juice in my canteen and drank it right away hoping there would be enough to correct the problem. I hated being different and didn’t want to tell anyone about the reaction.

    Our Scoutmaster had to hike back to get the van. He gave us instructions about walking the short distance to the campsite and said to walk together. The guys decided to enjoy the beach for a little while longer before heading back. I still had not told anyone about my insulin reaction. The orange juice seemed to have done the trick.

    Within 15 minutes, however, I started feeling dizzy again. I wished I had brought some sugar cubes with me like I usually did. I knew I had to get something sweet or the reaction would be worse. I decided to go back to camp to get what I needed.

    Leaving the group was a big mistake. We had all been told by the Scoutmaster which direction to go. However, in my confused state I figured it would be quicker to head inland a few hundred yards and then cut directly across to the campfire. It was one of the most foolish decisions I ever made.

    Feeling dizzy I headed over the bank of dunes and, all of a sudden, I was alone. There were sand dunes everywhere—miles and miles of sand. I knew I couldn’t wander around or I’d be lost. So I picked a course and tried to stay with it. I worked to keep my fear under control, but I started to shiver even though it wasn’t cold.

    As the minutes passed, I became more and more tired. It wasn’t long before I fell, and I didn’t want to get up again. It seemed as though I lay there for a long time trying to fight off sleep. For a while the shivering stopped, and I dozed. When I opened my eyes, I felt frightened again and wondered if I should stay where I was until someone came looking for me. I needed help. All the teaching and training I’d had made me kneel and pray.

    “Heavenly Father, please help me. Let me live through this. Please give me the strength to make it.”

    I looked around for the highest dune and climbed to the top of it. From up there I was excited to see beach houses that didn’t look far away.

    At least four or five dunes lay between me and the houses. When I climbed back down, I couldn’t see the houses anymore. I started wondering if my imagination had played tricks on me—if I had seen the houses at all. My thinking was getting more confused. It had been hours since I’d eaten, and I was in real trouble. The feeling suddenly came over me that I was going to die.

    Once again I prayed with more feeling than I ever had before, and a comforting feeling came over me. I could hear a voice saying, “Keep going, Barry. No matter what, you must keep going.”

    My feet dragged in the sand, but I felt as if I had help. I slid down the dunes because, if I walked, I knew I’d fall. And, if I fell down hard, I was afraid I might never get up again.

    I kept listening to the faint voice that told me to keep moving, and somehow I got to the edge of the dunes. Birds were chirping there, and I saw the houses in the distance. I headed for them.

    Dizzy and staggering I fell on the sand. My arms wouldn’t support me, and I fell on my face and felt sand in my mouth. Through the blackness of my fear, I prayed once more with all my heart. And suddenly I heard a seagull call. The sound made me look up. As my eyes shifted from the bird, I saw something moving. The form was fuzzy because my eyes weren’t focusing very well. It was our assistant Scoutmaster, and I called out to him. At first he didn’t see me, and then he turned and ran toward me waving his arms. When he reached me, he gave me a big bear hug and pounded me on the back.

    “Gee, it’s good to see you, Barry. You had us scared to death. What happened?” he asked. “How did you get lost?”

    “Had to get sugar,” I mumbled. “A reaction … trying to get back to camp.”

    “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I’ll help you. Just lean on me.”

    He put his arms around me, and I half-walked and was half-dragged, leaning against him. Just as we were both nearing exhaustion, we saw a man by one of the houses. We yelled to him for help.

    He called an ambulance then ran to help us. He picked me up and carried me the rest of the way to his house. His wife ran to the kitchen, returning with sugar and some root beer. She got some into me, and then everyone just waited and watched.

    Pretty soon I began to come out of the reaction even though I still felt dazed.

    The man at the house told us other people had been lost in the dunes. “There are 13 square miles of them out there in this one area alone,” he said. “Barry’s lucky to have found his way out.”

    “It seemed like a miracle to me,” the assistant Scoutmaster said. “There were a thousand different directions I could have gone to look for Barry. The chances of finding him so quickly seemed slim. But I seemed to walk straight to him.”

    I didn’t say anything as they talked on. I was thinking about my fervent prayers to my Heavenly Father. It was with deep gratitude that I knew those prayers had been answered.

    Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh