Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Screensaver, The Axe, The Ice Climb, And The Bear
November 18, 2012 11:05 PM   Subscribe

One dealt with her near-death experience by forcing herself to stare at a screensaver of the shark that ravaged her body. Another let the bear finish the job 22 years afterwards. People respond to life-threatening traumas in different ways, as documented by The Guardian in Life after near-death: why surviving is only the beginning.
posted by mreleganza (50 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting read; thanks for posting it.
posted by theora55 at 11:25 PM on November 18, 2012


Even though I knew what was coming, the ending hit me hard.
posted by Kamelot123 at 11:36 PM on November 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


It cannot be said too many times: trust your gut instinct when it comes to "something about this is very, very wrong" situations, even if there is no hard evidence. We are wired to recognize signs of predators, but have been taught over and over and over to ignore those signs as "overactive imaginations," "wussing out," or (my favorite) "women's intuition."

If your gut says run, you fucking run. What's worse: being wrong, or being killed?
posted by tzikeh at 11:44 PM on November 18, 2012 [26 favorites]


Powerful, powerful stuff, and very hard to read at times. The conclusion was beautiful, but horrifying. Because it could happen to any of us.
posted by nonmerci at 11:52 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, though quite disturbing. Maybe it's me, but I find the idea of experiencing the post-incident trauma much scarier than the event itself.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:52 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


And yeah, if you're hiking in bear country, be very careful. Make noise. Carry bear spray. Not trying to blame the victims in this horrible case, but there are precautions you can take.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:53 PM on November 18, 2012


tzikeh: "have been taught over and over and over to ignore those signs as "overactive imaginations," "wussing out," or (my favorite) "women's intuition.""

Wait, "women's intuition"? I've never heard people use that expression in that way. I've only heard it in a "you need to pay attention to this" way.
posted by Bugbread at 12:34 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


drjimmy11: "And yeah, if you're hiking in bear country, be very careful. Make noise. Carry bear spray. Not trying to blame the victims in this horrible case, but there are precautions you can take."

The problem with bears is that the advice differs by bear. When I hear "snake country", I know you need to walk loudly (the snakes sense the vibration), and, when faced by a snake, run. But every time I've heard people talk about bears, it gets into this complex, "well, if it's a brown bear, do X, but not if it's a black bear, then you need to do Y, and if it's a grizzly, then you need to do Z" thing.
posted by Bugbread at 12:36 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grizzlies are more aggressive in general than black bears, it's true, and there are variances for cubs present, feeding, etc, but the general idea is that, regardless of species, you don't want to surprise the bear. A startled bear can easily attack you, even if that particular animal would normally be more inclined to leave you alone. The noise is worth it because bears, even grizzlies, rarely actively hunt humans, so you're more likely to chase away a predator than attract one.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:50 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fantastic article. Very sad. At least we're two for three on the well-adjusted. Sometimes I'm glad I'm such a hermit.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 12:50 AM on November 19, 2012


So sad. I can imagine being in that poor woman's position and being haunted by the thought that I'd known, that if only I/we'd listened to me, it would never have happened. Ugh.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:32 AM on November 19, 2012


According to her book, and this obit, he was singing "Blue Skies" before he got attacked.

(that obituary is worth a read, though most of it is more or less taken straight from the book.)
posted by merelyglib at 1:35 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. What amazing stories. My heart was pounding as I read them.
posted by MT at 2:09 AM on November 19, 2012


I read this a few days ago and it has been on my mind ever since.

The only problem is that some of us have 'over-developed' warning systems- if I listened to every 'oh god, don't do that/go there/get on that bus etc' then I would basically be housebound.

The woman's story though is just so so sad. She seemed like a mismatch with her husband which had devastating effects for her- of course he sailed through the experience, he also sailed right INTO the experience...some people are more resilient and some people like me would spend the rest of their lives saying 'why didn't I just turn back' whereas her husband was and remained sort of oblivious seeming. Charging ahead at her expense then and it seems for the next 22 years. (badly stated but it's early).
posted by bquarters at 3:34 AM on November 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


Oh gosh, now I just read the obit that merelyglib posted and I feel even worse.
posted by bquarters at 3:38 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Terribly sad ending to an interesting article. Thank you for posting.
posted by Defying Gravity at 4:54 AM on November 19, 2012


Well fuck
posted by nathancaswell at 5:21 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"And yeah, if you're hiking in bear country, be very careful. Make noise. Carry bear spray. Not trying to blame the victims in this horrible case, but there are precautions you can take."

Before spending a day hiking in Shenandoah*, my wife (worried about bears) made everyone in the group select a song to sing in case we saw or thought we saw a bear (as a way of making noise). My wife got upset with me, though, because we did see a bear, and while I did remember to start making noise, I forgot to sing "Hold the Line."


*Obviously, black bear country is a lot different than grizzly bear country in terms of how bear worried you need to be.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:28 AM on November 19, 2012


Bulgaroktonos: "we did see a bear, and while I did remember to start making noise, I forgot to sing "Hold the Line.""

Lemme guess, you started singing "Holy Shit, It's a Goddamn Bear!" instead?
posted by Bugbread at 5:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is why I stay out of the woods. Fuck camping. Mother Nature is a vicious bitch. Leave her ass alone. We invented indoors for a reason.
posted by shoesietart at 5:59 AM on November 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wait, "women's intuition"? I've never heard people use that expression in that way. I've only heard it in a "you need to pay attention to this" way.

It's part of larger and tangled discussions about misogyny and gendered language that don't belong in this thread, but basically the concept of "women's intuition" is often sneeringly dismissed, while the more masculine "gut instinct" is just fine--so when women have gut instincts about something, men can ignore it as worrying about nothing or being oversensitive or whatever because it's that silly and mythical "women's intuition" thing (perfectly and awfully illustrated by the story of the married hikers).
posted by tzikeh at 6:22 AM on November 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


"It's part of larger and tangled discussions about misogyny and gendered language that don't belong in this thread, but basically the concept of "women's intuition" is often sneeringly dismissed, while the more masculine "gut instinct" is just fine--so when women have gut instincts about something, men can ignore it as worrying about nothing or being oversensitive or whatever because it's that silly and mythical "women's intuition" thing"

I agree about the disconnect, but feel that both should be dismissed rather than both heeded UNLESS there is something SPECIFIC that can be drawn upon as reason for alarm (in this case, the dead carcass should be sufficient to think, "hey, that's gonna attract baddies") I am happy to be proven wrong with science, but I do not believe we are graced with protective instincts that draw from 0 of the 5 senses.
posted by mreleganza at 6:35 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Advice: do not read The Bear's Embrace when you are trapped on the couch for 11 days loopy on Percocet after breaking the hell out of your elbow. I will never be able to brain-bleach her very very detailed descriptions of hearing the bear chewing on her skull. Gahhhhhh. I am going to be re-remembering that all day today.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:38 AM on November 19, 2012


Bears are fucking scary. My husband laughs at me when I tell him they're why I won't ever hike/camp in bear country, but there are so many stories like this. Or the footage showing bears breaking into cars. Or ripping open the tents of sleeping campers. Etc.

They are very large, smart, and powerful predators with a much better sense of smell than us. They are unpredictable, and no one technique guarantees you safety. Even if you have a gun, it can take several shots (assuming you make them) to take them down, in which time you might already be sans a limb or three.

They are beautiful and important to the ecology, and I like learning about them. But I see no point in walking through their territory in my soft weak delicious human skin. Build me a bearproof personal forcefield, and we'll talk.
posted by emjaybee at 7:14 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


After the accident, Micki had told her husband to get rid of her scuba gear. She never wanted to see it again. He kept it anyway.

Hm. This kind of irritates me, maybe even a lot.
posted by elizardbits at 7:25 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do not believe we are graced with protective instincts that draw from 0 of the 5 senses.

I don't think the instincts come from 0 of the 5 senses, but I think we are often unconscious of what it is that we have sensed that triggers that instinct at the time. Again, see the hikers.

A more detailed explanation: The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence

It doesn't matter if you don't know why your body is telling you to run. Run anyway. It doesn't mean that you're magical; it means that you did not consciously process the signals and clues, but they are there and you should heed them.
posted by tzikeh at 7:26 AM on November 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


tzikeh: "It doesn't matter if you don't know why your body is telling you to run. Run anyway."

Wait, you mean I have to run up the stairs every time I turn off the light, because my body is right in telling me there's some kinda hideous disfigured abomination right behind me??
posted by Bugbread at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


If you live in Hideous Disfigured Abomination Country, it's not a bad idea.
posted by newmoistness at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


And yeah, if you're hiking in bear country, be very careful. Make noise. Carry bear spray. Not trying to blame the victims in this horrible case, but there are precautions you can take.

Better still: know the procedures for the area in which you're hiking. In some areas, bear bells have been nicknamed "dinner bells" because bears no longer avoid the noise but, instead, are drawn toward it because stupid tourists and hikers have decided that feeding the wildlife is a good idea. Instead of being sent the signal that the bells are to be avoided, the bears have learned that bells = food.

(I believe that, even in these places, making noise is still generally a good idea, but bear bells in particular are not.)
posted by asnider at 8:38 AM on November 19, 2012


tzikeh: It cannot be said too many times: trust your gut instinct when it comes to "something about this is very, very wrong" situations, even if there is no hard evidence. We are wired to recognize signs of predators, but have been taught over and over and over to ignore those signs as "overactive imaginations," "wussing out," or (my favorite) "women's intuition."

If your gut says run, you fucking run. What's worse: being wrong, or being killed?
Yup. An ex-girlfriend is alive for just that reason, when she got creeped out by someone walking a half-block behind her. And last night I listened to the story of someone who narrowly avoided being the 34th victim of John Wayne Gacy.

A lifetime of feeling foolish for overreacting is still a lifetime.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bugbread: tzikeh: "It doesn't matter if you don't know why your body is telling you to run. Run anyway."

Wait, you mean I have to run up the stairs every time I turn off the light, because my body is right in telling me there's some kinda hideous disfigured abomination right behind me??
Or, it means you need a regimen of anti-anxiety drugs. Changed everything for me.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


And yeah, if you're hiking in bear country, be very careful. Make noise. Carry bear spray. Not trying to blame the victims in this horrible case, but there are precautions you can take.

My dad often goes fishing in Alaska - a place know to have a bear or two of the largish variety.

Coolers full of salmon are pretty much the best bear bait ever invented. So, they use an electric fence to keep the bears at bay.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:51 AM on November 19, 2012


My parents deal with bears on a seemingly daily basis in Crested Butte (where bears raid the trash cans regularly), to the degree where I've stopped worrying about them myself, so this is a good reminder.

On another note, I almost drowned a couple of months ago, after swimming foolishly far out into the ocean and getting pulled out beyond where anyone could hear me calling for help. In a lifetime of pulling risky, stupid shit, that was by far the closest I've walked to that edge of, "oh, so this is what dying will be like." Now I realize I was lucky enough not only to have survived it, but to have no lingering effects of it like in these stories, forcing me to live out a timeline defined by the incident forever afterwards.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2012


At least we're two for three on the well-adjusted.

I don't think it's fair to say that Patricia van Tighem wasn't well-adjusted. She suffered a psychological injury from which she was unable to recover. It's not quite the same. Sometimes you just can't come back. :-(
posted by Kit W at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I imagine it's also really hard to deal with a shared trauma that your fellow sufferer has long since recovered from.
posted by elizardbits at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I imagine it's also really hard to deal with a shared trauma that your fellow sufferer has long since recovered from.

No kidding. Frankly, I expected them to end up getting divorced shortly after the event due simply to the dramatically different ways in which they reacted to it.
posted by asnider at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was visiting my wife's family last year for a get-together and there was a pastor there. Something seemed really wrong, apart from the fact that he had just shown up. The way he paid so much attention to the kids. The way he talked. The way he smacked his lips. He was giving me the heebie-jeebies.

A few months later, he threw himself off a bridge when it was made public that he had been a child molester for decades.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:44 AM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder if there are any large animals which could pose a threat to humans that also make noises in the range below what human hearing is capable of perceiving. I can't really figure out what to google to get more information on this, alas, but it's interesting to ponder if sometimes these threatening feelings re: animal attacks are based in something quantifiable like that.
posted by elizardbits at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"No kidding. Frankly, I expected them to end up getting divorced shortly after the
event due simply to the dramatically different ways in which they reacted to it."

Most definitely. I wondered the very same. I'm not saying I blame van Tighem for being a quivering wreck afterwords. I'm mostly marveling that people can suppress something so traumatic and have it not only be a good idea, but lead to their near-total recovery. People are amazing.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I lived in California and had to worry about both bears and mountain lions, I could never remember which one I was supposed to "get big" for and which one I was supposed to "make myself small" for, and I basically just sallied forth into the wilderness every single time figuring I'd never make it back. I guess that light-hearted attitude toward mauling served me well, since I'm still alive.
posted by padraigin at 9:55 AM on November 19, 2012


It cannot be said too many times: trust your gut instinct when it comes to "something about this is very, very wrong" situations, even if there is no hard evidence...

If your gut says run, you fucking run. What's worse: being wrong, or being killed?


This is the same attitude that leads to people avoiding places like oakland because they just KNOW that they will get mugged for being a white person, or why some parents are convinced there are pedophiles under the bed.

I'd posit that people are really really bad at understanding their gut, and one anecdote doesn't make that any less true. (Hell, in that same exact article there's a woman saying she thought she was the luckiest person alive just seconds before a shark tried to eat her.
posted by aspo at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is the same attitude that leads to people avoiding places like oakland because they just KNOW that they will get mugged for being a white person, or why some parents are convinced there are pedophiles under the bed.

No, because those are people scared of situations they aren't actually in, based on conscious previous knowledge (or 'knowledge'). It's worrying about something that might happen in the medium-term future and a different location. That's not the same thing as having a sudden and unexpected rush of the creeps in a situation you were expecting to be safe, in reaction to a threat that's only a few seconds away. Different situation, different emotion, different appropriate response.

As to the woman feeling lucky to see the shark - well, having a gut instinct about a shark attacking you is probably less likely. We have all sorts of ancestral links to avoiding wild animals on land, and we're closer to mammals than to fish; in the water, none of this applies. Shark body language is not something we're naturally good at reading. I can generally tell straight away if a dog is likely to hassle me; I have no idea what those fish in the aquarium are thinking. Just because someone can't read a fish doesn't mean they can't read mammals or people.
posted by Kit W at 10:34 AM on November 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I spend an ample amount of time outdoors. I'm decently competent in such settings. I've spent a lot of time on the Allegheny Plateau in northwest Pennsylvania, which is black bear country. In the Allegheny National Forest there is a stretch of stream that a good friend and I enjoy hiking and fishing for trout. The Tionesta Creek is very isolated along that stretch. Crystal clear cool waters, huge boulders sprinkled liberally throughout the forested terrain. It's absolutely beautiful.

Once, we were fishing this stretch, this was 2001, and we were both overcome with a sense of foreboding. We both noticed it at almost the exact same moment. For lack of a better way to describe it, it felt like we were being followed or watched.

We were about 6 miles from our camp, three miles into what is about a nine mile journey through very deep forest.

I look at my friend, he looks at me. I say, "Let's get the fuck out of here." He just nods and we start double timing away from the area. We crossed the creek and began moving downstream, making plenty of noise along the way. We hadn't walked 50 meters when along the bank, just over a small berm, we came upon the half-eaten carcass of a deer. It's entire hindquarters had been devoured and the kill looked relatively fresh. We took a couple seconds to look it over and kept moving, both fairly certain that a large black bear had probably taken down that deer and was probably still nearby.

Today, we see more black bear than ever in the Alleghenies. And more sign than actual bear (of course). Sometimes, very large tracks indeed.

We don't go into the Alleghenies without a pistol anymore.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


One of the problems for van Tighem was that she received the wrong kind of support -- that is, people supported her fear and pain rather than her recovery. She often gave readings or talks in my section of British Columbia. These were mostly attended by women and were given a feminist coloration. It seemed to me that there was a certain cachet being given to victimhood and that van Tighem had become a professional victim who relived her terrible experience over and over for the gratification of her audience. The comments to the linked article include a great many attacks on Janz -- one person called him an "emotional vampire" and several blamed him either for not heeding his wife's fear or for not "honoring" it later. I think a whole lot of people were reinforcing van Tighem's fear in the years after the attack and that didn't help her at all.
Dr. Janz once treated me -- this was a while after his wife's death -- and he was a no-nonsense, straight-ahead kind of guy. I do not know if the different reactions of husband and wife to the bear attack were programmed by their personalities but I like to think that people are not so mechanical, that they can adapt and change.
posted by CCBC at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read The Bear's Embrace ten years or so ago. I was profoundly disturbed by it, in a way that I never am. Her fear and misery were in every word. I have thought about her and the book many times over the years. I remember thinking as I read the book that I couldn't imagine how she would continue on with any kind of life. I'm sad to find out that she couldn't.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 9:12 PM on November 19, 2012


“Black bears rarely attack. But here's the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn't happen often, but - and here is the absolutely salient point - once would be enough.”
-- Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
posted by bryon at 11:00 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Bear Attacks: Their Cause and Avoidanxe" is the book you want to read.

Summary: you just never know.

That said, you're at WAY more risk driving than hiking/sleeping in the wilderness.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:42 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had to read that a couple of times before I realized you were referring to the risk of getting into a car accident with another human in another car, and not some kind of gang of bear carjackers who would then eat you.
posted by elizardbits at 5:39 AM on November 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I work in a rainforest where there are leopards and many large and poisonous snakes. And also poachers, and sometimes mercenaries. And poisonous spiders. It is the sort of thing that, if you dwell on all the things that there are waiting to potentially eat you or kill you or do other kinds of harm, you will freeze up and become totally nonfunctional. You take as many precautions as you can, but don't let vanishingly small chances of something bad happening paralyze you. So you step through the underbrush warily when you can to avoid pissing off a Gaboon viper, and you carry your venom extractor and move in the opposite direction if you ever hear dogs barking, but sometimes you just have to rush through the bushes and cross your fingers that a leopard isn't waiting for you on the other side.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:59 AM on November 20, 2012


I find it really interesting to read that the healthiest way of dealing with this kind of trauma is basically to ignore it. I've always thought we were supposed to process painful things to help us get over them, and that suppressing thoughts about them would lead to more harm. Just recently (probably on Metafilter, knowing my reading habits), I read about new research that shows that Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD, the process of meeting afterward to talk about a terrible event with the group that endured it) actually leads to more post-traumatic stress disorder than not having such a meeting.

While I've never been mauled by a bear, I have been through a small handful of traumatic experiences, and I've always felt bad about not being able to get over them, despite all my hard work to process my feelings. I've journaled, talked to friends, relived those incidents over and over in my mind, even been to therapy a few times, and it never seemed to help. It's starting to dawn on me that it's not bad to just get on with my life, and I shouldn't feel guilty about it, or worried that these feelings are going to burst back into my life years later because I didn't properly deal with them. "Suppressing" and "getting over" aren't really different.

All that said, the story about the couple and the bear just makes me ache. This woman ignored her fear, and lived to regret it terribly. How could she possibly ignore her fear going forward? But worse still is that her husband, her partner, the one person in life she's supposed to be able to count on, also ignored her fear. He talked her out of it, and everything went wrong. That's not to blame him, it's just to point out that he lost any power to help her recover, because of his role in the original incident. In the aftermath, she probably knew that many of her fears were irrational, but she couldn't count on her chosen life partner to help her sort out which fears were reasonable, because he had failed at this so miserably on the very occasion that made her more fearful. I think of all these psychological horror movies where the hero can't tell what's real and what's just a trick in his mind, and I feel like this woman lived that experience for the remainder of her life. It's just an unbearably cruel thing for each of them to have to go through.
posted by vytae at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


« Older As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironi...  |  Korean high school.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments